Old Cabin bitters bottle may shatter $75,000 bid in antique bottle auction

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – A Kelly’s Old Cabin bitters bottle, patented in 1863 and one of only a handful of light green examples known, is expected to sell for $35,000-$75,000 in an Internet and catalog auction that ends Aug. 19, 2012  by American Bottle Auctions.

antique Log Cabin bitters bottle

Kelly’s Old Cabin bitters bottle, patented in 1863, rare light green color is estimated to bring $35,000-$75,000.

The Kelly’s Old Cabin bitters is the expected top lot in a sale that will feature 185 examples in a variety of categories: whiskeys (including some great Western whiskey fifths and a great collection of back bar whiskey bottles), sodas, mineral waters, Eastern and Western bitters (including the Kelly’s bottle), historical flasks, a nice group of five target balls and more.

The best of the best – around 100 bottles – will be displayed at the Reno Exposition of the Federation of Historic Bottle Collectors, slated for July 26-29, 2012 at the Sierra Resort & Casino in Reno, Nev. Every four years the FHBC trade organization convenes to stage a bottle show and expo. American Bottle Auctions will have a presence this year with a booth and display cabinets.

The Kelly’s Old Cabin bitters was discovered by a gentleman named Pete over 40 years ago, while digging a well in Ogallala, Neb. Found were a number of Kelly bitters, but most were amber or olive green in color. Only two were greenish-blue, so rare that when Pete first brought them to a bottle show for appraisal he was told they were fakes. Turns out they’re anything but.

The other example has been sold twice – in 1997 and 2007, both times for sums that far exceeded expectations. The bottle in this sale is regarded to be in better condition (it is rated 9 out of a possible 10), so it’s anyone’s guess what the final hammer price will be. It is essentially in mint shape, with just some normal signs of wear for a bottle that had been 30 feet down a well.

“The Kelly’s Old Cabin bitters is the undisputed heavyweight champ in this auction, but there are many other rare and exciting bottles that collectors will get excited over,” said Jeff Wichmann, owner of American Bottle Auctions. “We’ve got lots of nice pieces, something for just about everybody, from high to low price points.” It will be the 56th auction for the company.

A beautiful aqua blue Chalmer’s Catawba wine bitters bottle (Sutter’s Old Mill, Spruance Stanley & Co., Proprietors), made in 1872 or 1873, with strong strike, condition and color and boasting an embossed picture of Sutter’s Old Mill, has a pre-sale estimate of $7,000-$15,000. The bottle is rated a near-perfect 9.5, and is exactly as it came out of the ground after being rinsed out.

vintage whiskey bottles

The auction will feature some unusual back bar whiskeys and western whiskey fifths.

Bodmann pickle jar antique bottle

This unusual William Bodmann (Baltimore) Cathedral pickle jar stands 11 ½ inches tall, is graded a 9.9 out of 10 and could sell for as much as $10,000.

Two bottles are expected to fetch $5,000-$10,000. The first is a beautiful, light-colored Miller’s Extra Old Bourbon fifth (E. Martin & Co., Trademark), made circa 1871-75. Although Miller fifths aren’t generally known for their crudity, as this example will attest, they still show signs of their 1870s production in both texture and character, and are rarely offered at auction.

The second is a Wm. Bodmann (Baltimore) Cathedral pickle jar, quite possibly the first Cathedral pickle jar made in the U.S. (circa 1842) and possibly the prototype for every Cathedral pickle jar made thereafter. Graded high at 9.9, the open pontil, four-sided, half-gallon pickle jar would be a centerpiece item for any serious collector of Baltimore glass (or food) containers.

A medium to deep amber Barkhouse Brothers & Co. Gold Dust Kentucky Bourbon fifth bottle (John Van Bergen, Sole Agents), made circa 1871-1874 and graded 9.9, should hammer for $5,000-$8,000. A deeper shade of amber than is normally seen (but still easily seen through), the gorgeous early blown variant has a strong strike and tons of whittle, adding to its desirability.

A pretty Double Eagle historical pint flask (GII-118), graded 9.8, a sparkling, whittled, pristine blue example is expected to make $3,000-$6,000. The crudity, color, condition and rarity will put this flask at many people’s must-have list. Also, a Saratoga Seltzer Spring Co. (Saratoga, N.Y.) pint , beautiful emerald green with loads of bubbles and whittle, should hit $3,000-$6,000.

A Lafayette/DeWitt Clinton half-pint flask (GI-81a), a rare variant of a Lafayette flask in a beautiful light to medium olive green color, graded 9.7, is expected to hit $3,000-$6,000. The flask has great overall whittle and crudity. The same pre-sale estimate was assigned to a Pacific Congress Water Springs (Saratoga, Calif.) water bottle with embossed jumping deer, graded 9.7.

Rounding out just some of the sale’s expected top lots are a Merriam’s (Sonora, Calif.) bottle with applied top and graphite pontil, made in 1852 and graded 9.5 (est. $3,000-$6,000); a Fine Old Gin label-under-glass bottle with a picture of a woman (circa 1887-1900), graded 9.5 (est. $2,000-$5,000); and a J.C. & Co. Pineapple bitters bottle, graded 9.5 (est. $2,000-$3,000).

Target balls are a small but growing genre of collectible, popular among well-to-do hunters and gun enthusiasts, but gaining in popularity among bottle collectors and general hobbyists. Target balls had a short, colorful life, bursting on the scene around 1876 before fading out by 1895. American Bottle Auctions has featured them before. There are five in this auction.

During their brief but illustrious lifetime target balls, somewhat similar in size and shape to glass Christmas tree ornaments, were stuffed with feathers and sawdust and catapulted from spring-loaded traps to be hit by shooters. They’d explode in the air in a feathery, dusty cloud, as a bird would. The fact is, target balls were introduced because the bird population was declining.

For more details, visit American Bottle Auctions. All lots may be viewed online Aug. 8, 2012.

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Michael Polak is known as the “Bottle King” for good reason. With nearly 40 years in the hobby and with a personal collection of more than 3,000 bottles, Polak is a leading authority on bottle collecting in the United States. He has written more than 10 books on bottle collecting and has contributed numerous magazine and newspaper articles on the subject. He is a member of the Los Angeles Historical Bottle Club, San Diego Antique Bottle Club, Las Vegas Bottle Club and the Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors.

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