Sitting on a windowsill at Catawba River Antique Mall, with the early afternoon sun blazing through it, sat a Lewis 66 flask with a little purple haze to it. Cue the music, start the strobe, turn on the black light and watch those fluorescent posters come alive. Sorry, folks - wrong Purple Haze. Of course, anyone who grew up in the 60s recognizes Purple Haze instantaneously when it lands upon the eardrums. And then there is that other purple haze as well. This flask predates Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced album – yes I said album – by quite a few years. The Strauss.Pritz Co of Cincinnati, Ohio distributed Lewis 66 whiskey pre-Prohibition.
A little background: The 18th Amendment was ratified in 1919, making it illegal to manufacture, transport or sell intoxicating liquors. With its implementation on 01/17/1920, thousands of people who worked in various facets of the liquor industry found themselves out of business and without jobs. However, it was not illegal to consume alcohol during the Prohibition Era and thus, while it killed the legal liquor industry, which reduced tax revenue as well, it ushered in an era of bootlegging and speakeasies giving rise to elaborate organized crime networks. In 1933 the 21st Amendment, repealing the 18th Amendment, was ratified bringing about the end of Prohibition. (So it has been possible to repeal the law of the land in the past.)
Now back to my Lewis 66 flask: We have seen booths in some antique malls filled with what are supposed to be “sun-colored” glass bottles of all shapes and sizes. Until I started researching my Lewis 66 flask, I assumed (gotta watch out for assuming) that all of these bottles had gradually turned various shades of purple over the years depending on whether they sat in a bright sunny window or in a more obscure dark corner. In order to keep glass clear, early glassmakers used manganese dioxide to neutralize impurities in the sand used for glassmaking resulting in colorless glass. However, over time, and with natural exposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sun, the manganese dioxide gives the glass a faint purple haze.
While researching, I found references on www.sha.org and www.patternglass.com as well as other sites regarding “nuked purple glass.” According to a study by Cecil Munsey, PhD, true sun-colored glass has only been exposed to the natural UV rays of the sun. The intensity of the color produced depends on the quantity of the original decolorizing agent used and the length of time the glass has been exposed to the sun’s UV rays. Nuked glass on the other hand, has its color change forced by exposure to high degrees of radiation such as sterilization equipment or gamma rays usually resulting in a dark purple color.
Some glass experts consider these artificially-purpled bottles damaged. So the value of a rare antique bottle with no chips or cracks that may have been worth some money drops significantly, if not totally off the charts, once it has been so altered. Some proponents of artificially irradiating glass bottles state that the fact that the bottles have turned deep purple, when irradiated, proves that they are antique as they were made while manganese dioxide was still the most used decolorizing agent in glassmaking. This changed around 1915 as prior to that Germany supplied most of the manganese dioxide used by American glassmakers.
Whether they are real or fake, it has been said that surrounding yourself with the color purple will bring you peace of mind, so bring on the purple bottles. Of course, if you’re constantly worrying about the authenticity of your bottles, your peace of mind may be but an illusion.