most common type of pre-pro glass stands around 2-1/2" tall, has a
capacity of around 2 oz, has an acid-etched or white-frosted label, and
may or may not gave a gold rim (other common glass types are described
in a Collector's
Guide located elsewhere on this site).
The most notable feature of these pre-pro
the thinness of their walls and the often fine quality of the
leaded glass used in their manufacture.
This type of glass first
appears somewhere around 1880, although the very earliest
glasses are very difficult to date with accuracy. A
of souvenir glasses that can be acurately dated to 1893 have been
documented (see the shot
glass database). By the end of the nineteenth
century, however, they were clearly
starting to become a common form of advertising.
earliest glasses (typically pre-1900) were blown by hand, which
made them time-consuming and expensive to produce. They also
acid-etched inscriptions or decorations, which itself was a laborious
and expensive form of labeling. Acid etching
eroding portions of the glass with caustic vapors or solutions,
meaning that other regions must be protected with wax, for example.
involved in the production of these early glasses meant that
were impractical vehicles for advertising, although a certain Mssrs
Conrad & Co. of St. Louis, MO. seemed to think it
worth a try (see examples below).
of the earliest known examples of a hand-blown shot glass.
glass at right is an 1888 election campaign or souvenir glass featuring
an acid-etched image of Benjamin Harrison. Harrison became
President of the United States, serving from 1889-1893.
The three glasses below bear
the monogram of Charles Conrad & Co. of St. Louis MO.
Co. went bust in 1882, which would make the glasses ca. 1880 vintage.
acid-etching is extremely crude by later standards, consistent
them having been made in the very early days of advertising shot-glass
The late 1880s saw rapid advances in glass-blowing technology and in
techniques used in inscribing glass. By the turn of the century,
glass-blowing had been automated and machines capable of producing
shot glasses and other drinking vessels in large numbers at very low
cost were becoming
common. All the major glasshouses offered "Lead-Blown
which were sold by the barrel, packed in straw. The
below are from a catalog distributed in 1903 by The Cambridge Glass Co.
of Cambridge, OH. Several different sized shot glasses are
image at left is from a catalog distributed in 1910 by Butler
Brothers, one of the largest glass makers in the United States at that
The catalog contains pricing information for
various sizes of thin-walled shot glass (referred to here as "Lead
Blown Whiskies"); a standard 2-1/2 oz glass was priced at 28 cents per
dozen. Adding a gold rim brought the price up to 39 cents a
"GOLD BAND EDGE.
Also useful for matches, toothpicks, etc.
1C130 - 2-1/2 oz thin lead blown crystal, burnished gold band edge.
1 doz in box."
ad also shows shots with fluted bases and ground and polished bottoms.
Many examples of pre-pro advertising glasses with fluted
survive to this day, but they're less common than the standard blown
glass, probably because they cost 8 cents per dozen more.
Automation had also reduced the price of labeling a glass. By
the turn of the century, George Truog, founder of the Cumberland
Glass Etching Works of Cumberland MD.,
was able to acid-etch glasses at sufficiently low cost that
distinctive work was appearing on a staggeringly wide range of table
ware, tumblers, beer glasses and shot glasses, many examples of which
today. Truog remained one of the few proponents of
however, for increasingly glass makers were turning to an
even cheaper alternative to apply labels to their glassware.
surviving pre-pro glasses were inscribed using a rubber stamp and a
material. The glass was refired
after the powder had been adhered, causing the
vitreous dust to fuse to the wall of the glass, thereby
creating an enamel (pre-pro glass collectors use the term
These labels were not as durable as acid-etching and often
off due inadequate firing or preparation of the glass, but the
benefits meant that such labels soon became the norm.
combination of cheap glasses and cheap labeling techinques meant that
the early 1900s witnessed a veritable explosion in the number of
glasses being distributed. Although one can only guess at
numbers, it's not unreasonable to think that 20,000 to
distinct label variants may have have been produced during the
hay-day. Only around 10,000 of
these have been documented at the time of writing.