Antique bitters bottles are those bottles which specifically are embossed with the word “bitters” or a bottle with a label whose product name contains the word bitters. The heyday of bitters trade in the US was the period 1860 to 1906. Most bitters products were simply an infusion of herbs in alcohol which offered a legitimate option to consume alcohol in times when drinking was socially unacceptable or illegal. The bitters business gained strength from several periods of temperance in America during the latter 19th century and in some ways was a refinement of the patent medicine trade. Bitters products were often more expensive and came in novel packaging, which, 100 or more years later, makes for great collecting. Bitters bottles are found in an colorful array of shapes and sizes, many with exotic names and over-the-top marketing claims.
Like the patent medicines, bitters took a big hit after the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 which effectively ended the business of products which were alcohol and/or opiate based.
Today, the market for bitters bottles is strong, especially for rare examples. Several bitters bottles have sold at auction in the 30 to 70 thousand dollar range and several recent private sales of choice examples for prices reputed to be in the 100 to 200 thousand dollar range. If you are new to collecting and have stumbled across your first bitters bottles, don’t quit your day job quite yet. Many more common examples are valued in the $100-500 range, and the most common such as Atwood’s Bitters or Lash’s Bitters would have a hard time finding a buyer even at $5 or $10.
See also our patent medicine bottles page.
Atwood’s Jaundice Bitters
Dr. Baxter’s Mandrake Bitters
Doyle’s Hop Bitters
Drake’s Plantation Bitters (in plain amber)
Dr. Flint’s Quaker Bitters
Goff’s Herb Bitters
Hostetter’s Stomach Bitters
Highly Collected and Sought-After Bitters Bottles
Drake’s Plantation Bitters (in unusual colors)
Bourbon Whiskey Bitters
Brown’s Celebrated Indian Herb Bitters
Dingen’s Napoleon Cocktail Bitters
Dr. Fisch’s Bitters (figural fish)
Greeley’s Bourbon Whiskey Bitters
Harvey’s Prarie Bitters
Horse Shoe Bitters
Jackson’s Stonewall Bitters
Jacob’s Cabin Tonic Bitters
Kelly’s Old Cabin Bitters
McKeever’s Army Bitters
General Scott’s Artillery Bitters
Seaworth Bitters Company
Simon’s Centennial Bitters
Steinfeld’s French Cognac Bitters
Warner’s Safe Bitters
Bitters Bottles, Carlyn Ring and Bill Ham
Bitters Bottles, Dick Watson
1250 Bitters Bottles, Bartholomew
Bitters Bottles, Thompson
It’s A Bitters, Umberger
It’s A Bitters, Vol. II, Umberger
Bitters Bottles for Sale
Value of Antique Bitters Bottles
The value of bitters bottles ranges from a few dollars for common examples on up to thousands for rare examples in perfect condition. A few exceptional examples have broken the $50,000 mark at auction, and the buzz in the antique bottle community in 2009/2010 has been the private sale of several key examples in the $100,000 to $200,000 range. Remember that condition, color, quality and rarity of the example greatly affect value. Use our appraisal service to value your bottle or ask a question and post photos on our forum.
Reproduction bitters bottles do exist – the most commonly found would be those made by Wheaton Glassworks in New Jersey. Examples include: McGiver’s Army Bitters, George Washington Bitters, Dr. Chandler’s Jamaica Ginger Root Bitters, Horse Shoe Bitters, Berring’s Apple Bitters, Dr. Fisch’s Bitter, Cape May Bitters, Ball and Claw Bitters, A. Lancaster’s Indian Vegetable Jaundice Bitters. Many are marked WHEATON on the base. Other distinguishing features are unusual/bold colors (ruby red, amethyst and other bright garish colors) miniature sizes under 3 inches tall,
Big Bill’s Best Bitters
Hi Hi Bitters
Hunkidori Stomach Bitters
Wahoo & Calisaya Bitters
Zu Zu Bitters
Best Examples & Most Valuable
Dr. Fisch’s Bitters – figural fish in cobalt blue. Thought to be unique. Rumored to have sold for over $100,000 in 2009 in a private sale.
Holtzerman’s Stomach Bitters – The unique cobalt blue example is rumored to have sold privately for $200,000 in 2009.
Bryant’s Stomach Bitters – A small number of this tapered sided cone shaped bottle were dug in the Bay Area of California – Pacific Glass Works (now American Bottle Auctions) sold a nearly perfect example for $68,750 in 1999 which remains an auction record for a bitters bottle. Other repaired examples were sold by American Bottle Auctions for $12,000 and $36,000
Top Fantasy Bitters Bottle
IMHO, a Drake’s Plantation Bitters in cobalt blue. This bottle is not known to exist, but the darn thing can be found in just about any other color!