Published: March 23, 2021
Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy American Bottle Auctions
SACRAMENTO, CALIF. – American Bottle Auctions (ABA) presented Part 1 of the Don Dwyer collection of bitters and soda bottles in an online auction, starting on February 26 and ending on March 7. About 250 bottles, nearly all from the Dwyer collection, crossed the block, led by a rare bottle considered the most desirable of the western bitters, according to Jeff Wichmann of American Bottle Auctions.
“Don Dwyer has spent decades putting together a collection of bitters that had just about every example made for and sold in the West,” said Wichmann. “In addition, his interest in western soda and mineral water bottles added greatly to his huge inventory. Because he liked to collect color runs and made sure he had most variants, we will be presenting this collection by dividing it up so auctions 1 and 2 will both have bitters and sodas.”
Selling for $29,900 was Cassins’ Grape Brandy Bitters C 78, 1866-73, a color described as a yellow green. It is the second variant and, although it appears unblemished, there is an in-making area on the lip where possibly a bubble interfered in creating a perfectly formed top. “They come in a lot of different colors from amber to green,” said Wichmann, “and there are two variants; this one has the comma in the word Cassin,s instead of an apostrophe. They were meant to resemble a cello. One of only a few western bottles purposely made in a figural shape.”
The next priciest bottle in the sale was a Lacour’s Bitters with Sarsapariphere on reverse. With applied mouth in yellow green, its trademark approved in 1867, the lot sold for $24,500. The auction house stated that it believes Lacour’s distributed the product from 1866 to 1875. Helping such identification was the recent release by the California State Archives of a large selection of trademarks and accompanying labels and other information. The Lacour’s Sarsapariphere Bitters was an extremely popular western bitters put out by Louis Lacour, a well-known and immensely well-liked individual with a flair for business. His bitters featured a lighthouse on the label and other advertising and documentation. The bottle, in fact, is shaped like a lighthouse. “These bottles come in varying colors and even an aqua, which is the rarest of the colors we’ve seen,” said the auction house. “This example is about perfect with some areas that appear a bit unusual as they contain bits of unmelted sodium or another ingredient in the glass. There is also extra glass hanging onto the neck and an open bubbly on the flat part of the shoulder which really doesn’t detract.”
Fetching $15,525 each were a Dr Wonser’s Bitters USA square in aqua with applied top, circa late 1870s-80s, and (34) a V. Squarza applied mouth in cobalt blue. The square Wonser bottles are probably the bottles McKillan & Kester used after purchasing the product from the Hawkins brothers, the auction house surmised. “We don’t know for sure, but since the product was only produced for a few years by the brothers, it could be that the new owners opted for a less expensive container and this was it. It is also thought that later they went with a label-only bottle.” The bottles are seen in different shades of aqua and the Dr Wonser’s name is desirable among bottle collectors.
The V. Squarza is also believed to have held bitters. The product was trademarked in 1865 and was possibly called either a Hygienic or Selene Bitters. What is known about Vincent Squarza was that he was in and around San Francisco selling his punches out of his Punch Saloon in the 1850s. “There’s no rhyme or reason for this beautiful blue example, maybe a limited production for his most special product as not a lot of cobalt blue bottles were being blown in San Francisco,” said the auction house. It is only the second such bottle American Bottle Auctions has sold.
A Bryant’s Bitters at $14,375 was cone-shaped with applied top and sticky pontil mark. With the Cassin’s Bitters, this may be the most iconic of western bottles. A lot is written about this rare bottle, including the fact that one sold in 2000 establishing a new record for the highest price paid at auction – $67,500. All together there are perhaps five to ten examples known in any condition, according to the auction house. This example had a crack but had a professional resin repair around the base.
Henley’s Eye Opener went out at $8,050. In green with light whittle and a chip off the back lip, it is among the many products that Henley marketed, and it might be one of the more unusual. The auction house said it believes it is the only known example in a color other than aqua. Without the chip it would grade a 9.
An early example of the bitters that began being blown in San Francisco in the early part of the western bitter’s movement was seen in an Alex Von Humboldt’s Stomach Bitters that was bid to $7,760. With applied top, the 1868-72 example’s name was based on a famous botanist named Buenman Von Humboldt. Seen in varying shades of amber, this one exhibited old amber and had some nice overall crudity.
One of the few so-called “lady’s leg” bitters made for a western concern, a Mills’ Bitters A.M Gilman Sole Proprietor with applied top reached $5,750. While these are a San Francisco bitters, a number of them have been found in Tucson, according to the auction house, leading some to think it was made for an Arizona concern. “The company owned by Gilman was eventually purchased by the P.J. Cassin company. They produced a sample size bottle with their name on it, which is very rare. We’ve seen one. These are usually in very poor condition, so this is about as good as they get,” said Wichmann. “For some reason, they are often in need of a cleaning. It might be that a lot of them were found in Tucson and their sandy soil affected the glass. Nobody knows but it is a great fairly early western bitters produced for one year only.”
Characterized as super condition and grading a 9, an oval-shaped Harvey’s Blood Bitters finished at $4,600. It had applied top, was in medium amber and featured an applied square collar and an inset panel on the reverse. “The name is an interesting one and we’ve been advised that this bottle was made in the United Kingdom,” noted the auction house. “It was thought that the Cassin company distributed the product but without more detail we will leave it at that.”
Two Henley’s IXL Bitters examples were notable. An example in blue commanded $2,760, while a companion in green took $2,000.
Rounding out the sale’s top 20 lots were a Renz’s Herb Bitters, $3,910; E.G. Lyon’s, $3,680; Turner Brothers, $3,220; Pacific Congress Water in light blue, $2,250; Merriam’s soda, $3,020; Taylor soda water in blue, $1,360; Taylor’s Valparaiso Chili soda, $1,270; and Bay City Sodawater, $2,070.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For information, www.americanbottle.com or 800-806-7722.
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