SACRAMENTO, Calif. – An iconic bottle so rare that for years many doubted its existence is coming up for bid.
The 150-year-old blue Cassin’s Grape Brandy Bitters bottle is being sold as part of the legendary Ken Fee collection of mostly Western bitters bottles, which will cross two online auctions by American Bottle Auctions on Friday, Nov. 29, and Jan. 24, 2020.
“No one had seen Ken Fee’s collection of over 300 bottles in probably four decades,” said Jeff Wichmann of American Bottle Auctions. “It only came to light following his death last November, and I’ve been working with the family ever since to sort through it all. Many of the bottles are outstanding examples that should bring anywhere from a few hundred to many thousands of dollars.”
The real prize, Wichmann said, is the Cassin’s bottle, which he thinks could sell for six figures. “There had been some speculation as to where he got it, but we now know he bought it in the 1960s from a fellow named Alan Wilson. Apparently, it was dug in Eureka, California, and Wilson bought it from the guy who found it. He then sold it to Ken Fee for the princely sum of one thousand dollars, payable at one hundred dollars a month.” Fee later said, “When I first saw it, lying on an old pink towel at the family home in Salt Lake City, I had to do a double take. I didn’t really know for sure what I was looking at.”
Wichmann continued, “Call it sapphire or bluish teal. Look at a photo and you’ll be convinced that legends,
no matter how long buried, can, in an instant, appear before your very eyes. We do know it’s the second, more functionally stable variant, thank you, with the corners not so ready to burst and every bit as perfect as the day it was made in the late 1860s. Not a scratch on it.”
The Cassin’s Bitters is arguably the greatest Western bitters blown. Made in San Francisco in 1867 and 1868, its shape was meant to resemble a cello. The first variant of the bottle had thin corners and because of the fragility of the bottle, only a couple remain intact today. The second variant eliminated the fragile lines of the bottle and more of these examples still survive today.
This example, however, is a marvel regardless of age or history, as it is the only example known in this unique blue color. In addition, the bottle is in mint condition with virtually no discernible flaws, a rarity for any bottle this old but especially important for the only blue Cassins known to date. It would be an iconic addition to any collection and is expected to bring $75,000-$100,000.
There are many other rare and important bitters bottles in the Fee collection, including:
Wonser’s USA Indian Root Bitters. This unusually shaped early San Francisco bottle in a bright aqua coloration was probably blown between 1871-73. Only a dozen or so aqua examples are known, so they don’t come up often, and not in this mint condition. When it comes to strike, color, condition and rarity, it would be hard to top this iconic bottle (estimate: $10,000 to $15,000)
N.B. Jacobs Rosenbaum Bitters San Francisco. Here’s another early San Francisco bitters, circa 1864-1868, variant 2, the smaller size with the Rosenbaum name embossed on it. It’s a beautiful yellow with a good amount of green. The top is unusual as they usually had a tapered top with a ring type collar. This example has no taper and, in fact, no ring (estimate: $3,000-$5,000).
Lacour’s Bitters Sarsapariphere. Louis Lacour and his fascination with the lighthouse is evident in this early San Francisco bitters bottle in mint condition. It’s a beautiful green and is in about perfect condition, with some nice overall crudity. Lacour’s have become highly sought after in recent years. Prices have escalated in proportion to desirability (estimate: $10,000-$20,000)
Chalmer’s Catawba Wine Bitters. Calmer’s Bitters used the grapes grown around the Sutter’s Mill, where gold was discovered in California. This rare bottle in mint condition is one of only a dozen known, in the shape of a whiskey blown exclusively in aqua and made from 1872-1873. The embossed Sutter’s Fort on the bottle adds a great amount of appeal (est. $10,000-$20,000).
For more information about these auctions and Fee’s collection, visit www.americanbottle.com.