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The End of an Era

The golden era of the thin-walled whiskey glass came to an inglorious end with National Prohibition in 1920.

The armies of Prohibition, also known as "the Drys", were fueled by religious fervor.  They capitalized on  public disgust of open displays of drunkeness, and on sympathy for mothers and children abandoned by their father in favor of the whiskey bottle and the saloon.  Prohibitionists had been making serious inroads in many regions of the country for decades. Maine enacted State Prohibition in 1851 and Kansas went dry in 1880, which probably explains why there are no known liquor advertising glasses from these states (see when your favorite state succumbed to Prohibition).

A Bouquet Whiskey glass recently denuded of its makers wrapper. Glasses were shipped from the manufacturer individually wrapped in a very thin brown-paper wrapper.  

Finding a glass with its wrapper undisturbed is an extremely rare event, in part because modern-day sellers unwrap them to display them for sale, and in part because the wrappers often become brittle with age and readily crumble when handled.

The Bouquet whiskey glass at right was a part of an estate-sale find. The wrapper was still intact when discovered, but the new owner unwrapped it to reveal the glass inside and list it on eBay.  

The glass instantly lost around 80% of its wrapped value, even though the wrapper was rescued from the trash upon request.

By the time the time the Volstead Act was passed into law, most liquor-related establishments in states where the Wets still prevailed appear to have been advertising via shot-glass giveaways.  Glasses from this time are typically inscribed very simply, however, recording the name and address of the establishment in plain block letters and no monogram or detailed design.

Three examples of thin-walled shot glasses from the latter part of the pre-Prohibition era. 
Buena Vista Whiskey shot glass, ca. 1916 Klyman Bros, Evansville, IN.  shot glass Jones Liquor Co., Youngstown, OH. shot glass

When National Prohibition came into effect in January, 1920, it effectively put an end to the production of blown whiskey glasses as a form of advertising.  Existing stocks of whiskey were moved to concentration warehouses and placed under close government supervision.  For the next 14 years, whiskey could only be obtained legally with a Physician's prescription.  Alcohol had long been used for medicinal purposes so its continued dispensation by Pharmacists was not so surprising.  A few of the larger distilleries continued operating to replenish stocks of medicinal whiskey and produce alcohol for industrial use, but the bulk shut down their copper stills, closed their doors, and untimately were dismantled. 

The liquor wholesalers and retailers had to re-invent themselves to maintain a livelihood.  For example, Caspar Vetter was a German-born liquor wholesaler and importer who plied his trade at 427 Poplar Street in Philadelphia beginning in 1884.  He is the orginator of the shot glass shown at right.  Checking the Philadelphia city directories show him to be still at the same address in 1924 but now as a soft-drinks merchant.
Caspar Vetter Whiskies, Philadelphia, PA. shot glass

Although data is difficult to come by, per capita alcohol consumption may actually have increased during Prohibition thanks largely to the diligent efforts of bootleggers, the most famous being Al Capone.  The primary source of whiskey was Canada.  Hiram Walker had built a massive plant at Walkerville across the border from Detroit, while Samuel Bronfman of Seagrams fame was running plants in Montreal and importing various spirits from across the Atlantic.  Shot glasses advertising Hiram Walker Co. Ltd. products are relatively common and believed to date to the Prohibition era.  Although they are gold banded and look as if they might be pre-Pro, they're small, have relatively thick paneled walls, and have been made by being pressed into a mold arther than being blown.  Barclay glasses such as the Gold Label and Black label below are also believed to be Canadian and to date to the Prohibition era.  

Canadian shot glasses from the Prohibition era (ca. 1920-1934). 
Walker's Canadian Club shot glass Barclay Gold Label Blended Whiskey shot glass Barclay Black Label Blended Whiskey shot glass

When Prohibition ended on December 5, 1933, most of the old whiskey houses had vanished.  Their old brand names had been acquired during Prohibition by new corporate conglomerates who rebuilt the industry essentially as we see it today. 

Some of the shot glasses from the years immediately post-repeal are reminiscent of the earlier, pre-Pro glasses, but they have none of the charm or value.   An era had passed and the spirit and character of the old days has gone for good.  All that remains are a few crystal glasses that hold the memories of a generation. 

 Welcome to the club.

Pay Less at 7 Corners Liquor Store,  St. Paul, MN, post-Repeal glass
Powell-Thompson Co., Milwaukee, post-Repeal glass
Two post-Repeal glasses.  
They are reminiscent of pre-Prohibition glasses, but they are small and have relatively thick walls with tear-drop optics.
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