Areviolin shaped bottles for real?

ebay by Bob Linden nasa

Five years ago you would be lucky to find a half dozenviolin shaped bottles at a bottle show. If you went just to finda glass fiddle, you probably came away thinking you had justvisited the Dullsville show. Admittedly, a couple peddlers couldhave put one or two out as “also rans”.Viobots were strays and the only good news back then was that ifyou did spot one, you might walk off with it for twenty dollars.Less, if you cleared your throat twice.

Things change. This year at two shows, theMerrimack Valley Bottle Club Show in Chelmsford, Mass. and theYankee Bottle Club Show in Keene, N.H., I counted ten dealersoffering at least 50 colorful viobots. I'm not usually one of thefirst through the doors at bottle shows, so I have to rely onearly bird reports that some good viobot stuff went fast...swoosh. I did notice that some of my friends were sporting a “gotcha”smile by the time I arrived. Okay with me, though.

The Christensen'ssigning their book "Violin Bottles."

And last June at the Saratoga show I wassurprised to find so many choice viobots scattered throughout theexhibition hall. Two dealers each offered an uncommon LV6a incobalt for $100. ( It was the color that mattered, but for therecord an LV6a is approximately 9 1/2” tall, has a type 6sound hole shape with no bar music on the back. The “a”stands for a variety with two cent hole dots both back and fronttoward the edge of the lower right quadrant... just in case youwondered.) Some viobot collectors who picked up such prizes a fewyears ago for little more than a sawbuck were now suddenlyflushed with their latent investment wisdom. Frankly, I thoughtsome dealers at these shows were asking a bit much for the morecommon material, but that's their business.

Have we discovered an emerging viobot market?Not surprising, but many violin bottle collectors report thatthey also collect other bottles, or vice versa. I'm one of themand have often wondered if several collectors from a bigger packdidn't simply decide to fire up a violin bottle specialty.Colored glass fiddles are, after all, quite fetching especiallywhen displayed. Or is this just a fad where a zealous group of “viobothuggers”, and I'm one of them too, are leading a uniquefigural parade? (and doing a bit of hopeful hoarding at the sametime.) I'm not sure, but peeking backwards, there are someidentifiable signs leading to the possibility of a genuinemarket. For instance, some general and famous collectors whopreviously dared only talk about their bitters, flasks,calabashes and other traditional favorites have cautiouslymustered the courage to admit that they also have a few violinbottles... say, just for color. Jimmy Carter owned up and posedfor a photo holding one. There is even some viobot show-and-tellgoing on at bottle club meetings now. Amusingly, severalcollectors who wrote to me characterized their viobot collectionas a “spouse fancy.” Nice spouse. Some fancy!But when I walked into Wink's Bottle Shop in Waldoboro, ME twosummers ago and saw a third of their background display area fullof violin bottles, I knew something was brewing. Were viobotsmarching out of the closet and perching on the shelf? Theycertainly have some visibility now and a passionate posse ofcollectors appears to be chasing them.

Frank Bartlett of Stoney Creek, Ontario Canada

with his Symphony of Colour at the Saratoga '95 show.

The author, Bob Linden with some of his Viobots.

A dozen different hangers are known to exist.

The National Bottle Museum helped the viobotcause with it's eye catching, two years-running violin bottleexhibit located just inside the Museum entrance at Ballston Spa,New York. It created a great deal of visitor interest. In 1994Jan Rutland, the Museums President whose finger seemed always tobe on the pulse of violin bottle collecting, encouraged theWeaver family of Springfield, New York and Frank Bartlett ofStoney Brook, Ontario to exhibit their collections of violin andbanjo bottles. And did they ever! Nothing did as much for violinbottle awareness and visibility as the Weaver's Symphony of Colorand Frank's Symphony of Colour which were presented at theentrance to the Saratoga, New York bottle show of 1994 and 1995.

Their first displays got a rocket launchattention. And, as if by clairvoyance, three thousand miles awayDon and Doris Christensen had already made a distribution oftheir first book called: “Violin Bottles.”Safe to say by others who had spent considerable time chasingdown glass fiddles and information on them, Doris and Don hadcreated the first real print matter ever on viobots with a niceintro from Roy Topka of the Museum. Landmark material for mybottle book library.

I was privately chagrined to have to admit in1994 that both of the forgoing events had to be pointed out tome. When you think you are on top of some market heap be preparedto do something constructive if your ego gets whacked. I owned myshare of violin bottle curiosity so I decided to put both oars inthe water and address the question of how many other violinbottle collectors were “out there?”

An ad in AB & GC offering to buy violinbottles and at the same time encouraging other possiblecollectors to “get in touch” proved to befulfilling. Some excellent bottles turned up but, significantly,other viobot collectors did start to “get in touch”.And one of the first was “Jerry Jill” Yaffeywho was already counting her viobots in the hundreds and who toldme a thing or three about her knowledge of them. It was aneducational and humbling phone call, but we ended up greatfriends and co-Chairs of the Violin Bottle CollectorsAssociation.

Again thanks to the guidance of Jan and MegStevens at the Bottle Museum, the VBCA got off the ground at the1995 Saratoga Bottle Show with 15 charter members two of whomwere bottle dealers. Both Rick Weaver and Frank Bartlett were onhand with their encouragement and the Museum delivered a list ofabout fifty potential members from its' records. Now, aftertwenty-two months, the VBCA has 52 members coast to coast in 21states and two Canadian Provinces. Collection sizes range from 5bottles to several hundred and new members are showing up at arate of one or two per month. A lot of networking is going on. Anewsletter, a page of which is often in color, and which mixeshuman and bottle interest is produced by the Christensens fourtimes a year as a membership benny. A classification and colorcoding system has been made available to members whose profilesrange from people who drive high speed trains, policedispatchers, math teachers, nurses, authors, automobile dealers,and bankers to many who play real violins professionally insymphony orchestras. Others teach the fiddle and a few sell andservice violins for a living.

