The mid-19th century was a time of great technological achievements and advancements, and new processes and materials were brought to market in new and ingenious ways. One great example of that were the hard rubber products introduced during the early 1850s by Nelson Goodyear, brother of Charles Goodyear. Both Goodyears had spent decades working on a solution to the short comings of the very promising material known as India Rubber. This was the sap from certain trees found primarily in South and Central America that was a natural form of latex rubber. While the sap was useful in creating a basic waterproofing for fabric and some other materials, it had numerous shortcomings. The greatest was that it was very temperature sensitive. If it got too cold, it would become brittle and if it became too warm it would essentially melt, or at the very least get too sticky to use. Even though the natives in the region had found uses for the material for hundreds of years, and Europeans had been experimenting with uses for the substance since at least the mid-1600s, India Rubber never really caught on in a major way. However, in 1844 Charles Goodyear received a patent for his proprietary process to treat India Rubber and make it more useful. He called his process “vulcanization”, and “vulcanized rubber” was born. The new product was much more stable and could be used in a wider range of temperatures. On May 6, 1851, Charles’ brother Nelson received US patent #8,075 for the “Manufacture of India Rubber”. This resulted in what we know of as “Hard Rubber”, the grandfather of what would eventually become the modern plastics industry. While often referred to as “Gutta Percha”, the Goodyear patented product was hard, vulcanized rubber, often called “Ebonite” or “Vulcanite” during the period. Gutta Percha was a different, although chemically similar natural sap that could be used in similar ways to hard rubber, but eventually lost the battle to the Goodyear process.
Numerous items were introduced during the 1850s made of “Hard Rubber”, many of which met with limited success at best. In fact, Charles Goodyear’s uncontrollable need to come up with new and innovative ways to use vulcanized rubber prevented him from every capitalizing on the family patents the way he could have. Everything from buckets to canteens to flasks to bits to combs and buttons (to name only a few items) were produced from the new “Vulcantie” substance. Flasks for drinking and for carrying gunpowder were manufactured, and both suffered from the same shortcoming; they were fragile items. While not nearly as brittle as the untreated Indian Rubber in a cold climate, the material was not as robust as traditional powder flask materials like copper or brass. While a moderate impact on a metal flask might result in a dent, with a Hard Rubber flask, the impact usually meant a broken flask. For this reason, the idea of making powder flasks from vulcanized rubber was largely abandoned by the end of the Civil War period. During the 10 to 15 years of production, the flasks were produced in two basic sizes. A large, rifle or shotgun sized flask with suspension rings, intended to be word via a braided or corded strap while hunting afield, and a smaller, pistol sized flask that would mostly likely have been used when outfitting a cased pistol or set of pistols.
Offered here is a scarce, patent marked example of a Goodyear Hard Rubber Pistol Flask in FINEcondition. This type of flask is shown as figure #1192 in The Pistol Flask Book by Ray Riling. As noted, due to fragility, these are fairly scarce today. This flask measures 4 ¾” in height (including the spout) and is about 2 1/8” in width as the widest point of the body. The flask is the traditional bag shape that was typical of nearly all pistol flasks of the period. The flask patent marked, near the top of the flask body, and reads:
GOODYEAR'S PATENT MAY 5, 1861
Patent marked flasks like this one are particularly desirable, and sought after by collectors. Although the embossed marketing is very small it is still completely clear and fully legible. The flask has a brass top and spout, and the opening is controlled by the usual spring-loaded charger. The spout is threaded, allowing the flask to be set up for different sized powder charges by changing the spout. This one appears to be about 10 to 15 grains or so, just right for the typical .31 pocket pistol, pepperbox or revolver of the era. The top is secured in the usual way, with three small screws that can be screwed more tightly into the flask body to allow the top to be removed, but when they are loosened slightly enter the holes in the top, securing it. In this case, the flask retains two of the three screws, with one missing. The two remaining screws our screwed into the flask body tightly enough that the lid can be removed. Both screws peer to be frozen, and they will not back out quite enough to engage the top of the flask. As such, the top is only friction fit to the body. The top of the flask has a lovely, uncleaned patina and the charger handle remains fully functional. The spring that keeps the charger handle closed retains some of its original bright, fire-blued finish with some scattered surface oxidation present. The body of the flask remains in FINEcondition, and it is completely solid, free of any breaks, cracks or repairs. The body of the flask does show some lightly scattered scuffs, mars, and minor dings, no abuse or serious damage. This class would be a wonderful addition to any small cased percussion pistol set of the period, or simply to a flask collection in general. Due to scarcity, the market value of these fragile flasks appears to have increased somewhat over the past few years. When looking for comparable examples of this model of flask for sale today, the prices ranged between $375 and $450 for the same type of flask in similar condition. This very nice and well-marked example is priced about 20% lower than the next comparable example I could find for sale, and the price includes free USPS Priority Mail shipping within the continental United States. I am quite sure you will be very pleased when you add this flask collection a Civil War era pistols and accoutrements.