History Examination

Antiques appraisers offer more colorful information than just worth of old objects

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

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photoBob and Debbie Mabry of Beaverton, Ore., talk Saturday to appraiser Randy Coe at the Clark County Antique and Collectible Show about an old bottle of bourbon they found. Coe said it was bottled in 1931, during Prohibition, and showed how liquor producers got around the anti-alcohol laws by labeling the bottles "medicinal." He valued the bottle and its box at around $100.

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photoMike Millspaugh, of Portland, has expert appraiser Kathleen Victor look on Saturday at a pair of wood-carved masks that he bought at an estate sale in Rogue River, Ore. Victor speculated that the masks were decorative pieces from Africa or New Guinea, one worth about $1,500 and the other $2,000.

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photoDebbie Mabry takes back her bottle of bourbon after she and her husband, Bob, had it appraised by Randy Coe on Saturday. The Clark County Antique and Collectible Show continues today at the Clark County Event Center.

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When Bob Mabry was cleaning out the garage of a home belonging to his family, a decades-old bottle of liquor caught his eye.

It must have belonged to the people who owned the 1920s-era home before his family bought it, "because my family would never have left it sealed," Mabry joked on Saturday morning, as he had the nearly 100-year-old bottle appraised at the Clark County Event Center.

Although he's curious to know what the bourbon tastes like, Mabry said he intends to defy family norms and leave the bottle sealed, especially after learning its history. He and his wife, Debbie Mabry, had traveled from Beaverton, Ore., to the Clark County Antique and Collectible Show to have the bottle appraised by an expert.

The bottle and the box it came in are worth nearly $100, but perhaps more interesting is the history behind the item, appraiser Randy Coe told the couple.

The Bourbon was made in 1917 and bottled in 1931, "which is cool because it spread over Prohibition," Coe said. Although alcohol consumption was mostly outlawed during the country's Prohibition period, from 1920 to 1933, it was legal to sell for medicinal purposes.

It's like the way medical marijuana was allowed in Washington, though customers didn't need a doctor's approval to buy medicinal alcohol, Coe said. The bottle is sealed with a label and serial number that indicated its sale was approved by the federal government.

Coe also noted that even though the bottle was sealed, it wasn't sealed very well. Some of the liquid had disappeared from the bottle, probably through evaporation. He wondered if that had compromised the bottle's contents.

"It's either really good bourbon, or really good vinegar," Bob Mabry said.

Coe told Mabry that breaking the bottle's seal would be downright wrong, in his opinion, because it would be like ruining a piece of our nation's heritage. It "would be like ripping a page out of your Bible," he said.

Later, Portland's Mike Millspaugh wheeled in some mysterious items he said came from the estate sale of Robert Clouse, who directed the Bruce Lee film "Enter the Dragon."

Millspaugh pulled two tribal masks out of a cart and showed them to appraiser Kathleen Victor. Victor, who's been in the antiques business for about 40 years, said that although she didn't know the regions or tribes the masks came from, they were probably worth about $1,500 and $2,000.

Not bad, considering Millspaugh purchased the two masks, a third, and a few less-valuable items all for $1,000, he said.

Both masks are wood. One is intricately carved of dark wood. The other's light wooden base is covered with animal hide and embellished with hair on its chin.

Millspaugh might have trouble getting a decent price in the Portland area; such masks aren't as popular in this market, appraisers said. They suggested he contact sellers in Los Angeles, Dallas or New York City.

The antiques and collectibles show has more than 400 booths with a variety of vintage and unusual treasures. Old slot machines, music records, books, furniture, costume jewelry, glassware and pop culture memorabilia filled the event center Saturday morning. By the end of the day, hundreds had paid the $6 admission (plus $6 parking) to peruse history's left-behind treasures.

The event continues today. For information, visit http://PalmerWirfs.com.


Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523; http://facebook.com/reportermathieu; http://twitter.com/col_politics; stevie.mathieu@columbian.com.