A Holy Grail of New England Bottles, a ‘Stoddard Flag Flask,’ Found

Yes, that headline is correct, and I’d love to be able to say I was the one who found it. I didn’t, but the next best thing is for a friend of mine to have dug it up. He did, and I was able to see it and hold it myself.

My friend, whose name I won’t mention here, found it in a location I also won’t mention here. But I can say that it was found deep in a muddy waterside trash dump and, for him, it was the thrill of a lifetime.

The business side of the flask, showing the large, embossed 13-star flag. The value of this rarity—known as a Stoddard Flag flasks—ranges from about $12,000 to $20,000, with a similar example selling early late last year for more than $14,000.

The business side of the flask, showing the large, embossed 13-star flag. The value of this rarity—known as a Stoddard Flag flasks—ranges from about $12,000 to $20,000, with a similar example selling early late last year for more than $14,000.

He had dug this site in years past, and found the base to one of these extremely rare “Stoddard Flag flasks” about 10 years ago. Then, a few years after that, after many more trips, he found a shard to a second one. He surmised that there had to be a whole one that survived somewhere down there, buried in the layers of muck. And it became an obsession.

And I can tell you from experience that it can be a lonesome quest, digging in deep mud, looking and feeling somewhat insane, not knowing or even expecting that you will find what you really after. So, when I got news that the impossible had happened, and that he had actually found a whole one, completely intact and in perfect condition, I was happy for my friend and I felt buoyed by his success, as I’m sure all bottle diggers and divers feel; knowing that there are still amazing treasures to be found out there, with just a little—OK, a lot—of resolve, persistence and some luck.

Admittedly, the bottle he finally uncovered is not the Holy Grail for all New England collectors. But it is not unreasonable to call it that for him. I know he considers it to be one.

It is pint size, standing a bit more than seven inches tall, with an open pontil scar base, and in a classic New England olive-amber coloration. One side of the flask is embossed “NEW GRANITE GLASS WORKS STODDARD NH” and the reverse is embossed with an amazing 13-star American flag.

This is the prize of a lifetime—the famous Stoddard Flag Flask—with this photo showing the lettered side which reads “NEW GRANITE GLASS WORKS/STODDARD N.H.”

This flag flask shard was recovered several years ago, and even in its broken form, it would be the centerpiece for many collectors—that’s how rare it is.

It is a rare and valuable piece of Americana, and it had been lying deep in the mud for about 140 years.

It blown at the New Granite Glass Works in Stoddard, N.H., between 1861-71. Certainly, the form and overall presence of this flask makes it as something special, even to a casual collector or lover of history. But the collector value of this rarity ranges puts it a little pout of the range of the casual collector. It values between $12,000 and $20,000, depending on condition. A similar example of the flask sold late last year for more than $14,000.

Memories of a Great Find of My Own
One of my own greatest bottle digs happened 17 years ago, when my daughter Annie was born. I was giddy at the birth of my first child, and the day we brought her home from the hospital, my wife put her up in the bassinette and I decided to go for a bottle dig to burn off some energy.

There was a spot about 200 yards from my front door that I had driven by hundreds of time. It was right next to the road, and I figured that a couple of old buckets on the surface of the ground would have been inspected and dug through by some bottle digger decades ago.

Nonetheless, I informed my wife that I had to “go find Annie a bottle” and headed out the door.

This is a flask I dug myself years ago, and to me, it is now a family heirloom. Its value is between $700 and $1,400. It is referred to as a “lettered Stoddard flask” and reads “Granite Glass Co. Stoddard, NH.” During the 1860s and ’70s, the early glass manufacturers in Stoddard N.H., crafted some of the most highly sought-after American-made glass bottles. They are mostly utilitarian in nature, and their beauty and history make them some of the most researched and prized bottles ever blown in the U.S.

In a few minutes I was digging carefully, slowly through the leaves and in to the humus and decaying tin cans. I heard my rake squeak on to some glass and brushed away the dirt to expose the words “STODDARD, N.H.”

It weird to try to describe how excited you feel when you uncover a rare piece like that, so you’ll just have to imagine. I presumed it would be a wonderful but broken bottle, and when I pulled it out, sparkling and in mint condition, I charged back to my van and sped home. I honked the horn as I came in the driveway, startling my wife inside the house.

