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    

Chinese Famille Rose Porcelain Moon Flask Vase, Calligraphy & Landscape 19/20thcLarge Antique 1920s H/mk Solid Silver Spirit Hip Flask 389gramsAntique Sterling Silver & Glass Hip Flask - Possibly American - 288g J9Antique Japanese Export Solid 950 Sterling Silver Hip Flask, Showa Period FloralFantastic 18th Century American Chestnut Flask / Bottle!Gii - 26 / Eagle - Eagle / Qt / Color / OpFantastic 18th Century New England Chestnut Flask / Bottle!1/2 Pint Fancy Scroll Flask, Blueish Aqua, Black Graphite Pont, 6 Pointed StarsStoddard Gii-83 Eagle Pint Flask! Ex. Blaske. Top Example! Rare James Dixon Victorian Solid Silver Pocket Hip Flask Spirit Antique HuntingWalker & Hall Antique Silver Plate Hip Flask Spirit Pocket Integral Cup No ResGii-73 Eagle Cornicopia Pint FlaskA Vintage Hms Saxon Birmingham Heavy Sterling Silver Hip Flask 162 GramsGolden Amber! Gxiii-36 "sheaf Of Wheat-westford Conn" Flask -excellent ConditionAn Antique Sterling Silver Small Hip Flask Birmingham 1907 Deakin & FrancisA Superior Quality Heavy Sterling Silver Hip Flask 213 GramsBright Forest Green! Giii-4 Cornucopia/urn Flask - Pint - Excellent Condition!Antique Solid Silver Hip Flask / Scent / Perfume Bottle Chester 1904Antique German Schafer & Vater Figural Porcelain Whiskey Nipper Flask Antique Historical Portrait Flask: Washington-wheat Sheaf Gi-58 Aqua Pint W/ O/pCa. 1780-1800 Yellow Amber! - 6 3/8" - Chestnut Flask - Excellent Condition!Urn - Cornucopia Historical Flask - Pint - Keene N.h.Vintage Hip Flask Silver Plate And Faceted Glass1860 Rare Gxv-22 Sheet's & Duffy Dyottville Kensington Strap Flask Bottle BeautyAntique 1/2 Pint Golden Yellow Ribbed Strap Side FlaskA C19th Chinese Porcelain Famille Rose Moon FlaskAsprey Sterling Silver Flask And FunnelEagle Cornucopia Pt, Gii-72bAntique Aqua 8" Glass Flask Bottle Double Sided Wheat SheafAntique C. 1800 Light Green Pitkin 24 Rib Swirl Whiskey Flask Pattern Mold NrVintage Hip Flask Silver Plate Leather And GlassGuys Dropper Carbide FlaskGadget Cane Walking Stick Vintage Erotic Woman Brass Handle Hidden Flask CanesKlondyke, Klondike, Alaska Yukon Gold Rush Commemorative Figural Nugget Whiskey Vintage Hip Flask Silver Plate Leather And GlassLarge Antique Guilloche Enamel Sterling Silver Perfume Scent Snuff Bottle FlaskIncredible Stoddard Patent Flask Crude Double Collar 7 1/2" TallPikes Peak Historical Flask Aqua, Eagle On Reverse 9 Inch Attic Bottle OldAntique Vintage Military 1930s-50s German Drinking Flask - Santa Fe Civil War Wood Wooden Treen Cask Canteen Flask Bottle Iron Band Pewter Screw CapMixed Lot Of 13 Pacific Glass Auctions Auction CatologuesVintage Tiffani & Co Sterling Perfume Bottle Flask18th Century Early Whiskey Decanter - Best Example!Antique Sterling Silver Whiskey Flask Hip Flask C.1900Tuscaloosa Dispensary, Tuscaloosa, Ala Flask Half Pint Whiskey BottleAntique Ceramic Figural Flask Woman In Shift "a Present For You" Circa 1900One Pint John F. Rist Kentucky Flask Leather Over Glass CatlettsburgJustrite Carbide FlaskChinese Mid 1900's Fossil Fern Snuff Bottle Yellow Hardstone Moon Flask Nr YqzAntique Hand Blown Green Glass Bottle W/ Spiral Design,turned Down Lip, Pontil Chinese Hardstone Snuff Bottle Chalcedony Jadeite Colouration Moon Flask YqzPretty Roman Iridescent Glass Double-body Unguentarium Flask: Ca.1st Cent. AdAuction For Skull X Bones Leather Flask Set Shot Glass Liquor Drinking HipEstate Find Antique Lot Snuff Hidden Flask Perfume Vintage Lockets No ReserveChina Old Bronze Carving Dragon And Eight Immortals Tea Pot Hip FlaskTowle Beauty Marks Retro Sterling Silver Purfume Pocket Fluted Flask 25gr & BoxAntique Vintage Flask With Cap Sheffield England James Dixon Sons Metal Pewter?Vintage Glass Flask With Leather Laced Snap Clasp Alcohol LiquorEstate Vintage International Watrous Hammered Sterling Silver Flask 856 3/4 PintMixed Lot Of 12 American Bottles & Glass Auction Catologues