Most of the pre-prohibition shot
glasses we collect were distributed by bars, saloons, and stores as
advertising items. But there are a few glasses out there that are
more commemorative in nature.
These glasses include the shot glasses of the Grand Army of the
Republic, or GAR.
The Grand Glass
of the GAR
The GAR was founded in 1866 in Decatur, Illinois, by Benjamin F.
Stephenson. Membership was limited to honorably discharged veterans of
the Civil War. Its initial purpose was to foster the friendships and
camaraderie created by four years of fighting together. Later, though,
the party became an organization of immense political power.
At the community level, the GAR organization was called a "Post."
Generally speaking, all the posts within a state were called a
"Department." At the national level, the GAR was governed by an elected
|Departments would have annual
"encampments," which were elaborate multi-day affairs that often
included camping out, formal dinners, and memorial events, such
as the parade shown below, held in 1909 in my home town of
There were also national
encampments, which were presided over by the Commander-in-Chief. The
Commander-in-Chief was elected in political events that often
rivaled national political party conventions.
The GAR founded soldiers’ homes, was active in relief work, and
helped create pension legislation. The final encampment of the GAR
was held in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1949. The last member, Albert
Woolson, died in 1956 at the age of 109.
I have seen three different GAR
shot glasses. The most common glass is probably the
"GAR / Department
of Iowa /June 4, 5, 6 1901"
glass. As you can see by this picture, the
detailed etching and the brilliant red clover combine to make this
glass truly remarkable.
The glass also includes an etched drawing
of a man’s head and shoulders. The wording on the glass
indicates that it is compliments of George Metzger of Davenport,
||George Metzger grew up in
the state of New York. At the age of seventeen he enlisted in
the Civil War. He served with the 125th New York Volunteers and
was wounded at the battle of Gettysburg. After being discharged
in 1865, he moved to Iowa and became a Davenport businessman. He
became active in the GAR, where he served as commander of both
the local post and the Iowa Department. He died in 1923.
The second glass is
also from Iowa. It reads:
G.A.R. / Reunion / Davenport, Ia. / June 12-13-14, 1900.
What do we know about this glass? A June,
1900, issue of the Davenport Times provides some information.
newspaper article tells of the city of Davenport, Iowa,
hosting the 26th Annual Encampment of the Iowa Grand Army of the
Republic and notes that George Metzger is chairman of the social
committee! Both of these Iowa glasses have the identical GAR
medal etched on the side. (A picture of this medal appears at
the beginning of this article.)
It seems reasonable to assume that George Metzger,
as chairman of the 1900 GAR social committee, was involved in the
commissioning of this shot glass to commemorate the Iowa Department
Encampment in Davenport. A year later, when the Iowa encampment was
again held, he designed (and no doubt paid for himself) the above much
more elaborate glass. In 1901 he was elected Commander of the Iowa
Department. It seems quite possible that this shot glass, featuring his
portrait, was not so much a Civil War reunion memento but instead a
political souvenir that helped him win this GAR election!
The third GAR glass reads as follows: 28th / DEP,T / Encampment
The reverse depicts two crossed swords and the
letters "GAR." The glass is not "etched" in the traditional
sense. Rather, the design appears to be carved out of the glass in a
series of scalloped cuts. This must have been time-consuming, tedious
work, and no doubt accounts for the limited writing and simple
It appears that this glass was made to commemorate a statewide
department encampment in 1896. But what state had its 28th encampment in
this year? There is undoubtedly a reference book somewhere that
discloses that information. I did not find it, but I did discover that
Pennsylvania had its 28th Department Encampment in 1892, and West
Virginia had its 28th in 1910.
Shot glasses were the not the only souvenirs used to commemorate these
|One of the more elaborate
items is this glass canteen from an 1899 encampment in
Other souvenirs include this goblet from an 1887 encampment in
St. Louis (below) and the red flashed syrup pitcher from a 1902
GAR event in Saratoga (below right).
The "red clover" shot glass seems to be the most
common of these three shot glasses. But "common" is a relative term. One
does not often see this glass on eBay, and when it does hit the Internet
auction block, it usually sells for at least one hundred dollars. Both
shot glass collectors and Civil War enthusiasts like this glass, which
tends to drive the price up. The other two glasses appear to be much
rarer. But "rarer" is not always synonymous with "desirable." Are these
two glasses as sought after as the red-clovered Metzger glass? Probably
not, at least not by pre-pro shot collectors. And as soon as political
memorabilia collectors realize that the red-clover glass is very likely
a political souvenir, the number of collectors seeking this glass will
probably grow even larger.