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    

Beautiful Solid Silver Sampson Mordan Hip Flask London 1907Enormous Antique Fine Quality Crocodile Skin & Silver Plated Hip Flask.Stoddard Masonic Pint Flask All Seeing Eye Super Crude With Excellent Clarity!Pewter Whisky Hip Flask Bottle Sword British Nobleman England Vintage RareBeautiful Teal Blue/green Gi-47 Washington/reverse Plain Qt.flask W/open Pontil!Gv-3 Success To The Railroad Historical Flask Bottle Keene NhAntique 1920s Japanese Sterling Silver Pocket Hip Flask Decanter 7.9 Oz 225 GrLight Apple/celery Green! Gi-39 Washington/taylor Qt.flask Large Glob On 1 Side!Spanish American War Era Glass Flask With Reverse Painted Applied Color Label Large Victorian Solid Silver Hip Flask - London 1880 - William Summers - 161gGi-2 Washington & Eagle Historical Flask Bottle Pittsburgh Greenish Aqua PontilGii-73 Eagle Cornucopia Historical Flask Bottle Very Lite In Color! Keene NhHallmarked Silver Hip Flask With European MarkRare Large American 19th C. New Jersey Pitcher/creamer Cobalt PontilAntique Sterling Silver Plain Hip Flask With Hinged Cap. London 1918. No ReserveH.m Silver Victorian Oval Shaped Flip Top Hip Flask Chester 1898Late 18th Or 19th American Cobalt Blue Stiegel Type Creamer On Standard PontilSparkling Gii-33 Louisville FlaskAntique Light Green Chestnut Bottle Crude Lip Open PontilSterling Silver Hip Flask Sheffield 1923Antique Chinese Porcelain Moon Flask Vase Blue & White Floral Decoration 19thc?Gi-31 Washington Jackson Olive Green Historical Flask Bottle Keene NhRare Douglas African American N Y Or New England Figural Bust Bottle PontilBeautiful Deep Yellow Civil War Era Strapless Whiskey FlaskVictorian Era Sterling Silver Repousse Perfume Bottle Flask Late 1800"s W/ ChainScarce -- Pint Aqua Eagle Gll-49 Flask - Coffin & Hay HammontonStaffordshire Pearlware Prattware Enameled Double Gimmel Flask Circa 1800 Nr19thc Antique Derby Silver Plate Co Art Nouveau Floral Swirl Liquer Hip FlaskVintage Art Deco 1930s Massive Dry As A Fish Silver Plate Canteen Whiskey FlaskLate 18th Or Early 19th C. Masonic Engraved Goblet Red Cotton Twist PontilMint 1/2 Pint Cornucopia Urn Flask Heavy And Dark. 1840'sEarly & Crude - West Virginia - Geo. W Robinson Strap Sided Flask - George Wv Va Western Coffin Flask Fleckenstein & Mayer Portland, Or. Half PintVintage Elaborately Detailed FlaskVintage Prohibition Era Glass Hip Flask In Metal Frame. Nice Shape For AgeAmazing Citron Color! Gi-43 Washington/taylor Qt.flask With Slight Lip Damage( :Roman Janus FlaskVery Rare Majolica Indian Corn Figural Whiskey FlaskAncient Roman Holy Land Green Blue Glass Bottle Perfume Flask - 4th Century Ad5 1/2 Inch Schafer Vater Blue Glaze Dutch Man Barrel Figural Whiskey Nip BottleAntique 100% Stirling Silver 1/2 Pint Hip FlaskScarce "quart Sized" Aqua Union Stars / Clasped Hands / Eagle Gx11-7 FlaskVintage Glass Bottle Lamp Lot Nice PontilEarly Calabash Flask Sanded Pontil Circa 1850 Union Clasped Hands Eagle Pint Sized Aqua Union Stars / Clasped Hands / Eagle Gx11-1 FlaskAntique Sterling Silver Wine Flask Funnel / Apothecary/perfume Hallmarked Antique Chinese Famille Rose Porcelain Moon Flask VaseWest Brownsville Pa Old Monongahela Sam Thompson Rye Whiskey Liquor Flask BottleEdo Period Fine Kayaku-ire Matchlock Gunpowder Flask Yoroi Samurai Teppo Tsuba8 3/8 Inch Schafer Vater Brown Glaze Prohibition Man Figural Whiskey Nip BottleVintage Pair Of Pattern Moulded Larson Bottles W Stopper PontilScarce "half Pint" Aqua Union Stars / Clasped Hands / Eagle Gx11-18 FlaskHarrisburg Pa C.keister Whiskey Liquor Flask BottlePewter And Rattan Flask Antique James Dixon And SonsRare 19th C Aqua Large Size Locamotive Ink Bottle W Label Vintage The Dalvey Pocket Flask 6 Oz. Whiskey Grants Of Dalvey Scotland 1985Super Nice Antique Sterling Silver Frosted Glass House Liquor Drink Flask1880s Half Pint Slug Plate Amber Strap Side Flask- Joseph N. Calway New York Nyc1/2 Pint Summer Winter Flask Dug Camp Amory, New Bern Nc 1862-65Aqua Blue Quilted Pattern Open Pontil Flask Nj Dug Beautiful & Rare