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Beautiful Western bitters bottles from the 19th century score big at American Bottle Auctions
Lacour’s Sarsapariphere Western bitters bottle, circa 1866-1875), the early variant number one, in a color that is highly desirable to collectors ($35,650).

SACRAMENTO, CA.- A Lacour’s Sarsapariphere Western bitters bottle, made circa 1866-1875, the early variant number one and in a color that is highly desirable to collectors, and an E. G. Lyons & Co. Mfgrs. (San Francisco) very early Western bitters bottle, made circa 1868-1871, in near-perfect condition, one of only a handful known, each sold for identical prices of $35,650.

They were the top lots in Auction #63, a two-part online and catalog auction held Feb. 10-18 and March 3-11 by American Bottle Auctions, based in Sacramento. “Auction 63 was quite possibly the top Western glass auction ever presented,” said Jeff Wichmann of American Bottle Auctions. “We were hoping to gross $300,000 to $400,000 but ended up selling 359 bottles for $489,733.”

Headlining the sale were two fine collections – the Vince Madruga collection of Western bitters and medicines, and the John O’Neill collection of mostly early San Francisco bottles, whiskeys and sodas. Vince Madruga amassed his collection over a 50-year span, and his bitters include many of the top Western examples known. John O’Neill’s collection had rare one-of-a-kinds.

“The Lacour’s bottles went crazy, but so many bottles just went way above and beyond what we though they’d do,” Wichmann said. “That same Lacour’s bottle five or ten years ago might have only brought half of what we sold it for. Western bottles are hot right now. Virtually all the best bottles sold for new record prices. Even Lacour’s bottles with some minor damage set records.”

Wichmann said condition is still a major determinant in how well a bottle will perform at auction. “Damage is really hurting some pieces, sometimes dramatically,” he said. “But in general, a good condition bottle will do very well.” The auction attracted 399 bidders, who posted a total of 162 winning bids. “It was a complete success by any measure,” Wichmann said.

The Lacour’s Sarsapariphere Western bitters bottle was able to set a record price mainly due to its color, which was unique and highly desirable to collectors. “The Lacour’s generally speaking really aren’t even that rare,” Wichmann said, “but they come in a bevy of colors and anything but amber can bring big bucks. This one’s condition was exceptional, too, with just a tiny flaw.”

The E. G. Lyons & Co. Western bitters bottle had a lot going for it, including a backwards “N” in the name, a highly desirable forest green color, scarcity (one of possibly less than ten known), condition (near perfect, filled with thousands of tiny bubbles and as crude as can be), and age (one of the earliest Western bitters made. “It was the best bottle in the sale,” Wichmann said.

Following are additional highlights from the auction. All prices quoted include a 15 percent buyer’s premium.

Other Lacour’s bottles that did well include a Lacour’s Sarsapariphere Western bitters in a bright grass green color ($15,525); a Lacour’s Sarsapariphere Western bitters in a yellow green color ($24,150); and a Lacour’s Sarsapariphere Western bitters in a greenish amber color ($14,950).

A Dr. Henley’s “Eye Opener” medicine bottle, made in 1873, changed hands for $20,125. The bottle was a magnet for collectors, as there are only four aqua variants known, with this being the only example with color – an almost electric yellow. The bottle was only manufactured that one year (the product didn’t open many eyes), and a chip off the back lip didn’t deter eager bidders.

A Catawba Wine bitters bottle, made circa 1860-1866, with embossed grapes on opposite sides, went for $18,400. The bottle is an oddity, made for an Ohio concern but sold predominantly in the West, so it’s considered a Western bottle, which it really isn’t. But this bottle, with the glass spilling from the mouth, superb crudity and pontiled variant, make it the finest example known.

A Dr. Wonser’s U.S.A. Indian Root bitters bottle, made circa 1871-1873, colored a good old-fashioned amber and boasting lots of whittle, crystal yellow glass and every element an astute collector looks for in a bottle, finished at $14,250. Dr. Womser’s is always a hit with collectors because of its design and name, but this particular example shone above all others in the auction.

Rounding out the highly successful, two-session sale were a Barkhouse Bros. & Co. Gold Dust Kentucky Bourbon bottle (John Vanbergen & Co., Sole Agents) in a chocolate amber ($12,075); and a Dr. Boerhaave’s Stomach bitters bottle in a medium to deeper bright green color ($10,350).

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