A Wormser Brothers barrel bitters bottle, made between 1867 and 1871 and quite possibly the only green example in existence (most are amber in color), soared to $18,480 in an Internet and catalog auction that began Aug. 29 and ended Sept. 8 by American Bottle Auctions. It was the top lot of the 146 bottles sold.
“That very same bottle in amber would probably only fetch around $1,800,” said Jeff Wichmann of American Bottle Auctions. “Color is everything, and this is the only green example I’m aware of. It is also heavily whittled, something you don’t often see in Wormser bottles. The top was crude and perfect and we graded it 9.6, only because of a light cleaning.”
Wormser barrel bitters were an early western bitters made in San Francisco, mainly in the 1860s. They were considered extremely rare until a group was found in Virginia City, Va., some years ago. Then the bottle just sold plus seven others (all amber) were found near the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon more recently. The owner consigned the green one for this sale.
The auction, which grossed just over $182,000, was a success by any measure, Wichmann said. “The page received over 60,000 views, and we had 192 bidders and 98 winners. Some, but not many, phone bids were also recorded. The average bottle sold for around $1,200, and usually it’s more like $1,000. That was a big plus, and bidder participation was very strong.”
The sale featured mainly historical flasks, bitters and food jars (such as pepper sauces). “Once again, quality excelled,” Wichmann observed. “A good number of bottles sold in the $3,000-$15,000 range, and that to me is a strong sign that the overall market for rare and vintage bottles is very healthy, even in a down economy.”