Washington Taylor, Father of His Country flasks

The Washington Taylor flask described by McKearin as GI-37 is a fairly common item whether they be the original 19th century bottle or the abundantly reproduced 20th century copy. Determining whether one is a true historical flask or just a replica made by the Clevenger Brothers or other late 20th century manufacturer is not always an easy task for the non-collector.

The #37 quart mold is the first of 32 different variations thought to have been made at either Dyottsville Glass Works in Philadelphia, PA or Lockport Glass Works in Lockport, NY. Original bottles exist both as smooth base or with a pontil scar; lip finishes vary from the common shear to single or double collar and even in some cases a square or tapered collar.

Let’s compare:

(1) Some modern replicas are quite different, in shape, size and embossing. It’s the Clevenger Glass Works product which is fairly faithful from the original and causes the greatest confusion. The differences are subtle and in some cases only the experienced collector is going to be able to tell the difference.

(2) Originals were produced in a wide variety of colors, some of which are rarely seen in 19th century bottles. Modern pieces are found in both the common aqua color as well as brilliant green, yellow, puce and cobalt blue, among others. Colors other than aqua should be an immediate warning sign that the bottle is likely modern.

Commonly Found Colors for Modern Reproductions

(3) Modern and old are found in smooth base or with pontil scars. Modern and old can have a plain sheared lip or some type of lip finish.

(4) Both modern and old can show similar thickness of glass; similar straw marks, bubbles and potstones. A common trait in modern examples is the bumpy, “orange peel” effect to the glass surface.

(5) The junction of the neck and body of the modern bottles is often abrupt. As you see in the photos below, the modern examples look like the neck was just jammed onto the bottle. In 19th century bottles, the transition is smooth without a seam or crease.

(6) The bases of 19th century examples are either flat or with a large oval recess. Modern examples have a precisely round concave recess in the bottom center. In some cases, the round recess is obscured by the pontil scar.

Value

Reproductions are abundant and do not have much value. Figure $5-20 decorative value. Originals without damage begin in the $75-100 range for aqua and can reach into the $20-30 thousand dollar range for a great example in a rare color. $2-6 thousand is more typical for a good quality colored example.

Masonic Flasks

There are 43 documented molds of 19th century American historical flasks which portray a Masonic design on at least one face of the bottle.  These flasks comprise Group 4 of American Bottles and Flasks and their Ancestry.  In this group, several molds are quite rare and some examples are easily worth 30 to 50 thousand dollars.  It is more likely that the collector or antique dealer would come across more common examples like the GIV-1 made in Keene, New Hampshire.  There are plenty of examples to be found in aqua, although in amethyst it would be considered extremely rare.

 

masonic flask

A classic exaple: the GIV-17 Masonic Flask

Reproductions

There are a considerable number of modern Masonic flasks in existence – I see them frequently on ebay and they are often described as authentic.  With a little bit of study, it is fairly easy to tell the old from the new.  The most obvious indicators are on the base of the bottle:  new examples have a well-defined rim around the outside edge of the base and there is no pontil mark.   On some occasions you will see the embossing, “OLD STURBRIDGE VILLAGE” but it is my experience that most do not have this lettering.  Colors of the reproduction include aqua, brilliant green and sapphire blue.

repro masonic

A reproduction Masonic flask in aqua

base embossing

Old Sturbridge Village embossing on base. Note the well defined rim around the edge.

blue repro Masonic flask

Repro Masonic flask in brilliant sapphire blue

green-repro

Repro Masonic flask in green

Scroll Flasks

Antique scroll flasks are easy to spot thanks to their distinctive shape.  While aqua is the most commonly found color by far, other brilliant colors (greens, ambers, blues) are not infrequently encountered and fetch top dollar by collectors.  George and Helen McKearin described the scroll (or violin) flasks in their book, American Glass, in the 1940s with details on 51 different molds.  This list was later expanded with many variants in American Bottles and Flasks and Their Ancestry.  Often, the difference between molds for scroll flasks comes down to the precise placement and shape of embossed stars and other details.

 

scroll flasks

A group of scroll flasks in quart, pint and half-pint sizes.

