“The God of Things As They Ought to Be” – Bottle or salt/pepper shaker…or god?

Billiken bottle in clear or colorless glass - same mold as milk glass bottles
Billiken bottle with a solid - non-perforated - silver metal cap.
Billiken bottle showing the perforated screw cap.
Billiken bottle in milk glass with some of the original gold paint


The title of this blog is the wonderful and strangely upbeat phrase embossed around the pedestal base of this whimsical little bottle…or is it a salt/pepper shaker. Actually, the “em-bossing” is “de-bossed” or indented into the glass instead of raised relief like typical bottle embossing.

The Billiken, as one can see from the images, is a little fat, naked guy sitting on his behind with this devilish grin and and both eyes shut tightly. Sort of a happy Budda figure, though with no apparent religious overtones. It does make one happy just gazing upon this little elf. See Image #1 above which shows an example that still retains some of the gold highlight paint.

The following is from Wikipedia on the subject:

“The Billiken was a charm doll created by an American art teacher and illustrator, Ms. Florence Pretz of Kansas City, Missouri, who is said to have seen the mysterious figure in a dream. In 1908 she patented the Billiken who was elf-like with pointed ears, a mischievous smile, and a tuft a hair on his pointed head. His arms were short and he was generally sitting with his legs stretched out in front of him. The Billiken was auspiciously named after the newly elected President of the United States, William Howard Taft. (The manufacturer of the dolls, Horsman Dolls, Inc., had earlier enjoyed success with the Teddy Bear: a toy named after the previous president, Theodore Roosevelt.) The Billiken was one of the first copyrighted dolls and the first likenesses of the Billiken, banks and statues, were produced in 1909. After a few brief years of popularity, like many other fad toys, the Billiken faded into obscurity.

One question I’ve always had is whether these are bottles – they are often referred to as a candy bottle (holding those little, hard candies of yesteryear) – or part of a salt/pepper shaker set (and outside my bottle genre).

The evidence for it being a salt shaker is that the cap of most of them – including the pictured example which is almost certainly original as I’ve seen the same exact cap on many specimens – has the perfunctory holes in it for dispensing a product, i.e., salt and/or pepper. Image #2 above shows the cap with the shaker holes in it. This type cap is seen on a majority of Billiken bottles in my experience. Image #3 shows a colorless (clear) example of the bottle which also has a perforated cap (not showing in image).

However, there are a few bottles around that have caps without holes; are these the candy bottles? Image #4 above shows one with a solid silver cap which may – or may not – be original. This particular example was in the famed and spectacular Judge Blaske collection of bottles & flasks sold off in 1983. The auction catalog noted that the cap may or may not have been original – a reflection of the fact that most of these bottles are seen with the perforated cap.

If any viewers of this blog have any additional information on the subject, I would love to hear about it. The bottom line is probably that these bottles were likely used for both salt/pepper shakers and as candy (or whatever) bottles, though most were used for the former purpose. Anyway you “shake it” these are attractive and engaging bottles…and highly collectible.

References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billiken

http://www.sha.org/bottle/index.htm

http://www.historicbottles.com/billiken1908patent.pdf (Link to original patent)

No Comments

  1. ScrimCollector says:

    Bill,

    Great article; nicely done!

    And welcome as WorthPoint’s newest Worthologist.

    In the early 20th Century, the Billiken pattern was adopted by Alaskan Native-Americans as a subject for whale tooth carving (scrimshaw), and the pattern is still carved today.
    Here are a few examples in WorthPoint.

    Douglass Moody
    Scrimshaw Worthologist

  2. wally says:

    Enjoyed the article. Here is another one on the subject.
    http://www.e-z-smith.com/Billycan/

  3. historicbottlewebsite says:

    Thanks Wally for that link! Great information about the depth of collectibles (and more) associated with the great Billiken. Now if we only had a Billiken Presidential Candidate…things would be what they ought to be.

    Bill Lindsey
    Historic Bottle Worthologist

  4. historicbottlewebsite says:

    Hi Douglass and thanks for the compliment on the article! I was aware of the Billiken/Alaska connection and am real glad you added something about it pertinent to your specialty…scrimshaw.

    I find the adoption of the Billiken design by Native Alaskans to be greatly fascinating. Why the use of that design? The physical features of the Billiken must have some type of universal, cross-cultural appeal, eh? I’m sure there was also some commercial aspect to it too since many native arts were (and are produced) to sell to others.

    Thanks again Douglass!

    Bill Lindsey
    Historic Bottle Worthologist