While flasks have had a variety of uses over the years, such as the storing of gun powder, their primary purpose has long been to hold whiskey. Indeed, prior to large-scale production of liquor bottles, glass flasks were the preferred containers for spirits. Often they did not resemble the flasks of today, most of which are made to fit neatly in a back-pocket. Antique flasks tended to be ovular in shape, with short, stubby necks.

The most popular era for collectible flasks is the first half of the 19th century. Four types of American whiskey flasks manufactured between about 1815 and 1870 are particularly coveted by collectors. Chief among the four are historical and pictorial flasks.

Some collectors speak of historical and pictorial flasks interchangeably, as they were both attractive and tended to be pint-sized. In fact, there are slight but important differences. Pictorial flask designs depended on the theme of the flask. They were often very decorative, with pictures of everything from buildings to musical instruments on them.

Similarly, historical flasks bore the images of famous Americans on their sides, as well as signs and symbols of patriotism. Historical flasks are sometimes called figural flasks, but, unlike figural bottles, flasks are considered figural if they have a figure on them, not if the body is shaped like a figure.

These historical flasks often celebrated important moments in American history. One common flask was inscribed, “General Taylor never surrenders,” a reference to future President Zachary Taylor’s leadership in the Mexican-American War. The reason for the ubiquity of Taylor flasks is probably because Taylor’s short-lived celebrity in the 1840s coincided with the height of historical flask production.

There are dozens of other popular designs of antique historical flasks, such as ones featuring Benjamin Franklin, others championing the Union’s cause in the Civil War, and flasks that commemorated the deaths of Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson on the same day—July 4th, 1826, exactly 50 years to the day after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Others flasks had rallying phrases like “Success to the Railroad” on them, but the most common historical flask had busts or relief profiles of George Washington or an American eagle.

Only two women are known to have been featured on historical flasks: ballet dancer Fanny Elssler and Jenny Lind, a Swedish singer who gained popularity in the late 1850s after be...

It is not known who first produced all of these historical flasks, but Thomas W. Dyott of Kensington Glass Works in Philadelphia is sometimes credited with producing flasks honoring Washington, Franklin, and the Marquis de Lafayette in October 1824.

When it comes to the value of historical flasks, as with all bottle collecting, color is paramount. For example, a cobalt blue historical flask is far rarer and more valuable than an aqua-colored one.

Pictorial flasks often take the shape of what they depict. For example, a flask designed to look like a double scroll will, in fact, be embossed with two mounds. These flasks were known for their beauty and intricacy. The most common colors for them were aqua, various shades of green, and amber.

Pitkin flasks had a ribbed, flat, oval shape. The ribs were achieved from a pattern mold. They received the name Pitkin because Pitkin Glass Works, a Connecticut manufacturer, was credited with their production. Many New England glassmakers produced similar flasks, and used the name “Pitkin” regardless of whether they were produced by that particular manufacturer.

Most Pitkins were made in olive green or olive amber and had somewhere between 32 and 36 ribs. Sometimes these ribs were straight and vertical, and sometimes they swirled. Because glassmakers often double-dipped the Pitkins, these flasks also sometimes had a “broken swirl”—a blend of vertical and swirled ribbing.

Interestingly, this design became so popular that ribbed flasks made in other parts of the country, especially the Midwest, became known as Pitkins. The Pitkin flasks made outside of New England, however, were less uniform—they had anywhere between 16 and 44 ribs and came in a wide spectrum of colors, from aqua to green to dark amber.

The last of the popular flask shapes from the first part of the 19th century was the chestnut flask. Aptly named for its shape—it had a flat, round body, like a chestnut—the chestnut flask, like the Pitkin flask, was pattern molded, though some artists expanded upon the molded shape with some supplementary blowing.

Chestnut flasks came in a wide array of designs, from diamonds to hexagons to daisies. They were made mostly in the Midwest and came in just about all colors. Some scholars believe these flasks may even predate the 19th century, as William Henry Steigel, a glassmaker in Manheim, Pennsylvania, may have produced some in the late 1700s.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Historic Glass Bottle Identification

Historic Glass Bottle Identification

Bill Lindsey's fantastic bottle identification and information site. Loaded with detailed descriptions and diagrams… [read review or visit site]

Antique Bottle Collector's Haven

Antique Bottle Collector's Haven

There's a ton of information here, but as with bottles, you have to dig to find the best stuff. Start with the famo… [read review or visit site]

Bottle Cap Index

Bottle Cap Index

Assembled by Gunther Rademacher with the help of several other contributors, this collection of over half a million… [read review or visit site]

Plopsite.de

Plopsite.de

Norbert Lamping's collection of 600+ ceramic bottle stoppers, Hutter stoppers, swingtops, swivel stoppers, and ligh… [read review or visit site]

