Bottle Newsletter #19
Because of the preserving industry, pickles were a large part of the American diet in the 1800s (the equivalent to salads today). These gems of the 19th century food industry were produced in large quantities and sold to the consumer, when emptied they would sometimes be refilled with various contents as a means of a secondary storage. Uniquely American the bottles design was likened to that of Cathedral buildings, having arches and windows in the bottles design. It was hoped that this would lure the purchaser into thinking these were special bottles and better than the imported English products. These bottles were produced in hundreds of similar designs ranging in size from a half-pint to a gallon, and were produced in many various colors. Some of the popular companies of the day were W.D. Smith, Espy, William Underwood and W.K. Lewis. The most common of these bottles are found in aqua and are from the early part of this century, more valuable are the pickle bottles which were hand blown.
For nearly a century the search was on for the 19th century Steamboat that had sunk in the Missouri River by Portage La Force in Nebraska Territory. On March 18, 1865 the ship had left its dock in St. Louis heading for the Montana Territory, this Steamboats cargo had an estimated weight of 251 tons, and a value of at least $100,000 to $300,000. Items being shipped on this day were numerous, mining supplies, household, agricultural and glass and much more, a good bulk of its contents were bottles. The year was 1968 when the steamer Bertrand was found and it took two years for the contents to be carefully removed by those who found it, Sam Corbino and Jesse Pursell, along with the assistance of the National Park Service and the personnel of the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife (as this was national park land). The condition of the items found was pristine, leading to much historical information being obtained by the sunken ships discovery. The number of "mint" bottles found was mind-boggling. This was one of the most important historical discoveries to our hobby to-date, it gives us the exact age of the bottles, contents, and many company labels as well as insight to the packing and shipping of our prized collections that we proudly display. For more information on this subject visit the museum or read the book "The Bertrand Bottles : a study of 19th Century Glass and Ceramic Containers" by Ronald Switzer, 1974. It is rumored that some of the bottles have mysteriously walked out of the museum (who knows?).
As a side bar, I found this info from the web site called The History of Pharmacy Museum at the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy, where they even sell a print depicting one of the Owl Drug Stores-- "'Dillinger at the Owl Drug' depicts the outside of the Owl Drug Store in downtown Tucson, which gangster John Dillinger frequented before his arrest on January 25, 1934. It has been suggested that the woman in the red dress is Dillinger's famous companion, the "Lady in Red." These paintings have been turned into signed and numbered lithographs and are available for a nominal fee." Jess [pharmacist] noticed that one of his customers was a bit different than the rest: the stranger who dined daily at his lunch counter dressed more like an "Easterner," as Jess described him, and he had a habit of chewing a stick or two of Black Jack gum as he waited for his meal. When his meal arrived, the stranger always stuck his gum underneath the counter. One morning in January 1934, Jess opened his newspaper and read that the notorious Dillinger Gang had been captured in Tucson. To Jess' surprise, it was John Dillinger himself who had been his patron. In a small jar, Jess collected Dillinger's chewed gum from under the counter. The jar is now displayed in the small room near the lobby as an unusual reminder of a gangster's visit to Tucson.
Article submitted by R. Tracy Gerken-- always on the lookout for Owl Drug Store items. Thanks for your interest. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
In Auction No. 7, there were many pieces we could have sold with a phone call. The left-handed pint Beaver, the 1737 sealed mallet, the Pressburg Warners all could have sold by a phone call. But by that means of selling, most collectors would NEVER have the chance to purchase quality pieces. A good example was our previous auction, No. 6, where we sold a rare Canada West medicine at auction. It could have quickly slipped into the hands of one of Canada's premiere collectors. As it was, the top three bidders on the piece were newer collectors, without the "connections", who never would have had the chance to own these pieces without the open auction process.
Do auctions raise the prices of pieces? Probably yes, for the most part. Why? Because they stimulate DEMAND. In your newsletter No. 18, you mention one collector who was finally able to buy a Beaver jar, in Canada, from their computer in the states, via bottle auction. And yes, the price of Beavers is probably going up. If the Red Book on a quart Beaver is $50 (just guessing here), and they are now trading at $80, that rise is due to the fact that a larger American market finally has ACCESS to Canadian jars. The quantity has remained the same, just more collectors are interested in adding a certain piece to their collection. Competition has been stimulated across a wider marketplace. In the purest form, if you are against this competition and the subsequent rise in prices, look at your own collection. You would have to argue that Americans should not be able to buy Canadian fruit jars, and that in fact, they should be restricted to buying pieces from there own state or even their own hometown in order to force competition down. And that's not about to happen! And there are bargains every auction. If every auction house maintained current prices on there site like glassCo does, you could scan the auction every day as closing day comes, checking out the bargains and buying stock, traders or just plain bargains for your shelf!
There are always problems with auctions. You must be able to trust your auctioneer, as integrity is the only thing an auction house has going for it. I have been in contact with Kevin Sives of the FOHBC about setting up some sort of an ethics committee for the bottle community, similar to the NIA (National Insulator Association) ethics community, to police auctioneering and general selling in the hobby. We would like to see this put in place, and accreditations given to certified auction houses. Anyone can open a mom and pop bottle auction house on the web (we did, although we won't be a mom and pop until about August 15th!). Certification would mean that the FOHBC ethics community could review your bid sheets any time a sale is questionable.
This is the single largest problem in the auction industry. The auctioneer is trying to sell you their own property. How do you get burned? Because you are bidding against a phantom. You bid 60, the auctioneer tells you they have a bid of 65...and so on as far up as they think they can take you. If they guess right, they get the maximum value for their piece. If they lose, hey, they just recycle it again two or three auctions from now. Since they own the piece, they are not responsible to a consignor to give the consignor money for the piece that didn't really sell. glassCo's policy is to neither sell nor buy bottles in its auctions (which really hurts sometimes when something I love goes thru our auction!). See, if you consign a left beaver to me, and I bid someone up, and they drop out...I have to pay you for the beaver jar. I now own it. So I'm not going to bid anyone up! But if I as the owner of the auction house buy the beaver from you before the auction, then I know what I paid for it, and I can sell
In absentee auction houses, as at other auctions, you can leave an advance bid which is higher than the current level. There is always the danger that the auctioneeer will bid you up higher than the next highest bid, PARTICULARLY if the auctioneer owns the piece! They could always reason that you would be willing to go to the certain bid level anyhow, so what's the harm? The harm is that the auction process is corrupted by those actions. There is only one way to police this, which is by enforcing the above mentioned certification and bid sheet review by a central ethics committee. Before anyone who reads this has the warning bells ringing in their ears about previous bids they have left, remember...most auction items are highly contested, and it is pretty normal for your bid to get pushed to its limit, particularly on lower value (<$200) lots. Having sold a couple thousand pieces thru auctions, I know that most lots are won by one bid increment. In the last auction, someone left a bid of $210 on a piece, and ended up winning it for $210. Which can seem fishy. But I have the underbidder's email "$200...no more!", and I know this happens quite frequently. So all I can offer is that you have to be able to trust your auctioneer, and you have to be comfortable with your bid levels. Bidding only one increment above the previous bidder is the safest way of protecting yourself, but I guarantee you will lose lots this way, as you will be outbid by one bid by someone who waited until 5 minutes closer to closing time! In my view, if you feel good about the auctioneer, then leave a bid a couple jumps up, if that's within your comfort level for payment.
All in my humble opinion. All in all, I think auction houses as a rule are excellent. I love auctions, and I love the variety that is opened up to me. Auctions can be a ton of fun when you are buying, and even when you are selling.
glassCo auctions, web: http://www.glassco.com