World Famous Cobalt Blue “The Fish” Bitters
02 May 2011
John Feldmann, top Bitters Collector from Amityville, New York sent me the following two copies taken from the March 1974 issue of Old Bottle Magazine. The ad reads:
WORLD FAMOUS COBALT BLUE “THE FISH BITTERS”. Only one of a kind known to exist in mint condition in this figural bitters variant. For Sale. Starting bids at $5,300, Tony Shank…
“Boy, where was I in 1974?”
In my FOHBC Bottles and Extras article Glass Passion and Color Part II – Exploration and Color I note the following history of this extraordinary bottle:
[B&E] As you may be aware, I was fortunate enough to obtain the classic Cobalt Blue Fish Bitters in a private transaction late in 2009. This bottle came from the Don Keating collection thru an intermediary. This addition to my collection was very public and I believe created much positive publicity because I chose to be open and display the bottle on my table at the Pomona National FOHBC Show this past August.
With the publicity generated, this opened the doors for gathering information about this bottle. Through discussions and e-mails I have been able to gather the following valuable information to digest:
1) During the recent FOHBC Show, a trusted collector shared that this same bottle was discovered many years ago in Waupaca, Wisconsin on a farm. The bottle was being used to feed Liniment to a horse. A bottle collector discovered this and purchased the bottle for $500.00 and flipped it for $1,000.00. During the open Bitters Forum at the show, other collectors shared stories of the next series of owners.
2) The elusive owner of the only other known Blue Fish bitters contacted me and confirmed that their bottle lip is offset, ie. R/H F46. The owner looked at it again at my request and in good light and with a magnifying glass confirmed that there is no ‘The Fish Bitters’ embossing on the gills. Their bottle has a sheared lip. They further stated that their bottle ‘came from Elvin Moody (Ohio) many years ago’ and that ‘he had purchased it at a Skinner’s auction in Bolton Mass. in the mid 80’s’ he believed.
3) From another e-mail, ‘That fish appeared at the 1976 EXPO in St. Louis. I recall that the rumor then was that it had been purchased for the princely sum of $5,000. The good old days’.
4) Howard Crowe sent me a nice handwritten letter and two (2) photographs of Tony Shank’s collection. One of the pictures depicts the blue fish bitters with the Sazarac’s and Old Homesteads blue bitters in the Shanks den window. Howard as he notes, was a rookie collector in the early 80’s and was invited, along with his good friend, Tom Lines to see the Shank collection which included the 3 blue bitters. Howard further goes on to say ‘looking at all those beautiful bottles was a day I will never forget’.
5) Bill Ham adds in a recent e-mail that he believes that someone, possibly Chuck Moore, may have brokered the deal that passed the 3 blue bitters from Tony Shank to Don Keating.
***Sandor Fuss now possesses the Blue Old Homestead. Bill Taylor has the Old Sazarac’s. Will they ever be together again? Now that really is the Million Dollar question?
Something FISHY about this whole story! And wouldn’t you really rather have a GREEN LIGHTHOUSE than a smelly ‘ole blue fish?
I think it’s great to share as much info and documentation of the history of these important bottles. Transparency is good for the hobby. Rock on, Ferdinand!