The Best Bottle Collection in the WORLD!!!
By Charles E. Blake
Every once in awhile, an extraordinary individual emerges from the general population and sets the standard for all others in the arena. One remarkable individual that I have had the pleasure to know is Bryan Grapentine. Bryan exemplifies the epitome of what all bottle collectors should strive for, obtainment of the most desirable pieces for his collection while displaying a higher standard of behavior in the bottle collecting community. I chose to write this article about Bryan to shine some light on this person and his bottle collecting prowess, amassing what I am certain is The Best Bottle Collection in the WORLD!!!
Bryan first developed his interest in bottle collecting while working at Honeywell. There, Bryan was involved with the organization’s Rockhound Club, The Pebble Pickin’ Posse, and during one of their meetings was entertained with a program on relic hunting and collecting. The speaker for the program presented a Prescott, A. T. (Arizona Territory) Hutchinson soda bottle, which lit Bryan’s bottle collecting fever.
Bryan’s initial bottle collection sounds very familiar, consisting of examples from every category. His collecting interests evolved, specializing in soda bottles and all types of Arizona bottles. Later, Bryan’s collection again broadened but focused on glue, magic, Palmer perfume, Royal Ruby Red, Florida Water, Coca-Cola, and Canadian bottles, always adding advertising/’go-withs’ of all types. More recently, Bryan has mainly added ink, bitters, and scent bottles to his collection, as well as Sandwich glass. When asked about the size of his collection, Bryan, at last count, had acquired 2,503 exceptional bottles but quickly added, “I put quality and interest above mere numbers.”
Bryan has been a member of the Phoenix Antiques, Bottles, and Collectibles Club (PABCC) for over 20 years. The club in the early years was named the Pick & Shovel Bottle Club because many of the club members were active bottle diggers, something Bryan continues to try to do. Bryan has functioned in every aspect of the club’s operations, performing every elected official duty, except Treasurer, holding appointed positions, and acting as a member of the club’s board of directors for many years. Bryan also was the Chairman of the first bottle show, held at the Arizona Fairgrounds. Bryan recalled, “We rented one half of the Youth Building for that show,” emphasizing the small size of the early bottle collecting community in Arizona. This makes Bryan one of the important founders for organized bottle collecting in Arizona.
Bryan is still active in the Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors (FOHBC) and has held several positions within this organization in the past. He also has written approximately 22 articles for the FOHBC magazine, winning a Writer’s Award twice.
Bryan derives much pleasure from the hobby and likes to contribute to the FOHBC and PABCC.
There is never a dull moment when speaking to Bryan about his collection. I
asked Bryan about his 7 favorite bottles in his collection and he replied, “(1) JULES BOURBON JULIUS GOLDBAUM TUCSON, A. T., back bar bottle. This is a beautiful amber bottle with white enameled lettering including 6 stars and gold gilding. (2) HARRISON’S COLUMBIAN INK, my first very expensive bottle. This is the gallon size, nice pontil mark, and in cobalt blue. A very attractive bottle. (3) BRYANT’S STOMACH BITTERS, a rare western bitters, cone shaped, with 8 panels, and 14 ¼” tall. (4) KELLY’S OLD CABIN BITTERS, recently purchased from American Bottle Auction. The bottle is one of the classic bitters in a very unusual light teal green color, gorgeous! (5) R. L. HIGGINS VIRGINIA CITY. I have one of the two known complete sets of the three ink bottles, a small aqua cone, amber master, and an aqua master ink. The master inks are rather small in size. (6) Cobalt skull POISON. These figural skull poisons come in 3 sizes and I have managed to acquire them all, difficult bottles to find in undamaged condition. (7) OLD DR. TOWNSEND’S CELEBRATED STOMACH BITTERS, an amber, pontilled bottle. This is unusual flask shape with an applied handle. Few bitters bottles have a handle.”
I then asked Bryan which 5 bottles he most desired for his collection; he replied, “(1) CASSIN’S BITTERS, with the recessed or indented panels; (2) DR. WONSER’S BITTERS, in green color; (3) an embossed fruit jar in cobalt or sapphire blue; (4) STEINFELD’S FRENCH COGNAC BITTERS FIRST PRIZE PARIS EXHIBITION 1867; and (5) HARRISON-TIPPECANOE early pontilled ink in any color.”
Bryan related that bottle collecting has been more than just a hobby; it has been a way of life. Bottle collecting has made his life more interesting and often more exciting; to which Bryan added, “Some people get their excitement from gambling, I get it from acquiring another bottle for the collection.”
Bryan related several more interesting and important landmarks in his bottle collecting history such as recalling the many digging/camping trips with the club, purchasing a 32 oz. EAGLE DRUG CO. PHOENIX, ARIZ., after many years of negotiating, finding 6 mint historical flasks at a yard sale for little money and selling two for $25,000, his first antique bottle show in Las Vegas, he was amazed at the number of bottles for sale, finding a scarce ARIZONA SODA WORKS PRESCOTT, ARIZ. hutch in a small antique shop, completing his 50 state hutchinson soda bottle collection, completing his 11 territory hutchinson soda bottle collection with the acquisition of Idaho, buying several collections which had many intriguing bottles, attending his first really big quality show, The EXPO, in Montgomery, AL, buying many great bottles from a collection dug in Colorado, and the list goes on and on.
Bryan always is willing to give others advice on their bottles and collections. Bryan’s advice to the beginning collector, “Start out as a general collector and later specialize on one or two categories. Buy items in good condition and from an investment standpoint, it is important to understand that one $100 bottle is better than ten $10 bottles. Buy all the good bottle books you can find, not price guides, and subscribe to the FOHBC’s Bottles & Extras magazine to enhance, keep up to date on the hobby and general bottle collecting information you have obtained.”
Bryan’s principles and classy attitude are what helped form my bottle collecting hobby and hopefully yours too. Bryan truly is a special person with an unbelievable collection. See the pictures included with this article and you be the judge of what I know is The Best Bottle Collection in the WORLD!!!
Editor's note: Bryan's collection has inspired many people to become interested in the world of antique bottle collecting, including myself!! Thank you, Bryan, for giving me an opportunity to witness your incredible collection in person!!
Although Bryan has decided to consign a good portion of his collection, it will always be remembered by many as one of the greatest bottle collections ever!! The following pictures have been cropped and resized, and consequently, they do not represent the vastness and completeness of Bryan's amazing collection. - Stephen M. Salem, PABCC Web Editor.
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