Friday, May 4, 2012

Western Bitters Survey 2012

Recently I was reviewing older posts on this blog, and came across the "Western Bitters Survey". I also noticed that this survey was compiled without the internet, and prior to the forum Western Bitters News. Being mainly western bitters focused in my collecting, and the apparent increase in the popularity in these gorgeous and historically significant bottles, I thought that perhaps this survey of the top 20 western bitters could be tabulated by anyone who has the ability to post their top 20. Just thought it would be interesting...

 Dale R. Mlasko


  1. Forwhat it's worth, here is mine...
    1)Cassin,s Grape brandy Bitters
    2)California Bitters- Frisch
    3)G.A. Simon's
    4)Dr. Wonser's Indian Root
    5)Oregon Chittum Bitters ( square)
    7)Chalmer's Catawba
    9)Old Man's Stomach Bitters
    10)Dr. Miller's Ratafia
    11)Wideman & Chappaz
    12)Salutaris Bitters ( shoulder embossed)
    13)Dr. Boerhaave's
    14) Alex Von Humboldts
    15)Dr. Hauseman's German Bitters( flask)
    16) Dr. Hauseman's German Bitters( square)
    17)E.G. Lyon's
    19)Rosenbaum's (small)
    20) Wormser Bros. Barrel
    Some bitters are great, but just not in the "western" way...Bryant's, Catawba, etc. Dale

  2. Here's my list:
    1) Cassin's Grape Brandy Bitters [var.1]
    2) Cassin,s Grape Brandy Bitters [var.2]
    3) Lacour's Sarsapariphere Bitters [var.1]
    4) G.A.Simon's Medicated Aromatic Bitters
    5) E.G.Lyons & Co Manufacturers SanFco
    6) V. Squarza
    7) Dr. Wonser's U.S.A. Indian Root Bitters
    8) Rosenbaums Bitters [var.2]
    9) Alex Von Humboldts Stomach Bitters
    10)Dr. Boerhaave's Stomach Bitters
    11)Salutaris Bitters Byrne & Castree
    12)Dr. Renz's Herb Bitters [var.1]
    13)A T & Co
    14)Dr. Henley's Eye Opener
    15)Dr. Harvey's Blood Bitters
    16)California Wine Bitters M.Keller
    17)E.Widemann & J. Chappaz
    18)Dr. Henley's IXL Wild Grape Root Bitters
    19)Dr.Place's CUNDURANGO Bitters
    20)Wormser Bros. San Francisco

    Listing choices are mostly because of the wide array of colors these brands have been seen in(whole or pieces).

  3. My Most Desired 20 Western Bitters
    Personally Desired

    1) Cassin’s Grape Brandy Bitters
    2) California Bitters- Frisch
    3) G.A. Simon's
    4) Chalmer's Catawba
    5) M.Keller
    6) Dr. Miller's Ratafia
    7) Peruvian Bitters Wilmerding (flask)
    8) Dr. Hauseman's German Bitters( flask)
    9) Oregon Chittum Bitters ( square)
    10) Dr. Boerhaave's
    11) Alex Von Humboldts
    12) E.G. Lyon's
    13) V.Squarza
    14) Salutaris Bitters ( shoulder embossed)
    15) Wideman & Chappaz
    16) Dr. Hauseman's German Bitters( square)
    17) Dr. Wonser's Indian Root
    18) Rosenbaum's (small)
    19) Lacour's
    20) Wormser Bros. Barrel
    Dennis E

  4. My list
    1. California Bitters / Frisch
    2. Wonsers USA
    3. Cassins either
    4. Chalmers
    5. G.A. Simons
    6. Lacours -any
    7. Salutaris
    8. Old Mans
    9. Huusemans / flask
    10.Hausemans / square
    11.Peruvian / flask
    12.California Wine Bitters
    13.Mills Stomach Bitters
    14.Dr. Boerhaaves
    15.OK Bitters
    16.Harvey's Blood Bitters
    19.Alex Von Humbolts
    20.Dr. Millers Ratafia
    Regarding V.Squarza,E.G.Loyn's , Wideman & Chappaz I'll take the Blackie Owens stand and that is each of these companys put out lots of products and granted these are great western bottles but they all could have contained other things other than "Bitters".Has anybody seen a lable on one? I have a labled E.G.Lyons Bitters and its on a small size ladys leg.

