The Thomas McCandless Collection

A Hearts and Flowers scroll type flask, Midwest America, 1845 to 1860

p4A ItemID E8974185
A Double Eagle historical flask, Kentucky Glass Works, Louisville, Kentucky, 1845 to 1860

p4A ItemID E8974176
A brillant aquamarine JR & Son scroll flask, John Robinson and Son Manufacturers, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

p4A ItemID E8972770
A Mother Gardner's / Old Fashioned / Tansy Bitters bottle, America, 1860 to 1880

p4A ItemID E8972555

Tom McCandless (1924-2010)

My Father’s New Hobby

Our father’s new hobby began to get our attention when, after a long day at work, he started disappearing into the basement in the evenings to scrub dirty old bottles. As three active boys we noticed even more when some of the cleaned up bottles started to appear upstairs and, for the first time, we had to exercise some restraint and try not to bash into these odd new decorations. As his new interest grew, we sometimes tagged along on Sunday mornings to explore river banks or, following the tips of old timers from town, look for long abandoned dumps and farm houses in the woods. Neither No Trespassing signs, nor clouds of knats could deter him. It was like treasure hunting but the treasures were grimy old bottles that looked worthless and hopeless until their trip to the basement where Pop worked his magic. Our ping pong table was converted into his shipping department as it turned out there were nutty people all over the country who would actually pay good money for old bottles, who knew? The digging expeditions soon evolved into weekend trips to places we had never heard of, Shupp’s Grove, Rancocas Woods and too many flea markets to name. He and David, the last of us left at home, would get up at ungodly hours to head off into the dark for the chance to parlay a few “pretty good bottles” into something really special, a keeper.

After a few years there were quite a few “keepers”. In spite of the fact that we boys had moved out, our house continued to expand to accommodate Pop’s growing collection and the bottle room appeared. With a keen eye and constant study, he created a collection that attracted visitors from far and wide and we realized our house had become a sort of museum. Little visitors soon learned to ask, “Is this an antique?” and were directed towards the, “not so old” toys that were available for those occasions. Pop’s enthusiasm was contagious as we witnessed how he lit up when visitors expressed an interest his collections. This was never more evident than after he broke his hip and was heavily sedated for pain. He would go for hours without opening his eyes despite being surrounded by family. But when his buddies from the Lambertville Market showed up, he perked up and bantered on and on about recent finds the latest news from the market. Over the years we have met many of his fellow collectors who were so much more than mere colleagues. Our mother and father were privileged to enjoy so many years of travel and camaraderie with such a wonderful group of friends. We will miss them and all of you and the magical world that they created in our old home.

-Jeff McCandless


With me, the only time Tom McCandless came in second place was when I thought of my own Dad. I met Tom about 30 years ago when I first moved in to Hopewell Valley. I was always so proud to call Tom and Marion my friends. I knew right from the start that these were folks you just wanted to be around.

Tom was so well rounded that you could always learn something new with every conversation. Flasks, Christmas lights, target balls, fruit jars, bitters, glass of any category, mushrooms (mycology), antique toys, Hopewell Valley History, and travel local and worldwide were just a few of his passions. Truly though, Tom’s number one passion was living life. Family and friends, people in general, and a zest for life were the things that made Tom tick! Fiercely independent and always interested in learning, Tom always had something going on. We’d go to bottle shows together, he in his 80′s and me in my 50′s and Tom would insist on driving! The only argument we ever had was when we went to the Elks for dinner on Friday nights and he would always try to pay the bill before me. (Once he knew that it really bothered me, he gave in and split the bill with me!)

