A Coke bottle from Newport, Ark., is getting its 15 minutes of fame.
The 6.5-ounce bottle, spray-painted silver by the pop artist Andy Warhol, is for sale on eBay.
The asking price? $6,000.
But that's cheap compared with a similar silver Coke bottle that sold at a Christie's auction in 2008. That one, from a private collection in Sweden, sold for $121,000.
The bottle with "Newport, Ark." in raised glass letters on the bottom is being sold by Frank Mitzel of San Diego. Mitzel said he got it through an auction house in Spain in 2015, but he doesn't know anything about the provenance of the bottle before that.
Like the bottle sold at Christie's, Mitzel's bottle has "A.W." in black ink on top of the stopper, ostensibly written by Warhol, who died in 1987.
"There are a lot of fakes out there," Mitzel said. "My art dealer is in Los Angeles. Mine is authentic. You can tell when you study them, based on his initials on the top. It would be hard to duplicate that."
Mitzel, a landscape architect who is president of the San Diego Horticultural Society, said he has a collection of about 70 pop art pieces, including a couple of Warhol prints. Mitzel said he wants to sell the silver Coke bottle and use the money to buy another art print.
Newport had a Coca-Cola bottling plant from 1916 to about 1970, according to an article about the Newport/Warhol bottle in the Stream of History Bulletin, which is published by the Jackson County Historical Society.
According to the "Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné," at least 92 Coke bottles were spray-painted silver by Warhol in the 1960s. That's based on a 1967 photograph showing 92 silver Coke bottles "surrounded by silhouettes of shiny spray paint" on the floor of Warhol's Factory, which was his art studio in New York City.
The catalog indicates a second, larger batch of silver Coke bottles may also have been produced, "although they cannot be accounted for according to the record of known works."
Warhol had painted some Coke bottles silver as early as 1964 because two crates of them can be seen in a 16mm film he made that year, according to the catalog.
Joan Kron, a supporter of avant-garde artists in Philadelphia, asked Warhol if he would participate in a pop art store called the Museum of Merchandise, an exhibition of consumer goods that was open for 19 days in May 1967.
"I asked Andy to participate, and he suggested doing a perfume," Kron wrote in a 2008 letter to Women's Wear Daily. "He decided to call it 'You're In' (say it fast). He wanted it bottled in a silver Coke bottle. I found a stopper that would hold a label and had labels designed and printed."
Warhol already had plenty of uncapped empty silver Coke bottles at The Factory.
"The silver bottles existed as ready-made in the studio when Kron invited Warhol to participate in the Philadelphia project," according to his catalogue raisonné.
Kron bought metal Seal-Again bottle stoppers from a hardware store, according to the catalog.
In an email, Kron said the collectible silver Coke bottles are the ones that have her label on the top. But, apparently, few do.
"Andy sprayed the bottles but I supplied the caps and the label on the caps, and you do not have the label," Kron said, regarding the eBay auction for the Newport bottle. "The value is in the label. The label is the proof in the pudding."
The bottle sold by Christie's didn't have a label. Neither do some of the 24 silver Coke bottles in a yellow Coca-Cola crate on permanent display as "You're In" at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, said Jessica Beck, a curator at the museum. Based on photographs in the catalog, none of the museum's bottles had the labels on top of the stoppers.
According to Warhol's catalog, "at least three" of the silver Coke bottles were affixed with Kron's label. And Kron's letter to Women's Wear Daily indicates that she still has one of them.
But many silver bottles from The Factory had the Seal-Again stoppers with no labels.
Two full crates of 24 bottles, one half crate of 12 bottles and six "uncrated" bottles from Warhol's estate had the Seal-Again caps but no labels, according to the catalog.
"This indicates that the labels, made in Philadelphia, were added when individual bottles were sold," according to Warhol's catalog.
A poster for the Museum of Merchandise lists "toilet water -- 'You're In' by Andy Warhol."
"The obvious pun on the name 'You're In' has lent Warhol's work an aura of notoriety," according to the catalog. "However, it is worth noting that the bottles' fluid contents were not urine at all but the inexpensive scent Silver Lining by Cassell."
After the Museum of Merchandise exhibit closed, the cologne continued to be marketed by the Arts Council of the Young Men's Hebrew Association of Philadelphia, which had sponsored the pop art museum.
When the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. got wind of "You're In," it threatened to sue.
Ted Ryan, Coca-Cola's company historian, said it wasn't the pun that bothered the lawyers so much as the reuse of the bottle.
"I imagine some executive grimaced when he heard it, but we were never going to sue an artist based on this name," Ryan said.
John D. Goodloe, general counsel for Coca-Cola, sent a cease-and-desist letter to Warhol on May 18, 1967: "We must object to the use of our famous bottle for Coca-Cola as a container or package for your cologne. ... Its use as a container for a cologne constitutes a flagrant infringement and unfair competition."
And Kron's labels were a violation of the Lanham Trade-Mark Act, wrote Goodloe.
"To avoid a lawsuit, we began selling the perfume in a plain glass bottle and gave the silver Coke bottle (spray-painted at The Factory) as a gift-with-purchase," Kron wrote in her letter to Women's Wear Daily. "I think we charged $10."
Exactly how many of these silver Coke bottles are in circulation is impossible to determine. Ryan said the 6.5-ounce bottles were the only size of Coke bottles from 1915-61, then the company started using 8-ounce bottles. The company quit putting Coke in 6.5-ounce bottles in the late '60s, he said.
Ryan said Coke used Warhol in some advertisements, including one for Diet Coke in 1986, the year before he died.
"There was never any ill intent between Andy Warhol and the Coke company," Ryan said.
And how many of the bottles were made in Newport? That's also a mystery. Most of the bottles for sale on the Internet didn't include a picture of the bottoms, which indicate where the bottle was made. But another one did. It was from Clinton, Okla.
Warhol did several paintings of Coke bottles, including the almost 6-foot-tall Coca-Cola  in 1962. The painting was purchased by Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville for $57 million at a Christie's auction in New York City in 2013, according to an article at coca-colacompany.com.
The painting currently hangs in the museum's "1940s to Now Gallery," according to Crystal Bridges. It can be seen at www.arkansasonline.com/cocacola.
Warhol mentioned his attraction to Coke bottles in his book The Philosophy of Andy Warhol.
"What's great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest," wrote Warhol. "A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking."
While Mitzel's Coke bottle has stirred the interest of some Jackson County historians, Newport Mayor David Stewart said it flew under his radar.
"It's the first I've heard about," he said Thursday.
Kaneaster Hodges, a former U.S. senator from Newport, said he read the article in the history bulletin in November.
"Andy Warhol was known for doing things like that, taking ordinary things, making small changes in them, and finding somebody to buy them," Hodges said. "He seemed to me as I was growing up to be the consummate salesman of art."
But Hodges, a former lawyer, said he would be reluctant to pay "a large sum" for a silver Coke bottle with no proof that Warhol painted it.
"I like a good story," Hodges said. "I like that we've got the White River monster in the river here. I've never seen it, but I'll say I've seen it in the interest of tourism."
A Coke bottle made in Newport is for sale on eBay for $6,000. It was painted silver by the pop artist Andy Warhol in the 1960s.
Metro on 02/18/2018
Print Headline: Warhol bottle on eBay for $6,000