  5. I'll comment on your question. According to Wilson, a partial label, enough to identify it as Sainsevain's Wine Bitters was seen on a E.G. LYONS & CO square bottle. My research shows that Lyons was given the manufacture of this product in 1874.
    What we don't know is exactly when these square product bottles were made. We do know that E.G. LYONS & CO began in 1865 when he purchased the business concern from CREVOLIN & CO. So there is a 9 year period between Lyons start-up and when he produced the Sainsevain's product. His bottles certainly could have contained any number of products he was carrying or producing during this time frame.

  6. Top “Fill-In-The-Blank” Lists always make for very fun and interesting discussions! But it’s a challenge to say which bottles are “better” than others given the many different factors to consider when ranking a category of bottles: Rarity, Color, Crudeness, Age, History, Appeal, Condition of known examples etc. For example, a Green Wormser Barrel may crack the Top 5 or 10 of the aforementioned lists, but an amber or honey-amber example would probably be pinned right around the popular rank of #20. Another thought is this -- Is it the right conversation to rank figural bitters against squares or squares against Cylinders or Lady’s Legs. This list might take on more clarity if the rankings were categorized by Shape/Style Categories. But it is still tough to define exactly what Category a Dr. Wonser’s Indian Root Bitters belongs too. Is it fancy enough to be considered a figural bitters….not plain enough to be considered a cylinder….or something else? I’d love to hear some input from the long-term bitters collectors and see if we can arrive at some general agreement on Shape/Style Categories. The Top 25 Western Whiskey list isn’t perfect but it does a good job of keeping the fifths separate from the Flasks, right? For someone who still loves the Western Bitters but no longer has any, here are my thoughts with the attempt at an "apples to apples" comparison:

    Top Western Bitters - Squares:
    8.ROSENBAUMS BITTERS N.B. JACOBS & Co SAN FRANCISCO (small western variant)
    9.DR. RENZ’S (Small Letter)
    10.T.M. BITTERS (Square) – Are these confirmed to be “Western blown”?

    Top Western Bitters - Figurals/Fancy Semi-Figurals/Lady’s Legs:
    3.DR. WONSER'S U.S.A. INDIAN ROOT BITTERS (could also be listed w/ the Cylinders)
    5.E. WIDEMAN & J. CHAPPAZ (Alpine Stomach Bitters)
    7.V. SQUARZA (anti-dyspeptic or hygienic bitters)
    9.AT & Co.

    Top Western Bitters – Cylinders:

    Top Western Bitters - Flasks:
    3.HARVEY’S BLOOD BITTERS (Not really a flask, but a close match than the other 2 Categories)

    1. Here's another angle .How would they fare if they were listed by $ value .Do you think you could trade any Cassins for a Frisch or maybe someone would trade you a green U.S.A. Wonsers ? Don't think so. Squares , how about a applied top Botanic ,not even listed but it exist. Henley's Eye Opener,not even the description in Wilson's book was right.Warren do you have any advertising or listing that this product was a bitters? As far as the Renz go's there one of the most plentiful of the applied top squares. More so than Mohica ,Alpine ,Bennets Wild Cherry, Grand Prize , Hibernia (Braunschweiger & Bumstead),Jewel Bitters either one (square?)and others. And to really ruffle up feathers I would say that collectors of western bitters seem to follow what ever is the current trend.That is most would pass up a lot rarer bottle and go after a Green Renz .Recent Ebay sales had some really rare western bitters sell for nothing , but then nobody was talking them up and admittedly they were not glamorous.

  7. A lot of truth there, Richard. I think you bring up a valid measuring benchmark, the Value of a given bitters. However the owner is always going to think a bottle is worth more & a buyer is always going to downplay a bottle's value. What is the Frisch worth? It might be priceless if you won't sell it, or whatever one high roller is willing to pay. Not much sales history to compare it to though, right?

    But I think a list based on Rarity would be the closest thing to an objective list. It would only be based on "known examples," but would eliminate external factors like color, crudity, etc. which are very important, but make any sort of ranking system overly ambiguous. I'd like to see a list of the Top 25 Applied Top Western Bitters, based on rarity alone. Anyone else?I would think they would preferably have to be either "Western-blown" or embossed San Francisco/S.F./California/etc., as a Bitters that was manufactured for a western firm.

