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 Western "bitter / Witch" Medicine Flask - Embossed Horseshoe!Exceptional Large Antique Japanese Cloisonne Flask Form Vase With Wireless WorkBeautiful Late 1800s Gorham Sterling Silver Repousse Lady's Perfume Flask #250Beautiful Condition Large & Heavy 183.7 Grams Solid Silver Hip/spirit Flask 1921Unusual Old Chinese Flask Form Vase W Faux Bois And WritingGreat Condition Large & Heavy 141.8 Grams Solid Silver Hip/spirit Flask 1926.Antique Amber Glass Flask * Figural Dressed Turkey Shape BottleBourbon Whiskey Bitters - Rare Color - Apricot - 80 % Org. Label - Mint PlusGreat Pair Of Antique Japanese Kutani Moon Flask Form VasesVintage Sterling Silver Perfume Flask Ladies PendantRare Nevada Flask- Waldorf- RenoChinese Famille Rose Porcelain Flask Vase W/ 6 Character MarkGix-1 Brilliant Quart Scroll Or Violin Flask 1850-1860 Civil War Era - Mint Antique - Bacchus Devil Face Silver Whiskey Hip Flask Not Sterling /platedAntique Amber Glass Flask * 3-d Figural Cigar Shape BottleVictorian Solid Silver Hip Flask (1893) - 6.25 Oz - A/f Dented But WatertightMint Gi-34 Washington Jackson Historical Flask Light Golden Olive Op NrSilver950 Whiskey Bottle. Hip Flask. #62g/ 2.18oz. Japanese Antique. Antique Amber Glass Flask * Figural Gun Pistol Revolver BottleAntique Victorian Silver & Crocodile Hip Flask.................ref.9520The Romans. Ancient Glass Bottle Flask, Circa 350 Ad. Mint & Rare Ampulla. VfVintage Hip Flask In Silver Plate, ¼ PintRoman Terracotta Spindle Flask 2nd-3rd Century Restored LondonAntique Sterling Silver Tiffany & Co Hammered Hip Flask B2900Vintage Tiffany & Co. Makers Sterling Silver Acid Etched FlaskOld Antique Swirl Flask Applied Lip PontilAntique Victorian Silver Hip Flask London 1895 - Army Navy CooperativeAntique Edwardian Steriing Silver Hip Flask, 119 Grams, 1903Gi-99 Orginal Jenny Lind S. Huffsey Glass House Calbash Flask 1850-1860 Era NmVintage Tiffany & Co. "makers" Sterling Silver Acid Etched Cologne FlaskAntique Chinese Blue & White Porcelain Moon Flask 12" 18thc Or Earlier Museum PcAttic Mint And Perfect Quart Washing And Taylor Original Flask MintSuper Little (2.5") Antique Middle Eastern? Solid Silver Bottle / Flask - 2.73ozEarly Blown Flask From The Dispensary Of Farmville VaAntique Vintage Art Deco Eam Sterling Silver 925 Whiskey Flask 84g Works Proper!Antique Victorian Silver Plated Hip/spirit FlaskUnusual Antique Pig Skin Pocket Hip Flask Stamped R.m.s. - Nice QualityLarge Antique Anglo-indian Solid Silver Perfume Scent Flask Atomizer Rare Ca 1900 Minneapolis Minnesota Mn "isaac Weil Sons" 1/2 Pint Whiskey Purple FlaskFine Solid Silver And Facet Cut Glass Hip Flask - London 1881 - Frederic PurnellTraditional Solid 925 Sterling Silver Hip Whiskey Flask , 1898, By GorhamSolid Silver And Cut Glass Hip Flask London 1930 Hallmarked Attic Mint And Perfect Pint Pitts. Eagle With Banner, Original Flask Mint83993# Stainless Steel / Hip FlaskVintage 1940's Japan Porcelain Skeleton Reaper Decanter Flask 2 Cup Skull ShotsVintage 1983 Godinger Bacchus Silver Plated FlaskVery Scarce Patent Flask With L G Co. On Base - Lyndeborough Glass Co. Rare 1/4 Pint Durkin Pumpkin Seed Bourbon FlaskNice Rare Flask Singer Bros Mail Order House Kansas City, Mo 1/2 Pint 1905 L@@kAmber Half Pint Washington Dc Whiskey Flask Jas. Tharp Wines & Liquors James Dixon & Sons 1416 8oz Silver Flask Screw On LidAntique 1890s Figural Pretzel Ceramic Pottery Whiskey Nipper Flask Cork StopperAntique Dixon Style Pebble Grain Leather Bound Glass Silverplate Hip Flask 6.5"925 Silver Flask Funnel - MintWwii Flask/silver Whisky Flask/vintage Flask Silver/rare!!!General Washington & Lady Liberty Cobalt Blue Glass Flask Bottle Nice FlasksVegemite Milk Glass Jar Vintage Rare Early 1900's Meriden B. International FlaskTan Leather Canteen, Possibly Antique (gunpowder Flask?) Reduced StartRare Chinese Antique Tibet Silver Hand Carved Jade Dragon Monkey Hip Flask