Trends in the antique bottle market

Bottle collecting is alive and well: collectors are digging and trading and record pricing is bringing new attention back to the wide world of bottles.



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This London Jockey Clubhouse Gin bottle, with embossed horse and rider, applied top and smooth base brought $7,000 in a June 2010 sale by American Bottle Auctions.

The hobby of antique bottle collecting is strong, and continues to gain more popularity, bringing an overall greater awareness to a wide spectrum of antique collectors. In addition to numerous bottle auctions, there are approximately 15 antique bottle shows held each month and sponsored by bottle clubs across the United States, England, Australia, and Europe. Bottle shows are great fun and expose the collectors to bottles of every type, while providing a learning experience and opportunity to talk with numerous experts. While attending some of these shows, I’ve talked with many collectors and dealers from across the country, and the consensus is that the hobby is doing well and growing stronger. Results from recent auctions continue to demonstrate this excitement and a continued strong desire for bottles.

The auction that has drawn the most attention and generated the greatest excitement was held by Norm Heckler Auctions of Woodstock Valley, Conn., on April 2, 2010. During this auction, a world record was established when a light blue historical Eagle Portrait “Firecracker Flask” sold for an astounding $100,620. The flask was manufactured by the Kensington Glass Works (1820-1840), Philadelphia.

American Bottle Auctions, Sacramento, Calif., closed their 50th milestone auction June 1, 2010, with high pricing for two bitters bottles. An amber Favorite Bitters, Powell & Stutenroth, sold for $64,960 while a brilliant emerald Green Bryant’s Stomach Bitter unearthed in Sacramento, Calif., sold for $40,320.

Another example of auction excitement were the results of the “Summer Sizzler” auction held by Glass Works Auction, East Greenville, Pa., July 12, 2010, when an Amethyst tone Indian Queen Brown’s Celebrated Indian Herb Bitters, Patented Feb. 11, 1868, sold for a whopping $20,000. The excitement of these auctions seems to flow directly to the bottle shows.

 I recently attended the Reno Sparks Antique Bottle Show on July 23-24, 2010, sponsored by the Reno Antique Bottle Club at the Reno Convention Center. July 23 was the “Early Bird” entry day from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., where collectors pay more for admission to get a jump on dealer offerings before the actual July 24 sale. When the doors opened at 11 a.m., there was a large rush of early bird buyers that lasted the entire day. The buying frenzy continued with the Saturday buyers till the close of the show. There were more than 100 tables, with raffle prizes consisting of quality bottles, and a good time for everyone. As with the Reno show, there were over 100 tables of dealers at the June 12 San Diego Antique Bottle & Collectibles Show sponsored by the San Diego Antique Bottle Club, and earlier in February, at the Las Vegas Bottle Club Antique & Collectibles show sponsored by the Las Vegas Antique & Collectibles Club. All three of these shows had large crowds of collectors, with dealers from all over the United States, experiencing brisk sales, trading, and good digging stories.

Another great event was the 22nd Annual International Perfume Bottle Association Convention and Auction from April 30-May 2, 2010 in Reston, Va., at the Hyatt Regency Reston. The auction, associated with the convention, resulted in some impressive sales with a 1920s Ingrid Czech perfume bottle with a ruby red glass base, crystal jewels, and red Bakelite roses, sold for $9,600, a Rene Lalique bottle in its original box for the Gabilla company sold for $11,400, and the star of the auction, an Austrian enameled sterling purse shaped as a 1920s roadster, sold for $24,000. The purse had compartments for perfume, powder, rouge, lipstick and cigarettes.

The Findlay Bottle Club of Ohio, in association with Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors, sponsored the 2010 National Show at the Roberts Centre in Wilmington, Ohio, on Aug. 6-8. This National show, which is held each year in between the EXPO (held every four years), was a huge success with hundreds of collectors, an auction, numerous displays, seminars, and an awards banquet. For those early planners, the next EXPO will be held in Reno, Nev., during the summer of 2012.

For the pottery and stoneware collectors, a new exhibition, “Pottery With a Past: Stoneware in Early America,” is on display at the Colonial Williamsburg’s DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum in Williamsburg, Va. The exhibit, which will remain open through Jan. 2, 2011, ranges from the early 1600s to the early 1800s, and includes more than 300 intact objects and archaeological fragments recovered from sites in New England, the Middle Atlantic, and the Southern colonies. During the first half of the 17th century, stoneware was the only method for storing liquids and food products. For additional information, call 800-447-8679.

Demand is also moving some glass organizations to bring the hobby to new collectors. Want to learn about the art of glass making and take a cruise at the same time? While the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, N.Y., is noted for its live narrated glassblowing demonstrations, now, the “Hot Glass Show” will also be available on Celebrity Cruises’ newest ship, the Celebrity Solstice. The ship will have a permanent glass studio developed and run by the museum on the top deck of the ship. In addition, there will be glass sculptures and art exhibits throughout the ship as a decorative motif, with finished glass products being sold on the ship.

