Saturday, August 29, 2009

Western Bitters At Auction

Auction # 48 from American Bottle Auctions only offered three western bitters for us collectors to haggle over. Here's the results:

Lot # 241 WORMSER BROS. SAN FRANCISCO described as: " a couple of dots of sodium floating in the glass" also mentioned was a "small scuff" near the base ring and a "super tiny ding" and don't forget that "magnification also reveals two minuscule dots near the mouth"

In my opinion the above mentioned flaws, as superficial as they are, really hurt the final selling price of the bottle. Don't get me wrong, I think that an auction house should try and address all of the issues that might effect the selling price of the bottle, but in auction #48 some of the "possible" flaws were over emphasized.

I think sometimes, the people in this hobby, lose site of what collecting antique bottles is all about. Come on folks, these are glass containers that were manufactured in the infancy of the glass industry on the west coast,. made to be used and discarded and the majority of the bottles we collect are dug out of the ground. Of course some of these bottles are going to have "super tiny dings" and "minuscule dots" as post production "flaws".
The other thing that hurt the sale of this bottle was the color. The color was not mentioned in the description, to me it appeared to be just plain amber.

Final selling price for the Wormser, a disappointing $900 plus the buyers premium. These barrels usually sell in the 1500 - 2000 range.

I actually traveled to Sacramento to look at this bottle, not once, but twice. In my opinion this Lacour's had a lot going for it. It is a variant two example in varied shades of amber with a crude out of round base. Described as "the shoulder area for instance is a brilliant tobacco yellow, while the base area is a much deeper combination of the same color. The bottle is quite crude with good whittle." I agreed with the description and went as far as 2800, unfortunately, for me, it sold for 3600. After you add in the buyers premium that's over 4K, a very strong price for an amber Lacours's, even if it is a second variant.

Lot #244 DR. RENZ'S HERB BITTERS Described as: "a solid example of this popular example of these western bitters" ( Huh?) and " a few minor scratches and the lightest bit of wear" I also looked at this bottle before the auction started. This Renz had a pinched - in area on both sides of the base
from the snap case and a bulge on the embossed side of the bottle. A nice applied top and an off color of amber with a hint of copper. I thought the 500 that it sold for was a very reasonable price. A nice example of the straight legged Renz.
I am not sure that I understand the bottle grading system used by American Bottle Auctions but here's my take on it: All bottles start out at a 10, each flaw or imperfection, depending on how severe they are, subtract "points" from the bottle. ie. a mint bottle with just a potstone might lose a few tenths bringing its grade to a 9.2 or 9.4.
Anybody that knows anymore about this grading system feel free to straighten me out on this. g.o.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A little history on the Henley's Bitters

Here is a little history for the beginning of the Henley's Wild Grape Root IXL Bitters product. This Notice was placed in the Portland Morning Oregonian newspaper on March 13th, 1868 [bottom]. Louis Gross placed it to solicit his customers to continue to patronize his former establishment which he sold on March 11th.

After arriving in San Francisco, and establishing L. Gross & Co, the first advertisement for the Dr. Henley's Wild Grape Root IXL Bitters was placed on July 1st, 1868 in the San Francisco Dramatic Chronicle newspaper [bottom left]. The ad ran for 3 mos in this paper and followed suit in others as well. His establishment was located at 312 Sacramento Street, S.F. Bottles made during this time did not have the IXL logo circled.

By late 1869, L. Gross & Co had relocated to 518 Front Street, S.F. and the ad [upper right] was placed on October 21st, 1869 and ran for 6 mos. The emphasis on the IXL logo having a circle around it may have been to differentiate his product from the recently introduced Cassin's XXX Wild Grape Root Bitters which was most likely done on purpose to capture part of his success. The second embossed variant of this bitters bottle exhibits a circular design very close in style to the above advertisement.

The next advertisement was placed under H. Epstein & Co who were successors to L. Gross & Co and this ad ran from February 1st, 1871 thru March 27th. Notice the circle style around the IXL is now more oval in style [above left] and the third variant bottle style follows this format as well, which was marketed under the name Dr. Henley's California IXL Bitters and distributed out of the Chicago branch.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The "Not so Snobby" Bitters

Boy oh boy, over on the whiskey site I noticed that someone named anonymous (hey anonymous, come on out of the closet) called us bitters collectors snobbish, arrogant and I presume that also means uppity. Nothing could be further from the truth. Heck I don't own any bitters over 10K! And just to show you folks that believe we are "clannish" and snooty, a thing or two, here's some photos of "The Peoples" bitters. Power to the People! Enjoy!

How about a Marshall's? It doesn't get anymore down to earth than that!

Always the peoples favorite Hibernia Bitters.

