American Bottle Auctions’ Two-Part Online Auction #67 will be Held Nov. 29 and Jan. 24Updated on
The legendary Ken Fee collection of mostly Western bitters bottles, to include a 150-year-old blue Cassin’s Grape Brandy Bitters bottle so rare that for years many doubted its very existence, will be sold across two online auctions by American Bottle Auctions in Auction #67. The first will be on Friday, November 29th; the second will be on January 24th, 2020.
“No one had seen Ken Fee’s collection of over 300 bottles in probably four decades,” said Jeff Wichmann of American Bottle Auctions, online at www.americanbottle.com. “It only came to light following his death this past November, and I’ve been working with the family ever since to sort through it all. Many of the bottles are outstanding examples that should bring anywhere from a few hundred to many thousands of dollars.”
The real prize, Wichmann said, is the Cassin’s bottle, which he thinks could sell for six figures. “There had been some speculation as to where he got it, but we now know he bought it in the 1960s from a fellow named Alan Wilson. Apparently, it was dug in Eureka, California and Wilson bought it from the guy who found it. He then sold it to Ken Fee for the princely sum of one thousand dollars, payable at one hundred dollars a month.” Fee later said, “When I first saw it, lying on an old pink towel at the family home in Salt Lake City, I had to do a double take. I didn’t really know for sure what I was looking at.”
Wichmann continued, “Call it sapphire or bluish teal. Look at a photo and you’ll be convinced that legends, no matter how long buried, can, in an instant, appear before your very eyes. We do know it’s the second, more functionally stable variant, thank you, with the corners not so ready to burst and every bit as perfect as the day it was made in the late 1860’s. Not a scratch on it.”
The Cassin’s Bitters is arguably the greatest Western bitters blown. Made in San Francisco in 1867 and 1868, its shape was meant to resemble a cello. The first variant of the bottle had thin corners and because of the fragility of the bottle only a couple remain intact today. The second variant eliminated the fragile lines of the bottle and more of these examples still survive today.
This example, however, is a marvel regardless of age or history, as it is the only example known in this unique blue color. In addition, the bottle is in mint condition with virtually no discernable flaws, a rarity for any bottle this old but especially important for the only blue Cassin’s known to date. It would be an iconic addition to any collection and is expected to bring $75,000-$100,000.
There are many other rare and important bitters bottles in the Ken Fee collection being offered. Here are just a few:
Wonser’s USA Indian Root Bitters. This unusually shaped early San Francisco bottle in a bright aqua coloration was probably blown between 1871-73. Only a dozen or so aqua examples are known, so they don’t come up often, and not in this mint condition. When it comes to strike, color, condition and rarity, it would be hard to top this iconic bottle (est. $10,000 to $15,000).
N.B. Jacobs Rosenbaum Bitters San Francisco. Here’s another early San Francisco bitters, circa 1864-1868, variant 2, the smaller size with the Rosenbaum name embossed on it. It’s a beautiful yellow with a good amount of green. The top is unusual as they usually had a tapered top with a ring type collar. This example has no taper and, in fact, no ring (est. $3,000-$5,000).
Lacour’s Bitters Sarsapariphere. Louis Lacour and his fascination with the lighthouse is evident in this early San Francisco bitters bottle in mint condition. It’s a beautiful green and is in about perfect condition, with some nice overall crudity. Lacour’s have become highly sought after in recent years. Prices have escalated in proportion to desirability (est. $10,000-$20,000).
Henley’s Wild Grape Root IXL Bitters. Henley and his partners had great success selling the oddly named IXL bitters product from 1868-1893, in quart bottles. That’s a long time, but many of those were later variants. The early colored example here is probably closer to 1868-78. Most were aqua but this one is an unusual green with crudity, in mint condition (est. $2,000-$4,000).
Chalmer’s Catawba Wine Bitters. Calmer’s Bitters used the grapes grown around the Sutter’s Mill, where gold was discovered in California. This rare bottle in mint condition is one of only a dozen known, in the shape of a whiskey blown exclusively in aqua and made from 1872-1873. The embossed Sutter’s Fort on the bottle adds a great amount of appeal (est. $10,000-$20,000).
Catawba Wine Bitters with an embossed cluster of grapes. It is known that Catawba grapes were grown in Ohio and it is thought these bottles were made for an Ohio concern. Some have the graphite pontil, including this one. Collectors love the distinctive embossing and colors they are found in. This example is in pristine condition, with a super drippy top (est. $2,500-$5,000).
American Bottle Auctions has reduced the buyer’s premium for this auction to 13 percent for everything purchased under $10,000, and a flat 10 percent for everything over that. Many of the bottles in the auction can be seen at the Roseville show in early November (in California). American Bottle Auctions will be at the event.
Standard auction rules will apply. American Bottle Auctions does not do callbacks but, rather, has a 10-minute rule that applies to bids at the end of the auction. In essence, every bidder has a last opportunity to make a last winning bid. An online printable color catalog will be available soon, and all of the lots will be photographed and displayed in pictures and a streaming video.
Every effort will be made to present the items as close as possible to the real bottle. Additional pictures or videos are available on request. Potential customers are encouraged to come by the American Bottle Auction showroom, for an in-person look at all the bottles in the sale, although an appointment must be made in advance. To schedule an appointment, call (800) 806-7722.
American Bottle Auctions is always accepting quality consignments for future sales. To consign a single bottle or an entire collection, you may call them toll-free, at 1-800-806-7722; or, you can e-mail them at email@example.com. To learn more about American Bottle Auctions and the auctions of the Ken Fee collection (Nov. 29th and Jan. 24th), visit www.americanbottle.com.
American Bottle Auctions
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About American Bottle Auctions
American Bottle Auctions conducts internet and catalog sales of rare and vintage bottles, most dating to the second half of the 19th century. The firm is based in Sacramento, Calif. The website is americanbottle.com.
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