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    

Pair Fine 19thc Chinese Blue White Imperial Figures Moon Flask Vases Kangxi Mk Iron Pontil Jenny Lind Historical Flask (ravenna, Ohio) Ribbed Super ExampleRare Grant Union Pint FlaskAntique C 1920's Prohibition Era No 4711 Eau De Cologne Metal Travel Flask YqzKeene Nh Sunburst Historical Amber Pontilled Flask Bottle Gviii-8 No ReserveMonster 1780-1820 New England Globular Storage Bottle - Open Pontil - Free BlownBeautiful Emerand Green Pontil Half Pint CornucopiaAntique Double Eagle Quart Flask / Cunningham & Co. PittsburghOpen Pontil Jenny Lind Milfora Glass Works Variant Historical Flask Nice ExampleWestford Glass Co - Antique Liberty Eagle Flask - 6 1/2" Amber Bottle Conn. CtGood Pocket Size Sterling Silver Hip Flask By Cohen & Charles Date:1926.Roman Collared Glass Flask / Bottle - Rare Ancient Historical Artifact - B902Antique Historical Flask Gii-42 Franklin Frigate Eagle T.w.d. Aqua Pontil BottleHallmarked Solid Silver A. & J. Zimmerman Hip Flask Dated 1919, 130gm1890's South Carolina Dispensary Strap Sided Whiskey Flask - Pint Size - LookOpen Pontil Leafy Tree - Wheat & Tools Calabash Flask Unusual Made Top No DamageAntique Victorian Asprey Hm Sterling Silver Whisky Hunting Fishing Hip FlaskOpen Pontil Jenny Lind Historical Flask Fislerville Glass Works Nice ExampleAwsome Gentlemans Hallmarked Silver Cut Glass.riding,racing,pocket Hip Flask.Antique Thomae Sterling Silver / Cloisonne Enamel 1929 Perfume Flask Ozone ClubSuper Unusual Large Amber Antique Whiskey Flask Bottle With Anchor.C 1880 Louisville Glassworks Flask Bottle Louisville Ky 1/2ptEagle And Indian Quart FlaskCa.1870's Whitney Glass Works 1/2 Pint Flask - Base EmbossedIsabella Glass Works Pint FlaskTwo Very Rare Crude Antique Flask Milk Glass Figural Birthing Egg BisqueAntique Large Flask With Embossed Eagle Both SidesFine Example Of Gii-21 Aqua Quart For Pike's Peak FlaskCa.1870's Dark Green 1/2 Pint Flask - Full Label - Comet SourmashAntique Crude Yellow 1/2 Pint FlaskSilver Hallmarked Birmingham 1944 Hip FlaskRare Schafer Vater Porcelain Uncle Sam Liquor Flask & Shots Anti Prohibition For Pike's Peak Historical Flask - Pint Mck Gxi-21 ?For Pike's Peak Gxi-30 Colorado Gold Rush Historical Flask In Near-mint Shape Beautiful Antique Chinese Blue/white Dragon Moon FlaskAntique Victorian Silver Ottoman Shaped Whiskey Spirit Hip Flask C1900Dispensary Union FlaskUnique Roman Style Glass Vessel / Flask With Handles - Id240Excellent 19th C Victorian American South Jersey Millville Brides Bank GorgeousAntique 19th C Pillar Mold Whimsey Cobalt Polished PontilNice Vintage Antique Porcelain Skull & Cross Bones Poison Canteen Bottle FlaskAntique Flask Very Old Barn FindPressed Glass & Sterling Silver Flask Liquor Distillery BourbonCa.1870's - Rare Quart Size Salem Mass FlaskSuperb Solid Sterling Silver Plain Spirit Hip Flask Sheffield 1916 129g South Carolina 1/2 Pint Dispensary Jo-jo Flask Bottle No-103, Chipped LipEarly Stoddard Seam Sided Flask Unusual Form And Scarce Mouth, Very Crude!!19th Century Tin Flask, Original Paint, No Reserve *Vintage Mexico Sterling Silver Perfume FlaskVintage Silver Flask~~~made In EnglandSampson Mordan & Co London 1923 Solid / Sterling Silver Hip Flask Vtg Pewter Poison Bottle/flask Skull & Crossbones, Gothic, Marked England 3.5"Vintage Glass Whiskey Flask With Shot Glass CapMexico Sterling Silver Perfume FlaskAntique Meriden B. Company Silver FlaskVintage Double Trc Glass Liquor Hip Double 2x Flask Bottles Black Zippered Case Stoddard Or Lyndeborough Pint Patent Flask Heavy Whittle!Meriden B Silver Co.winchester Country Club Invitational Hip Flask 1922 Engraved Ancient Delicate Chinese Cloisonne Hip Flask MarkL@@k Vintage Travel Flask Glass Liner W/ Black Leather Case