Old Spice Collectibles

Old Spice Collectibles

Lather up with Creighton Fricek's complete chronology of collectible Old Spice shaving products. Start with the bot… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Gii-24 American Eagle Flask Deep Aqua - Nice Washington/eagle Historical Flask Open PontilVery Rare Western Flask- Louis Taussig, Battery St. S.f.Gii-36 American Eagle Flask - Pint Good Shape No Issues - Kentucky GlassworksEagle W/shield Stag Historical Flask Open PontilGorgeous Gii-26 Louisville Gw Eagle/eagle Nice Icy Blue Aqua Pontiled QuartEagle Historical Flask Open PontilGi-94 Franklin / Dyott Kensington Glass Works Pint - Where Liberty Dwells Folks!Quality Silver And Cut Glass Edwardian Claret Wine Jug Decanter C1910Stoddard Pint Flask Open PontilEarly Victorian Solid Silver Oval Hip Flask Nathaniel Mills Birmingham 1852/3Gvi-6 Pint - Baltimore Glassworks Ear Of Corn & Monument In Pale AquaGranite Glass Works Stoddard FlaskAntique Sterling Silver Flask Hallmarked Ema 5.955 Troy Oz.Hey It's Almost The 4th Of July - Did You Get Your Firecracker Yet? - Gi-14!S.c. Dispensary Union Flask Blue Sc Tree BottleDouble Eagle Amber/olive Half Pint FlaskTowle Silver Plate Figural Fish Whisky Liquor Alcohol Decanter Flask Bottle NrAntique Chinese Porcelain Moon Flask Bottle Vase Blue & White 19th Century QingNew England Whittled Flask Amber With Touch Of Amethyst Antique Dandy Style Pocket Whiskey Flask ~ Herman Fritz San Diego, CalWhiskey 1/2 Pint Flasks, Rare 3 Pcs Pumpkinseed Cross & Basket Weave PatternsRare - Masonic Giv-37 Eagle Flask - TwdAntique Bottle Father Of His Country. Gen Taylor Never Surrenders, FlaskUnique Antique Silver Drinking Hip Flask With Screw Cap Beaker! 1900sOld Antique Scroll Flask Bottle Aqua Rough PontilBlown Three Mold Geometric Decanter 1830s Fancy Pontil Perfume Partial Label : Shown In Mckearin's American GlassFlask, Half Pint, Oyster Figural, Clear GlassNice Antique Cornucopiaolive Green Pint FlaskVintage Sterling Perfume Flask W/funnel & Miniature Lighter Very Rare Derby Silver Co Sterling Silver Flask Canteen Antique Collectible Antique Dandy Style Whiskey Flask ~ F. Chevalier San Francisco ~ Original LabelScroll Flask Iron PontilVintage Pewter Plates And Flask - Hallmarked 1695Dug- A Merry Christmas And Happy New Year- Elkland Whiskey Flask Antique BottleGreen Graphite Pontiled Eagle Calabash FlaskVictorian Barbour Silver Plate Co Dutch Art Repousse Embossed Flask Tea CaddyCalabash Iron Pontil Soldier And Daisy FlaskMexican Sterling Silver Perfume Bottle FlaskAntique Solid Silver Hip Hunting Flask Mappin & Webb1800's Sterling Silver Pocket Hip Flask For Liquor/alcohol/whiskey/brandy/spiritVintage Asprey & Co. Sterling Silver Hip FlaskEnglish Pewter Figural Golf Bag FlaskAntique 17c Sgraffiti Persian Middle Eastern Flask Ottoman Vessel SignedAntique 1/2 Pint Whiskey Flasks, 3-lot, Pumpkinseed, Coffin, Strapside Vg. Mexican Sterling Silver Perfume Bottle FlaskAntique Guy's Dropper Carbide Flask For Coal Miners Very RareVintage 14kt & Sterling Silver Large Flask 10" X 5". 402 Grams. Nice!!Vintage Wicker Covered Glass Flask With Pewter Lid - 5 7/8"Dug Amber Red Top Whiskey Flask Bottle Ferdinand Westheimer & Sons No RyeRare Kilbowie Ltd Pocket Flask ("the Original Pocket Flask"), Made In ScotlandOld Cloisonne Copper Wire Inlay Copper Fetal Cloisonne Enamel Hip Flask Glass TeAntique 1/2 Pint, Pint And Quart Whiskey Flasks, 3 Pc-lot, Great ColorDonald Trump Signature Collection Leather Covered FlaskChrome Shoulder & Lid Glass Pint Flask With Real Leather CaseOld Silver Plate Covered Bottle. Intricate Hand Made Flask.Sterling Silver Hip Flask Birmingham England 1969Vintage Rectangular 2oz Pewter Hip Flask, Made In Sheffield, EnglandQuality, Sterling Silver Hip Flask, C1930, 206gm