Tom taught me so many things. When his wife Marion passed away (she was another of this worlds truly wonderful individuals), Tom taught us all composure, grace and strength. When Tom would sell a toy or a good bottle and send the proceeds to his grandchildren for their education, he taught us the real value of love for family. If someone told an off color joke or started speaking badly about someone, Tom would quietly leave the room, teaching us character. Tom told me once to always sit up front at an auction–he always wanted to bid his way without a care of who was bidding against him, thereby teaching us the lesson of fair play. I’d call Tom and say “there’s a paper show in Allentown tomorrow”. He’d say “I’ll scoop you up at 8 am, be ready!” teaching me the lesson of being enthusiastic. Most of all, I’d call Tom or we’d go to deliver Meals on Wheels together and we’d talk for hours about everything and anything, and so, the lesson of being a friend, a real friend. Tom was more knowledgeable than anyone really knew about glass and just about everything, and was always willing to help you learn as well.

Tom Brokaw wrote of the greatest generation in his book. Tom was a WWII vet (you should have heard those stories!) and gave me the book to read which I did. In my heart, Tom McCandless will always be the finest of the great generation.

-Bob Strickhart

Building on the foundation laid by many of the great first and second generation scholars and collectors, Thomas McCandless showed an unparalleled dedication and zeal for the bottle and glass hobby. Tom, with the aid of his wife Marion, assembled the landmark collection of bottles and flasks in the pages that follow.

This catalog represents a single owner collection amassed over more than forty years, a rarity in today’s bottle auction era. Every item in these McCandless catalogs came directly from his shelves in Hopewell, New Jersey. Tom loved the diversity on those shelves – all the glass categories and beyond. Flasks, bitters, whiskeys, medicines, milks, sodas, fruit jars, pickles – all had a place in Tom’s collection as he had an eye for all kinds of glass. The variety of this collection speaks to the true breadth of Tom’s interests, knowledge, insatiable curiosity, and love of the hobby.

Over the months that we have cataloged and pictured his collection, we have marveled at Tom’s method of collecting. The quality and the breathtaking range of beautiful colors that exist in this collection are immediately obvious. After just a few hours with the entire collection, it occurred to me that Tom was one of the first collectors to focus on color diversity. Although accepted by collectors today as perhaps the most important characteristic of an important glass collection, Tom keenly focused his efforts on this criterion long before many in the hobby began to do likewise.

We thoroughly enjoyed reading through Tom’s handwritten notes and the abundant documentation that accompanies the collection. His unique and detailed records provided us a bird’s eye view of over four decades of effort as he amassed these items. The correspondence, notes, and photographs that we’ve included in the catalogs provide an intriguing perspective into how the collection took shape, and it’s through these everyday glimpses of Tom’s journey that a chronicle of What many consider to be the golden age of bottle collecting emerges.

As you peruse the catalogs and the additional information on our website, please note that the sources from which Tom purchased his items are as diverse as the items themselves. His notes detail a wide array of acquisition methods including: auctions, shows, friends, collectors, antique dealers, mail order, antique shops, and more. The Golden Nugget, Jim Whetzel’s Bottle Shop, Sam Laidacker and Burt Spiller mail order lists, Dave Goad “The Traveling Bottle Man”, a purchase from Arthur Barrus or Charles Vuono, The Chicago Expo, an antique show while on vacation with his family – all were avenues to find items that ultimately landed in his collection. Tom’s notes, receipts, and transaction records are brimming with these names and many others, near and far places, and information that form a rich mosaic of people tied to this great hobby.

We feel privileged to present the bottle and flask collection of Thomas McCandless at auction in these catalogs on behalf of the McCandless family and would like to thank the McCandless family and many in the bottle community that provided all manner of information, support, and material that has made this catalog so much more than just a presentation of bottles at auction, but rather a celebration of a vibrant hobby icon.

Great rarities in flasks and bottles abound in the McCandless Collection. Several items in this collection are so exceptional in either color or mold that few will come to the market again in our lifetime. Tom certainly had favorites, as did Marion. It’s our hope that now new collectors will not only find their favorites, but also enjoy and perpetuate all of the camaraderie, passion, and commitment that will forever be connected with this collector and his collection. It would make Tom happy!

-Norman C. Heckler


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