Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Rumors have been confirmed!! I just received the Auction #48 promotional e-mail from American Bottle Auctions and yes a California Clubhouse will be in the auction scheduled to begin sometime in August. I think this is the first Clubhouse to sell at public auction, all other examples have changed hands privately. Other heavy weight bottles have changed hands recently and this is usually a good thing for the hobby... sometimes a trickle down occurs as cash is raised to buy the heavy!! Be prepared, there may be something come available that you have been looking for.

Super that Jeff is going to have the bottles available to view at the National Show in Pomona. If you were thinking of skipping the National for what ever reason, that might be a mistake.

"It's a long race, and you have to be alert to every opportunity that comes your way" - former NASCAR driver Richard "Dick" Trickle


  1. Looking at the pic on the American Bottle Auction site and the one here, I would say that example is the one found 10 yrs ago in the redwoods of Marin County. It is the most recent example of a Clubhouse to have been discovered. It's amazing, given the rarity of these, that most of the examples are a different color and seem to run in pairs, in terms of color. I think there are 4 pairs that are an almost identical color match.

  2. Really curious to see what this one brings. Is it mint ?

  3. I had the opportunity to drool all over that Clubhouse last week. Without examining it with a scope, it does appear to be totally problem free. Of course, there are those who will always find an "issue" with any dug bottle. Regardless, it should draw a tad of serious bidding.

  4. I'm guessing it will bring around 20k (+ or - 5k), since it's not light amber or olive amber. But who knows, funny things happen in auctions.

    Here's the scoop on the Clubhouses:
    10 confirmed whole examples. I have seen in person 8 of the 10, and have a photo of one of the only 2 that I didnt have the opportunity to examine in person. The only example I havent seen even a pic of is the one w the new neck, which last I heard was in Montana.
    Of the 10, 9 are mint to near mint. 1 has a new neck.
    (2) Pure grass-green ( 1 dug in Belleville, 1 Saline Valley side of Cerro Gordo area)

    (2) Light honey to yellow-amber (1 dug in VC, 1 Napa County)

    (2) Dark amber (1 dug in Marin County, 1 in S. Cruz Mtns)

    (2) Olive-amber (1 dug in S.F., 1 in Columbus)

    (1) Orange-amber (dug in San Jose on S. Clara St)

    (1) Olive-amber (new neck) (dug in Columbus)


  5. Good info on the known examples AP.
    But.... I think you are putting the cart before the horse as far as what it will bring. We don't yet know the starting price, or if there is a reserve on the bottle. Last time that bottle changed hands it was for a reported 40K, do you think the owner will take a 15K bath on the deal?
    And of course we don't know who the players might be on this bottle. I have heard that there might be at least 2 serious bidders out west, and who knows about the collectors on the other side of the Rockies?
    Its fun to speculate on what will happen but still to early to give odds on the outcome

  6. I dont think it's too early to give an estimate, and that is my estimate. It's irrelevant to the current market what the owner paid or if there is a reserve. When the starting price is set too high at auction, an item wont sell. And, reserves "kill" auctions. Would you pay twice as much for a bottle because it had a reserve or the starting price was over the value because the previous guy was in deep?
    Now, on the other hand when someone has a ton of money, and is really emotional about getting a certain bottle, and isnt concerned about being able to get their money out of it in the very near future, we can throw all common sense to the wayside !! But, the two guys that usually do this kind of thing already have an example. So, we'll see....

    I would love to see the bottle do way over my estimate. It would be good for the hobby.



  8. AP,
    Maybe I didn't make myself clear in my comment, or you didn't understand what I said.
    I do understand what you said.
    Your so-called estimate is really what you believe the bottle is worth, and no I wouldn't pay twice as much for what I believe a bottle is worth.
    Maybe you place the value of the mentioned bottle "low" because you own an example of the clubhouse. Other collectors that don't own an example might place the value "higher" than you do and be willing to pay more for it.
    Seeing what recent "heavies" have sold for lately I believe that if the clubhouse goes for your "estimate" someone has bought themselves a real bargain on the #1 western whiskey.

