Historical flasks, western whiskeys to be sold in online auction, Dec. 9-18 An incredible selection of rare, high-end western whiskey bottles and historical flasks will be sold in an Internet and catalog auction that begins Dec. 9 and ends Dec. 18 by American Bottle Auctions.
flasks, eagles, Masonic, railroad flasks (which commemorated the building of the country’s rail system), sunbursts and other pictorial flasks. Their main purpose was to symbolize attainment, progress and the advancement of the United States as an emerging nation.
Today, these American historical flasks can sell for prices ranging from $50 on up to $150,000, depending on the piece’s color, crudity, condition and rarity. These categories can vary or coincide (example: a common flask in a rare color). They date back to 1820 and even earlier, chronicling the country’s emergence through embossed depictions of Benjamin Franklin, Zachary Taylor, the French General Lafayette, Pike’s Peak, the railroad system and many more.
While flasks were being produced by the thousands east of the Rockies, out west it was a different story. With westward expansion (that turned into an explosion, with the California gold rush of 1849) came the demand for whiskey, as a means of relaxation. Initially, it was shipped to San Francisco by the barrelful from Kentucky, but soon bottles (as fifths) appeared on the scene.
By 1870, there were plenty of brands of whiskey to choose from, and each one came in its own colorful, attractive bottle. The western whiskeys took off as a collectible following the publication of two books: Spirits of the Old West, written in 1968 by Bill and Betty Wilson; and Bottles of the Old West Whiskey, written by John L. Thomas. Thanks to these, the hunt was on.
Virginia City, Nevada was a good place to look, as the silver mines there kept thirsty treasure-hunters busy in those early years. And, of course, in San Francisco, the hub of the bustling new frontier, and elsewhere in California, people were finding whiskey bottles with writing on them. Some even had pictures of horses, roosters, walking bears and other animals.
Whiskey bottles are divided into two groups: the early applied-top variants, and the post-1895 tooled-top variants. After 1920, the Volstead Act ended the legal sale of alcohol, and so bottles were made by machines. These were far less interesting. For general purposes the golden age of whiskey bottle collecting is from 1865-1900 (and up to 1915, in rare instances).
Today, whiskey bottles and historical flasks remain very popular. The whiskey bottles are called “fifths” because they contain one-fifth of a gallon (sometimes one-sixth). Flasks are usually either a pint or a half-pint. Anything larger than that is rare. What makes them desirable and collectible, though, is their color, crudity, condition and rarity – or any combination thereof.
Say you come across a common bottle in an odd color (which, for whiskey bottles, is either yellow or green). That can change its value dramatically. A western whiskey bottle can fetch anywhere from $20 to $20,000 (far less than its historical flask counterpart, made in much more elaborate designs by detail-minded eastern manufacturers, and produced much earlier, too).
For the western whiskey collector, there’s nothing like a fresh-dug, full-face embossed fifth, with lots of crudity and in a desirable color