The History and Use of the Silver Hip Flask

The History and Use of the Silver Hip Flask

The silver hip flask is a unique and notable item for carrying liquor. A hip flask is a relatively simple container designed to carry a small amount of liquid.  As an iconic item, the hip flask has garnered quite a reputation over the years.

This is because the flask is designed to be carried into establishments, arenas, or venues where liquor is not allowed. This means that hip flasks are unique since they’re designed with illegality or at least sneakiness in mind. However, it has rarely been banned anywhere in the world despite its primary use. This may be because the hip flask now has a collector’s interest.  It may be considered more harmless compared to the bygone days of the past.

A typical silver hip flask is usually square or rectangular with a screw-top lid for extra security of the contents inside. Many hip flasks will have a captive top, which consists of a small arm attached to the lid.  This prevents the lid falling away when it opened.
However, the most notable features is the curved shape.  This is designed to blend in with the leg or hip where it is carried. A proper hip flask is carried under the clothing, usually concealed by jackets on men and dresses on women. This means that the shape of the flask will not give it away

Origins

The history of the hip flask is murky! It is difficult to know just who, where, or when the creation of this container was started. There had been standard water and beverage containers similar in size to the hip flask for thousands of years. However, they were not designed to be concealed. What is known is that less compact versions of the hip flask began appearing during the Middle Ages in Europe.
The very first hip flasks were actually gutted fruit husks which were used to hold liquor. While the fruit itself was rather obvious, the contents were often not!  Thus by that definition they are the first known hip flasks in terms of its primary purpose.

However, the most obvious modern creation of the flask began in the 18th century.  This was when women who boarded British warships sneaked liquor on-board wearing makeshift flasks crafted from pig’s bladders. The flasks would be secretly brought aboard usually under the petticoats of the women. This practice continued for quite some time, although the pig’s bladders were eventually replaced by those made from various metals.
This is where silver entered the picture as one of the primary materials for making hip flasks. The precious metal was more expensive, but the liquor inside was not only better protected, but arguably better preserved in its natural state.

It was perhaps expected that in English societies the hip flask would start to become more ornate despite its secret intentions. Engraved lettering followed by more ornate designs would be added to the flasks up to the Victorian Era. For the most part, the emphasis on the ornate did not make it too obvious when being carried in secret.

Modern Uses

The hip flask took on new prominence in the 20th century, particularly in 1919 with the passage of the Prohibition amendment to the US constitution. This meant that the sales of liquor was prohibited across the country, so secret clubs or speak-easies were created where people could enjoy their liquor in evasion of the law. Flappers, women who were considered more liberated and flourished in the more celebratory mood of the 1920s, often carried hip flasks to speak-easies and other establishments.

That meant carrying liquor in public could only be performed in secret and that is where hip flasks gained new prominence. Interestingly enough, many of the hip flask were carried on the leg, either the upper thigh for concealment under a dress or near the ankle if the person was wearing boots large enough to conceal the flask itself.

Prohibition

The end of prohibition coincided with the coming of the Great Depression which caused interest in the hip flask to wane. This continued through World War II and into the 1950s. Interest in the hip flask had long peaked by the turn of the 21st century, yet they are still being produced to this day mostly as collector’s items, although many still use the hip flask for its primary purpose.

What makes the modern designs of the hip flask interesting is the introduction of the novelty sizes, some of which reach quite large proportions. So large in fact that carrying the flask concealed would be quite the endeavour. However, such large sizes are generally more for novelty purposes and not to sneak liquor into an arena or similar location.

Materials Used to Make a Hip Flask

Today, most hip flasks are made from stainless steel. However, during the Victorian era it was quite common to see flasks that were made of silver, pewter, and sometimes glass, though that was often for display purposes and not practical use. After all, who wants to sit on a glass container?
There are also modern hip flasks that are made from plastic to avoid detection by metal detectors. This actually makes sense since the purpose of the flask is to remain hidden. However, it is not recommended that those who purchase hip flasks break the law.

United States Law

In the US, there are no federal or state laws that specifically cite hip flasks, although there are laws about carrying liquor into certain areas such as airports which are forbidden. The same is not true in the UK where there are at least two national laws that cite hip flasks. So, while still being made they are also subject to certain laws about where they can be carried and used.

The antique silver hip flasks that were common in English, Scottish, European, and American societies are still popular today. Crafted from sterling silver, stainless steel, and other materials, the hip flask has remained essentially unchanged in terms of their sizes, shapes, and use. They are popular items, but only a few are considered quite valuable. Most of the British or American origins are considered more interesting items of a bygone era.