Rare bitters bottle claims top lot spot at American Bottle Auctions event

(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 hosted earlier this fall, by American Bottle Auctions. The bottle was the top lot in an auction that saw 184 examples change hands and grossed $343,196.

By far the top lot of the sale was this Kelly’s Old Cabin bitters bottle patented in 1863 ($45,360). (Photo courtesy of American Bottle Auctions)

It was just the 56th auction for American Bottle Auctions, a firm that has catapulted to the front of the pack for rare and vintage bottle auctions. This 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 — 270 of them 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.”

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. Some additional highlights from the sale include:

• 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 (circa 1871-1874), graded 9.8 ($12,320) and pictured at right.

For more information visit American Bottle Auctions or call 1-800-806-7722

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