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    

William Hutton Victorian Leather Sterling Silver Bayonet Hip Flask Whisky 1894Rare Gar Civil War Union Veteran Picture Label Under Glass Canteen Flask Bottle Aqua Open Pontil Half-pint Cornucopia / Eagle Beaded Edge FlaskPittsburgh, Pa Double Eagle Historical Flask Amber Color Glass Bottle 1860 Antique Vintage 1948 Art Deco Hip Flask Solid Sterling Silver Hallmarked - 183gWestford Glass Co Marked Flask! Gxiii-36 Mold!Wilkinson Patent Silver Plate Hip Flask Spirit Telescopic Cup Lid Antique HuntSparkling Aqua Half Pint Baltimore Glass Works / Sheaf Of WheatStoneware Figural €Open Pontil Scroll Perfume / Cologne Flared Lip BottleLarge Sterling Silver Flask - Indian Chief - Unger Brothers, 5.25 Inches C.1900Beautiful New England Chestnut Free Blown Pontil 6 1/2 TallAqua Pint Flask With Sheaf Of Wheat On Both Sides.Victorian Antique Sterling Silver Vesta Match Safe Case Miniature Figural FlaskOff Color Open Pontil Scroll Flask Quart Nice Condition Beautiful Early FlaskA Superb Huge Chinese Blue & White Porcelain Moon Flask Bearing Qianlong Marks18th Century Chinese Porcelain Moon Flask Decorated With Precious Objects. Antique 5 1/2" Green Glass Bottle With Native American Figures Diamond Shape NrUs Civil War Era Antique Glass Drinking Flask, Cornucopia Giii-4Antique 7 5/8" Green Glass Flask Bottle Imbossed Soldier & Dancer Figures NrAntique Historical Flask: Union, Eagle & Clasped Hands, Gxii Aqua Pint, C.1860'sVictorian Silver & Glass Hip Flask - Thomas Watson London 1871 Gorham~enamel Sterling Silver Chatelaine Perfume Bottle Flask Antique Victorian James Dixon Hip Flask - Glass Leather & Plated - With Removable CupEarly Crude, G-2 74? Eagle Flask Bright Aqua!!Labeled - Cognac / Whiskey 1/5 Th - Lyndeboro Glass Company Fine Ornate Antique Islamic Engraved Silver Plated Jar 1850 Pot Bowl Flask IndiaAntique 1800's Figural Fish Glass Whiskey Flask Hand PaintedVintage Sterling Silver 1887 FlaskVintage "ramshead" Hannah & Hogg Saloon Back Bar Bottle With Small PontilAqua Open Pontil Pint Size Scroll FlaskSolid Silver Flip Top Hip Flask - Unengraved 243gmsLot Sterling Silver Salt Shakers Ashtray Flask Candle Holders Picture Frame Roman Glass Flask (5431) Top!! Rare!!Blown Three Mold Decanter In The Giii-15 Pattern - Listed As Scarce In Am. GlassLarge Chinese Porcelain Blue&white Signed Moon Flask With Kangxi With 2 DragonsA Fine Antique Solid Silver & Cut Glass Gentleman's Hip Flask, London 1894Schafer Vater German Porcelain Figural Bottle BpoeStoddard Pint Patent FlaskSuper Group Of Early Pontil Flask Bottles. Sterling Silver Japanese Flask Daffodils Late Meiji C 191019thc Chinese Porcelain Moon Flask With Drgaon Handles & 4 Character Mark Open Pontil Clear Figural Cologne BottleSuper Antique Free Blown Teal Green Decanter With Applied Handle, Sil Plate Top18th Or 19th C. Chinese Brown Glazed Moon Flask Ewer, With CharactersSeam Sided Flask - Stoddard - Pint - Cracked - As IsRoman Glass Sprinkler Flask Nice Blue-green, From IsraelGxiii-56 Isabella Glassworks Antique FlaskScroll "fleur-de-lis" Open Pontil Gix-37 Beautufil Half Pint Flask - Estate FindAntique Sterling Silver Hip Flask Engraved Schafer Vater German Porcelain Figural Bottle Your Health Uncle Sam 6"Antique Washington - Taylor Aqua Quart Flask - Ex. Patterson CollectionAntique Art Nouvea Sterling Silver Flask, Vinaigrette, Perfume English 1800's Schafer & Vater Whiskey Nipper Flask, Dancers Stunning Vintage Antique Violet Purple Flask Etched Poison Unique!! Must See!!!Antique~pyrex #29~ruby Red Lab Flask~apothecary Chemical Bottle W/glass Stopper~Old Silverplate Flask Art Nouveau Woman On Each Side Fancy Ornate Whiskey19th Century Sterling Silver Liquor Flask Antique Lidded Decanter Bottle EnglishOpen Pontil Aqua Figural Cologne Bottle ˜