Monday, February 23, 2015

From Bruce Silva over at Western Whiskey Gazette

A word to the wise.
Not everyone's interpretation of the English language is the same. Take the word "FAIR" for instance.

We get a pretty constant stream of emails from collectors and non-collectors in the WWG inbox every week. Most from non-collectors are the typical "I got such and such bottle - how much is it worth?" Most of the novices out there could care less about the history of a bottle, they just want to know if they can make a buck on it. And most of the inquiries are answered with "since it has Federal Law Forbids Sale or Reuse of This Bottle, there's little to no demand at this time", it's pretty cut and dry.

Once in a while though, one really takes the cake. We got an email a while back from an old guy. Years ago, he'd picked a AAA flask up out of the sage brush while hunting.  He was trying to find a value online. The WWG popped up in his search, and he contacted us, hoping that he'd get an unbiased opinion. He asked what his AAA OldValley flask was worth. It was mint, crude, and a very good example. He wasn't interested in selling it but wanted it's value for estate purposes. I gave him the history about the bottle and provided the figures quoted in Thomas, as well as what they'd been selling for recently at shows.

He also told me that a Craigslist ad also appeared in his online search from someone wanting to buy old bottles. What caught his eye was the photo of a clear flask embossed AAA in the ad. It read; "I will buy your antique bottles for cash - $100 (norcal)". He sent me a link to the ad. 


I pulled up the ad that he'd mentioned. It had pictures of a few bottles that popped up in the main window when you clicked on them. One line in the ad caught my interest. " Fair prices, quick response." I wondered, what exactly is a FAIR price? And what would this person base his idea of a fair price on?

And so, we shot him off an inquiry. It read; "Hi. I saw your wanted ad on craigslist. I've got an old bottle (the Rosedale OK in the photo) that says the same thing as the purple one on the right side of your pictures.

Only its brown instead of purple. It is clean and shiny and there's no cracks or chips. I'm sending along a picture of it. What can you tell me about it?"

His response was somewhat generic; "Your bottle is a bit different, but from the same distributors. The one you have is scarcer than the one I have in my ad. It is from San Francisco , probably 1890's or so. Very nice bottle. I would like to buy it, if you are interested. Let me know."

We replied " Thank you for the information. If I were to think about selling it, what do you think that it would be worth?"

This is his reply; "I would pay you $200 for it.

Keep in mind that Thomas quotes a mid book figure of $2000.00. My experience with this bottle is in line with Johns.

We opted not to reply. Sure enough, along comes another email from "SAM". "Any interest? Counteroffer?

When questioned about his offer, and why he asked for a counter, he replied in part, "Well, a couple hundred dollars, ... , is considered quite good in the bottle world. Very few are worth much more and they are very scarce. Also, condition and color are everything in glass and bottles are no exception. The whiskey bottle, if absolutely perfect, with little or no surface scratches would be worth more.

Fair?       Really?
Your thoughts?

(Feel free to comment - In fact we encourage it. All you've got to do is click on "comments" below)


  1. Interesting post Bruce. I receive numerous emails from people fishing for information ( usually values) for their bottles. Some pieces are fantastic while others consist of common recycling material. I always approach this in the same way...let them know the age and history of the items and request photos. I offer a free appraisal and let them know what a full retail or insurance value would be. If they are interested in selling, they know what a retail value would be and if not, thats ok. If I wish to purchase the bottle for my collection, I offer full retail based on condition and overall characteristics. If I am purchasing for possible re-sale, I let them know what I can do and let them decide to sell or consign on my website for a commission. I have seen numerous lowball offers to people who have little if any knowledge of bottles and this is sad to see. We all want to get a good deal, but outright lying with offers of 10% of value is downright wrong. It happens all the time though, in all aspects of collecting. Reputation is hard earned and easily lost. I will give you $300 for that Rosedale! :) Dale

  2. Perhaps this person is honestly new to the hobby and does not know any better? Don't you think the Thomas book is a weak tool in regards to valuing whiskies in today’s market? Those prices were quoted when the whiskey market was at its zenith. Both demand and value of average example bottles has fallen for most of the whiskeys since the publication of the book. The book however is a great resource for company histories, distribution (to a certain extent), and rarity. Imagine trying to sell your house and trying to validate your asking price by using sales comparables that are 15 years old……………..

  3. Here's one for you .An tractor salesman that I purchased some John Deere tractors from had a wife who collected bottles. I had been to their house and saw her collection . It had some average bitters a few common whiskeys some medies and some sodas one being a cobalt H&G .. I wasn't interested in any thing she had but I did tell her that the H&G was a very rare bottle .This was about 27 years ago.. The wife passed away and some time later John stopped by my office with the H&G soda in hand . He said you said this is a rare bottle so I'm giving it to you I told him John this is also a very valuable bottle and is worth a bunch . He said he didn't collect bottles so it wasn't worth much to him and do you want it or not .I took it and said thanks. Then Bev laid claim to it but she lets me keep it on my shelf.

  4. As always honesty is the best policy. You were honest with the tractor salesman and your straight up evaluation of the collection wasn't lost on the salesman.

