Published: June 15, 2021
Review by Greg Smith, Photos Courtesy American Bottle Auctions
SACRAMENTO, CALIF. – Serendipity was bottled and sold at American Bottle Auctions on June 6 when the firm’s timed online-only sale offering the collection of Don Dwyer came to a close.
Though he had been collecting bottles since the 1960s, it was when Dwyer read American Bottle Auctions auctioneer Jeff Wichmann’s 1999 title, Antique Western Bitters Bottles, that he decided to concentrate solely on bitters. He attempted to collect every specimen illustrated in the book, “and he came very close,” Wichmann wrote as he auctioned it all off.
Wichmann said, “It really just caught his eye and it was something that he was already thinking about – what category he wanted to collect in. My book came out and it kind of sparked some interest in him.”
Included in the sale was a fine selection of Western bitters, though other categories were represented, including soda bottles and label-only bottles. Wichmann wrote that Dwyer got hooked on collecting when he started exploring old Chinese lumber camps near his home in Oroville, Calif. He would find bottles and other artifacts, leading him on the search for more.
Color runs were found throughout the sale, including variously hued examples for Peruvian Bitters, Dr Renz’s Herb Bitters, Rosenbaum’s Bitters, Cassin’s Grape Brandy Bitters, Cundurango/Cundurango, Dr J Hostetter’s, Lady’s Leg, Walker Vinegar Bitters and more.
Western “squares” are a category within a category, and included here was a five-bottle run of Rosenbaum’s Bitters in deep apricot, deep reddish amber, bright yellow with green, medium yellow green and bright teal. The highest was paid for the medium yellow at $3,400. The Renz’s are another square, and these two examples in pastel green and amber were led by the latter at $1,100.
Achieving the sale’s top price was a $13,500 result for Chalmer’s Catawba Wine Bitters in aqua with applied top. According to Eric Costa in Gold and Wine, Robert Chalmers was best known for his bitters product, which was popular among the miners in Virginia City. The full-face embossing includes an image commemorating the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Old Mill in 1848.
“That was a bottle that was made fairly early on in the production of Western bottles,” Wichmann said. “The embossing had a picture of Sutter’s Old Mill, where they discovered gold, and that made it a commemorative. It is the only bottle that shows the mill or even mentions the gold rush. The more embossing the better, and this was highly embossed. And if it has a picture, it’s a lot better.”
In green with an applied mouth was a Variant 1 L3 of Lacour’s Bitters with Sarsapariphere, which would take $5,000. The same bottle in amber, Variant 3 L3, sold for $3,200. The auction house wrote these bottles were meant to appear like a lighthouse.
The Cundurango/Cundurango bottles formed another color run in amber, bright green and aqua. It is an example of a Sacramento bottle, produced through George Waterman Chesley’s Chesley Company. Chesley’s brick mansion still stands today in Sacramento. Green went the highest, taking $4,000, followed by aqua at $1,500 and amber at $950.
Selling for $5,000 was a bottle in green embossed with “TM” below a five-pointed star. Wichmann said he had only ever seen it on a couple of occasions.
Among the Cassin’s Grape Brandy Bitters bottles was a Variant 1 in a yellow green that brought $8,000. The bottle was found in 1977 by Mark Huddleston while probing through his yard in Sonora, Calif. Though it had some damage, Wichmann said that almost no undamaged Variant 1s are known. Higher still was an example in a dark greenish amber that sold for $10,500. The Variant 2 example was found by Jim McKenny and Richard Siri in 1967 at the Benicia mudflats.
American Bottle Auctions sold part 1 of Dwyer’s collection in March of this year. Combined, the sales offered 448 bottles and averaged about $1,000/bottle, Wichmann said, the heavy hitters pulling the average up.
Dwyer will maintain his Marysville bottles, but decided to sell the bulk of his collection after repeatedly evacuating his home in California due to threatening forest fires. He took his collection with him each time and finally decided the risk was not worth it.
Four days before the sale was due to close, Wichmann said his site was hacked and the auction was temporarily put on hold. He said it was down for about 24 hours. “We didn’t know if the auction would even happen,” Wichmann said, though in short order he worked with his providers to get the site back and the auction went on.
When the dust settled, Wichmann said, “I think we did really well. Western bottles are very strong.”
For additional information, www.americanbottle.com or 800-806-7722.
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