SACRAMENTO, Calif. – A California Clubhouse western whiskey fifth and a Dr. R. Parker western
medicine posted identical selling prices of $23,100 each at Auction #62, an internet and catalog auction held Nov. 6-15 by American Bottle Auctions (www.americanbottle.com). In all, 199 lots (totaling 350 bottles) changed hands in an auction that grossed a little under $225,000.
“The California Clubhouse is truly a great bottle and one of the top western fifths out there,” said Jeff Wichmann of American Bottle Auctions. “The Dr. R. Parker bottle (Indian TLA-Quillaugh’s Balsam, San Francisco) is so rare that a lot of western bottle collectors don’t even know it exists. This was just the third one we’ve sold. Two minor blemishes didn’t seem to deter bidders at all.”
The auction featured the Heinemann collection of whiskey bottles, rare San Francisco pieces, a collection of early handled whiskeys, bitters, medicines, sodas and miscellaneous bottles. Nearly 224 people registered to bid online, placing 1,325 online bids. Only six percent of lots were won by collectors not participating online. Many bottles sold for more than even their high estimates.
“The sale was a good sign for some and not so much for others,” Wichmann said. “We had 76 lots that sold for below the low estimates, but they were mostly the less desirable pieces. Their combined total was only around $14,000. But 36 lots sold above the high estimates, for around $43,000. A lot of the western whiskey bottles did well. That’s the way of the western whiskey.”
A very early (and therefore rare) example of a common J. F. Cutter Star & Shield whiskey bottle brought $6,050 – a high price to pay, but the bottle exhibited great color, with lots of crudity and character. Also, a Jesse Moore whiskey flask in amber, nearly flawless, earned the respect of bidders who engaged in a battle of wills until a winner finally emerged, paying a stout $7,700.
Bitters were “unspectacular but solid,” Wichmann said. “We had some rare but rather lackluster examples that sold in the medium range. It was like people wanted them, but only for a decent price.” The top achiever of the category was a Wonser’s Indian Root Bitters. It was in excellent condition, fetching $8,800, a bargain, considering that bottle in that shape routinely hits $10,000.
A rare blue soda bottle – an H & G with walking bear graphic – notched a respectable $17,600. “That was a good, solid price,” Wichmann remarked. “It was a common bottle, but rare to see in aqua, and this one was in mint condition. Not a lot of superb, non-pontiled western sodas come up for bid these days, so it’s tough to guess what one will do at auction. I guess we found out.”
In summary, Wichmann said, “I guess you could look at this sale and pretty much say that the rare western items were the runaway favorites. But because we didn’t have a lot of super-rare eastern glass it looked a little more like a landslide than it was. I’ll be interested to see if this auction affects the western whiskey market. Great pieces are still commanding the high prices.”
Wichmann said because the western market is smaller, so is the number of great bottles. “It’s like the
eastern market, only in a smaller format,” he said. “There are fewer overall collectors, but not as many great pieces to choose from. However, the transition from east to west is perfect. There are plenty of great western bitters, medicines, sodas and utility bottles, as well as inks – just not as many collectors, but still enough that we attained the prices that we did in the auction overall.”
Wichmann pointed out that some of the prices realized would have been even higher, were it not for the 10 percent buyer’s fee. “I think it’s time auctioneers started coming down in their fees,” he said, “With all the different social media sites, you can almost literally never pay for an ad and still have a successful sale. That eliminates a lot of overhead. A buyer would much rather see a big auction house lower their buyer’s fees than get a color catalog that’ll just get thrown away.”
Wichmann also expressed surprise at the number of bottle auctions being conducted as of late. “There were four bottle auctions going on at once,” he said. “Right after we announced our dates for Auction #62, another auction was announced, with nearly identical dates. Then two others came on, so at one time there were four auctions, all selling similar items. It’s just too much.”
He added, “We have a corner on western bottles, so whatever happens in that arena we have that category pretty well locked up. But overall, I think we may be maxing out on bottle auctions. One auction house has had eight this year alone. They run 600-800 bottles per sale, and it’s hard for collectors to keep up. The good news is, buyers have lots of options. They’re in control now.”
American Bottle Auctions is always accepting quality consignments for future sales. To consign a single bottle or an entire collection, you may call them toll-free, at 1-800-806-7722; or, you can e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about American Bottle Auctions and the firm’s next auction (dates and times yet to be determined), please visit www.americanbottle.com.
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