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 SEVENTEEN

 

In spite of the popularity of bitters taking and the growing strength of the Temperance Movement hard liquors retained broad popularity and they were increasingly bottled in vessels blown in personalized two-piece molds. Most interesting of these bottles are the numerous globular, chestnut and pear-shaped handled jugs of the period, many of which featured applied or molded seals. Blown primarily in the Glass Houses of New Jersey and Philadelphia, these handled jugs first emerged in the 1850s and they remained popular for more than a through the 1860s and into the 1870s. Requiring the skills of a well-trained glassblower in the application of the handle, it could be argued that in these handled jugs we see the last vestiges of the glassblower's craft in the bottle making industry. Among the handled bottles produced at this time were several different designs embossed with the Bininger brand name. A longstanding and successful New York City wine and liquor company, AM Bininger & Co. packaged a multitude of spirits in a wide variety of different bottle types. In fact, the Bininger name can be found on bottles handled, case-styled and also figural, as is the case with the Civil War inspired Cannons containing Bininger's "Great Gun Bourbon." Other whiskey manufacturers were also successful in the production of bitters-inspired figural bottles, most notable of which is the oft-reproduced Whitney Glass Works made "E.G. Booz" bottle. The apparent success of the Booz bottle precipitated production of numerous additional cabin-type whiskey bottles, though the Booz remains the best known and finest in design.

With increased usage of personalized molds to hold liquors and the continued growth of the bitters industry, the production of figured flasks was on the wane by the end of the Civil War and nearly non-existent in the Glass Houses of the East by 1870 and in those of the West by 1880. Following the trend of the previous era, flasks of this period were simple in form with generally uninspired mold work, as is the case with the ubiquitous double eagle flasks produced at both Stoddard and in Pittsburgh. With that said, there were several flasks of merit brought out in this period at the Connecticut Glass Houses of Willington, Westford and New London which featured beautifully rendered American Eagles quite unlike the somewhat amorphous Eagles embossed upon the aforementioned Stoddard and Pittsburgh flasks. Most likely playing to nationalistic Northern sentiments aroused by the Civil War, these attractively designed flasks hearken back to the mold work of the 1820s and the 1830s and they stand in stark contrast to other flasks of the era. Sadly, production of these flasks lasted for little more than a decade and they mark a gradual, yet inspired end to widespread figured flask production in the region.

Also of note are the Clasped Hands and Pikes Peak flasks produced in the Midwestern Glass Houses of the period. With general economic desperation the rule following the Depression of 1857, the tale of "Pike's Peak" gold was embraced by the less fortunate and thus began the rush to the Kansas-Nebraska gold fields. Spawning the slogan "Pike's Peak or Bust," eager treasure hunters from the East and Midwest began the journey Westward in search of riches. Although few would actually find fortune, word of "unlimited gold for the taking" was quickly spread by Western merchants who were making a handsome living outfitting the prospectors. Among those objects sold to the eager travelers were undoubtedly the Pike's Peak flasks that were being blown at Glass Houses in Pittsburgh and Ohio. The romantic notion of Pike's Peak captured the public's imagination and popularity of the flasks spread countrywide, as evidenced by the more than fifty different flasks produced bearing the slogans or imagery of the Gold Rush. First brought to the public in 1858 or 1859, production of these flasks continued until the early 1870s, even though the actual Gold Rush fever had greatly subsided by 1860. Typically bearing folky images of a man with a pick over his shoulder on the primary face and a crudely rendered eagle on the obverse, the Pikes Peak flasks do not exhibit the moldmaking skills of the earlier flasks but they remain somewhat charming nonetheless.

Like the Pike's Peak flasks, the so-called Clasped Hands flasks are rather simply formed and in some cases, poorly detailed. Still, they were tremendously popular in the Reconstruction period, with flasks known to have been made in more than fifty different molds. Inspired by Lincoln's claim that "the Union" was the central issue in the battle between North and South, the majority of the flasks in this group are embossed with two hands clasping in Union surrounded by laurels of peace and circled above by a series of embossed stars. The obverse generally features a winged eagle grasping a shield in his talons. In some cases, the obverse of the flask was decorated with an embossed cannon and Union flag, an obvious reference to the war itself. Only one of the Clasped Hands flasks was blown in the east (where Abolition was believed to be the central issue of the conflict) with the remainder of flasks blown in the Glass Houses of the Midwest.

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