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]



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    

Scarce One Of A Kind Pint Pike's Peak Flask Amber Pint Gxi-46Rare 28 Rib Pontil New England Pitkin Type Flask, 1790-1820.Lovely 24-rib Pattern-molded Midwestern Swirled Glob Bottle! 1820s Zanesville!Nice Apple Green " General Washington" 1840s Historical FlaskFine Antique Chinese Blue And White Porcelain Moon Flask Prunes Dragon VaseFine Pair Antique Chinese Blue And White Porcelain Moon Flask Prunes Dragon VaseG1-18 Washington-baltimore Monument , Baltimore Glass Works Ice Blue, Great CondScarce Pontil Midwestern Zanesville, Ohio Ten Diamond FlaskGii-62 Willington Glass Co Conn Eagle Historical Flask Amber PintExceptional! Bright Green 18th Century Pontil Mid Atlantic Chestnut Bottle Gv-10 Lowell Railroad Eagle Historical Flask Light Olive-amber Half Pint PontilBeautiful Spring Garden Glass Works Half Pint FlaskScottish Cows Hunting Horn Flask Silver Mounts Amtythest & Cairngorm Stone 1800sBeautiful Yellowish Lime Green Lyndeborough Glass Co Base Embossed Whiskey FlaskTrio Of "try It" 1880s Pumpkinseed Whiskey Flask Art Nouveau A & J Zimmerman London Sterling Silver Liquor Flask W/cup,floralExtremely Scarce Giii-12 Cornucopia Urn 1/2 Pt In Mint Condition & W/great ColorGii-11 Eagle Cornucopia X Historical Flask Olive-amber Pint Pontil Comp ScarceGiv-7 Pontil Flint Glass Blown Three Mold DecanterKensington Pontil Pint Eagle & Tree FlaskSuper Crude Half Pint Strap Side Flask In A Yellow Green Citron Color!!Original Antique Union Civil War Clasped Hands Eagle Historical Glass Flask L&wEarly 19th C Midwestern 16 Ribbed Toliet Bottle Or Miniature Decanter PontilEarly Amber Utility Amber Flat Rectangle With Cut Corners BlownGii-91 Double Eagle Historical Flask Aqua QuartWestern Whiskey California Sample Bottle Bt&p Oak Run Whiskey Lyndeborough Glass Co. Base Embossed " L G Co" Circa 1867-1888 19th C Ribbed Silver Overlay Rye Whiskey Bottle CitronAntique "regulator Clock Face" And "star" Pint Pumpkin Seed Flask!!Glass House Hat Whimsey Clear Swirl Pattern Pontil Top Hat StyleGlass House Hat Whimsey Deep Cobalt Blue Pontil Top Hat StyleError 1860's Ny Amber Flask: H.ferrigan Ltae (late) David Patullo 80 Duane St. Etched Flowers~wallace Sterling Silver Perfume Bottle Flask~antique Nouveau DecoRare Antique Early French Pontil Pilgrim Flask Chestnut Bottle Black Glass JarExcellent - Ca.1870's Quart Size Flask - Joseph Cleve Boston Mass - Rare!Base Embossed Lyndeborough N.h. Whiskey Flask Nice Robin's Egg Blue Color Crude!Hip Flask Black Leather & Glass Silver PlatedAntique 19thc Anna Pottery American Folk Art Incised Stoneware Pig Bottle FlaskTiffany Sterling Silver Antique Flask Decor Relief And Squirrel CarvedWonderful Oribe Tokkuri Sake Flask By Koie Ryoji John Wanamaker Antique Vintage Sterling Flask Very Large Signed Apollo SterlingSterling Silver FlaskVintage Asprey Silver Hip Flask Circa 1937 191 GramsVintage Sterling Silver 1/2 Pint Hip Flask W/screw Top Antique Sterling Silver .925 Beautiful Lidded Jar Flask Repousse With MarkingsStunning Roman Style Glass Flask - 550Fine Antique Chinese Qianlong Mark Blue&white Vase FlaskAntique Pretzel Flask-bottle Nip Early Pre Prohibition Liquor- Give AwayStunning Roman Style Glass Flask - 535Vintage Pinder Bros.sheffield Pewter Camera FlaskScarce Whiskey Nip Bim Double Eagle Stars & Rope 1/10 Pint 1800's Stunning Roman Style Glass Flask - 53419th C Chinese Porcelain Kangxi Marks Blue & White Prunus Vase Moon FlaskVintage Flask - Silver Plate - Collapsible Cup/lid - 1920s.Brass Ball Three Part Walking Stick With Hidden Flask.Vintage Abercrombie & Fitch England Silver Marked Flask Small Pocket SizeNice T.j. Molloy Washington D.c. Strap Sided Pint Whiskey Flask Bottle Orange Lyndeborough Glass Co. Base Embossed " L G Co" Circa 1867-1888 Antique 19th Hammered Black Silver Plate Hip Flask ~ Apollo Silver Co.Vintage Antique Liquor Drink Flask Vest Pocket Hip Silver Plate Inscribed Fred