 

As with all historical flasks, the rarity of bottles of a particular mold is the greatest driver of value.  Color follows closely; collectors pay significantly more for rare colors in any mold over a commonly found aqua example.  Condition is always a consideration – as we often point out here at Historic Glasshouse, even minor damage takes a big bite out of value.

Manufacturing Details

Scroll flasks were made by blowing hot glass into a two piece iron mold.  The hinged mold was then opened and the bottle was removed while still attached to the blowpipe.  An assistant would then attach another rod (called a pontil)  to the base of the bottle.  The glass blower could then detach the bottle from its lip by shearing the still soft glass.  Most often you will find scroll flasks with a plain sheared lip.

sheared-lip

A sheared lip on a historical flask.

 

Some flasks would receive additional work to finish the mouth and lip.    Commonly found are the applied band of glass and, infrequently, an applied lip.  See the group shot above.

Pontil marks

Most 19th century scroll flasks will have a pontil mark (sometimes pontil scar) on the base.  These will most always take the form of a ring of glass (“open pontil”} or a grey metallic circle (“iron pontil”)  Collectors place a value on the quality of the mark – large and bold marks are considered to be more desirable.

open pontil

Open pontil mark on base of historical flask

iron pontil

Iron pontil mark

 

Damage

Look carefully along the medial rib of the flask for signs of cracks or bruises.  It can be difficult to see cracks especially when the glass is thin.  Be sure to hold the bottle up to the light and rotate it slowly looking for lines in the glass which change as you move the bottle.  Also inspect the base edge and mouth – these are two common areas where chips, bruises and flakes occur with use.

 

Reproductions

How do you tell an original from a reproduction?  Often it is not easy.   I have found that the glass on reproductions is often much heavier than on an original.  However, knowing the right thickness of the glass is a matter of experience.  Another consideration is the size:  I am not aware of any reproductions in the quart size – every one that I have seen is a pint.  Brilliant colors should also be a clue to age; while you will see both originals and reproductions in sapphire blue and various greens, ruby red and  brilliant colors should be at the least a warning sign of a modern piece.

 

Value

Common aqua scroll flasks will generally fall in the $50 to $150 range, depending on condition and quality.   Deeper aqua hues command a somewhat higher dollar.  Rare molds and better colors easily move the bottle into the $500 to $5000 range.  If you want to get specific about value then submit photos and details via my antique bottle appraisal service.

 

The McKearin Historical Flask Groups

Group I – Portrait Flasks

Numbers 1 through 61 are Washington Flasks
Numbers 62 through 79a cover Adams, Harrison, Jackson and Taylor
Numbers 80 through 93 are Lafayette
Numbers 94 through 98 are Franklin
Numbers 99 through 107a are Jenny Lind
Other portrait flasks are listed in molds 111 through 131

Group II – American Eagle Flasks

There are 144 molds in this group

Group III – Cornucopia Flasks

18 Cornucopia molds

Group IV – Masonic Flasks

There are 43 molds in the Masonic flask group.

Group V – Railroad Flasks

12 flasks

Group VI – Baltimore Monument Flasks

7 molds

Group VII – Cabin bottles

6 molds in this group

Tom Haunton officially extended this group and added molds as documented in his book, Tippecanoe and EG Booz, Too

Group VIII – Sunburst Flasks

There are 30 flasks in the sunburst group.

Group IX – Scroll or Violin Flasks

There are 52 in the Scroll group.

Group X – Miscellaneous Flasks

33 flasks include Good Game, Sloop, Murdock & Cassel, Summer/Winter, Jared Spencer, American System, Stoddard Flag among others.  This was the final group as documented in American Glass.  The following groups were added with the publication of American Bottles and Flasks and Their Ancestry:

Group XI – Pike’s Peak Flasks

54 molds

Group XII – Shield and Clasped Hands

There are 43 molds listed in this group.  There are several unlisted flasks known.

Group XIII – Pictorial Flasks from the 1850 to 1880 Period

Includes over 90 flasks.    Flora Temple, Horseman/Hound, Sheaf of Wheat, Baltimore Glass Works/Anchor and others.

Group XIV – Traveler’s Companion Flasks

9 flasks

Group XV – “Lettered” Flasks

These are mostly flasks with embossing indicating a particular glass works.  28 molds.