When we think of whiskey today, we think of bottles of whiskey. This was not always the case. For most of the 19th century, glass bottles were a luxury item, often costing the customer three or four times the cost of the whiskey when they purchased a bottle of whiskey. Whiskey was sold by the distiller in the barrel to liquor stores, saloons and other retail establishments. The consumer brought their own bottle in and had it filled from the barrel of whiskey.

This illustration from a book dated about 1840, shows a glass blowing company making bottles. There are about a dozen individual glassblowers making bottles. It was a labor intensive skill and that was why glass bottles were so expensive. Each bottle was individually blown and even though sizes were standard, there was some variation on the bottle size and shape. There were molds used to shape individual bottles and they were often figural bottles or decanters – an added expense. Many of these decanters depicted subjects such as one of the founding fathers – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson or Ben Franklin were popular subjects of decanter bottles. Figural bottles were bottles shaped like animals (pigs were a popular bottle), or some object such as a log cabin (made popular by E.G. Booze).

Hand blown bottles were the norm up until the late 1880s. At that time, someone invented a machine that would blow bottles into a two piece mold. This drove the price of glass bottles down considerably. By the 1890s, a three piece mold was developed for glass bottles. This third piece of molding made the bottle stronger in the neck area and drove the price of bottles down even more, making it economical for distillers to bottle their own whiskey. By the 20th century, glass bottles were a common package for whiskey, even though there were still distilleries selling whiskey by the barrel to liquor stores and consumers could still bring their own bottle in to be filled from the barrel. This practice ended with Prohibition.