And last but not least a real salt of the earth Bennett's Celebrated Stomach Bitters

Now don't y'all be calling us Bitters folks snobby!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Dr. Wonser's U.S.A. Indian Root Bitters

In researching this bitters product, I came across two interesting advertisements. The bottom ad is the earliest I've found for this product. The ad was placed in The Gilroy Advocate paper and ran from June 25th, 1870 for 3 mos. Notice that the manufactory and depot for this bitters was at 645 Third Street, S.F. He was not at this address very long, as the upper ad indicates by December 17th, 1870 he had relocated to 418 Sacramento St. The upper ad was placed in the San Francisco Daily Examiner on December 17th, 1870 and ran for 1 month.
The time frame that his product is being marketed is interesting as San Francisco Glass Works had not begun operations at their rebuilt facility until September 12th, 1870. The lettering style is the same as the earlier large lettered Renz's bitters bottle, both bottles probably made by the same pattern maker.
The bottle itself is interesting in that it has been made in two variations. Both are the amber colored examples. One variant has a configured base with sharp edge and a stepped ledge going into a concave circle with small center dot. The more often seen variant has a rounded edge base with a semi-shallow kick up with center dot, the aqua examples also share this mould feature. I do not consider the different style tops to be a variant, this is just a difference of lipping tools used for the completion of the mouth.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Bottle junk dealers

In my research for writing a book on Early Glassworks of California, I stumbled upon some interesting information that may shed some light on why we don't often find the quantities of certain types of bottles. This article appeared in the S.F. Evening Bulletin of July 31st, 1875.

The column was titled "RAGS, SACKS and BOTTLES" The Curiosities of the Old Junk Trade-How Five Hundred People Earn their Living in a Large City. "Any rags, sacks or bottles?' is a cry heard from early morn till the shades of evening on all the highways and byways of San Francisco. How the two hundred or more gatherers of these refuse articles can obtain a livelihood is probably a mystery to most people. But the business is not so precarious as would first appear. Besides owning their own horse and wagon, some of these 'rag, sack and bottle' gatherers have accumulated at times quite a competency, but their boardings generally melt away more quickly than they are acquired. Wealth does not sit well with some people, and this class is not an exception. There are many Chinese scavengers who go about the street, scratching up here and there with a hooked stick such waste matter as can be converted to use in one form or another. They collect rags, paper, tin-foil, etc., and though they are not munificently rewarded for their labor, they contrive to 'pick up a living.'

The junk shops are mainly dependent upon the two classes spoken of for their stock in trade. It is estimated that there are at least five hundred people in San Francisco who earn a living directly or indirectly from the junk business. There are several junk shops which employ quite a large number of men, mostly Chinese, and they have a lucrative trade. Charles Harley & Co, at Nos. 116 and 118 Davis street, are the principal dealers, and they employ about their premises thirty-five or forty men. They have a branch house in New York, to which are consigned large quantities of rags suitable for making shoddy cloth. Rags of all descriptions are sent here from all parts of this State and Nevada by the principal dealers. At Harley & Co's may be seen everything imaginable in the cast-off line, from a mouse-trap to a sheet-anchor. All is fish that comes to their net, and nothing is refused. They obtain a large share of small truck from parties 'declining housekeeping,' who are only too glad in most instances to get any price for their 'old rubbish.'

The prices paid for rags by the junk dealers range from one to five cents per pound, as to quality. These are carefully sorted over at the shops, according to the use to which they are to be put. The cotton rags all go to the different paper mills in this State, and all that contain any wool are sent off to be made over into inferior clothing. Manila rope is untwisted, packed up, and subsequently converted into Manila paper , and burlap sacks, to much worn to be used for any other purpose, are made into 'bogus' Manila paper. Paper of all kinds is worked over and comes from the mills nice and clean. Wrought scrap-iron is bought up by the Pacific Rolling Mill in this city, and all the old pieces of copper and brass are taken by the brass foundries. Yellow metal sheathing, taken from vessels, is mostly sold to Chinese, who ship it to China, there to be converted to various uses.

Some dealers make a specialty of sacks and bottles. The bottles are procured at the saloons, hotels, drug stores and from private families, and the sacks come principally from the restaurants and stables. The bottles are thoroughly cleansed and afterward find there way back to the places whence they came. The flour mills take a great many of the burlap bags, and the gunnies mostly go to the farmers. Charcoal dealers take the ragged or unsound gunnies. A. Waugh & Co. at 112 Main street receive from 18,000 to 25,000 prescription bottles in a month, and of all kinds of bottles, they handle from 30,00o to 40,000 daily.

As it is generally understood that soda bottles are returned after their contents are consumed it may seem strange that such large quantitites of them are to be found in the junk shops. One dealer explained it in this wise: 'You see,' said he, 'there is a good deal of competition among the soda factories, and if any of them get too particular about their bottles, why they stand a chance to lose their customers. And there are a good many people who go to the saloons for a small quantity of liquor and the soda bottles are the best adapted to this trade.'

It is unnecessary to enumerate all the junk dealers, as there is nothing peculiar in the business of any, and the foregoing remarks will apply to all, as a general thing. Thus is seen now at least five hundred people in San Francisco derive their support from what is generally regarded almost as worthless."