Resources

• Bottles & Extras Magazine
The official publication of the
Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors,
816-318-0160

• Antique Bottle & Glass Collector
Jim Hagenbuch, Editor:  215-679-5849

• Norman C. Heckler & Co.
79 Bradford Corner Road, Woodstock Valley, CT 06282, 860-974-1634 or
www.hecklerauction.com

• Glass Works Auctions
PO Box 180, East Greenville, PA 18041, 215-679-5849 glswrk@enter.net

• American Bottle Auctions
2523 J Street, Suite 203, Sacramento, CA 95816, 800-806-7722 or
www.americanbottle.com

• International Perfume Bottle Association, www.perfumebottles.org,
IPBA_membership@verizon.net

• Colonial Williamsburg’s DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, Williamsburg, Va., 800-447-8679

How about refurbishing old bottles for new uses? Dr. Pepper soda bottles are now being featured on AMC’s new hit series, “Mad Men.” The Dr. Pepper Museum, located in Waco, Texas, received a request for some 1960s Dr. Pepper bottles for use in various scenes in the series. But, “Mad Men” is not the only series using the bottles. The recent Indiana Jones movie, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” used a mint-green rust-covered Dr. Pepper vending machine along with various dinner-type accessories. “Who would have ever thought there was all this stuff,” said Mary Beth Webster, collections manager at the museum. I say, who would have ever thought all of this stuff would be put back to good use again?

I started this article by saying bottle collecting was alive and kicking. As you can tell by all of the happenings, the hobby is going strong, while increasing the interest and excitement in antique bottle collecting.

Now, check out the next bottle show in your area, grab a shovel and kick up some dirt, and go out and fine some neat old bottles.  ?

Michael Polak has collected more than 3,000 bottles since entering the hobby in 1976. He has been the public relations director for the Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors and is a contributor to a variety of antiques publications. His latest book, Warman’s Bottles Field Guide, Values and Identification, 3rd edition, was just published by F+W Media. 

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“The current antique bottle market seems to have hit the new decade off and running. Although we’ve had decades where bottles were popular, the knowledge and experience of collectors in the hobby today is at a record pace. It has not only brought in a keener appreciation for the hobby, but apparently a bag full of money with it. Prices for the best of the best has never been greater and as we continue to gain more experienced collectors, I see no limit in sight. Oh, it’s still a very affordable hobby to pursue, but if the Tiffany of antique bottles is what you’re looking for, you’d be advised to bring your checkbook and have a load of cash to cover it. Ironically, these prices, as high as they’ve been, aren’t even comparable to the art, coin or stamp market. There’s no telling what could happen over the next decade.

“New blood like never before, knowledgeable new blood with a taste for caviar and champagne. The influx is a result of knowledge and of course, the fact that bottles sell themselves. There’s little to offer in the art, coin or stamp world that won’t pale by comparison. When one sees a window shelf lined with the color and hand-made history of antique bottles, it’s no wonder investors are seeing green. It’s not the addition of new offerings to the market as much as the limited availability of pieces that fit into that world of the very best. When a piece comes up, unlike even five years ago, it’s now every man for himself, the noble collector, if you will. There has always been the average example and there always will be, but it’s the one-known bitters or odd-colored historical flask that is finally getting its due respect.”

~ Jeff Wichmann, President, American Bottle Auctions


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More Images:

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This H.P. Herb Wild Cherry bitters bottle with embossed cherry tree sparkles in a beautiful shade of green. The cabin shape with tooled top helped this brilliantly colored bottles hammer to $7,000 in an August 2009 American Bottle Auctions sale.
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A scarce, 13-inch Los Angeles Wine Co., Spokane, Wash., represents an unusual group of megaphone-style bottles unique to the Pacific Northwest. It brought $425 at auction.
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This Midwestern swirl bottle dates to the late 18th century or early 19th century. Its bulbous shape has 24 ribs swirled to the right, a folded lip and pontil. It sold for $275 in an August 2009 auction despite some condition issues.
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A bottle referred to as the "firecracker flask," because of the names of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson embossed on the medial ridge, set a world record for the highest selling bottle at auction in April when it sold for $100,620. In addition to Adams' and Jefferson's names, the light blue bottle also featured the date Adams and Jefferson both died: July 4, 1826. The bottle was sold by Heckler Auctions of Woodstock, Conn. This example is one of the few known in the color blue and in excellent condition. The sale price includes a 17 percent buyer's premium.  It took more than a decade for another bottle to smash the previous record, set in 1999. That's when American Bottle Auctions of Sacramento, Calif., sold a Bryant's cone-shaped Bitters bottle for $68,750. Photo courtesy Heckler Auctions

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