Hit Me With Your Best Shot!
by Jessica Kosinski
Shot glasses (sometimes written as one word) are some of the most recognizable small glass collectibles in the United States. They aren’t quite as common in many other countries, but they certainly do exist around the world as well. Here are some interesting facts and tips to help you start your own shot glass collection.
The Origins of the Shot Glass
American shot glasses are believed to have gotten their start in the 1700s. At that time they were used solely for whiskey, and they were not known as shot glasses. Names they went by included jiggers, whiskey tumblers, and whiskey tasters. Those early jiggers were made out of hand-blown glass.
Eventually shot glass makers started to use molds to make their glasses, but they were still blown, which means that all of those early glasses show pontil marks or signs that they have been ground down on the bottom. So, if you are interested in collecting some of the earliest shot glasses, that is one way to recognize them. Just be aware that they are very hard to find.
When Prohibition hit in the 1920s it put an end to legal drinking, although speakeasy clubs continued to serve alcohol, especially in large cities like New York. But both the methods of serving alcohol and the terminology used changed when Prohibition was abolished. For the most part, small jiggers meant for sips of alcohol have been known as shot glasses ever since. They have also been thicker and shaped differently from pre-Prohibition whiskey tasters. If you are interested in collecting shot glasses that are specifically either pre- or post-Prohibition, that’s a good way to tell them apart.
Shot Glass Sizes and Shapes
While shot glasses may be more popular in the United States than in many other countries, they can be found everywhere, although their sizes are not standard. In the U.S. alone, the only state that currently sets a defined size for a standard shot of alcohol is Utah, which defines a shot as 1.5 fluid ounces (44 milliliters). In many countries, including Poland and Russia, the standard size for a shot is more than double that amount.
Throughout the U.S. you can also find decorative shot glasses to collect that are unusual sizes and shapes. While you might think of a shot glass as being a tiny glass with no foot, stem, or handle, it’s important to note that there are giant shot glasses out there. Many of them have funny sayings on them or markings for different amounts of alcohol. You can fill them up to a certain line, depending on how much you want to drink, much like filling a measuring cup with ingredients when you bake.
Shot glass shapes can also vary a surprising amount. The standard shape is wider at the top than the bottom. But some shot glasses are actually shaped like anything from objects to animals. Those types are often quite fun to collect, especially if you happen to have a bar or den area in your home, where you can display them for friends and family members.
As mentioned earlier, shot glasses can be divided into pre- or post-Prohibition types, but the post-Prohibition shot glasses are more interesting to a lot of collectors for a number of reasons. First, in the mid to late 1900s and all the way through to today states and specific destinations have produced their own advertising shot glasses. You may enjoy collecting those shot glasses as reminders of places that you have visited.
Another thing that has occurred since Prohibition is that major alcohol brands have started placing advertising on almost anything. More modern companies have used everything from t-shirts to shot glasses to advertise their brands. Therefore, it makes sense that, if you like a particular type of alcohol, you could collect shot glasses that advertise it. A related type of advertising shot glass that you could choose to collect is one that is advertising a specific club, bar, or casino that you frequently visit or remember from days gone by. For instance, it can be fun to have a souvenir shot glass from a visit to a restaurant or bar visited while on vacation.
Of course, almost anything can be found printed on a shot glass these days. There are shot glasses relating to movies and musical groups. There are also some that depict political figures, pop culture icons, animals, cars, and much more. So, the type that you choose to collect is entirely up to you.
Tips for Collecting Shot Glasses
If you want to collect pre-Prohibition shot glasses you may have a difficult time. They can be very hard to simply stumble across. But the internet is a great resource. Many websites offer tips and advice, and online auction websites sometimes have some that come up for sale. As far as collecting post-Prohibition shot glasses goes, the good news is that they are everywhere, and the better news is that most of them don’t cost much money at all. With the upswing in Mid-Century Modern collectibles, bar sets with shot glasses evoking the days of cocktail parties in Palm Springs are readily available and can add another dimension to a collection. You can find the wide assortment of shot glasses at yard sales and flea markets, as well as in antiques shops and online.
Shot glass collecting is not really like collecting a lot of other items in that there aren’t specific famous shot glass producers or universally sought after types. Instead, collecting shot glasses is all about finding what you like. The value in them is whatever they are worth to you. An important thing to remember is just to have fun hunting for the shot glasses that catch your eye.