Monday, December 9, 2013

What Hot?
What's Not?


What's Hot? In terms of weather, I haven't a clue. What I can tell you, is what's not. Jacksonville, Oregon, where it was 2* Below Zero yesterday not counting the wind chill. But, it did finally warm up to a balmy 15* above for the high...

I recently had an opportunity to exchange thoughts with friend David B., Sole Proprietor of "The Bottle Vault". He runs successful eBay bottle auctions that are agressively bid in by many. I think the secret to his success is a combination of conservative descriptions, variety and a hard earned, stellar reputation.

Recently, "The Bottle Vault" offered several dozen antique bottles running the full spectrum of collecting. When the dust settled, and the hammer was put away, I quizzed David on where he felt the strengths and weaknesses of the auction lay. He replied;

"I think that colored pharmacy bottles, Idaho and Montana clear pharmacy bottles, and to some degree, WA druggist bottles are pretty strong right now. I was also surprised at the price realized on some of the NY early amber strap sided flasks, and the teal green Harrisburg PA squat sodas, not pontiled, the highest priced example sold for almost $800.

The more common Western whiskies are kinda hit and miss right now, I had some good prices for some with damage, but some of my mint bottles sold for less than $20. (a small badge glop top Lilienthal, with a good strike and a decent top, sold for a paltry $125~; a smokin' deal for the buyer, in my opinion).

ACL / painted label sodas are pretty dead, souvenir china, calendar plates, custard glass souvenir stuff from that 1910-1920 are very dead.

Territorial bottles marked from WA and Montana are solid. Stenciled whiskey jugs etc are weak unless a known Red Wing product.

OWL DRUG stuff is still strong, esp poisons, they seem to bring $100-200 no matter how many are up on ebay!"

Well; that pretty well sums up things on the eBay front.
What about the big auction houses? Recently Glassworks held their "Christmas Comes Early" auction, which closed on Dec. 2nd.


'Christmas Comes Early' Auction'
It featured the first installment of the Curt Paget collection. I was, at first, impressed with the variety and rarity of many of the items up for bid. But lot number 1, the Castle flask, seemed to be representative of many of the lots. As Rick stated in his post on the auction; "When my auction catalog arrived I poured over the first 54 lots (the items from the Paget collection) hoping to find something to add to my collection of early western distributed bottles. To my surprise every time I saw something of interest it has some sort of problem."
I couldn't agree more. Some of the descriptions were, to say the least, creative.  "Christmas Comes Early" was definitely not hot.

Something else that was NOT HOT, (actually very Un-Cool!) was the way the auction was handled, or more specifically, mishandled. The first paragraph of the auction stated;

ATTENTION - ATTENTION - ATTENTION! Tonight is the last night for bidding on the December, 2nd 'Christmas Comes Early' Auction. PLEASE NOTE our new closing time is now 10 PM E.S.T., not 11 PM as in our previous auctions. Can't stay up late but want to bid? Why not use our convenient 'snipper bidding' site. It's easy, just follow the instructions and get in that winning bid! This is a callback auction. If you want a callback on any item that you have a bid on of $500.00 or over, make sure that you have activated the callback square to the right of the bid field. All items that do not reach the $500.00 level by 10 PM tonight will automatically be awarded to the highest bidder!

OK, let me get this straight;
"Use our convenient 'snipper bidding' site." (just what the heck is a snipper anyway? I know what a sniper bid is, but a snipper?) Bidding ends at 10PM EST sharp. No callbacks on lots closing under $500~."
Straightforward enough. Too bad it wasn't adhered to.
One bidder did all of the above on Lot #14, a Simonds Nabob. A snipe bid was placed for $425~. The top bid held tight at $400~, and with 10 seconds to go, was still top. The auction closed and the high bid amount was posted as being $425~. Several west coast collectors (not just the bidder) spotted this. A few minutes later, the website crashed. The following morning, the high bid was reposted as $450~, and the $425~ bid, previously listed as the winner, was kicked to the curb. Let's review; (use the snipe program, place your bid, website shows the snipe bid amount as top at close of auction, 10PM EST auction close, under $500~, no callbacks).
Seems pretty simple to me. NOT! When questioned, the explanation for the inconsistency received from Glass Works had more holes in it than a block of Swiss cheese.