Rare crystal, (left)only 4 exist, and equally rare lateral amberina (right) only 5exist. Both are blown at Pairpoint Glass Co. from an old mold nowon exhibit at the National Bottle Museum.

But, do 52 vibrant members in a bottle clubwith a newsletter and increased dealer offerings at bottle showsmake a violin bottle market? Not necessarily. At least, not avery big one. But hold the fort! Take another, closer, differentlook. There is a huge and active market in viobots going on everyweekend all over North America and it only slows down a bitduring the week. The challenge of this market is that specializedcollectors and dealers are forced to compete with a big block ofbuyers who continually invade the supply lines. How so? Well,many collectors have discovered this trading bazaar and good newsfor them is that new inventory flows into it continuously. It'spart of the time, gas and food relief chase.

Thousands of viobots change hands at yardsales, flea markets, group shops and antique emporiums all thetime. Undoubtedly there are more collectors and dealers huntingdown these favorites than ever before, but the rub is that mostviobots are not necessarily being bought by specializedcollectors... not yet. I've said this before but reports ofscarcity are mostly because there is active competition going onamong a lot of ladies who buy them up readily by ones and twosall the time... just as they were sold in the first place... forambiance, décor, or color in the home. They are rarely dug andthere are no distributors . Occasionally a dealer will buy upsomeone's collection. They are very good looking, diverse inshape and color and still relatively inexpensive. They come outof homes where they may have been ensconced for up to 50 years.Four or five “bird dogs” who regularly canvassthis market are my own best source of viobots and I pay theirprice with little quibbling.

Whish brings up the subject of price. Viobotsare not for sale for long in the market. A low quick sale priceis the right price on the garage floor of the flea market table.Group and antique shops tend to get more. However, for the dealerat the bottle show, it's a trickle-up situation and the price hasto be healthier, and it should be. For instance: Unbelievable asit may seem, with my mouth and wallet both agape, I bought anamberina LV1 for $10 at Ginny's Flea Market in Rowley MA.(Originally made from a large mold in Clevenger Bros. Possessionback in the 1940's) On a dealers table at the bottle show thisamberina ought to go for $100-$150., perhaps more. Amberinas arescarce and much sought after. And if I personally wanted one, Iwouldn't hesitate to step right up and pay the piper. A few years ago I did... from adealer for $75. Not a bad deal in retrospect. But take my advice,you're going to get real ancient waiting for another $10 deallike mine.

The flea market and yard sale hunt may be fun,which is hard to value, but the cost of gas, fallen arches,exhaustion and the value of one's time makes me believe that theflea market, yard sale, group shop and bottle show prices arerunning in a dead heat. In most cases the acquisition costs arejust more obscure and sometimes unadmitted... depending on one'sviewpoint. Then, of course, most collectors put a value onbragging rights no matter how many miles and hours it takes tofind a bargain. And no one talks much about the disappointment ofan empty creel after a day's fishing.

FrenchViolin Bottles read: "Bottle Made in France" on base.

Finally, with rare exceptions, the viobotsmarket, hasn't really been tested via the auction block. Maybe itis a little early to expect bottle dealers, investors,speculators and specialized collectors to show up in quantitylooking for viobots at one of the auctions. I'm sure the sponsorswould be willing to handle a consignment, but potential buyersmight be reluctant to bid up on bottles about which they areunfamiliar. Dealers and auctioneers are, nevertheless, learningabout viobots and a few are already “hip.”There is a feeling among some specialized viobot collectors thatwhat dealers don't know won't hurt them for a while longer. Bandspin, I think, since markets mature with exposure and education.

So again... is there a violin bottle market outthere or just the perception of one? I think a big one has alwaysexisted for the home decorators and those who cater to them, andanother more specific one is being uncovered and defined for someavid and hawk-eyed collectors. For the latter, an expanded buyerbase and a greater ration of dealer acceptance may take longer tomature than did the discovery aspect. More education and palaverat bottle club meetings would be helpful. For instance, how manydealers know that there were eight different and distinct molds,seven BIMALS and one ABM, which made the popular large typeviobot which they often have for sale. What determines the pricetag? We need to notch up viobot awareness some and I think thereis room on the bottle collecting totem for that. Patience.

The Kovel's latest bottle book only summarilydescribes viobots but it does list a dozen of them under figuralswhich is four times as many as was in their previous edition. TheVBCA has been listed in their book under the bottle clubs. Nice.The Christensen's second book has 287 pages of pictures and prosewhere every conceivable viobot, go-with or look-alike seems to becovered. At least six VBCA are known to have collectionsnumbering more than two hundred, all different viobots! They allstated with one bottle and two of these collectors have been “atit” for less than 5 years.

Something real is certainly stirring in themarketplace and Viobotters are coming forward justly proud of thediligent hunting effort which goes into their collection.Acquisition is pretty much a scavenging exercise which is perhapsjust as much fun as digging for a grimy old brown jug in anancient latrine. Keep in mind that very few violin shaped bottleshave been made since the 1904's and many older ones are alreadygenuine antiques. I think the bottle collecting interest canalways afford to expand its' market acceptance dimensionsespecially for something that is no longer “just on thehorizon.”

The author wrote “The Classificationof Violin Shaped Bottles” for the National BottleMuseum. He is presently the President of the Danvers HistoricalSociety, Danvers, formerly known as Salem Village, is the site ofthe witchcraft hysteria where several historic digs have yeilde3dmajor parts of bottles dating into the 1600's...

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