I thought some of our blog site followers would find this article interesting.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

E. G. Lyons Manufacturers SanFco

The earliest advertisements for E. G. Lyons & Co was published in the San Francisco Daily Alta California paper on January 7th, 1865. E. G. Lyons was successors to Crevolin & Co; they were wholesale dealers in wines and liquors and manufacturers of syrups, cordials & bitters. The & Co consisted of Jules Hayes.
The above example is apparently one of four, currently in collections in this light pastel green color. There are at this time two different variants known. The differences can be seen on the base of the bottles. The example above has a diagonal mold seam that runs from one beveled edge to an opposite beveled edge. The other variant has a mold seam that runs parallel along the bottom base edge on two adjacent panels, which end up on opposite diagonal beveled edges. The second variant would be my guess as to the older of the two, it shares the mold characteristics of another early made bitters, the G. A. Simon's Medicated Aromatic Bitters which can be pinpointed more accurately to late 1865 thru early 1866 time period thru written documentation.
The lettering style and embossing pattern seem to be identical between the variants, I cannot distinguish any differences. This product bottle most likely contained a cordial or bitters. How long these bottles were being produced is not known. There is strong evidence to suggest that these were made at the Pacific Glass Works. A bottle that appears to be a Lyons is pictured in the stereoscopic view card photo taken of their glassware display at the 1869 San Francisco Mechanics Institute Fair. The above bottle has physical features that distinguish it quite easily from other similarly shaped bottles.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Western Bitters For Sale or Wanted Section?

A while back on the Western Glop Top Whiskey site a discussion was started about having an area on the site for users of the site to sell bottles. Ideas were thrown around and then the subject was dropped. I was disappointed that the subject didn't get any further than just talk.

What I would like to propose, for this site, is an area that we could use to post bitters for sale or trade or bitters bottles wanted. By this I mean something like a message board, where collectors could list a bottle for sale (or wanted) and be put in touch with other collectors that might be interested in buying or selling.
For example:

For Sale: Dr. Renz's Herb Bitters -large letter variant, olive amber, near mint condition. If interested contact g.o. at

Wanted: Cassin's Grape Brandy Bitters - contact Warren at

I want to stress that we do not want to sell bottles on this site, nor do we want to compete with the auction houses, bottle merchants or ebay. What we would like to do is put collectors in touch with other collectors that might be interested in buying or selling. Old Fashioned one on one bottle dealing with today's technology.

If you look over to the right side of this page you will see an area called Western Bitters Swap Shop. This is where we would list the bottles for sale or wanted.

Hey, this site is for all of you collectors to enjoy and participate to the degree of your choice, so if you want to comment on this or have suggestions about it (or don't even want to see it here) feel free to comment on this idea. Heck, we can call it Swap Shop, Buy & Sell section or whatever you all want, if you want it. So, tell us what you think!

If you are a member of this blog and want to author posts contact g.o. at and I will set you up as an author.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Federation National show

This years show was the first held in California. One hundred fifty-one tables were set-up. Although I came away empty handed without a western bitters, there were some that did end up in collectors hands. A very rare Orizaba Bitters, J. Maristany Jr. and a Dr. Harvey's Blood Bitters were seen with new owners. A Dr. Henley's Wild Grape Root IXL Bitters in the scarce square bottle style was seen for sale, as was a large variant Rosenbaums Bitters, N. B. Jacobs & Co, San Francisco in an old amber coloration. A blue aqua Cundurango bitters was also for sale.

Other more common western bitters noted for sale were two amber square Pipifax bitters (applied top and tooled top variants), Dr. Henley's Wild Grape Root IXL (circle) aqua cylinder variant, Dr. Thos Hall's California Pepsin Wine Bitters (tool top), Lash's Kidney and Liver Bitters (indented panel) square in light amber, Peruvian Bitters in red amber, Marshall's Bitters, Wait's Kidney and Liver Bitters, Star Kidney and Liver Bitters in square amber tooled top style. A dealer from Oklahoma had an aqua Yerba Buena Bitters he was inquiring about its value.

There were 16 bottle displays, the most interesting was a display put up by two members of the San Diego Antique Bottle club, it consisted of western glass dug that did not make it out of the ground in complete condition, it was called R.I.P and the examples shown would make the most advanced western glass collector salivate as well as was an emotional display to say the least! Had I known of this display, I could have contributed two very good examples to this display, an amber Cassin's and blue-green Renz's. A yellow-olive Dr. Boerhaave's Stomach Bitters was among the examples exhibited.

Bitters lecture at the National

Here a some portions of the fine presentation that Warren Friedrich offered up at the National Show this past weekend. The room was fairly full, I had one empty seat in front of me, and was able to get most of Warren's discussion on video. My storage and battery power were not able to handle the overload of information presented at the bitters seminar. They actually titled it the Bitters Roundtable as several collectors presented information and stories relating to Bitters collecting.

Bottle Certification

Here is a few comments from the Bitters Round Table held at the National Show this past weekend. Ferdinand Meyer's comments on the need for a certification process in the bottle collecting hobby are particularly important. Stamps, coins, sports cards, and other fields have a certification service or a grading service available to help eliminate fraud and misrepresentation. I remember the start of the coin grading and authenticating services in the 1980's. Much bad mouthing and skepticism from the old collectors/dealers. Now very, very few quality coins or stamps sell without being certified. Is it time for this in our hobby?