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.


  1. I agree totally with your comment on grading.Bottles are not coins and some collectors just put too much emphasis on perfection. To each his own.

  2. Yeah I think that some very small imperfections like a pinhead size flake or some inside stain shouldnt be considered all that bad. But I bought a nice Wormser at a bottle show in the south bay area once that had a small flake off the side of the lip ( in the back even) and some guy lookin over my shoulder at the sale said he wouldnt touch that bottle with a ten foot pole........I mean, I bought the durn thing for $ 850.00 and that was just two yrs ago, I thought I did purty good it was a good color n' eveythin.......Andy

  3. Andy,
    I don't know if you have noticed but early western bitters are as scarce as hen's teeth lately. Just a couple of months ago I sent emails to about 12 western collectors looking for any western bitters that they might have for sale. Results: 1 - olive colored Dr. Renz's Herb Bitters with a potstone right smack in the middle of the embossed panel of the bottle. I bought it without hesitation. It was the only bitters I was offered and I was glad to get it.

    I think you did real well on the Wormser bottle. The fellow looking over your shoulder missed his chance to get a rare western bitters at a fire sale price.

  4. I simply don't understand this "grading system". Bottles are far more "subjective" than antique firearms and rare coins. 9.3, 9.4, 9.5, what's the diff?

  5. My streak on diggin' "Renzicles" has run out. This year the score is a big ZERO. Busteds, but no gooduns. Chuck, on the other hand, dragged out a killer green one a while back, his first.