Collecting Articles and Features

19th Century Political Stoneware Flasks

English 19th century political stoneware flasks are among some of the most interesting and collectible of all English ceramics. Many flasks were made to commemorate specific events or to support particular politicians, and as a result, they provide a fascinating glimpse into the political culture of the period. They were a decorative functional item being used to store spirits, most notably gin, which had a resurgence of consumption during the Victorian era, with numerous “Gin Palaces” appearing.

LORD MELBOURNE stoneware flask mid 19th Century
LORD MELBOURNE A large and rare Derbyshire brown stoneware flask, c.1838-41, modelled wearing fur-lined robes, impressed ‘Lord Melbourne’ to the front, the reverse with ‘Oldfield & Co Makers’. Sold for £2,500 at Woolley & Wallis, September 2021.

The most collectible flasks are those that were made for the 1832 Reform Bill, which ushered in a new era of democratic politics. Other popular flasks include those made for the Coronation of Queen Victoria and the opening of Parliament, and many politicians including Lord Grey, Lord Melbourne, Lord Brougham and Lord John Russell.

A Lambeth salt-glazed stoneware flask c1832 modelled as the prime minister Lord Grey
LORD GREY A Lambeth salt-glazed stoneware flask, c.1832, modelled as the prime minister holding a scroll impressed ‘The True Spirit of Reform’ above the title ‘Grey & Reform Cordial’, the upper half decorated with a brown glaze by Doulton & Watts. Sold for £420 at Woolley & Wallis, September 2021.

Political Stoneware Flasks were made in quite large quantities by a number of potteries including Doulton Lambeth, Bourne Potteries, T Oldfield & Co, Oldfield & Co Makers, and Doulton & Watts,  to name a few.

A Doulton & Watts Lord Brougham reform stoneware flask
A Doulton & Watts Lord Brougham reform stoneware flask, the upper half brown and modelled as Lord Brougham holding a scroll impressed with the wording ‘The True Spirit of Reform’. Sold for £820 at Chilcotts, December 2018.

Political stoneware flasks are highly sought after by collectors, and they can fetch high prices at auction. However, they are also relatively rare, so it may take some time to track down the perfect flask for your collection. In September 2021 Woolley & Wallis held the The Robin Simpson Collection of Commemoratives which included an impressive collection of nearly 20 Political Stoneware Flasks. Prices for lots ranged from £90 to £2,500.

DANIEL O CONNELL A large Brampton brown stoneware flask c1838-40
DANIEL O’CONNELL A large Brampton brown stoneware flask c1838-40 modelled as the Irish reformer standing with arms folded impressed Daniel O’ Connell. Sold for £380 at Woolley & Wallis, September 2021.