Nov. 10, 2009 -- A singed bottle of beer recovered from the ashes of the Hindenburg disaster is expected to fetch $4,000 to $8,000 at auction this weekend -- the highest price ever for a bottle of beer.
Though most of the 62-year-old suds remain in the bottle, auctioneer Andrew Aldridge said the contents of the Lowenbrau bottle, discovered by a New Jersey firefighter in 1937 at the site of the airship's historic disaster, are undrinkable.
"It is the most valuable bottle of beer ever sold," said Aldridge of the British auction house Henry Aldridge & Sons. "But you wouldn't like to drink it, let me put it that way. It would taste putrid."
The Hindenburg, an enormous passenger-carrying hydrogen-filled German airship, burst into flames in May 6, 1937, over Lakehurst, N.J., killing 38 people.
The bottle, along with a silver-plated pitcher also discovered by fire Chief Leroy Smith at the scene of the disaster and estimated to fetch $17,000 to $22,000, is part of an auction of Hindenburg memorabilia going under the hammer on Saturday.
Scorch marks on both the bottle and the pitcher bear silent witness to the historic inferno.
"About 20 percent of the beer evaporated from the bottle. Some of the label is still intact and you can make out 'Lowenbrau' and 'Munich.' The label is heavily browned," said Aldridge.
The heat from the fire caused the seams of the pitcher's handle to pop, Aldridge said. The pitcher bears the logo of the Deutsche Zeppelin Reedrei airline that operated the famous Hindenburg.
Hindenburg Beer Bottles Buried After Disaster
Smith, then the 37-year-old fire chief in Matawan, N.J, recovered six bottles and the pitcher while cleaning up in the wake of the disaster. He buried them in a field when the area was sealed off and dug them up later. He distributed five of the bottles to the members of his squad and kept one and the pitcher for himself.
In 1977, the widow of one fireman gave his bottle back to Smith, who then donated it to the Lowenbrau brewery where it remains today.
Smith's niece received the fireman's bottle and the pitcher in the 1960s.
Aldridge, whose firm is the largest auctioneer of relics from the Titanic, said people are endlessly fascinated by disaster.
"The Hindenburg was the most famous air disaster in history," Aldridge said. "It was the largest airship to have ever flown and continues to fascinate people."