Jeff and Holly Noordsy

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

v v v v v v v v v v v v v v v v v v v

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 THIRTEEN

 

Of all the flasks produced during the 1830-1860 period is it the so-called "campaign flasks" that continue to present the most compelling study. Serving as Secretary of State during Jackson's first term and Vice President during his second, Martin Van Buren seized upon Jackson's continuing popularity, capturing the Presidency in the election of 1836. However, in a truly ironic turn of events, the competing Whig Party (which had been dismissed as "Bourgeois" by Jackson and Van Buren supporters during the previous two elections) offered surprisingly strong competition during the race by running William Henry Harrison, hero of the Indian Wars and a "man of the people." Presenting Van Buren as an aristocrat and maligning his sly political skills by referencing him as "the Red Fox of Kinderhook," Harrison ran a strong second in the election, setting up the now famed election of 1840, which has been described as the most tumultuous political campaign of the 19th century.

Originally introduced during the 1836 campaign by a Pittsburgh maker, the so-called "Snake of Corruption" flask aptly detailed the Whigs' complaints against Van Buren. An image later used to great effect in the print media, the flask features a winged eagle (representing the honorable Harrison) with a serpent (representing the corrupt Van Buren) in its beak. With faith in Van Buren waning as the Country slipped towards Depression following the Panic of 1837, Harrison and his Whig supporters continued to gain in strength. By juxtaposing Van Buren's (supposed) aristocratic and opulent background with that of Harrison's simple birthright, the Whig party successfully turned the tables on the Jacksonian Democrats. By the time of the 1840 election, Harrison was widely believed to be an unassuming man born in a log cabin prone to drinking hard cider, a favored beverage of the masses. That such imagery was patently untrue had little effect upon the electorate, as log cabins and barrels of hard cider were used as a rallying cry for support of Harrison and evidence of his popularity can be found in the decorative arts and media of all type.

As it had done in the time of Jackson, the Glass Industry seized upon the popularity of Harrison through the production of numerous figured flasks with his bust and slogans embossed upon them. Among these flasks are two rarities, both most likely produced in Pittsburgh Glass Houses. The first, catalogued by McKearin as GX-22, features a log cabin on one side and a barrel of hard cider situated underneath an unfurled American flag on the other. The second, catalogued as GI-63, includes a bust of Harrison resplendent in his military garb on one side and a log cabin, barrel of hard cider and an American flag on the other. As with the GII-9 flask made for the 1836 campaign, these flasks were blown in a mold cut by a master moldmaker, as evidenced by the degree of detail and depth of the cuttings. Like earlier flasks produced in the region, each mold was cut with beaded edges and the bottle was finished with a simple sheared mouth. Also produced as a tool of the 1840 campaign were the two rare cabin bottles made at the Mount Vernon Glass Works. Blown in the form of a log cabin and embossed with the words "Tippecanoe" and "North Bend," these bottles would have aroused memories of Harrison as war hero as well as a "man of the people." That these cabins as well as the aforementioned flasks were handed out for "inspirational purposes" on election day is quite probable, as the Temperance Movement had yet to gain wide acceptance and the regular consumption of hard cider was widespread.

With neither candidate eliciting particular popular appeal, the 1844 contest between Henry Clay and James Polk did not result in the production of new molds, even though the race was marked by widespread fraud and corruption. That was to change in the buildup to the 1848 election however, as Americans found their new hero in General Zachary Taylor. Unknown to most prior to 1845, Taylor quickly achieved heroic status through his victories against superior forces during the Mexican-American war. Newspapers gushed over Taylor's accomplishments and whether real or imagined, such Taylorisms as "General Taylor Never Surrenders" and "I Have Endeavoured to do My Duty" were ingrained into the American lexicon by the time of the 1848 election. Though Taylor had no political experience and a platform based primarily upon sidestepping major issues, American was in need in a strong, compelling leader and he won the election by a wide margin. Flasks championing Taylor as "Old Rough and Ready" (a nickname he had earned during the Seminole Indian War) were produced in several varieties at the Baltimore Glass Works but it is on the 22 Dyottville-type flasks that Taylor's portrait is most visible.

Blown in artificial colors of all shades and in sizes ranging from a half-pint to a quart, the great majority of these Taylor flasks included a bust of Washington on the obverse, clearly making the link between war heroes of different eras. (Although Washington likely would have found the comparison distasteful.) Like the scroll flasks of the period, the earliest of these Dyottville-type Taylor flasks were finished with a simple sheared and tooled mouth with later examples exhibiting applied mouths as was increasingly becoming the custom. However, as with the so-called "Pitkin-type" flasks that were blown at numerous different glass houses, it is likely that not all of the "Dyottville-types" were in fact blown at Dyottville. With that said, the similarity of forms and designs is indicative of a single moldmaker, even though there is a good probability that some of the flasks were actually blown in Baltimore and/or New Jersey, as there would seemingly not be a need for one factory to produce 22 different varieties of a single type of flask. This notion further underscores the competitive nature of the industry (in that Glass Houses were all vying to seize upon the popularity of the same compelling imagery) as well as the widespread popularity of this type of flask. Surviving in great numbers today, the Washington-Taylor flasks remain popular with collectors because of the wide variety of colors in which they were blown but it is obvious even to the untrained eye that they lack the sophistication and detail of the earlier flasks. Certainly due in part to changing tastes but also affected by technology enabling mass-production, these more simply designed flasks utilize color and somewhat crudely rendered imagery rather than crisp mold design as their main decorative element.
e


e f e f e f

Copyright © 2006 - All words, images and supporting code contained within this listing are copyrighted by Jeff Noordsy Antiques. The content of this page may not be reproduced, published, transmitted, or linked to in any way without prior written consent.