Rare bottle blows past estimate

A 150-year-old blue Cassin’s Grape Brandy Bitters bottle, so rare that for years many doubted its existence, has sold for a staggering $155,000.
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A 150-year-old blue Cassin’s Grape Brandy Bitters bottle, so rare that for years many doubted its existence, has sold for a staggering $155,000.

The elusive and rare 150-year-old blue Cassin’s Grape Brandy Bitters bottle, $155,000.

SACRAMENTO, CA – A 150-year-old blue Cassin’s Grape Brandy Bitters bottle, so rare that for years many doubted its existence, has sold for a staggering $155,000 — tens of thousands more than its estimate of $75,000-$100,000.

The sale was part of the first auction of the Ken Fee collection of mostly Western bitters bottles, held recently by American Bottle Auctions. Part 2 will be online February 14 through February 23.

What made the Cassin’s Grape Brandy Bitters so desirable to bidders was its bluish-teal color, which many bottle collectors, even seasoned pros, had never seen and were skeptical even existed.

“No one had seen Ken Fee’s collection of over 300 bottles in four decades,” said Jeff Wichmann of American Bottle Auctions. “It only came to light following his death in November of 2018. I’ve been working with the family ever since.” Many of the bottles are outstanding examples that brought a few hundred to many thousands of dollars. Part 2 contains many desirable rarities, too.

The Cassin’s Bitters is arguably one of 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 few mint examples remain intact today. The second variant eliminated the fragile lines of the bottle and some still survive today, although there are still believed to be only a half-dozen or so in undamaged condition.

This example, though, was a marvel, regardless of age or history, and the only example known in this unique blue color. In addition, the bottle was in mint condition with no discernable flaws, a rarity for any bottle this old but especially important for the only blue Cassin’s known to date.

To learn more about American Bottle Auctions and the Part 2 auction of the Fee collection, visit www.americanbottle.com.

Dr. Boerhaave’s Stomach Bitters bottle with an applied tapered top, circa 1868-1869, a San Francisco made bitters with distinctive windows on the reverse, $28,000.

Dr. Boerhaave’s Stomach Bitters bottle with an applied tapered top, circa 1868-1869, a San Francisco made bitters with distinctive windows on the reverse, $28,000.

Wonser’s USA Indian Root Bitters, an unusually shaped early San Francisco bottle, bright aqua, circa 1871-73, one of a dozen aqua examples known, $25,300.  

Wonser’s USA Indian Root Bitters, an unusually shaped early San Francisco bottle, bright aqua, circa 1871-73, one of a dozen aqua examples known, $25,300.