  5. Here is another. One weekend, my daughter and I and the dog went to spend the day at the Yuba River above Nevada City. On the way down we passed by a yard sale. We didn't stop. We continued on down to the river, spent most of the day there. On the way out, we passed by the yard sale again. This time we spotted some early beach curser style bikes, that my daughter and I enjoy riding. So we stopped. The bikes were in so, so condition. So then, as I always do, I asked the elderly man (in his 80's) if he had any old bottles. He said, Yes, over in my shop I have a few. As we walk in, he pointed to some bottles on the window ceil. (only 6 bottles) 3 black glass ales, 2 sodas and a small green lady's leg looking bottle. The only bottle that really stood out, was the dark green Summit mineral water. The other soda was an aqua slick. Then I picked up the lady's leg, and read the bottom. It said Salutaris Bitters, S.F. It did not ring a bell to me, but it did have S.F. on it. So, I ask the man if he would sell the two bottles. He replied, yes,did you want them all. No, I said , just these two and what did you want for them. He said, make me an offer. Well, I knew that the soda was really good but I was not quit sure on the Bitters. So, I pulled out my wallet and gave him every dollar I had on me. A total of $53 dollars. I told him this is all I have on me right now. He held is hand out with a huge smile and said wow, thank you. He told me, he had found them some 40 years ago, while working for the forestry and they have been sitting there since. He was very surprised I had given him that much. I told him, I would have given you more if I had it on me. No, worries that's good enough, he said. So, my daughter and I headed home. When we got home I called (nor-cal) Mike Lake, who lives close by. I told Mike, I got a green summit soda today at a yard sale and a lady's leg bitters. He was at my house with in 5 minutes. He had never seen a true green summit soda. Wow! what a find, mike said. Then I handed him the bitters, his reply was, HOLY SH%* ! NO FRIGIN WAY. Do you know how rare this bottle is. No, I said. It isn't one I'm familiar with. There is only three of these known in green. This is a home run bottle, Mike said. I was on cloud 9 after that.

  6. Once the word got out, that I had these two heavy hitters, the offers started pouring in. Henness called me about the soda, and said he really would like that green summit. So, he gave me a great trade and some $ for the soda. As for the bitters, I was going to hang on to it and I did for about a year. In that time, I was told that this Bitters was the last one Warren was looking for. He did wright the book about it. So, just before the Downieville show some years back. I called Warren and told him I was bringing the Salutaris Bitters to the show. When I got to the show, I was mobbed by buyers making offers on it, but I was only going to sell it to Warren if he was interested. Some of the offers were double of what I was going to sell the bottle to Warren for. I met with Warren and showed him the bottle. He really wanted it. So, I gave him a fair market price and asked if that was fair to him. He said yes, and the bottle change hands. Now, if I had sold that bottle to the highest offer, Warren would have to pay more or double from that guy. Would that be fair? NO! but that's how this hobby works. ......It wasn't so much the money for me, it was to see the bottle go to the right guy. After selling the two bottles. I wanted to do right by the guy who sold them to me. So, I went back to the old mans house, about a year later. There, I met the daughter and son of the man. They told me that their dad had passed way 3 months prior. I was too late. I told them that their dad had done something good for me and I wanted to do something good back. They said it wasn't important now, but thank you. I did anyways by mail. ...Call it what you want. Being in the right place at the right time, luck or good karma. That moment in time made four guys very happy. Note: I would have never stopped at that yard sale if it wasn't for the beach bikes.

  7. the words well, a couple hundred dollars, considered quite good in the bottle world, very few are worth much more. should have been your first clue that either this guy is a cheat, very new to bottles or just plain out to rip anybody he can off. as we all here know that there are at least a thousand western bottles alone that are worth over a thousand dollars apiece and many worth tens of thousands of dollars each, many of which have been posted on this site by the big dogs of the bottle world. so my advice to all is buyers, sellers, BEWARE the bottle cheats, because they are out there and are alive and well........Andy

  8. Andy,

    Good point, "Beware". Most of us with a few years of collecting experience under our belts are educated. Not so with the general public.

    There was a great deal more dialogue involved in this frog show than I included in the original post. I opted to omit the rest of the interaction for the sake of focus in this article.

    This individual is by no means an amateur. He is well versed in antique bottles. He knows the difference between a green Drakes Plantation, an aqua applied top Dyottville whiskey, an1860's pepper sauce and a Mrs. Butterworth's syrup bottle. All of which appeared in a photo that he viewed. The green Drakes Plantation was also, handily, valued by him at $200~...

    One comment above apparently defended unethical behavior due to the Thomas whiskey book (and perhaps Bob's as well) being too high in it's values? Western Whiskies have ebbed and flowed like the tide. Right now, they've warmed back up and prices are on an upswing.

    Regardless, since 2005, I've facilitated the sales of six glop top amber Rosedale's. I quoted both book value and stated that "My experience with this bottle is in line with Johns". An amber glop top Rosez, issue free, is (and has been) a solid meat'n'taters $2K glop top.

    Getting back to the original point. A $200~ offer on a $2000~ bottle (or bottles)?

    Fair? Really?

  9. Hello KG Thank you for exposing this individual for what is really a low ball offer on a valuable bottle. As you wrote most of us who have done this awhile know better, but not all collectors know about values of bottles out of their experience or collecting knowledge, so these types of people are a real danger to our hobby and should be exposed at every chance. keep up the good work in all your bottle dealings..........Andy