  8. Hi All,

    Very interesting discussion...
    My intent was not to create a scientific and "in stone" ranking, but each collector's perception of what they consider to be their most desired top 20. Certainly each bottle's individual characteristics play heavily into this...demand is what drives value, and not necessarily rarity alone. I find it interesting to see each collector's "hearts desire" in a ranking format. Price? I believe the cobalt Old Homestead traded for a monster price in the $200k range a couple of years ago, and I would not trade a green Wonser's for it. So in theory the Homestead might rank higher in the bitters world, but not to me. Just viewing Richard's opinion of his top 20 being the "dean" of western bitters, and how it compares to Dennis' list is profound. I love the view into other's mindsets.I frequently use a saying in my business" As they see it, it MUST be true". Nobody's feathers should be ruffled, as there is no truly correct answer...this is not a test. Dale

  9. I seriously doubt you’d ever get two collectors to agree on the same list by order. What is apparent is that all the bottles mentioned here rank among the most highly desired. It’s interesting to see where these bottles fall with certain collectors.

    I find it interesting too that a few ranked the Widemann so low or not at all. It’s the earliest Western blown bitters, sold solely from a corner saloon in the Gold Country for only 6 months, found only in one location, incredibly rare & beautiful. While a common Renz’s ranks higher with another collector. It clearly comes down to personal preference for myself and others too.

    Great discussion, keep it up, I’m working on my list!

  10. Actually I haven't found any information to prove what the Henley's Eye Opener product was. I've found information on most of his other products but not this. I just loved the name!
    I think Richard's idea of a ranking by perceived value would be interesting to see.

    I also like Lance's sugestion of a list of ranking by Brand rarity, I've tried to somewhat keep track of known examples although I'll be the first to admit I don't have a clue on some of the more obscure named brands.

    1. Tom Quinn found out about the numbers of top western whiskey bottles .I don't know how long it took him to do that but I belive he did a good job of it . I know he talked to many ,many collectors . I don't know how long it would take to survey the known amount of each western bitters.Any takers for that job ??

  11. Thanks for sharing your Top 20, Dale, and reintroducing such a fun and imaginative discussion on great bitters!

    It's a challenge for me to have a true idea on a Top 20, as I've never seen the Frisch in person and knew next to nothing about bitters 5 years ago. I just thought it would be cool to see approximately how many examples of these Top Bitters are "known." From there, a number of different lists could be discussed, but the most important list is each collector's personal favorites.

    I wonder how many years of digging it would take for someone to dig a shard or more of just half of the bitters in the above lists...The Big Dig would've been a nice starting point, eh?

  12. Great list boys. As for digging, some of Californias best have dug, at least broken, just about every one of these bitters. Any Rosenbaums or Renzs come out of Nevada this year ? I think the Frisch and Wonsers would do me for number one and two on my list.

  13. Many factors came to mind when I put this list together like: availability, color, crudity & condition of both intact & broken examples. Although there is somewhat of an order by number I find it difficult to rate many of the bottles higher than others due to variance in examples. For example: I know of a Rosembaum that I wouldn’t even consider trading any colored Lacour’s for. So the list more or less reflects my own personal preference and not necessarily by exact order.

    The discussion of top 20 whiskey & bitters has been ongoing for years. How about a top 20 most desirable known Western bottles with color taken into consideration???

    1. Cassin,s
    2. Frisch
    3. Chalmer’s
    4. Wonser’s
    5. Simon’s
    6. Lacour’s
    7. Keller
    8. Widemann & Chappaz
    9. Dr. Miller’s
    10. Hauseman’s flask
    11. Oregon Chittum
    12. Lyon’s
    13. O.K.
    14. Rosembaum
    15. Salutaris
    16. Borehaave’s
    17. Old Mans
    18. Hausemans square
    19. Von Humboldts
    20. Wormser

  14. We have some knowledgeable digger/collectors on this blogsite and to read their perspectives on choices of western bitters bottles is
    interesting to compare!

