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    

Rare! 19thc Antique C1850s Yellow Ware Figural Fish Flask Bottle, NrGix-7 Louisville Glassworks Citron Historical Flask Bottle Louisville Ky PontilGii-33 Louisville Amber Double Eagle Historical Flask Bottle Killer Color!Giv-32 Shepard Zanesville Ohio Masonic Historical Flask Bottle Red AmberGi-86 Lafayette Historical Flask Bottle Coventry Conn StebbinsGi-2 Portrait Flask -washington Near To Mint In Light Green Tint Open Pontil Antique Solid Sterling Silver Whiskey Hip FlaskVintage Solid Sterling Silver 3oz Hip Flask & Removable Cup,wl, Birmingham 1922Good Sterling Silver Hip Flask By Mappin & Webb Date London 1917.Gii-31 Louisville Ky Double Eagle Pontil Qt Historical Flask BottleSilver Plated Snakeskin Leather Bayonet Hip Flask Victorian Antique HuntingGxii-18a Union Historical Flask Bottle Lorenz Wight Pittsburgh PaGi-31 Washington Jackson Historical Flask Bottle Keene N.h. Nh New HampshireGii-73 Eagle Cornucopia Historical Flask Bottle Keene N.h. Nh New HampshireGii-61 Willington Glass Qt Liberty Eagle Willington Conn1860s American "corn For The World / Baltimore" Historical FlaskAntique Ceramic Pot Lid Henry's Col0nial OintmentGviii-2 Sunburst Historical Flask Bottle New England Coventry As IsRare, Grover Cleveland, 1892, Etched, Campaign Whiskey Flask - Give-awayVery Nice Early Gii-73 Cornucopia Eagle Flask Open Pontil Nice Color!Stoddard Double Eagle Pint, Gii.83 C 1830 Olive Green Chesnut Flask Bottle Pontil Stoddard New EnglandGv-5 Success Railroad Historical Flask Bottle As Is Mt Vernon Saratoga NySmall Giii-5 Blown 3 Mold Flip Glass 3 1/2" Tall Sunburst PatternMidwestern Free Blown Bottle Rare Verical Ribbed Near Mint To MintPair Of Blown 3 Mold Caster Bottles - Giii-4 Salt & Pepper Silver Hallmarked Hip FlaskLarge Blown 3 Mold Hat Giii.7, Giii.8 - Unlisted Pattern Blown 3 Mold Giii-5 Bowl, Boston & Sandwich Glassworks 7" X 1 7/8" Rare SizePair Of Blown 3 Mold Footed Open Salts Solid Silver Hip Flask Sheffield 1919 236 GramsAmerican Bottles ~ The Charles B. Gardner Collection ~ FlasksSolid Silver Hip Flask London 1899 260 GramsMasonic Eagle Historical Flask: Giv-37 Pint, Twd, Kensington Glass, Pa, Ca.1830Giii-4 Cornucopia Urn Historical Flask Bottle Coventry Conn Super Lite Color!New England Blacking Bottle Olive Amber - Largest Size 5" Tall Beautiful Ca.1870's - Yellow Amber L.g.c.o. Lyndeboro Glass Co. FlaskLovely Art Deco Silver Plate Hip Flask C.1930 Antique Chinese Turquoise Glazed Porcelain Moon Flask Vase W HandlesQuart Size Blue/aqua Iron Pontiled Scroll FlaskC 1850 Chestnut Grove Handled Pontil Chestnut Flask BottleNew England Blacking Bottle Yellow Olive Amber - Great Color Gi-54 Washington And Taylor Flask 3 Buttons No Tie Flask Hip Flask Silver Plated Circa 19104 Part Mining Walking Stick Cane Brass Miners Head Walking Cane Stick & Flask Rare And Superb Ancient Roman Ribbed Glass Flask - C. 2/3rd Cent. A.d.Petite Hallmarked Silver Pocket Hip Flask Birmingham C1907Farmville Dispensary Farmville Va 1/2 Pint FlaskC 1850 Pontil Pitcher Pttsburgh Threaded Banded Thomas Cains As IsLondon Hm 1867 Solid Silver & Glass Hip Flask Leather Cover, Damaged To LidBrown Pumpkin Seed Flask Chestnut Flask Orgin Unknow ''dug In Phila'' Circa 1850'sAntique Sterling Silver Flask HallmarkedGxi-21 For Pikes Peak Eagle Historical FlaskWonderful Art Deco Silver Plated Hip Flask C.1930 Maker J.l Civil War Era Marked "am" Basket Weave Pontil Base 2 Part Glass FlaskAntique Japanese Edo Samurai Family Crest Matchlock Gunpowder Flask Case InroPicnics, Coffins, Shoo - Flies ~ John L. Thomas ~ FlasksSilver Plated Vintage Towle Fish/fisherman's Flask Antique Blown Glass Oval Ribbed Flask Pontiled Bottom