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.

A reproduction scroll flask

This reproduction scroll flask was made by the Imperial Glass Corporation, late 20th century.

The base shows the mark of Imperial Glass

the base shows the mark of Imperial Glass

 

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.

 

Old Bitters in a New Bottle

I recently exchanged emails with John Keys after stumbling upon his bitters ingredients auctions on ebay.  For about $10, you can recreate the 19th century experience of the bitters consumer – with great historical accuracy.  His product line is called Wild West Bitters – you will receive the herbs and spices used in many of the popular bitters formulations known well to antique bitters bottle collectors today.

The unique ingredient packs from Wild West Bitters make it possible to reproduce, in one’s own kitchen, many of the bitters that were sold in the patent medicine era of the late 1800s. The product line is the result of 40 years’ research on the part of John David Keys of Stephenville, Texas, who felt that antique bottle collectors and many others might find it fascinating to experience just what was originally inside those bottles.

Keys scoured through distillers’ formularies, pharmaceutical dispensatories, period advertisements, medical writings and judicial reports in his quest for reconstructing the formulas, or recipes, for the bitters. Chromatographic chemical analysis of rare surviving bottle contents was also employed. Lastly, Keys relied on subjective assumption for many of the bitters.

Claimed originally as having miraculous curative powers, most of the patent bitters of the 1800s were in reality simple stomachic digestives. In fact many of them were consumed as “recreational” beverages, much like Jägermeister is today. The bitters that can be prepared from the Wild West Bitters ingredient packs are intended as “recreational” beverages, and no medicinal properties are implied. Keys himself regards the line as “history you can recreate, experience and share”.

Fifty varieties of Wild West Bitters ingredient packs are available exclusively on eBay. Wholesale sales are offered for 12 of the more popular items.

For example,  The Dr. Harter’s Wild Cherry Bitters is based on an 1887 formula whose ingredients are: wild cherry bark, sweet orange peel, cinchona bark,cardamom, canada snakeroot, gentian, cinnamon, cloves,powdered caramel coloring, bitter almond oil (natural benzaldehyde).

Is this not amazing?