  9. It is my understanding that the collector who consigned that "House" got it years ago, at the Santa Rosa show. A price was stated and he dropped the cash on the table, causing a big disturbance in the Sonoma County "Force".

    AP, did you count LP's Clubhouse, late of Bob Shaw's collection?

  10. OldCutters, That's not the one he got yrs ago from Doc. That one is light honey amber. I was standing next to him when he bought it from Doc for 3000. It definetely was a "Kodak moment". It was a check, not cash. He has two, and apparently is selling the dark one. I know, hard to believe someone could have two, but it seems that dollars are magnetic when it comes to bottle deals.
    Yes, I saw and counted the LP nee Shaw example. It was found in the City in a trash layer in North Beach by construction workers.

    Also, I think a lower estimate encourages some established collectors to try and progress to the next level and the newer collectors and diggers to jump in knowing they have shot.

  11. G.O.

    I'm going to let Richard "Dick" Trickle handle this one from here out (gotta love the name), and we'll see how things go as the bids trickle in..... I hope it does exceptional, and also wouldnt mind if someone got a bargain either.

  12. AP, I saw that one, too. 3Gs was prob'ly the "going rate" at that point in time. Remember what I gave Doc for my green Hotaling? He had promised it to me and could have sold it for MUCH more, but, like Bernard Parks, was a man of his word. Ain't many like them in the hobby these days.

  13. The California Clubhouse mystique. Just what is it, I wondered, that draws affluent collectors to a Clubhouse, like moths to a flame. Rarity? Nope, several other western glop tops are rarer. Form? Maybe, after all it has full face embossing, a catchy title, and a massive and attractive logo. Color? In some cases sure; after all color is king and there are a couple of green examples. But what about a straight amber piece? Just what is it that causes otherwise level headed collectors to behave like a baby in a topless bar?

    OK, I confess, I too am guilty as charged. I'd love to have that big bad boy sitting on my shelf. But why? Well, just because... Because we've always "known" that the Clubhouse was numero uno. Heck, we've known that since Thomas published his first edition back before man learned to walk upright.

    Looking through the color plates in the latest edition, one see's a number of bottles of equal rarity with more eye appeal. The two name Bear, Bear Grass B&B, spiral neck Chevalier, aqua tea Kettle, and of course the Damiana Ratafia all are eye poppers with fewer known examples. And yet, they sit subservient to the Clubhouse, who reigns supreme.

    Here we are, on the eve of a history making auction. The first California Clubhouse to be offered up at public auction. Round and round and round it goes. What will it bring? $25K - $30K - $35K, more? Nobody knows...

    Opening the 1977 edition, what is first picture that we see? A full page photo of... a California Clubhouse. And then it hit me; it's not rarity, form or color that has created the mystique around the Clubhouse, it was good old JT. Many thanks John, for making normally rational adults behave like mad men, scrimping, scraping, begging and borrowing just to have the bragging rights to a piece of glass that someone tossed in the trash a hundred and some years ago.

    All kidding aside, I can't find any logical reason why the Clubhouse demands the top slot in western glop tops. And yet it does.

  14. I agree, Kentucky Gem. I personally think the Clubhouse is overrated, especially given the fact that there are a small handful of nice examples out there. I think a lot of the “mystique” can simply be attributed to the alluring GREEN examples. If it weren't for the GREEN ones, the amber Clubhouses would certainly fall down a few spots on the totem-pole of Top Western Fifths. I've always wondered why the Old Woodburn isn't considered to be the Biggest of the Big-Dogs??? It's insanely rare, has a killer written font and embossing pattern, and it’s embossed with the magical city of cities: SAN FRANCISCO. As for where to put the rest of the Top 10 or so Western 5th's....My personal preferences would be similar to something like this (after putting all of about 5 minutes of thought into it):
    1. Old Woodburn
    2. Laurel Palace
    3. California Clubhouse
    4. Kentucky Gem
    5. S.T. Suits
    6. Cassin's Golden Plantation
    7. Two-name Bear
    8. Bear Grass
    9. Durham Chielovich
    10. Chalmer's Catawba Wine Bitters *Wild Card*
    11. Honorable Mention: Gold Dust (Slightly too common in comparison to the other Top 5th's, but arguably one of the most appealing).

