Wormser Brothers Barrel Bitters Bottle in Rare Green Color Hits $18,480 at Auctions

This Wormser Brothers (San Francisco) barrel bitters bottle sold for $18,480.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – A Wormser Brothers barrel bitters bottle, made between 1867 and 1871 and quite possibly the only green example in existence (most are amber in color), soared to $18,480 in an Internet and catalog auction that began in late August and ended on Sept. 8 by American Bottle Auctions. It was the top lot of the 146 bottles sold.

Wormser barrel bitters were an early western bitters made in San Francisco, mainly in the 1860s. They were considered extremely rare until a group was found in Virginia City, Va., some years ago. Then the bottle just sold plus seven others (all amber) were found near the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon more recently. The owner consigned the green one for this sale.

“That very same bottle in amber would probably only fetch around $1,800,” said Jeff Wichmann of American Bottle Auctions. “Color is everything, and this is the only green example I’m aware of. It is also heavily whittled, something you don’t often see in Wormser bottles. The top was crude and perfect and we graded it 9.6, only because of a light cleaning.”

The auction, which grossed just over $182,000, was a success by any measure, Wichmann said. “The page received over 60,000 views, and we had 192 bidders and 98 winners. Some, but not many, phone bids were also recorded. The average bottle sold for around $1,200, and usually it’s more like $1,000. That was a big plus, and bidder participation was very strong.”

The sale featured mainly historical flasks, bitters and food jars (such as pepper sauces). “Once again, quality excelled,” Wichmann said. “A good number of bottles sold in the $3,000-$15,000 range, and that to me is a strong sign that the overall market for rare and vintage bottles is very healthy, even in a down economy. And we continue to get in killer consignments.”

General Lafayette portrait pint bottle ($6,720).

Greeley's Bourbon bitters bottle ($5,600).

Zanesville Shepard & Co. (Ohio) pint flask ($5,376).

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

• A very early General Lafayette portrait pint – with the “La” and the “Fayette” broken up, plus a reversed “N”—went for $6,720. The bottle had a wonderful pebbled surface and a light to medium bluish green coloration. The reverse side depicted an eagle and stars. It was graded 9.8 out of 10 for condition. “It would be difficult to imagine a better example,” Wichmann said.

• A Greeley’s Bourbon bitters bottle with an applied top and pure green coloration, rose to $5,600. American Bottle Auctions sold the bottle in 2007 and presented it again in this sale. It had a couple of little scratches, but there was also nice crudity, a perfect top and wonderful hue. The condition (graded 9.6) and overall character made this bitters bottle about as good as it gets.

• A Zanesville Shepard & Company (Ohio) pint flask with Masonic emblem on the reverse side climbed to $5,376. The bottle isn’t generally rare, but few are seen in this yellowish-green color (most are deep red or aqua). This one boasted a superb strike, heavy whittling and loads of crudity throughout. It also had some strong embossing. The flask posted a respectable 9.7 grade.

Hogan & Thompson (San Francisco) rare Western soda bottle ($4,704).

Pacific Congress Water Springs (Saratoga, Calif.) pint ($3,808).

• A Hogan & Thompson (San Francisco) Western soda bottle, with Union Glassworks (Philadelphia) on the reverse side, went to a determined bidder for $4,704. The bottle is one of the rarest Western sodas ever made, and the one sold is considered the best-known example of all. It was a beautiful deep and brilliant blue, but scratches and pitting added up to an 8.8 grade.

• A Pacific Congress Water Springs (Saratoga, Calif.) pint bottle with “Sage’s Pacific Congress” on the reverse side and an embossed running deer breezed to $3,808. The example was heavily whittled and had a perfect top and brilliant green coloration. A hint of an interior stain indicted the pint had never been cleaned. It was a top specimen, with a superior 9.8 grade.

• A J. (Jane) McCollick & Co. (New York) pickle jar with keyhole design, applied mouth and iron pontil garnered $3,360. The 8 ½-inch-tall jar, made circa 1850, is desirable to collectors in part because women generally weren’t businesspeople in the mid-19th century. This jar was in super condition (graded 9.5), with medium blue color and only slight wear to the highest points.

• A Pitkin type pint flask (probably New England, circa 1785-1820), 7 inches tall with sheared lip and open pontil, realized $2,912, a record for this bottle. The flask had a beautiful bluish green color and had loads of bubbles and an overall strong pattern. It had a somewhat flattened body and was fairly sizable. Graded 9.7, it showed just a little bit of wear near the base.

• A Hopatkong Whiskey bottle (J.C. Hess & Co., Philadelphia), 10 inches tall and with an applied band and smooth base, knocked down at $2,688. The cobalt blue specimen, with a series of varying blue striations throughout, was consigned by Sandor Fuss, a notoriously finicky collector. As a result, this is quite possibly the only perfect example known. It was graded 9.8.

American Bottle Auctions’ next big sale will go online sometime in November (watch the website for details as November approaches, at www.americanbottle.com). Wichmann said he expected there would be around 150 bottles in the auction. Like the recent sale, it will also have historical flasks, bitters and food jars, plus some sodas, which he said are surging.

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

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