She met me at the door as I stood on the steps outside, holding the bottle so that the words “STODDARD, N.H.” were facing her. She didn’t know its exact value, but she knew enough to know it was a great find! I had been gone for less than five minutes.

Similar flasks of the same period shown on the left and right of the Stoddard Flask. The citron-colored flask on the left was blown at the Lyndeboro Glass works, also in N.H. It has “strap sides,” which indicates that it was made a bit later, closer to the 1880s. On the right is a red amber half-pint flask, probably also a Stoddard made piece.

Its value is between $700 and $1,400. It is referred to as a “lettered Stoddard flask” and reads completely “Granite Glass Co. Stoddard, NH.” During the 1860s and ’70s, the early glass manufacturers in Stoddard, N.H., crafted some of the most highly sought-after American-made glass bottles.

“Who gave you that flask?” she asked skeptically.

“I just dug it for Annie,” I beamed.

Bram Hepburn collects 19th-century New England bottles and glass, having spent the last 30-plus years digging and diving for bottles in New England and upstate New York. He lives in Eliot, Maine.

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  • Around the middle 1990s on our farm 3 mile’s south of Crown Point,Indiana,I discovered 4 or 5 bottles. There were a couple of drainage ditches in the front yard about 200 feet from the house. I had mowed the lawn next to those since I was in my early teens in the 1950s.

    There was some concrete “rubble” that had been placed there apparently many years before my folks even bought the farm.The concrete chunks were obviously intended to slow erosion of the sink drains from the house (the septic system was entirely separate in another location).

    The house was of 1911 construction. The builder apparently selected an “ideal” location relative to drainage.The small ravine began about 50 feet from the house and continued out to the road and then ran alongside the outer highway ditch which was for general field drainage. The two ditches were separated by about 5 or 6 feet.

    I had developed some curiosity about what the old cement pieces might have been from. I knew some buildings on the place had been torn down and replaced in the past.

    Moving the concrete chunks to find there complete shape and such, I found the bottles.

    LAWS BEVERAGE was in raised letters on each one. Asking a couple questions around I determined that there was a bottler of soda in Crown Point back in the ’20s or ’30s. Also, When we bought a coal and wood burning stove for a small building which was once a garage and made into living quarters in the ’70s, while buying the stove, we were told that the building we were standing in had been a bottling plant long ago–that was the LAWS BEVERaGE building.—

    Now,in the ’90s, I had some of their bottles.

    The building was alongside the Pennsylvania Railway tracks, convenient to transportation.

    I lost the bottles when we sold the property in 2000. I could probably track them thru my auction sheets and records. If it ever seems worth it I may try and get one back.

    An odd thing in looking this up on the web list of Indiana soda bottlers, which shows LAWS at Crown Point, I noticed Rademaker bottlers at Marion, Indiana–My folks had operated a restaurant-hotel in Crown Point before they bought the farm in the early ’50s. A waitress there was Nancy Rademaker–Coincidence by coincidence–How people get around.

  • Hello there Carl,
    and thank you for your interesting response to my article. Stories such as yours are what make “bottle digging” such an interesting hobby. The ravine you spoke of that had the cement chunks etc was piled there by someone who never thought someone would someday dig up the rubble and find it interesting. That is pretty much how all dumps are.
    But finding embossed bottles with names on them is the best! Because, as in your situation, if you can trace back who the people were who made the bottle, and also the people who used the bottle, it brings you right back in time.

    Bottles from Indiana don’t have to be as old as the ones here in New England, before they become valuable and/or rare. There were so many people here in N.E. in the 1890s using and thowing away bottles, compared to the sparsely populated Indiana
    thanks again1
    Bram Hepburn

  • How fun for you & your friend! It sounds like this might be a fun road trip in my future! I love antique finds…

    • Thanks for stopping by.. it is “funner” than you can imagine to dig something like that. If you road trip to Maine to hunt bottles, be sure to bring your gloves and a clam digger!

  • The potential of Finds such as this is what keep the blood flowing for collectors. And the fact that this artifact has been salvaged helps me rest easy.
    Thanks for the post.

  • Bram,
    Enjoyed your article. Provides alot of inspiration for the bottle collector to keep digging. I wanted to write to you to ask for your permission to publish your article as written in our monthly newsletter. I would simply cut and paste your artilce and put in our newsletter. Would you give me permission to do that? Please visit our webpage to view our club and past newsletters.
    Thanks for your time,

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