Powder Flask Artifact Highlight #55

This “violin-shaped” copper powder flask dates to around 1845-1880. It is embossed with geometric design and has four hanger rings. The flask was probably made in Sheffield, England and was donated to our collection in 1948.

Well-sealed powder flasks were a necessary and important accessory used by hunters and soldiers to store and carry gunpowder used with muzzle-loading firearms. Gunpowder was sold in bulk and flasks of different shapes and sizes were used to carry it in the field. It would pour easily when it was dry, but it would cake and not burn when it became damp.

Placer Herald, November 18, 1882

Although in use since the 15th century, paper cartridges filled with black powder were not patented until 1808. People were forced to carry separate containers of black powder, bullets and wads that separated the powder from the shot.

Muzzle-loading a musket required multiple steps, but a well-trained soldier could load and fire it two or three times a minute. Generally, a small amount of loose powder was poured into a measure and then down the barrel of the gun. A lead ball was placed on the muzzle of the gun and then shoved down the barrel. A small amount of powder was placed on the firing pan, which was located between the cock and the frizzen. The cock was pulled back, the frizzen was closed and the weapon was ready to fire.

Two unidentified soldiers in Mississippi battle shirts with double barrel shotguns, knives, and powder horns

Powder flasks were made of different materials, most often copper, silver, wood, bone and leather. While the early ones were plain, the decorated ones with embossed geometric designs or hunting scenes that were displayed on one or both sides of the flask became very popular. By the 1860s, powder flask production was an increasingly industrialized process and factories produced flasks for hunters and the military. Some of the notable ones include The American Flask & Cap Co., Robbins and Lawrence Company of Windsor, Vt., Samuel Colt, James Dixon & Sons G. & J. W. Hawksley or Bartram & Co.

The flask was donated by Guy L. Gilchrist (1891-1987) and his wife Adeline (1897-1963).

Mrs. Gilchrist, President of Placer County Historical Society, in front of the historical marker for Virginiatown at dedication ceremony. September 28, 1952. PCM Collection

Guy Gilchrist was an oil executive. He was the president of the Placer Union High School district board of trustees and a member of the board of trustees of the DeWitt State Hospital. His wife Adeline was the president of the Placer County Historical Society in the 1950s. Both were dedicated to preserving history and worked on placing historical markers throughout Placer County.

The Gilchrists also donated several other artifacts including the mustache cup, the pink pendant, and the food chopper.

Background Image: Guy Gilchrist (center bottom row). Golden Drift Historical Society Collection. PCM Collection