Antique George Washington bottles are highly sought after by bottle collectors, particularly those of two distinct styles - figural and flask. Originally created as an artistic spin on a practical product, George Washington bottles are valuable for both seasoned collectors and casual ones thanks to their many styles, colors, and sizes. Even if you're not interested in antique bottles as a collectible item, there are so many unique ways you can convert them into decorative pieces that everyone can find a place and a purpose for a George Washington bottle somewhere in their home.
Figural George Washington Bottles
In 1875, Bernard Simon designed a figural bottle to represent an officer of the Continental Army. The military figure that was portrayed on Simon's bottle closely resembled several of Gilbert Stuart's famous portraits of George Washington. Because of this resemblance, when the bottle was introduced for sale in 1876, it was named The Bust of Washington Bottle.
First Used as Bitters Bottles
These figural antique George Washington bottles are known as bitters bottles, holding specialized liquid mixtures called bitters. The concept of bitters had spread from Europe and was very popular in America from 1862 to 1906. In order to avoid the revenue tax on liquor, herbs were added to gin, and retailers often sold the mixture as medicine. It was later combined with other ingredients to make mixed drinks. Salesmen would advertise the bitters by telling people they would feel better with every sip of their medicine.
In order for a collector to qualify a bottle as a bitters bottle, the word "bitters" must be embossed onto the bottle or a paper label with the word must be affixed to the bottle. On Simon's George Washington figural bottles, the word "bitters" is clearly embossed on the pedestal. The inscription on the front reads, "Simon's Centennial Bitters," and the back reads, "Trade Mark." Although these George Washington bottles began as bitters bottles, the style developed to include other liquids, meaning that not all of these antiques have bitters labeled across them.
George Washington Bottle Design
Original George Washington figural bottles were produced in several colors. The most common color is a light aqua blue, and there are also bottles in various shades of amber. The collars of the bottles, also known as lips, were produced in two styles: single collars and double collars.
Serious Washington bottle collectors look for variations in the maximum 1/16th inch thickness of single collar bottles and differences in the thicknesses and merging patterns of two collar bottles. Regardless of color or collar, each of the original George Washington figural bottles had a cork stopper. However, as manufacturing processes advanced, these bottles began to be blown with custom glass lids. For example, an elongated figural bottle from the 19th century had a lid is designed to be cleverly disguised as George Washington's tricorn hat.
Although the original bottles do have a few minor differences, Washington bottle collectors believe that all of the 1876 originals were produced from several molds that were very similar. These figural bottles stand 10 1/4 inches high, and the measurement across George Washington's chest is 5 1/4 inches. They weigh approximately 22 ounces empty and hold 30 ounces of liquid. The base of the bottles each vary slightly, with some being perfectly round while others are slightly oval. Although the embossed letters on the bottle are very clear and crisp, George Washington's features are not sharp at all. The bottles have distinct two part mold marks and no pontil mark.
George Washington Flask Bottles
Dr. Thomas W. Doytt, a self-proclaimed doctor, set up a boot blackening and patent medicine business in the early 1800s. Doytt also became a part owner of the Olive Glass Works of New Jersey and affiliated with the Kensington Glass Works, which is famous for producing most of the historical flasks collected today.
In 1824, Doytt created a one pint flask with a bust of George Washington on the front. Washington is dressed in military uniform, and embossed above him are the words, "General Washington" in a semi circle. On the back of the bottle is an American eagle. The flasks were produced in an aquamarine or light aquamarine color. The flasks were very popular, and a year later, Doytt advertised that there were 3,000 dozen of the flasks for sale in an ad he published in the Philadelphia Gazette.
Although Doytt was the first to create these stylized flasks, his company wasn't the only to jump on the bandwagon. Production wasn't even limited to the 19th century, with some commemorative flasks still being produced in the early 20th century. For instance, this George Washington vinegar flask currently on display at the Brooklyn Museum was created by an unknown American maker and has been dated to circa the 1930s.
Doytt's Firecracker Flask Bottle
On July 4, 1826, as the United States was celebrating its 50th anniversary since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, two of its greatest political figures of the times, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, would die within hours of each other. Dr. Thomas Doytt used the events of that day to his advantage. Doytt immediately sent the mold for his General Washington flask to his glass mold maker for modification. With a few changes, the new flask, which is known by collectors as The Firecracker Flask, was created. General George Washington's likeness remained unchanged on the front of the flask, and on the back, the phrase "E Pluribus Unum" was embossed above the eagle's head. Doytt also replaced the vertical ribs along the edges of the flask with the embossed phrases "Adams and Jefferson July 4 A.D. 1776" and "Kensington Glass Works Philadelphia." Doytt had these flasks blown in a true rainbow of colors, including the following:
- Deep green
- Clear emerald green
- Pale green
- Deep sapphire blue
- Golden yellow
- Dark amber
- Red amber
- Light aquamarine
These beautifully colored flasks are in high demand by collectors today. There is not any written record telling the number of flasks Doytt actually produced. It's known that the General Washington flask was produced for two years from 1824 until 1826, but it's unknown how many years the altered flask was produced.
How to Tell a Reproduction
One of the main ways to identify an antique reproduction of a George Washington figural bottle is to look at the embossing of the words. On reproductions, the words are not clear, and in some cases it is almost impossible to read them. Another way to identify a reproduction piece is a pontil mark. Many times an inexperienced collector will see a pontil mark on a bottle and think it must be very old, making it an original. Always check the collar of the bottle to see if it has distinguishable rings. Many of the reproduction bottles have a blob top. It is also important to consider the color of the bottle. Reproductions usually are deeper and richer in color than the original bottles.
Raise a Toast
In today's collector's market, Firecracker Flasks, which are of great historical significance, are generally the most highly sought after antique George Washington bottles. This doesn't mean that all pieces of George Washington glassware can't find a place in some collector's hoard. While not all of these antiques are valuable enough to fund your long list of home renovations, they'll be able to bring a little sparkle to your cozy abode.