Jeff and Holly Noordsy

Dealers Specializing in the Sale of Early American Bottles, Glass and Period Decorative Arts

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THE EVOLUTION OF FORM AND DESIGN IN AMERICAN BOTTLES: 1739-1903

CHRONICLING THE TRANSFORMATION FROM ART TO INDUSTRY

As Presented by Jeff and Holly Noordsy at the Eastfield Village Glass Symposium in August 2005

 

CHAPTER NINE

 

Flasks celebrating Lafayette's visit were also blown at Mount Vernon, in the Midwest (at Knox and McKee's Glass Works in Wheeling, West Virginia) and in Philadelphia at the Kensington Glass Works, each with Masonic symbols decorating the obverse. Unlike the aforementioned Masonic and Sunburst flasks which utilized architectural and broad nationalistic symbols as their primary means of decoration, the Lafayette flasks blown during his visit of 1824 were the first American bottles produced "en masse" to celebrate a particular man or sentiment of topical nature. Building upon the popularity of these Lafayette flasks it was the Kensington Glass Works that first truly capitalized upon the endless marketing possibilities afforded by the relief decorations made possible by the two-piece mold. Under the able guidance of Thomas Dyott, Kensington, and later Dyottville, set the industry standard for successful marketing and it is with the death of Adams and Jefferson on July 4, 1826 that Dyott first showed his true marketing genius. Already in possession of a mold cut with the bust of Washington on one side and a proud American Eagle on the other, Dyott responded to news of the Founders' deaths by recutting the mold to include the inscription, "Adams & Jefferson July 4 AD 1776." In addition, lest anyone forget which Glass House was making such a patriotic overture, the recut mold also included the words "Kensington Glass Works Philadelphia" and the inscription "E. Pluribus Unum." The widespread popularity of this flask is evidenced by the great numbers in which bottles of this type survive today. And, though earlier flasks had successfully included mention of the Glass House in which they were blown within the design, it was the bold, full inscription of "Kensington Glass Works Philadelphia" that set the stage for future use of this advertising technique among other manufacturers of the period. Perhaps more importantly yet, the success of this flask and the manner in which it appealed to public sentiment of the moment opened the eyes of the glass industry to the myriad of possibilities afforded by creation of figured flasks with topical social and political appeal.

In fact, Glass House owners and political operatives immediately seized upon this new found power and successfully utilized figured flasks as a propaganda tool in the bitter fight for the 1828 Presidential election. Furious over Clay's perceived treachery in the 1824 election of John Quincy Adams (where Jackson won the popular vote but not the electoral college as Clay threw his support to Adams to give him the Presidency to ensure his appointment as Secretary of State), the Jacksonian Democrats immediately began a widespread campaign maligning both Clay and Adams as bourgeois monarchists with little connection to the people. Not surprisingly, Jackson's support was greatest in the South and Midwest, where he was perceived as a hero for his role in the Seminole War and celebrated for his carefully projected stature as a "man of the people." As a result, numerous Midwestern Glass Houses produced flasks embossed with the image of Jackson in order to appeal to the sentiments of their consumer base. Included among this group are six now rare flasks blown in the typical Pittsburgh beaded side design of the period that portray Jackson as soldier, or "Old Hickory" as he was known to his devotees. That these flasks were produced in Pittsburgh in or around 1828 is especially interesting when one considers that just four years before, Bakewell had designed a flask celebrating Clay and the "American System," celebrating the 1824 protective tariff and the broad system of internal improvements supported by Clay (now ridiculed by the Jacksonians) and championed by Industrialists. Other evidence of the sudden rise of Jackson's popularity is offered by Helen McKearin in her discussion of the GI-69 Knox and McKee Jackson flask, which she believes is simply a recut GI-93, originally blown in 1824 with an embossed bust of Lafayette. Obviously, Glass House owners and moldmakers were by this time fully aware of the ways in which public sentiment dictated the success of their offerings, as only one flask was blown with an image of John Quincy Adams, and it is extremely rare today. Jackson's landslide victory in the 1828 election and the obvious impact of political propaganda (flasks included) would forever change the course of the American political process, advertising/marketing in general AND the manner in which bottles and (especially flasks) were designed.

Other flasks of interest produced during this period include a number of beautifully designed Pittsburgh flasks featuring an image of Washington (as soldier) on one side and well-detailed American Eagles on the other. By the time of their production (mid 1820s) Washington had become a figure of near universal appeal and flasks with his image would have been popular nationwide. Likewise, the fierce Eagle depicted on these flasks would have stirred nationalist sentiment and pride, as these bold eagles (drawn from the design of the Great Seal) symbolized strength, power and sovereignty. These Pittsburgh made Washington flasks were blown in 13 distinctly different molds, several of which are highly detailed and remain among the best designed American flasks. It is probable that several of these molds were cut by Joshua laid, a skilled moldmaker responsible for designing many of the finest early Pittsburgh District flasks.

Favorable public sentiment was also aroused by successful use of Lady Columbia, a nationalistic symbol identified by the populace as "The Goddess of Liberty." Drawn from the coinage of the day, the powerful images of Lady Columbia as depicted on a small group of flasks blown in the Philadelphia area in the mid-1820s were met favorably by the public and they remain among the most visually appealing American figured flasks. Several Philadelphia flasks were also blown to celebrate the popularity of their "Favorite Son," Benjamin Franklin. Of these flasks, most interesting is a quart sized bottle embossed with a Latin inscription on either side of the medial rib which translates to "He snatches from the sky the thunderbolt and the scepter from tyrants." As with other figured flasks of the period, the nationalistic sentiments evoked by the inscription play to popular culture and reflect the emergence of an independent United States.


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