Rare bottle hits $64,960 at American Bottle Auctions’ 50th sale

A Powell & Stutenroth “Favorite Bitters” bottle, one of only a few known and graded 9.7 out of 10 for condition, soared to $64,960 at the 50th Internet and catalog ever held by American Bottle Auctions (AmericanBottle.com). The bottle was the top lot of the more than 300 rare and vintage bottles sold. Most dated from the mid-to-late 19th century.

The auction went online May 24 and concluded June 1. Internet bidding was brisk all week.

“Overall, the sale was a success but, as any auctioneer will tell you, auctions are a scary thing,” said Jeff Wichmann of American Bottle Auctions. “You’re only as good as your last sale. For example, we sold a Lediard’s Celebrated Bitters bottle in this auction for $1,500, but the last time we offered one it went for over $5,000. And we couldn’t give away inks and pickle jars.”

Mr. Wichmann said green pontiled umbrella inkwells that have typically sold in the $1,000 range were barely bringing $400. “Some non-bottle items,” he added, “like U.S. eagle pieces we thought would be of interest, were sluggish and fetched only a few hundred dollars apiece. That was just a sign that people want to buy bottles, not non-bottle items, at our sales.”

Overall, however, the successes far outweighed the disappointments. The Powell & Stutenroth bottle was a good example, sailing past its high estimate of $20,000 to hammer for more than three times that figure. The bottle, a precursor to the later “People’s Favorite Bitters,” still had the original cork (albeit with a hole punched through). But overall it was nearly perfect.

The auction, which began May 24 and ended June 1, featured bitters, fruit jars, medicines, historical and western flasks, western whiskeys, sodas and more – the categories collectors have come to expect from American Bottle Auctions in its 20-year history. “Like a fine wine, each auction seems to improve with age,” Mr. Wichmann said. “Let’s do 50 more!”

Following are additional highlights from the sale. All prices quoted include a 12 percent buyer’s premium.

A Bryant’s Stomach Bitters (B-242) cone bottle, the best whole one of several that were recently unearthed in Sacramento, sold for $40,320. Bryant’s is considered by some to be the top western bitters bottle. This example, a brilliant emerald green, was restored (by Marty Hall) but even close examination belies it was repaired. This bottle was made in the east, sold in the west.

A W&B Shasta Superior Mineral Water bottle (Union Glassworks, Philadelphia) brought $15,680. With original closure and all-original graphite pontil, the bottle showed just a slight amount of wear and had obviously never been in the ground. Shasta bottles are considered by collectors as one of the top western sodas, if not the top. This example boasted a grading of 9.

A Washington/Bridgeton (N.J.) bottle with sheared lip and pontil and having a very rare tobacco amber coloration (they’re rarely seen outside of aqua) coasted to $9,520. The bottle was a brilliant example, graded 9.7 character. Only the slightest amount of wear — not even as much as a few light scratches — kept this bottle from scoring a 10.

A pair of bottles fetched identical prices of $7,840. One was an Old Bourbon Castle Whiskey flask (F. Chevalier & Co., Sole Agents), one of only a dozen or so known and having an applied single roll collar, a very drippy top and a light to medium amber coloration. Castle Whiskey flasks, made from 1870-75, are highly desired by collectors. This one was graded 9.4.

The other $7,840 bottle was a London Jockey Clubhouse Gin specimen with embossed horse and rider, applied top and smooth base. The bottle is one of only two ever seen with a gorgeous almond yellow, wheat and straw color combination. It was absolutely loaded with bubbles and wasn’t pontiled. With a great aura and very little wear, the bottle was graded 9.6.

A Choice Old Cabinet Kentucky Bourbon bottle, a mainstay of the western whiskey world, topped out at $5,376. The bottle, with embossed crown and applied top (Barnett-158), was superb, with light whittle and strong strike. However, it did have a ¼-inch hairline crack in the left shoulder and a 3/8-inch flat chip in the top, resulting in a price-lowering grade of 8.3.

A very early Wister’s Club House Bottle, with applied top, graphite pontil and a rare coloration that can only be described as apricot orange and pink, rose to $4,704. Wister’s bottles were made from 1851-1855 and sold only in the west, specifically northeast of Sacramento. This one had all the original graphite intact and was loaded with crudity. It was graded highly, at 9.5.

Rounding out the top lots, a Pearson Brothers hutch (or gravitating stopper-style) bottle, a relic of the once-bustling but now ghost town of Bodie, Calif., breezed to $2,912. This particular bottle is probably the most desirable of any known Bodie bottle, and only the second one seen in as many years by American Bottle Auctions. With barely a visible scratch, it had a grade of 9.8.

American Bottle Auctions’ next big Internet and catalog sale will be held sometime in the fall, probably early September (watch the website for details). But before that, the firm will hold an auction dedicated entirely to target balls, a collectible almost unknown outside the world of hunting and fishing collectibles but coveted by its devotees. The auction will be held July 15-22.

Target balls are 3-inch round spheres filled with feathers and sawdust that were shot from a spring-loaded trap. They came into being in the 1970s as practice for pigeon shooting, but were quickly replaced by skeet. The target balls that survive today can be rare and valuable. The most ever paid at auction for a target ball was about $28,000. Only 33 balls will be offered July 15-22.

The forerunner of the target ball was a type used by Annie Oakley when she performed in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. A few of her misses are still in existence today. Most 1970s balls were made in 1977. Some ball makers put advertisements on the balls. Other balls might say “Pennsylvania,” where they were made. The collectors tend to be well-to-do gun enthusiasts.

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