These Top 10 lists, or Top 25 lists are interesting, but I haven't put too much stock in them over the years.
I like to look at individual examples of bottles and I have my own "private" 'wish the heck I owned that bottle' list. We all know of bottles that, when you see them, you can hardly take your eyes off them. If you're really fortunate... they are in your own collection.
How about a J.H. Cutter fifth being in the top 10? Not likely if you took a straw poll. There is a green (t-49) in Sacramento that is in my top ten! There is a lemon yellow J.Moore in Nevada that is in my top ten. I'll save my top ten fantasizing for another post.
There is this "Medford" small circle Millers(tf-20) that is most definitely in my top ten.
There are a few small Miller's flasks around. The bottle is doubly interesting to me because we find them here in Utah. Both large and small circles are widely distributed in Utah. The small circle Millers is an early flask. I can not tell you with certainty when the first embossed Miller's flasks hit the market, but I will give you a couple of data points and some conjecture.
The brand was trademarked in California July 1869. In the application, Martin and Henarie indicate that they have been using the "mark" since May of 1869. The "chief feature" of the mark being the "Fluer de lis". If we are talking about 'older' western flasks, 1869 is a pretty early start date! Most other pint flasks have their starting point more toward the mid to later 1870's.
There is no documented proof that the smaller circle Miller's is the older of the two designs, yet it is almost universally believed by collectors that the small's were the first container. Everyone says "they just look older", ok?? Yes, I firmly believe the small's are the older flask.
How about "field" dating? I have found these flasks in a number of places in the Wasatch Mtns and the Oquirrh Mtns in Utah. But I can't pin an accurate date on usage. The mining activity at certain locations is documented to the exact month and year in ore shipment reports. With the steep mountain terrain here, miners lived in bunk houses or boarding houses right next to or at least very close to the mine. Ten to twenty or more men might occupy a miner's boarding house at a prosperous location. That many men can deposit quite a few bottles, including an inordinate number of liquor bottles.
Photo courtesy of the Utah Historical Society. 'Typical miner's boarding house' thought to be mtns. near Stockton, Utah. Late 1870's ?
I have several sites that I use for this "field dating". Sites that I know for certain were occupied only for a precise time that I can document. I have not found small Miller's in what I consider a precise 1870 to 1871 time frame. They could be there, ??, I haven't seen them. I have found them in the 1871 to 1873 time frame, along with their contemporaries, full face Cutter fifths, star in shield Cutter fifths, J.Moore fifths. But, the big BUT, I also found large circle Miller's at this location.
So, this is what I can share with you as far as dating the Miller's flasks.
When did the first Millers Extra flasks hit the market? Dunno!
Was the small circle Miller's the first of the two designs? Probably.
Do I think the small circle is as early as 1869? Probably not.
Are the Miller's flasks older than the Miller's fifths? YES! err most likely.
These are my findings and I'm sticking to them!!
This bottle dating thing, try as we may, has many variables. Is it really more than a "SWAG"?? Dunno.