By Shaun Markey –
Twice a year, a friend of mine organizes an online auction of antique ginger beer bottles, fruit jars and stoneware. That’s essentially all he offers for sale in the auction.
At first glance, one might think that’s an overly tight focus for collecting and selling antiques. I mean, what’s the market like for these objects? And, wouldn’t it be better to offer a broader selection of antiques for sale?
Well, one has to only look at the results of my friends’ last auction to quickly realize that the market for these types of collectables is very strong. In fact, one might argue that the market is stronger for these collectables than many others.
Case in point: a fruit jar sold in the online auction last month for a whopping $14,500! I kid you not! What could possibly be so special about this jar that it could bring in that kind of money?
In previous columns, I’ve mentioned the factors that contribute to the desirability of an antique. If something is rare, it will be worth considerably more than an antique that is readily available. Age, size, condition and colour are also critical.
The $14,000 jar in question is an American half-gallon “Beaver sealer,” or fruit jar. These sealers were made in Canada between 1900 and 1910. They were made in both Canadian and American sizes, hence the reference, in this case, to the American half-gallon. Another important feature of this jar is the embossed beaver on the front. The colour of the jar, golden amber, is also important as very few of these jars in this colour have been found.
So, add up all of those factors and you have an object that is very desirable to collectors.
I can’t overemphasize the importance of “focus” in collecting. The highly focused collector has an advantage. He or she is only looking for a specific type of item. In this case: fruit jars. They are not going to spend time searching for items outside that category. This also allows them to target their available dollars.
I have often said that if I were starting over, I would collect fewer objects and try to buy only superb examples. It’s a “best in class” approach.
This means that you may have fewer examples in your collection but it also means you only have great ones. Plus, by definition, great objects will take longer to find but the thrill of acquiring a great item is more satisfying than getting hold of an average quality piece.
With all this in mind, it’s much easier to understand why a collector of fruit jars might pay handsomely, in this case $14,500, for the rarest of all jars. It will be the showpiece of his or her collection for years to come and, I suspect, when it does come time to sell it, the half gallon American beaver fruit jar will command an even higher price.
So, the next time you come across a box full of old fruit jars, don’t scoff. You never know, another American Beaver amber half-gallon sealer may be in the bottom of that box!
For more information on antique fruit jars, stoneware and ginger beer bottles visit mapleleafauctions.com.
Shaun Markey is a resident of Westboro and author of a recently published memoir called Folk Art in the Attic. He also blogs about antiques and folk art at folkartintheattic.blogspot.ca. If you have an antique or collectable and are curious about its past and approximate value, email a photo to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please make sure it’s high enough resolution so that details are visible! Any extra information you can share about your treasure is helpful too. Your item – and its story – might just be published in the next column.