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Big Finds in the Oddest Places—Cut Glass Flask

by Maggie Turnipseed (04/21/09).

I have always thought the life of an archeologist would be a life of excitement, with heart-racing finds from civilizations long gone. Bottle diggers must get the same type of excitement, when after hours of back breaking digging pays off as they unearth a wonderful old bottle fully intact.

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An amethyst-colored Victorian lady’s flask found during a bottle dig at a site where an outhouse once sat. The owner of the flask used WorthPoint’s Ask a Worthologist service to determine its idently and fair-market value.

WorthPoint member Suzanne from Massachusetts must have had that same rush of excitement when, in 1980, when she found an incredible, cut-glass flask with a sterling top. Suzanne told me that she found the flask during a bottle dig. You must be thinking, “a big hole with a bunch of bottles just waiting to be discovered? “ And then think, “How did those bottles get there?”

Bottle digs are mostly nothing more than the excavation of an outhouse. There were no weekly garbage pickups. Much of the everyday trash was placed in the outhouse. Outhouse were known by many different names: Nessy, Privy, Thunder Box, Crapper, Back House; whatever it was called, they all served the same purpose. Every house and business had one prior to indoor running water and plumbing. Enquiring minds: Yes, everything that can decompose has decomposed over time.

The valuation on Suzanne’s flask was done by Audra Blevens, a generalist Worthologist for WorthPoint. The flask that Suzanne found was a ladies flask, very ornate, with a sterling hinged top. The glass flask was made of a layer of amethyst-colored glass and a layer of clear glass. The design is made when the amethyst layer was cut away to reveal the clear glass. There are English Hallmarks in the silver top, which dates the flask to Birmingham, England, and the year 1901. The maker’s marks B&F remain unidentified, but a fair market value of $300 to $350 was placed on the flask. Today flasks are highly desirable and collected, particularly ladies’ flasks, which were very ornate.

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Some examples of Victorian ladies’ flasks. These items are available for purchase on GoAntiques.

Ladies did have flasks. There were many different reasons for ladies to carry a pocket flask like the one Suzanne found. Apparently, there was much more imbibing going on than is generally thought. Social drinking was widely acceptable in Victorian times, and doctors frequently prescribed alcoholic beverages to alleviate a host of ailments. It would be quite reasonable for a lady to have a flask full of brandy, gin, absinthe or any numbers of homemade or quack cures. Laudanum, a liquid made of opium and alcohol, was prescribed for pain, as a cough suppressant, for sleeping problems and to calm down fussy babies. Many doctors neglected to inform their patients that laudanum was highly addictive, which is just one more reason to carry a flask.

Who knows how that flask ended up where it did at the bottle dig. It could have been secretly hidden away in the Privy for years and forgotten, or dropped in the hole by mistake, with the owner not daring to go in after it. Perhaps, during prohibition, someone felt the need to discard it. However the flask landed where it did, Suzanne was very happy to have found it and is happy knowing just a little bit of history about it. If only the flask could talk.

If you have an item you’d like to know more about, Ask a Worthologist.

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