The most expensive pickle jar in the world (in 1999)

I wrote about the most expensive McDonald’s pickle in the world in August and while looking at my analytics, noticed an article for the search term “most expensive pickle in the world” that’s a little different.

Back in 1999, The New York Times reported on ‘The $44,100 Pickle Jar‘, a pickle jar that was sold on eBay for—you guessed it—$44,100:

”DID you hear about the guy who bought an old pickle bottle for $30 at Brimfield and sold it on Ebay for $32,000?” That was the buzz at a flea market in Adamstown, Pa., earlier this month. It was almost the truth.

The pickle bottle wasn’t bought at Brimfield, the popular antiques market in Massachusetts, but it was sold on Ebay, the Internet auction site. The pickle bottle actually cost only $3, and it sold for $44,100.

The seller, Richard Rushton-Clem of Lewisburg, Pa., picked it up at a plain old tag sale in western Massachusetts last summer. ”I used to have an antiques shop in Kennebunkport, so I realized it was an unusual bottle,” he said. ”I figured it was worth $300 or $400.”

Mr. Rushton-Clem kept the pickle bottle (a term that among bottle collectors is interchangeable with the more familiar ”pickle jar”) on a windowsill for eight months. Then he asked the proprietors of the Rollermills Antique Center in Lewisburg to sell it for him on Ebay. It was listed as an ”early blown glass cathedral pickle bottle,” with a minimum bid of $9.99. The reserve, which is not disclosed to prospective bidders, was set at $275.

eBay was only 4 years old at the time, but had gone public a year ago so wicked and wild auctions were becoming the norm. In fact, that same year (1999), a man had put one of his kidneys up for auction (also reported by NYT). But why was this pickle jar so coveted? Peachridge Glass examined the jar back in 2012:

The pickle pictured above is a mid-sized, 11″ Willington cathedral-style pickle jar from Willington CT, circa 1850’s. It has an iron pontil but most important, it is the very rare amber color; less than 5 known examples in this color as the bottle usually occurs in green. This example is in mint condition with 3 arched panels – the 4th panel is plain (for the label). This exceptional pickle sold for a record $44,100 on March 31, 1999 on eBay.


According to Jim Persing, the man who runs Rollermills Internet, a consignment service run by the antique center, the response was immediate. “An hour after we put the bottle on eBay, a guy called, all excited, and asked me to tell him more,” he said. “After I answered his questions, he told me we had something really rare, the 11-inch amber Willington pickle bottle.” The bottle was made in Willington, Conn., in about 1850. “By the end of the day,” Persing said, “we were at $2,500, and the bottle was in a locked case.”

Within days, bottle collectors from four different states had visited Rollermills to see the pickle bottle. First on the scene was John C. Mosman of Waterbury, Conn. (eBay name: Pickleman). Mosman described the bottle as a must-have piece because of its color, provenance and condition. “Amber is the rarest of all the colors,” he said in a post-auction interview, “and Willington is the only glass house who made Gothic cathedral pickle jars in the amber coloration.” In addition, he said, the jar was in perfect condition. “This was the top example of what you’re going to get in that size,” he said.

Jim Hagenbuch, the publisher of Antique Bottle and Glass Collector magazine, agreed. “No question,” he said. “The amber Willington is the Cadillac of the category.” Willington’s pickle bottles came in three sizes, 8, 11 and 14 inches. According to Norman C. Heckler, who has been a bottle auctioneer for 38 years, the 11-inch version is probably the rarest–only five are known to survive–and this was the first time an 11-inch Willington pickle bottle was offered at public auction. “They just don’t come to the market,” Heckler said.

Now I’m wondering what a Willington cathedral-style pickle jar containing sliced McDonald’s pickles would cost at auction. Move over, enefftees—pickles are the new digital currency!

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