Former Johnson City commissioner's pottery, jug collection set to be auctioned Jan. 1

Zach Vance • Dec 25, 2018 at 11:21 PM

The late Ralph Van Brocklin, a former Johnson City mayor and commissioner, was an avid collector of antique pottery and whiskey bottles, and now some of his collection will be up for auction.

Kimball Sterling will host an auction on New Year’s Day, beginning at 11 a.m., that will feature some of Van Brocklin’s collection of pottery, whiskey jugs, canteens and crocks. An advertising collection from Don and Shirley Kay and a bottle collection of Charlie Green will also be part of the 500-lot auction.

A local oral surgeon, Van Brocklin unexpectedly died in September while jogging along the Tweetsie Trail.

In an interview with the Johnson City Press several years ago, Van Brocklin estimated he had about 2,000 rare bottles, mainly whiskey flasks, with dates ranging from the 1840s up until Prohibition in 1920. Of those 2,000 bottles, he said about 500 were mini jugs, 400 were shot glasses, 50 to 100 were canteens and 100 or so cylindrical whiskey bottles.

He said they ranged in worth from $5 to $40,000.

“It’s ironic,” Van Brocklin said at the time. “I don’t drink whiskey, but I’ve got all these whiskey bottles.”

A native of Salinas, California, Van Brocklin said his fascination with collecting began as a young boy when he became interested in coins, but that interest soon shifted in 1968 when he was introduced to bottles, which were inexpensive at the time and could be dug from the ground.

“From then on, I was hooked,” said Van Brocklin, who once served as president of the Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors.

Among the hundreds of items to be auctioned off Jan. 1 include: numerous whisky jugs, including one stamped “The Big Springs Saloon, Johnson City, Tenn.,” a Van Fleet and Co. Wholesale Druggist jug engraved with “Plantation Chill Cure Guaranteed. Try It,” and 11 white stoneware canteens.

With starting bids of $150, the auction also features two cobalt glazed pots crafted by local potter Charles Decker, who operated Keystone Pottery in Johnson City beginning in the 1870s.

The auction will take place at 125 W. Market St. in Johnson City on New Years Day, but some of the lots can currently be found online at www.bidsquare.com/auctions/kimball-sterling/antiques-and-estates-auction-new-years-day-3762.

A preview of the auction will be held on Dec. 31 from noon until 4 p.m. and the morning of Jan. 1 beginning at 9:30 a.m.

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