ANOTHER "HISTORICAL FLASK ARTICLE" FROM THE PAGES OF
ANTIQUE BOTTLE AND GLASS COLLECTOR MAGAZINE
THE MAGAZINE OF THE ANTIQUE BOTTLE COLLECTING HOBBY
historicalflask JAREDSPENCER AND HIS TWO COUSINS
Some ofthe recent headlines announce a historical flask embossed withthe name Jared Spencer (McKearin GX-24) realized $66,000 atauction. And not only that, but two other very similar flasks,which lack the name Jared Spencer, realized $52,8000 (GX-25) and$29,700 (GX-26) at the same auction.
It kind of makes you wish you had invested your money in JaredSpencer stock, instead of IBM.
Friends of mine, who don't collect bottles and flasks, haveseen the headlines, and asked me, 'Why the high prices?' Theobvious answer of course, is scarcity, color, and desirability.And the Jared Spencer flask, and its two cousins, each have allof the above factors. But it's more than that -- the high pricesreflect something akin to awe and reverence. This grouping ofthree flasks is something like the Holy Grail, Buddha, and theGolden Fleece, all rolled into one.
And much like the above icons, the history of these flasks isa little hazy and uncertain.
These flasks are all listed in the Miscellaneous Group ofMcKearin numbers, because they don't fit into any of the otherclassifications. They also appear as numbers 2, 3 and 4 onMcKearin's list of Most Desirable Flasks. (For those of you toolazy to look, number 1 on the list is GII-59, with an embossedeagle on one side and a 'Charter Oak' on the other).
Except for the horizontally ribbed edges, which is containedon a number of early New England flasks, these three flasksdesigns are completely unrelated to any other flask charted inthe list. The only flask with a remote resemblance is the reverseof GIII-1 (the inverted cornucopia flask). GIII-1 contains alarge circular beaded medallion, in the center of which is alarger star with six ribbed points at the star's center.
GX-25 carries a heavyring between two narrow rings. Near the center is a circulardepression, surrounded by a heavy ring. At the center of themedallion are four petal shaped depressions.
The three cousins all have nearly the same shape, withhorizontal ribs along the sides. When looking at the obverse orreverse, the flasks are composed of three areas. The top third ofthe flask contains a large circular medallion on each side. Themiddle area has graduated curving ribs, which meet to form ashield shaped area. And near the bottom of the flask, the thirdarea, is composed of diamonds diapering.
What distinguishes the three flasks from eachother is what is contained in the circular medallion near the topof each flask. GX-24, has two convex rings with a concave centerinside of the medallion. Around these convex rings is the name "JAREDSPENCER" on the obverse, and "MANCHESTER.CON." on the reverse.
GX-25 lacks a heavy ring between two narrowrings. Near the center of the medallion is a circular depression,surrounded by a heavy ring. At the center of the medallion arefour petal shaped depressions.
GX-26's medallion has a circle of what have beencalled raised 'pearls', surrounding a convex disk.Outside of this ring of pearls are eight pointed petals.
As a friend of mine is fond of saying "they'rethe same, only different."
Now that we know what these flasks look like, whoproduced them? Well, that's our first mystery. In allprobability, they were produced by either the Pitkin Glass Works,or John Mather's Glass Works, both located in East Hartford(renamed Manchester in 1823), Connecticut.
PITKIN GLASS WORKS
The town of East Hartford was formed in October1783. At that time, the area was populated by a family by thename of Pitkin, which was both large and wealthy. Even beforeEast Hartford was formed, on January 28, 1783, William Pitkin,his cousin Elisha Pitkin, and Samuel Bishop petitioned theGeneral Assembly for money from the public treasury to establisha glass house.
Because of the expense involved, they asked theAssembly for an exclusive right to manufacture glass. Theassembly granted them a 25 year sole manufacturing privilege,with a 10 year exemption from assessments of any profits,provided they began making glass within three years.
Such a generous offer, unfortunately, was not to be met, asthe partners were unable to begin manufacturing glass in thethree year time frame.
The glass house itself, built from native granite, stood 'fourstories high, and wide enough to admit of any length'. Obtainingthe necessary glassmen, the house was ready for operationsometime in 1787.
GX-24,marked "Jared Spencer" on the obverse, and"Manchester. Con." on the reverse.
By the spring of 1788, Robert Hewes, having spent less than ayear at the Boston Glass Manufactory, moved to East Hartford andbecame the chief artisan and superintendent.
As with many early glass houses (and many modern businesses),financial pressure began to mount. It's difficult to securefinancing to purchase needed raw materials without proving thatyou can produce glass. And it's impossible to produce glasswithout raw materials. It was Catch-22, circa 1788.
As things became financially difficult, the partners (whichnow number 9) became disillusioned with Robert Hewes. Finding himan easy scapegoat, he was removed from the firm and blamed forall of their troubles.
Seeking to raise necessary funds, the glass works held publiclotteries in 1783 and again in 1791. Although neither was aresounding success, they did provide enough capital to keep thefirm in production.
