Antique and vintage Fish Bitters bottles have a long history and some have a high value

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Michael Polak

About Michael Polak

Mike has collected more than 3,000 bottles since entering the hobby in 1974 and is the author of the “Antique Trader Bottles Identification and Price Guide, 7th Edition.” He previously served as Public Relations Director for the Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors and is a contributor to a variety of antique publications. Polak can be contacted at bottleking@earthlink.net.

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This collection amber fish bottles includes an 11 inch tall Dr Fisch's Bitters Bottle and three others, measuring 6 1/2 to 10 1/2 inches tall. The collection was formerly from the Barbara Schneider collection of Grosse Pointe Farms, Mi., and sold for $150 in an August 2005 DuMouchelles auction. Photos courtesy LiveAuctioneers
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Dear Antique Trader,
I have been trying to get a lead on the possible value of a couple “bitters bottles” that I have in my possession. I nearly fell out of my chair when reviewing an “Antiques Roadshow, Insider Edition”, from January 2010 which pictured the “Go Fish” bitters bottle. It was referred to as the “Big One” that had just sold at auction for $8,500!

I have in my possession two such bottles that are identical in every respect with only two exceptions. Mine have the same form, function and color but have a figure “F” on the bottom and are 13 inches tall rather than 11 3/4 inches. I would very much appreciate if you were able to shed some light on the subject – preferably in my favour.
Thanks for your help on this matter. 
G.P. M., via email

 
The first person to use a fish-shaped bottle was W. H. Ware, who patented the design in 1866. He used the container for his “Doctor Fischs Bitters.” The story is that the recipe for Fish Bitters was obtained from a Dr. Gottlieb of Berlin, Prussia. Bitters were advertised throughout the 1870-1880’s for dyspepsia, general debility, loss of appetite, and as an antidote to alcohol, even though bitters contained large amounts of alcohol itself. 

Antique Trader® Bottles Identification and Price Guide

The Fish Bitters bottle you are referring to is from American Bottle auction No. 51 held November 2010 (and shown at right). Bitter bottles are still among the top favorites and most sought after by collectors and constantly demand a higher price during any auction.

Most Fish Bitters are various shades of amber (golden yellow amber, tobacco amber, orange amber, medium and dark amber, and reddish amber) which usually sell in the range of $300 to $800 depending on the condition of the bottle. The rarer Fish Bitters are those in the color of aqua, clear, yellow green, and reddish puce and the prize of all is cobalt blue.    

The green tone, such as the one featured in Auction No. 51, is in a brilliant medium yellow olive green tone. That doesn’t always mean all green tone bottles will realize an $8,500 selling price. A good example is a recent auction held by Norm Heckler Auctions auction No. 92, May 14, 2011 during which a yellow green Fish Bitter sold for $2,750. The minimum bid range was $3,000 to $6,000 and it is surprising that the bottle went at a number under the minimum bid.  

Even though the economy is nothing to shout about, I always caution collectors and dealers that anything can happen in an auction. The Fish Bitters in the Heckler auction is a good example. If someone needs that one type of bitters with that specific color tone to finish out their collection, they’ll bid up the bottle to make sure they win. In reality, a good price for any green-tone Fish bitters would be in the $5,000 to $7,000 range, which is still excellent.

As for your bottle, I wish I could deliver better news. Your bottle is from a line of reproduction wine bottles issued by “Antinori 1973.”

The “Bianco Della Costa Toscana Italy” were made during the 1970’s and are usually marked with an “F” on the bottom, and usually 13 inches tall. This is an abnormal size for a fish bitters, which are usually 11 to 12 inches tall. These bottles are worth about $20 to $30 at best.

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More Images:

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An 10-inch American 'Fish Bitter' glass bottle, circa 1870, sold for $20 in a June 2004 Charlton Hall auction in Columbia, S.C. The bottle featured a small, applied round-collared mouth and rough base.
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This Fish bitters (W.H. Ware, 1866) made $9,520, including buyer's premium. A small postone kept it from bringing more. Photo courtesy American Bottle Auctions.

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