That being said, Western Bitters News noticed another trend in this auction.

Here are the facts; -------------------------------------------------

 The posted descriptions appeared to take a lot of literary license;

"about perfect (in the right light a very faint ‘rainbow’ type flash can be seen in the applied mouth."

"about perfect (a very tiny bruise is on the side of the lip)."

"Some minor wear and ground lines exists but no damage, otherwise in perfect condition"

The overall count of the condition of auction items 1 through 54 included:
9- damaged bottles
13- with some kind of stain or haze
5- with wear, ground wear or "the usual tiny ground imperfections"
1- repaired bottle and 6 bottles that did not receive bids.

A little math concluded that of the 54 lots for auction a whopping 52% of the items had some sort of issue with condition.


OK; so these days, damaged bottles being puffed at auction are definitely "Not Hot", at least not at the premium opening bid amounts listed on the website.


What's Hot in terms of Western glop and tooled whiskies accurately described on the open market and or at shows?

Surprisingly, the entry level continues to poke and plod along. They never have, and never, will command premium prices. Still, we've all got to start somewhere and the entry level fifths are what most all of us started our collections with. The first whiskey I ever bought was a clear tooled pint Hall Luhrs cylinder. I paid $6~ for it close to 50 years ago. I just sold two examples of the same bottle; for just about $6~ apiece. Hot? NOT!

Color is king these days. Those collectors that no longer have the disposable income for the "big dogs" are branching out. Bright, light shades of yellow and orange ambers seem to have developed their own loyal following. Color often makes a normally mundane bottle desirable. HOT!

Pictures, mint to near mint - either tooled or glopped? Definitely HOT!

Scarce to rare tool tops? Definitely HOT! Same goes for near mint and better mid line glop tops.

What's Not? The high end glops. All but sale proof, unless at a giveaway price. (Anyone interested in an amber Clubhouse at $40K and change? I can point you in the direction of one...) The current high end glop top phase is sad, but fortunately cyclical. Every dog has it's day. They'll come back around. And once again, they too will be hot.

In the meantime, enjoy collecting for what it is; A chance to form friendships, a chance to visit shows and swap stories, and a chance to learn about, and be a custodian of our past.


Rick Simi said...

Great post Bruce!
Takes some character to stick your neck out and tell it like it is

J.F. Cutter Extra said...

Much agreed. GREEN & glow in the dark Yellows are strong. I recently paid more for a yellow-green J.F. Cutter fifth than I can beg to get for my nice Jockey Club sixth. In addition to that, there was a waiting list for the J.F. several deep in the event I hadn't sealed up the transaction. And for some reason I'm dumb enough to be following the crowd. If Warren Buffett collected whiskies he'd refrain, "Buy low, Sell high," or keep that Jockey for long term growth rather than investing in an over-hyped color fad. Collectors of old would laugh hysterically at such a far fetched fairy tale as a Jockey being outplayed by a colorful J.F. But right now COLOR rules the day, followed by condition as a distant second, and rarity itself has never been so underrated. These of course are rather sweeping generalizations, but seem quite consistent lately, no matter the venue.

And guess who your sniper was on that Picture Simmonds Nabob? Yours Truly. Although I didn't use their sniper tool, I used my Samsung Galaxy S4 cell phone and entered my bid with less than about 15 seconds to go. A minute later I texted my brother right after the auction closed and said, "I just won the Nabob for a meager $425." The auction had ended and it said in Green font, you are the high bidder. The next day, I had yet yo receive any sort of confirmation email and was weirded out when I saw the price at $450 the next day. So perhaps there were a few of us who all thought we had picked up a good bottle at a screaming price?? In hindsight I'd rather spend my hard earned money on an earlier or more desirable western fifth. Nabob, Gaybob. Glassworks can keep it for all I care. All kidding aside, whoever actually won it made out well, despite the redonkulous 18% buyer's fee.


Really a great post Bruce! I love reading all of your well researched, highly informative, verbally excellent, and, as Rick S. pined "tell it like it is" posts! Sorry that I did not get a chance to say Hi at the Roseville show.

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