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Rare Light Green Kelly’s Old Cabin Bitters Bottle Fetches $45,360 at Auction

by WorthPoint Staff (09/06/12).

By far the top lot of an Internet and catalog auction, held Aug. 17-26 by American Bottle Auctions, was this Kelly’s Old Cabin bitters bottle patented in 1863. It realized $45,360.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – A Kelly’s Old Cabin bitters bottle, made during the time of the Civil War and in an exceedingly rare light green color, soared to $45,360 in an Internet and catalog auction held Aug. 17-26 by American Bottle Auctions. The bottle was the top lot in an auction that saw 184 examples change hands and grossed $343,196.

The sale featured examples in a variety of categories: whiskeys (including Western whiskey fifths and a fine collection of back bar whiskey bottles), sodas, mineral waters, Eastern and Western bitters, historical flasks and target balls.

“Generally speaking, all categories did well, especially pocket flasks and Western whiskeys, and the back bars were a complete surprise, sailing past their high estimates in most cases,” said Jeff Wichmann of American Bottle Auctions. “We sold five back bars from one lady’s collection who had been holding onto them for five decades. They were very well preserved.”

Wichmann said the auction was a record-breaker in terms of total number of bidders (311, including 270 of them who registered online), and total number of bids placed (1,757). “The last day of the sale was totally crazy,” he remarked. “The day before, we were sitting at a little over $200,000 and then the floodgates opened. On that last day, nearly $150,000 in winning bids was recorded.”

Wichmann said the bottle collecting hobby is as strong now as it’s ever been.

“People are spending a lot of money on promotion and advertising, and we’re seeing more shows dedicated to bottles,” he said. “There are a handful of very aggressive players out there, who see what they want and just keep bidding until they get it. It appears to be a long-term investment strategy.”

Following are additional highlights from the auction (all prices quoted include a 12-percent buyer’s premium):

After the Kelly’s Old Cabin bitters, the undisputed champs of the sale were from the one consignor’s back bar collection, none of which were expected to top $5,000.

The king of the back bars was this Fine Old Port label under glass bottle, graded 9.5. It sold for $30,240 against a pre-auction estimate of no more than $5,000.

• A Fine Old Port label under glass bottle, made in the 1880s by S.B. Rothenberg (Oakland, Calif.), graded 9.5 out of 10 for superior condition, hammered for $30,240.
• A Jesse Moore’s Old Bourbon label under glass fifth, most likely also made by S.B. Rothenberg and possibly the only one in existence, in perfect condition, hit $23,520.
• A Fine Old Gin label under glass bottle, again, by S.B. Rothenberg, with a picture of an almost Annie Oakley woman, graded a near-perfect 9.5, topped out at $20,160.
• A Fine Old Rum label under glass, like others by S.B. Rothenberg, showing a very pretty woman wearing an exceptionally colorful bonnet, graded 9.5, made $17,360.
• A Fine Old Sherry (S.B. Rothenberg) label under glass example, also showing a good looking lady but with a spider-type crack on the bottle’s shoulder, brought $11,760.

Two fine bottles topped the $12,000 mark. One was a Lafayette/DeWitt Clinton half-pint flask (GI-81a), a rare variant of a rare Lafayette flask in a beautiful light to medium olive and amber color, graded 9.7 ($12,880). The other was a Barkhouse Bros. & Co. Gold Dust Kentucky Bourbon fifth (John Van Bergen & Co., Sole Agents, circa 1871-1874), graded 9.8 ($12,320).

One other bottle cracked five figures—a William Bodmann (Baltimore, Md.) Cathedral pickle jar in the half-gallon size, made in the 1840s ($10,640). The jar, graded 9.9, would be a centerpiece for any collector of Baltimore glass. Also, a Saratoga Seltzer Spring Co. (N.Y.) pint bottle in a beautiful emerald green color with lots of bubbles and whittle, graded 9.8, hit $5,376.

Two bottles reached identical prices of $6,720. One was a Miller’s Extra Old Bourbon fifth (trademark E. Martin & Co.) with an applied top, made circa 1871-1875, a beautiful light example and rated highly at 9.8. The other was a Dr. S. Cropper’s Stomach Bitters bottle with applied top and smooth base, graded 9.5 and colored a beautiful green with a dash of lime.

A Double Eagle historical pint flask (GII-118), from the same San Francisco collection as the back bars—a sparkling, whittled pristine blue example, with excellent crudity, color and condition (9.8) soared to $5,376. Also, a Stephens & Jose (Virginia City, Nev.) bottle, with monogram on the reverse and applied top, graded a near-flawless 9.9+, commanded $4,704.

Lafayette/DeWitt Clinton half-pint flask.

A Barkhouse Brothers & Co. Gold Dust Kentucky Bourbon fifth.

A William Bodmann (Baltimore) Cathedral pickle jar.

A Dr. S. Cropper’s Stomach Bitters bottle.

A Pacific Congress Water Springs (Saratoga, Calif.) mineral water bottle with embossed running deer, in a beautiful and extremely rare olive color, graded 9.7 and quite possibly the best example in existence, changed hands for $4,032; and an Old Homestead Wild Cherry Bitters with applied top, quite possibly the lightest yellowish-green example ever seen, garnered $4,480.

Rounding out the sale’s top lots: a Myers Rock Rose (New Haven) applied top quart with graphite pontil and colored a brilliant bluish green, went for $2,688; a Greely’s Bourbon Bitters bottle with applied top and smooth base, in a dazzling pink-amber color, realized $2,128; and a Brown’s Iron Bitters (Brown Chemical Co.), 8 inches, colored an unusual green, made $2,128.

American Bottle Auctions’ next Internet and catalog sale is tentatively scheduled for November. Already consigned are outstanding historical flasks and Western flasks, and a verbal commitment has been made for a collection of advertising items large and important enough to constitute an auction by itself.

For more information about this or upcoming auctions, call 800.806.7722, e-mail to info@americanbottle.com or visit the American Bottle Auctions website.

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