By about 1810, J.P. Foster, who had been superintendent of theworks, became an active manager. The firm continued to operateuntil about 1830 (surviving the depression of 1817), until theavailability and cost of wood fuel became intolerable.
For all of the years of production, what actually was made atthe Pitkin works? Most likely, they produced not only the famedNew England 'chestnuts' (large, freeblown bottles, with long neckand chestnut shaped bodies), but also demijohns.
Excavation at the site of the works yielded fragments ofSunburst (GVII-5, GVII-5a, GVII-7, and GVII-16) flasks. Inaddition GII-57 (Eagle astride a ribbon with the initials J.P.F.(Joseph P. Foster on obverse, and a cornucopia on the reverse)and GI-58 (similar to the above, but lacking the ribbon andinitials) were confidently attributed to Pitkin.
The most famous product of the Pitkin Glass Works was, ofcourse, pocket flasks produced by the German 'half-post' methodof production. Called by the name 'Pitkin flasks' by collectors,these flasks were also produced at both the Coventry andGlastenbury glass works, both in the state of Connecticut. Aswell as at the Keene-Marlboro Street works in New Hampshire, andthe Gloucester Glass Works in Clementon, New Jersey.
Finally, because GX-24 (Jared Spencer) was inscribed with thename Manchester, it was always assumed that it, along with GX-25and GX-26, were also produced at the Pitkin works. However, eventhough Pitkin was the most famous glass house in the area, therewas another, owned by John Mather.
JOHNMATHER'S GLASS WORKS
Little is known about the Pitkin Glass Works, but even less isknown about the glass works of John Mather.
John Mather was a merchant of some importance in Hartford,Connecticut. Advertisements for his general store from 1802through 1804, mention that he sold the usual items, such asmolasses, wines, spirits, teas and tobacco. But apparentlyMather, much like Dyott, wanted to be more than a mere merchant.
In a typical Connecticut Yankee fashion, Mather diversifiedhis holdings to include not only the distribution of finishedgoods, but their manufacture as well. Obtaining land in EastHartford in 1803, Mather soon created a small settlement of millsand manufacturing facilities. His settlement was dubbed 'ParkerVillage'.
GX-26's medallion has acircle of what have been called raised 'pearls', surrounding aconvex disk. Outside of this ring of pearls are eight pointedpetals.
In August 1805, Mather was advertising for cut and split woodat the site of his 'new' glass house. Apparently wishing tocompete with Albany, New York and Boston, Massachusetts for themanufacture of Window glass, Mather began experimenting withproducing this difficult product.
Being a businessman and not a skilled glass man, his attemptat learning the secrets of window glass production seems to haveeluded him. However, later advertisements of Mather's bearswitness to the fact that his works were producing bottles "ofan improved quality superior in strength and beauty, to anybefore made in this country".
By 1815, Mather was advertising that his East Hartford storecarried bottles, gin bottles, demijohns, and junk bottles.Although the advertisement doesn't state whether Mather's workswere creating this glass, it seems quite likely that they were.
In a February 10, 1817 advertisement in the ConnecticutMirror, Mather was advertising that he also carried 'figuredpocket bottles' as part of his inventory. It was soon afterthese advertisements appeared that all mention of Mather and hisglass works disappear. McKearin and Wilson, however, speculatethat the works continued in operation, and Joseph Merrow andJames Bidwell, Jr. may have acquired the works some time afterthe mid 1820s. By 1827, Merrow and Bidwell were advertising thatthey were owners of the Hartford Glass Manufactory'.
So, who made these three cousins? As the Jared Spencer flaskis marked with the name of Manchester, Connecticut, and this towndidn't exist until 1823, this flask was made in 1823 or later. AsPitkin was definitely still in producing glass at this time, andMather may have been still in production, it's sort of a toss-up.
The only but of documentary evidence which exists, shows thatJared Spencer purchased bottles from the Coventry and WillingtonGlass Works, in addition to John Mather's. There is no recordhowever, of his purchasing any glass from Pitkin.
Now, who was Jared Spencer? No one is quite sure. Because ofthe scarcity of Jared Spencer flasks, it is quite likely that heprovided the mold to the glass works for 'private label'production. Quite likely, he was a merchant of some type,possibly whiskey or other spirits, who was bottling his own 'namebrand' of drink.
And as for the other two flasks, GX-25 and GX-26, what istheir relationship to Jared Spencer? Or to glass houses inManchester, Connecticut? They are too similar to GX-24 to be acoincidence, yet lack either the name of a town or person.
Like most mysteries, there are still more questions thananswers. I'll continue my search, sell my IBM stock, and look foranother investment.
McKearin, Gearge S. and Helen "American Glass", NewYork: Crown Publishers, Inc. 1989
McKearin, Helen and Kenneth M. Wilson, "American Bottlesand Flasks and Their Ancestry", New York: Crown Publishers,Inc. 1978.
Van Rensselaer, Stephen "Early Bottles and Flasks"Revised Edition Peterborough, NH: Transcript Printing Company1926.
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