    I like all the suggestions made so far. As far as a listing of bitters by perceived value and another listing by rarity, that would be fun to try also.The suggestion of a top 20 listing of western bottles by color is another good one.

  15. I agree with the comments regarding breaking down the top 20 list with colors included. If we were to create the list with colors required, there would certainly be some duplication of names/types, but hey, if we are talking top 20 all-time favorites, that is going to be necessary. After all, unless we are talking one or two known, color is often king when selecting favorites from a group of rarer bottles.

    There are some killer collections out there full of rare Western bitters. Let's say we hypothetically take the top three collections, fill up one large showcase with them, then have collectors come in and pick out their top 20 favorites. How many duplications of the same bottle in different colors do you think we'd see from each collector's choices? We would also have to expect to see a variance in what is popular due to eye appeal verses what is rare.

    With these parameters in mind, here would be my choices. I know this is a different twist than the previous lists, but since I am primarily driven by color and shape, most of these were chosen for eye appeal, and not so much by value or rarity. (I didn't add any variants, but they should probably be considered for an official list?) Some have similar dual colors listed that I feel are equally desirable. This is also based only on what I have seen or know of in whole examples:

    1. Cassin,s--bubbly amber
    2. Cassin,s--green/olive green
    3. Wonser's--green
    4. Wonser's--yellow amber/olive amber
    5. Bryant's cone--green
    6. Widemann & Chappaz--puce
    7. Salutaris--puce
    8. Lacour's--green/olive green
    9. Frisch--amber
    10. Widemann & Chappaz--green
    11. Salutaris--green
    12. Cassin,s--blackglass
    13. Wonser's--aqua
    14. Rosenbaum--wine puce
    15. Wonser’s--amber
    16. Rosembaum--green/olive green
    17. Wormser--citrine
    18. Keller--green
    19. Renz's--green
    20. IXL—olive amber/amber

    After reviewing my list, I am realizing we probably should consider two lists: one for overall rarity by name; the other more like a popularity/desirability contest by name and color (plus maybe the variant where applicable?). We really are talking two completely different categories here.

    1. Bill wilson use to say when reflecting on the bottle hobby (he usually had some spirits on hand) If you house caught on fire and you could only grab two bottles which ones would you take ? THink about that one for a while .

    2. I think hands down that the one-of-a-kind bubbly amber Cassin,s is by far the ultimate Western Bitters and deserves the number one spot. This is the ex Robert Frank bottle that recently found a new home. I would even go so far as to say it is the top Western bottle of any category. Just an incredible bottle that has everything going for it. I recall visiting Robert several years ago right after he had purchased it at auction. He carried it out in the sunlight so I could photograph it and every bubble in that bottle lit up like a neon light. I swear I saw angels ascending from the heavens for a moment there! Definitely the first grab in a fire if I were ever lucky enough to own it.

  16. In the case of Richard's (bitters portion) collection that would be a damn difficult task! However I would grab the two bitters that I felt would be nearly impossible to ever acquire again. I would be heartbroken to say the least, to EVER have to leave any behind.

    California Bitters/Frisch San Francisco and
    G.A. Simon's Medicated Aromatic Bitters.

  17. There are so many variables with color , crudity, and rarity in western bitters. Most of the lists vary only slightly on the top bitters and we struggle because we envision how to rate a crude green example over a plain amber with no character. It might be fun for some of the collectors to post photos of the best rosenbaums or renz , even cunderango then try to rate the top examples. What say ye Lets see some photos. CAL 49er

    1. Responding to IXL ,do you know that the bubbly amber Cassins has a twin sister ? At the Expo the Santa Rosa Bottle Club is going to haul up a great display fixture where everyone is invited to put a few bottles in.This display will be well guarded .Your bottle must be signed in and out .They don't have to be there for the whole show.Why don't you bring your favorite western bitters and show if off. I'll bring the Frisch , Simons ,green Wonsers and maybe a couple of spares .

    2. I was only aware of one. I don't know if my ticker can handle seeing two of those puppies at one time, but let's see if we can get both to appear at the Expo? I'll just request that a medic be present...

  18. Richard,
    Don Dwyer is going to bring some bitters to display and was hoping to get an opportunity for the three of us to display the Simon's together for a photograph.