Vol. 2, No. 5, Friday October 28, 2005

by dick bales

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 "Commander-in-Chief."

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 Aurora, Illinois.

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 soldiersí 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 manís head and shoulders. The wording on the glass indicates that it is compliments of George Metzger of Davenport, Iowa.

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. The 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 /1896

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 decoration.

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 encampments.

One of the more elaborate items is this glass canteen from an 1899 encampment in Philadelphia.


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.


If you would like to comment on "The Common Stuff", please post it but you can also contact Dick Bales directly at  BalesD@CTT.com




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