An item in most liquor cabinets, the flask is one collectible which is appreciated by many people beyond those who collect them. With strong American imagery and a history of popularity, it’s no wonder flasks are so widely used today even though their purpose is much diminished. Flasks invoke imagery of rugged cowboys, of flappers dancing the night away, of American gangsters and Prohibition. In America’s short history, the flask has made its reputation as an icon of American grit and freedom.
The use of flasks is thought to have started by Norwegians, who as a nomadic people required a durable, compact receptacle to carry their drinks in over long distances. These early flasks, also called canteens, were much larger than the modern silver or glass flask and were made of leather. These were popular in a booming America and were used by soldiers in WWII.
Before the flask, there are records of alternate and somewhat surprising (but effective) ways to store alcohol. In the Middle Ages, gutted fruit was used to store liquor. During the 18th century, women smuggling alcohol onto British warships would gut pig bladders and discretely store them under their petticoats.
Masonic meetings of the early 1800’s were B.Y.O.B. at the same time as window glass was gaining popularity. It only seemed logical to store liquor in these elliptical glass containers, fitting conveniently in pockets across the developing country. Because many glass manufacturers were Masons, many of the flasks created during this time bear decorative etchings of Masonic emblems. And because manufacturing glass requires flame, many of these houses were burned to the ground, necessitating new models while the older designs fell into history. Their distinct markings over the course of their evolution make flasks an excellent historical reference and a subsequently valued collectible.
As the 1800’s grew, so did the popularity of the flask. By the 1860’s all shapes, colors and sizes of flasks could be found. Quarts and fifth gallons were sold and etchings became more beautiful and complex. Silver was found to be an excellent material for holding liquor and was believed to actually improve the taste of the beverage it held! As a collector’s item, silver flasks are highly valued for their quality and aesthetics.
During the Prohibition Era, Americans would not be denied their right to drink! Small flasks were hidden in coat pockets and tight under skirts. The shape and small size made them perfectly discreet and manageable. Much of the reason most Americans today associate the flask with imagery of the daring, defiant anti-prohibitionists is due to this classical time period in American history.
Losing their necessity after Prohibition, the flask never lost its appeal. It found their way into ballparks and establishment where liquor was not served. Americans would simply not be kept from getting their lips wet. Even when open containers were banned from such events, plastic flasks were made to pass metal detectors and glass regulations. An item associated with discretion, the flask serves a similar purpose today as it did in the beginnings of America. It’s no wonder these collectibles are so prevalent today. A proud symbol of American liberation and libation, the flask is here to stay.