Bidding War Spices Up American Bottle Auctions Sale

The surprise lot of the recent American Bottle Auctions sale was this turquoise Eagle/Grapes one-quart flask. A pre-sale estimate placed the expected selling price to be $1,000-$2,000, but the crudity, condition (mint) and color (a brilliant turquoise) combined to spark a bidding war that finally settled at $19,600.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – An outstanding, mint condition Brown’s Celebrated Indian Herb bitters bottle, patented Feb. 11, 1868, sold for $36,960 in an Internet and catalog auction held by American Bottle Auctions, as it was expected to be the sale’s top lot. But there were some surprises as well, including a bidding war over a Eagle/Grapes one-quart flask that brought gasps when it was finally over.

The Oct. 29-Nov. 13 auction was the 51st sale held by the young firm, which has become synonymous with vintage bottle collecting.

“Overall I felt the sale was a great success and may have been our best auction ever, based on the fact that nearly all of the 375 lots sold,” said Jeff Wichmann of American Bottle Auctions, “and the eleven bottles that didn’t sell found new homes after the auction. We had more than 100,000 hits on the catalog page and more than 400 bidders.” The auction grossed around $300,000.

The Brown’s bitter was by far the top lot of the sale. Graded 9.9 out of 10 for condition and boasting a perfectly flat lip, the bottle was consigned by a woman who collected bottles for “fun years ago.”

“When she bought it, she was offered the choice of an amber or clear example, and thankfully she picked the clear one,” Wichmann said, adding it is likely flint, not lead glass.

“Bitters and flasks are hot sellers right now,” Wichmann added. “I have to believe they are entering a new age. People are beginning to realize they just aren’t coming up at auction like they did, and everyone is scrambling to get the rarest and most perfect examples out there. Whether this is a tulip craze or real people with real money in it for the long haul, I don’t know.”

The auction featured bitters and historical flasks, but also Western whiskey bottles, sodas, medicine bottles and other offerings. Most of the bottles dated from 1850-1900, the period most desired by collectors, when superior embossing techniques were used. Bidders were encouraged to use the online catalog, where large photos and full-color videos of each bottle were shown.

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

The top lot of the auction was this Brown's Celebrated Indian Herb bitters from 1868 ($36,960).

The surprise lot of the sale was an Eagle/Grapes one-quart flask that soared to $19,600, against a pre-sale estimate of $1,000-$2,000. The crudity, condition (mint) and color (a brilliant turquoise) combined to spark a bidding war. Also, a GI-40 Major Ringold Rough ‘n’ Ready pint flask in a very light aqua color brought $15,680 (it would have hit $20,000 except for a lip chip).

Another surprise happened when a pair of Fells Point/Sloop GVI-2 half-pint flasks came up for bid. One was puce, a very common variant, while the other was topaz—much rarer and possibly unique. But when the final hammer fell, the puce bottle realized $12,320 and the topaz one fetched $5,152. “Should have been the other way around,” Wichmann said. “Go figure.”

A California wine bitters (M. Keller, Los Angeles), made in 1863 (the only year of production), a beautiful pastel green with loads of whittle and super strong strike, graded 9.8, gaveled for $10,080; and a Fish bitters (W. H. Ware, 1866) finished at $9,520.

An original Pocahontas bitters (Y. Ferguson), aqua blue with an applied top and completely covered in a Benicia film, one of the finest Benicia bottles ever seen, graded 9.8, coasted to $7,280; and a Dr. Wosner’s USA Indian Root bitters, very popular with collectors and having a deep amber coloration, lots of tiny bubbles and overall whittle, graded 9.7, hit $6,720.

Two bottles went for identical prices of $6,160. One was a Lancaster Glassworks Cornucopia urn (GIII-16), with a sheared lip and open pontil. The pint flask was sapphire in color and graded 9.8. The other was an Old Pioneer Whiskey bottle (A. Fednkhausen & Co., Sole Agents, S.F.). The 1880s bottle had a gorgeous amber color and a super strong strike.

A Dr. Robertson’s Family Medicine bottle (prepared by T.W. Dyott, circa 1809-1815), made by Kensington Glass Works, rose to $4,704. It is believed to be the first ever embossed medicine bottle made in the United States. Also, a Bear Grass Kentucky Bourbon western fifth (Braunschweiger & Bumsted, Sole Agents, S.F., 1883-1884), graded 9.5, hammered for $4,256.

Rounding out the sale’s top lots: a Double Eagle GII-91 green flask with applied band and smooth base, graded 9.2, changed hands for $4,032; a Dr. Henley’s Wild Grape Root bitters with super heavy whittle and beautiful green color, graded 9.8, went for $3,808; and a Wister’s Clubhouse bottle, made circa 1851-1855, a beautiful teal color, graded 9.8, finished at $3,360.

Major Ringold (GI-40) Rough 'n' Ready pint flask.

Fells Point/Sloop half-pint flask.

California wine bitters.

Fish bitters.

American Bottle Auctions was founded in 1990 by Wichmann, a native Californian who has been collecting antique bottles for 40 years. Over time, the firm grew and underwent a name change, but the focus has always remained the same: to specialize in appraising, brokering, consigning and auctioning antique bottles and glass. Bottle collecting is enormously popular.

Wichmann has researched, appraised and estimated the values of thousands of antique bottles and related items. He is often called on to appraise antique bottles and glass for individuals and businesses. In 1999, he wrote and published “The Best of the West – Antique Western Bitters Bottles,” a research guide.

For more information about this auction, call 800.806.7722, e-mail to or visit the American Bottle Auctions Web site.


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