Published: November 3, 2020
Review by Greg Smith, Catalog Photos Courtey American Bottle Auctions
SACRAMENTO, CALIF.- Bidding closed on October 25 for American Bottle Auctions’ single-owner sale from the collection of Don Mullally, a founder of the Los Angeles Historical Bottle Club, which he and a friend started in 1967.
“He started the first club in Southern California and was instrumental in getting the bottle hobby going down there,” said Jeff Wichmann, owner of American Bottle Auctions. “The club is still going. He was always going to a bottle show or just being involved in the hobby in some way, many people who bid told me they knew him.”
Wichmann said he had known Mullally on and off for 30 years, having done a large deal with him many years ago. While Mullally collected whiskey bottles, he also ventured into wine, picnic, bitters and Benicia bottles.
The top of the sale was governed by the third lot, a Wormser Bros San Francisco whiskey flask with applied champagne-style top, circa 1865-67, that brought $19,550.
“That is the earliest Western blown whiskey flask out there,” Wichmann said.
The firm said there were approximately ten of these Wormser bottles known in any variant, but this is likely only the first or second undamaged example to be sold at auction. Wichmann said it ranks in value as the second best whiskey flask out there, behind the “Genuine.” He said this example was found in Virginia City, Nev., and was brought to a show where Mullally bought it. It sold to a longtime whiskey/bitters bottle collector.
The sale saw some fine results for California wine bottles. “I think along the line he just started getting interested in wine bottles,” Wichmann said. “He was down near Los Angeles and there were makers there. He started collecting wine bottles when most people didn’t bother with them, but more people are going to wines because they are affordable bottles, he was kind of ahead of his time in that regard.”
Thirty-three examples filled the sale, the highest being a $1,150 result for a Vache Feres & Co Native Wines & Brandies bottle from the Los Angeles maker. It was a clear fifth with tooled top. Behind at $920 was a San Gabriel Wine Company clear bottle with embossed star and grapes design.
Among the bitters bottles was a Cassin’s Grape Brandy Bitters in an aqua blue. Less than one year ago, everyone but Don Mullally believed there was only one other example of this bottle in this color known, a perfect condition specimen in the Ken Fee collection that American Bottle Auctions sold for $155,000 in November, 2019. Mullally’s example had a crack in it and it sold for $10,235.
On the Cassin’s bottle, the firm wrote, “The story we have been told on this one is that it was used as a net float in Baja California. The person who found it down there was Merle Emery from Nelson, Nev. He brought it to the Las Vegas bottle show and sold it to Alan Wilson.”
Nine lots of iridescent Benicia glass were found in the Mullally collection, led by a $1,380 result for a Voldner’s Aromatic Schnapps bottle with graphite pontil and a reddish glow. A cobalt blue John Ryan soda bottle marked for Savannah, Ga., 1859, sold for $1,093.
So-called Benecia bottles, all of which feature an iridescent sheen, ignited a bottle collecting craze in the late 1960s in the mudflats of Suisun Bay in Benecia, Calif. It was there in the Nineteenth Century that steamboats would stop and throw their trash overboard in the bay. A large tannery operating in Benicia is believed to have dumped their acidic runoff into the bay, producing a reaction that gave all of the bottles in the water an iridescence.
Among the special lots in the collection, Wichmann pointed to the $16,675 result for a Tea Kettle Old Bourbon San Francisco example from Shea, Bocqueraz & McKee. He noted that McKee began with the firm in 1871 but was gone by 1877 and that these bottles have mostly been found in Nevada. Wichmann graded this a 9.2 in an amber greenish amber tone.
“I found out that the market is really strong,” Wichmann said. “The pandemic hasn’t hurt it, It has really kind of helped it. We’re witnessing some of the highest prices we’ve seen on different glass.”
For additional information, www.americanbottle.com or 800-806-7722.
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