The Pocket Flask Is Born
The flask didn’t reach the zenith of its practicality and commercial appeal until one very important invention in the 17th century: pockets. Around the same time, distillation also gained a commercial foothold throughout Europe. With the newfound ease of acquiring liquor, drinkers needed a tool that made it equally easy to transport and conceal it—enter the true precursor to the modern day hip flask: the pocket flask.
The production and availability of these newfangled sidekicks skyrocketed in the following years. They often took the shape of a flattened oval and could be found on any British aristocrat worth his waistcoat. During the Victorian era, it wasn’t unusual to find ornate pocket flasks fashioned out of precious metals, or a combination of glass and precious metal. But it didn’t take long for more humble variations on these tools to find their way into the hands of ordinary European citizens and stateside drinkers.
Toward the end of the Industrial Revolution, in the early to mid-1800s, the glass industry in the U.S. exploded and glass flasks were used to not only carry a healthy measure of whiskey, but also to convey a statement, often a political one. Some historical flasks—as they’re known to collectors—feature American imagery like eagles and flags, as well as presidential portraits. These politically fueled flasks were produced throughout the Civil War, during which they promoted the Union, presidential candidates or other American issues, like the construction of the railroad.