Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Coventry Dewitt Clinton Flasks

Detail of the GI-80 Coventry Dewitt Clinton pint flask.
Dewitt Clinton (1769-1828) was the sixth governor of New York, among numerous other elected posts, probably most famous for pushing through the construction of the Erie Canal, one of the first great public works projects in the young United States. Today seems an appropriate day to write about the three historical flasks (and one variant) made to commemorate Clinton's achievements, around the year 1824.

View into the town of Coventry, Connecticut, from the east. The Coventry Glass Works were in the valley to the left of the tower on the horizon.
Aside from his advocacy of "Clinton's Ditch," as the canal was known to the haters, Clinton worked to expand public education, improve sanitation in New York City and create programs for the poor. There was opposition to all of these measures; we tend to think that the dichotomy between those who want a minimalist government that protects private property rights and little else, and those who think that government should "promote the general welfare" with education, transportation infrastructure and social welfare programs, is a modern phenomenon, but it has been a point of contention since the dawn of the republic.There are definite echoes of 200 year old political controversies in modern America, and indeed in the 2016 Clinton presidential campaign.

Coventry Glass Works "LA FAYETTE / DE WITT CLINTON" flasks: half-pint GI-81, pint GI-80, half-pint GI-82.
None of the Dewitt Clinton flasks are exactly common, but the GI-80 pint is probably the most frequently encountered; I have even seen quite a nice example crop up in an area estate sale. Both GI-80 and the half pint GI-81 are considered "scarce" by McKearin and Wilson (American Bottles and Flasks), meaning about 35 to 75 specimens in existence, with 80 probably being at or above the high end of that range, and 81 being less common. A variant, GI-81a, exists, with two ribs around the base of the flask rather than three, but is very rare (10-20 examples). GI-82 is also very similar to 81, but without the "S & C" embossing. It is considered to be rare, with about 20-35 extant examples. The example here has a very soft impression, and some sloppy wings of glass that oozed out along the mold seam at the neck; these sorts of manufacturing irregularities seem to be pretty frequent with this mold.

The three main Dewitt Clinton flasks; GI-81a variant not pictured.

Lafayette side of GI-81, GI-80 and GI-82
Presumed 20th Century decorative flask, similar to GI-81. Collection of the New York Historical Society.
This cobalt blue Lafayette / Dewitt Clinton flask is certainly a reproduction, less than a hundred years old, though I haven't learned anything definite about its manufacture. Coventry is not known to have made blue glass, though it's not impossible that they could have experimented with artificial colors. The neck and mouth are probably too straight up and down and perfectly sheared to be an 1820s flask, and the lettering is cruder and more rounded than in the real thing, not to mention being sans serif, which is wrong.

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