Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Dale's post about the top 10 Western flasks a few days ago prompted me to dig out this trademark copy for Miller's Extra Old Bourbon.     I didn't comment about his top ten,  didn't have any argument with it.   I guess I might have switched a couple around,  but the top of the list,  pretty much the entire list was fine by me. 

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.   



  1. Great post Sole Agent !

    I have found a number of Miller's flasks over the yrs. On numerous occasions, I have found broken and whole, both the small and large circles right next to each other in the same layer of the same pit.
    I'm going to throw-out a big what-if.... What if both flasks are contemporaries?? Could one have been blown at the Pacific Glass Works, and the other at the San Francisco Glass Works? As you can see, the small circle has a different lettering font, no curved "R's". I know, here we go again with that curved R thing, but it is a way to identify some San Francisco Glass Works bottles and some SF & PGW bottles.
    So, far this is the only explanation I can offer for these flasks repeatedly turning-up together at totally unconnected locations. Seems like too much of a coincidence to chalk it up to guys just saving the 'smalls' long enough until the 'larges' were blown.

  2. In the bitters world, dating when a bottle was actually in production is a bit easier with written documentation by advertisements. Also it's interesting to note that some bitters were embossed before a trademark was applied for or granted and others were embossed after a trademark was granted or applied for.

    What we do know is that SFGW was out of commission for essentially 26 mos, starting July 24th, 1868 thru September 11th, 1870. My consensus is that the Miller's flask without the curve legged letter 'R' font would be the earlier made mould variant.

  3. Hey Warren,
    the first advertising I have seen for Miller's Extra in Utah was late 1871. Boukofsky was the Utah dealer for Millers. It probably was sold in Calif. before this date, and that gets us close to the "burn down" period 1868-70. The Millers flasks are one of the few early whiskies that have "lettering style" change that makes a person wonder about both PGW and SFGW possibly blowing Miller's flasks.
    I know you have researched the bitters containers of this period and have found several that have these 'where was it blown' questions. ie: Dr. Renz variations.

    I think A.P.'s possible scenario has merit. I have thought for sometime that the star in shield fifth: pointed A and flat A variations possibly are from different SF glassworks. The 'flat A' mould was not a replacement mould. The two varieties are found together through out the early to mid 1870s. One mould can apparently produce many thousands of bottles. No need for one glassworks to have two slightly different private moulds. ???
    Was E. Martin just spreading his business around?
    The answers to many of these theories are probably forthcoming in your book.
    CAN'T WAIT! As I have mentioned, the mould manufacturing process is interesting to me. From design, to lettering, length of use, ownership, ??? lots of questions.

  4. Nailing down who made a particular mould is not easily done. I've been doing a lot studying of unique features found on bottles (bitters in particular, since that is my interest)in order to establish some similarities to determine where most likely these moulds were made. We know that PGW was making moulds at their establishment sometime in 1864 and forward. We also know that SFGW was outsourcing their mould making during their operations from 1865 thru 1868. We know that they began in house mould making with their new glassworks in September 1870, although they ordered 15 new moulds at start up. We also know that SFGW & PGW merged in August of 1875 and by May 1876 PGW was no longer in operation, so all of the whiskey cylinders from mid 1870's onward would either be SF&PGW blown or eastern in origin or Germany?.

  5. The small circle Miller's were probably blown at Holt Glass works, in West Berzerkley, CA.

    Seriously, though, I have also dug Millers flasks in NV, with both small and large circle examples lying side by side. AP's suggestion has merit, and I tend to agree with that hypothesis. The mystery will likely not be solved to everyone's satisfaction, so, in this case, SWAGs are all that we have to offer. Good 'nuff.

  6. Holt Glass... I love it ! Let me look and see if any of mine have "H"s on the bottom !
    Seriously, another thing I've noticed re the small circle Miller's flasks is that quite a number of the green examples have an annealing check or two in the body of the flask. This reminded me of other green bottles possibly attributed to the Pacific Glass Works that often turn-up with annealing checks, ie: green Lacour's, green Walker's V.B.'s.
    I cant say that I've seen any large circle Miller's with annealing checks in the body, not even on some of the greener examples...

  7. In about 1999 a large, and very deep excavation in the Comstock yielded large groups of bitters and flasks entombed in an underground tunnel converted into a privy. The bottles were Wormser Barrels, small design Miller's, and Lacours variant #2. I believe there were approx. 25 barrels, and 15 small Millers. There was one light yellow green LARGE Miller's flask in the group, and 5 Lilienthal "cognac" flasks. Surely there is a consistency in age here...(1873 or earlier). Just food for thought.

  8. I haven't been able to exactly date the Wormsers' Bros. barrel bottle, the var.2 Lacour's bottle is 1868. I don't think there has been any proof one way or the other, whether the Miller's flask (small) has any type of written documentation to prove that the embossed bottle was in use at or around the 1869 date of its trademarking. I would expect that it was in use at least shortly before or after its July date.
    The problem is that although the products may have been made at a particular date, inventory of goods often sits or is shipped out and used at later times. So the usage of the product can't be determined precisely enough, unfortunately.

  9. I concur on the J.F.'s. Something's definetly going on there. If they are'nt from two different glass works, the only other possible scenario I can imagine is that the brand caught-on much better than Martin and Henarie had predicted. They then ordered a second mould to increase production. The mould may have came from the same glassworks as the other mould, and just was made by a different mould-maker employed there.


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