    So where would the Aqua Tea Kettle, Green Clubhouse, Green Gold Dust, Yellow Durham, etc, fit in?? Nowhere on this list because these freakish examples are killer in their own unique way --which is based on COLOR! Perhaps someone should start making a list of the Top 10 or Top 25 most "Killer 5th's" (Mainly in terms of Color, Character, and Caliber). I also don't care that much for some of the other “Top Western 5th's,” such as the Weil Bros., Chevalier Whiskey Merchants, Chevalier Spiral Neck, N. Ahrens, J. Gundlach, etc. – Don’t get me wrong, but these are all still very nice, rare, and historical 5th's, but not necessarily the most eye appealing or sexy.

    Final thoughts: Even if I dug an elusive Clubhouse 5th, I couldn't possibly see myself keeping it for long. It would be much too RISKY to put that much money ($$, $$$) into ONE BOTTLE that will certainly be tested on a shelf, by a few decent-sized earthquakes over time. And it is TOO NICE of a bottle to be suffocated from the LIGHT….tucked away inside of a few used socks, wrapped-up in a cloth T-Shirt, and buried within a box for the majority of its empty life in the future. As for now, let the folks with BIG MONEY enjoy the Top Ten Western 5th’s….Then, 25-30 years down the road, ALL SIX of the ACTIVE YOUNG (Mid-20’s) Western bottle collector’s (Lance, Kevin, Matt, Andrew, Ned, and Dave) will have a mound-full of glass bottles to pick and choose from when the DEMAND for old bottles is nearly all but gone….And the Bottles of Bygone Days will once again become Bottles of Bygone Days....

  15. The Clubhouse we're offering is one that Robert Frank bought from Doc. Ritz at the Santa Rosa show years ago. He paid $3000 and not long after was approached by Ritz asking him to sell it back. Robert told him that he was keeping it and after a little back and forth discussion which I can't write, Robert walked away with it. It's been in his collection ever since and one of two he has. It was a tough decision on selling one of the two but said the other was a little lighter. Robert's not really selling much, just a few higher end pieces, very few. This one is by no means light in color, but the Clubhouse seems to be most desired for it's embossing which stands out like a roadsign. It held some supposedly great four year-old whiskey. At any rate, I believe we'll start it at $20k and see what happens. No reserves as usual. We've had pretty good luck in selling high quality fifths as I think, despite the economy which ain't going to last forever, people are still on the lookout for quality pieces. It's a great condition piece, not very crude but hey, all you're really looking at is the amazing amount of embossing. I never really understood all the mystique until I held one and quickly understood the allure that bottle holds. Make sure you get a catalog or check out the site. We'll have a streaming video and you can get a good idea of what's on the block.

  16. bamm bamm got club too!

  17. I am in agreement that the Clubhouse should definitely not hold the top spot among Western fifths. The "mystique" of that exalted bottles was the result of endless promotion by none other that JT himself. Perhaps it is the first word in the full face embossing, "California", that places it up front, I don't really know. I have not had the pleasure of pulling a complete example of that one from the soil, but have come "close". Of course, we all know that busted don't count in the overall scheme of all thing digging.

    As far as your top ten go, anonymous, the list fits my estimation, too. In my not so few years of digging, I have only exhumed nice, whole examples of 6, 7 & 8, and getting parts and pieces of some of the rest, excepting number 2. Never so much as seen a fragment of that one. Personally, it is one of my most sought after to actually dig, surpassing in importance the "House". It would never cross my feeble mind to actually keep one of them, either, as none of them interest me from a collecting standpoint. Away they will go, with the resulting "funds" going to enhance what does "rattle my chain".

  18. Whoa.... looks like the Flintstones have hacked into the blog !! That explains everything....

  19. Ok. Another opinion.... Imagine we are back in 1962 and we have just dug a killer basement in Belleville, and among the G.O Blakes,Hotalings and E. Martins we have also found 3 unlisted fifths....

