Engraved shot glasses – not just for cowboys!

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Everyone may be familiar with the classic western movies where the dusty, saddle-sore cowboy walks into a saloon and a ‘shot’ of whisky is slid along the bar. Caught neatly in one hand, it is promptly drunk in one gulp. Although American history since the 1800s has plenty of references to tiny glasses filled with whisky as the popular drink of the time, the actual term ‘shot glass’ may be much younger. Theories of the origin vary for this iconic item from a bygone age, but it is apparent that the glass is as popular today, with enthusiasts keen to collect engraved shot glasses of all sizes and varieties.

Different theories of origin

In his book, A History of Cass County Indiana from Earliest Settlement to Present Time, author Dr. Jehu Z Powell describes how in 1857, in objection to a saloon being opened, an angry townsperson shot a barrel of whisky. Powell writes:

“The remedy was effectual, and the saloon was not opened, and ever after, when the boys wanted a drink they would ask for a ‘shot of red-eye’.”

Other theories suggest that small glasses were first used while eating dinner. As a great deal of the meat eaten was usually some form of game, pieces of lead shot were often found and the small glasses were used to place the shot in. Alternatively, some believe that the co- founder, Freidrich Otto Schott, of glass manufacturer Jenaer Glaswerk Schott & Genossen, gave the small glass its name with ‘shot’ being a derivative of ‘Schott’. It will probably never be known what the exact origin of the shot glass is, but the stories that surround this little glass will continue to amuse.

An appealing collectible

Something that can’t be denied about shot glasses is their appeal to collectors. Shot glasses originating from as early as the 1800s and the beginning of the 1900s are hard to find, and their rarity makes them much sought after and valuable items. It was not until after Prohibition and the Great Depression that mass manufacturing of glasses once again began in earnest.

Collectors nowadays have a vast range of shot glasses to choose from, and manufacturers are constantly releasing new designs. Using shot glasses also now enjoys a worldwide appeal and is not limited to America and images of the ‘Wild West’. The 1950s and 1960s saw a boom in the manufacture of engraved shot glasses, and screen printing images on sets of glasses became extremely popular.

Collecting shot glasses can be a very affordable hobby too. Car boot sales and jumble sales are often a great source for collectors, especially for some of the more obscure and rarer sets.

However, it is also possible to create a unique design that will definitely be a one-off with personalised engraved shot glasses. Some may even have an eye engraved or painted inside to go with the popular toast ‘here’s looking at you’. Whatever way shot glasses are engraved, it seems that they are here to stay, and can be a fun and affordable item to collect.

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