    So there are 3 unlisted whiskies sitting on the table, each is the only known example, each is the same color, ok let's say dark amber. The 3 bottles are: an Old Woodburn, a Laurel Palace, and a California Clubhouse. You have just won the coin toss and get first pick of the 3 bottles. Which one would you choose ?? Remember now, each bottle is one of a kind....

    Yes, that is why the Clubhouse is number one....

  20. Why do you assume that everyone would have chosen the "House"? I'm not so sure that your imaginary event would have transpired as you stated. Forty seven years, and forty of it filled with "Clubhouse saturation", has passed in the meanwhile. Your "point" was well taken, though. Morrison's product clouds all of our minds, doesn't it?

  21. I'd still take the amber Old Woodburn in a heartbeat over the amber Clubhouse. I like the "What if" scenario -- very fun to imagine!

    I can think of another dozen or so other fifths that are more eye-appealing than the Clubhouse! Imagine if these following 5th's were also all "one-of-a-kind" -- Which would you pick first?:

    Tea Kettle
    Gold Dust
    Two Name Bear
    Mid-Crown Cutter
    Bird Cutter
    Star-Shield Cutter
    Full-face Phoenix
    Ratafia Damiana
    Simmond's Nabob
    J. Moore
    Jesse Moore
    And so on...

    Some of those might sound ridiculously silly in comparison to the "mighty Clubhouse"....but remember, this is only a hypothetical. I'd probably say the most attractive fifth is a simple applied top Jesse Moore 5th -- but hey, it's probably the most common applied top 5th out there too.... Yet still a fun and desirable 5th when you can still pick up the early non-vented ones for around $120-$180.

    Keep in mind what makes collecting fun...we all have our own personal preferences on what types of bottles get us most excited: Fifths, Flasks, Pickles, Beers, Squares, Figural Bitters, Blob Sodas, Meds, etc. It's nice to try and have some groupings from each category, and it's just as tough to try and collect even half of a "book" from one specific category. Unless you already have 50% of the 5th's depicted in the Thomas book, imagine how just how long it would take to purchase/dig/and trade-for even half of the 5th's that we know about a trying task, especially when you don't have a several hundred-thousand dollar bankroll to blow. Not to mention the nearly non-existent opportunities to dig places like the picked-over towns of the pioneer-digging days: (ie. picking up bottles from the Owens Valley desert floor, pulling out Miller's 5th's from a pile of tailings with a metal garden-rake (a once "ripe" Cerro Gordo), or finding back-packs full of cylinders at Hayward landing (Arnold Sierras), the Benicia Mud-flats, or from a Gold Hill-esque bottle factory!

    Clubhouse is Number 1 for now....but it would certainly be interesting to come out with a new poll for the Top Western 5th's AND for the Flasks TOO! It makes you wonder if the Cal. Club would perhaps yield submission to the Old Woodburn or Laurel Palace??

    Then again, what if one of us urban-bottle-seekers come across the Old Signet or something unknown to us so far...How about a AAA 5th? An embossed Western 5th with a U.S. President's bust front and center, or a 5th with an embossed Lion, Snake, or even a Miner's Pick and Shovel design on it? You never know what else could still be out there. You'd have to assume that if someone found a whole example of any unknown Western Picture 5th, especially from S.F., it would race right into King of the Hill status....

  22. dino bite
    oldest bourbon
    betty in lion cloth
    sole agents

    we could call it a two name babe!

  23. I fully anticipated someone would add more fifths to the imaginary Belleville dig, and wholeheartedly agree on the Gold Dust and 2-name Bear.
    Getting back to present day and the top 3, I just don't think the Woodburn is powerful enough to dethrone the Clubhouse. Besides the almost picture-whiskeyish visual appeal of the Clubhouse, there are esoteric historical connections tied to the mystique of it that lack in the Woodburn. Even if the Woodburn is rarer, demand sets value and ranking. If not, we may as well be talking about some even rarer fifths such as the Cline, Weil Bros., and McLeod Faus....

    Let's talk a little bit more about the Clubhouse's unique mystique.
    The Clubhouse name in itself in the 19th century elevated it to a nationally recongizable quality. Clubhouse-level liquors meant something special back then to the consumer and were very successful products, also probably very expensive. You have your London Jockey "Clubhouse" Gin, your JT Daly "Clubhouse", your Wistar's "Clubhouse", and there were others that incorporated the word "Clubhouse" into the product name, even distributed in S.F. by sole agents that were sold in label only bottles. Clubhouse products have been a status symbol since at least the 1800s, and that seems to have continued amongst collectors of the now vintage empties.

    Morrison took it to a Western level, coining his product "California" Clubhouse. Research leans towards this only be sold out West and being made especially for Morrison to sell (more to come on that in a future post...). His mainstay brand for yrs prior was C.D. Stag Old Bourbon, and it appears he was looking for a Western edge with the California Clubhouse brand. When talking Old Woodburn, your talking about a product distributed first in the East and also in the West later on, when N. VanBergen was granted Western Sole Agency. That's another aspect of the Cal Clubhouse's uniqueness, it's not a second cousin to anyone.

    When you hold that bottle, everything "Western" eminates from it..... "California", S.F., maxi full-face embossing, wild picture-like monogram, classic standard Western fifth mold, and pre-1875 to boot ! It almost puts you back into the era of six-shooters, miners, loggers, horses, VC, Bodie, 20 mule teams, etc...
    It's a powerful bottle, and if you think about some of what I said when you get a chance to hold it in Pomona, see if you connect !

    That's why the demand has always been so strong for that bottle. Sure there are rarer bottles, but nothing connects the bottles and the Old West amongst the rarer whiskies like a Cal Clubhouse. Taking the 2 green examples out of play, because like someone said earlier, the green fifths and aqua TeaKettle are like freaks of nature and in a league of their own. That only leaves us with 7 Clubhouses to go around... Might not be 2, but still rarer then hen's teeth and is the bottle that defines western whiskey collecting !

  24. Hey AP,
    In just 5 paragraphs you have summed up the lure and mystique of the #1 western whiskey. Maybe the nay-sayers ought to get over to the auction house or the national show to really hold a California Clubhouse and then tell us how they rank it.

  25. I have another bottle that I believe to be circa 1870's and Western! It is a rare Case Gin that reads: WOODGATE / CLUBHOUSE GIN / EXTRA across three of the panels. It is an olive color with writing that goes from bottom towards the top, not from top to bottom. From what I have been able to find out, there is only 1 mint example, 4 damaged examples and some badly broken shards….They have all been found within or nearby the towns of Oakland and Stockton. The one that I dug (with a chipped pig-snout lip) ended up with one of my digging partners. Then just a few weeks later, I was able to pick up a nearly identical example at the Auburn show from Mssrs. Schuler & Taylor. It had a strikingly similar chip on the pig-snout lip too?!?! No one else that I have spoken with has dug this bottle or knows anything about it….I know it’s only an unassuming “case-gin” but I figured it would be the only way I'd ever own a "clubhouse."

    Nice write-up A.P.! I've really enjoyed the discussion! There's a reason why the CC has generated so many posts so far....People are passionate about it! But some others are fully within reason to at least make it a debate when it comes to which Western 5th should deserve number one....Besides if there were no passionate debates about the #1 spot, then it simply wouldn’t mean as much, right? And if we never question why things are the way they are, then we never really learn much, allow for change, or raise the bar by thinking outside the bottle…

    So at what point would the California Clubhouse ever fall from the Top Spot? How many more would have to be unearthed or discovered? If there were say, 10-12 Nr. Mint + examples would that change things much?

    Maybe I simply haven't seen the Clubhouse enough yet...After all, I've only had the opportunity to hold one, see a Green example on display, and have also seen about 6-8 pictures of some of the other examples. Familiarity often breeds fondness....I should be careful of getting “too familiar.”

    All for now,


  26. Right on Lance, and some very valid points you made as well.

  27. Thanks G.O. I couldn't agree more !



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