To get tuned in, unscrew this cap, reads a creased metallic tag secured beneath the plastic spout—disguised, rather cleverly, as an antenna. Without it, you’d be hard-pressed to notice that the object you’re holding, an antique transistor radio, isn’t a radio at all, but an oversized bottle equipped with a funnel, two angular shot glasses and a set of dials that, upon closer inspection, don’t actually turn.
While peddled as a midcentury flask on eBay, in many respects—its large size, for one—it’s more akin to the era’s popular novelty decanters modeled after cars, figurines and childhood collectibles. (eBay is nothing if not a reminder of that common drinking trope, wherein we sufferers of Peter Pan syndrome like to clothe our booze in heady nostalgia.)
Rightfully though, I think the label is accurate: Flasks, by definition, are meant to be concealed—a decades-old fact that wasn’t always such.
Originally designed for their portability, flasks have been used around the world for centuries, and certainly in United States, with wearers trekking glass and silver versions across the American West. But unsurprisingly, their design (and intended usage) changed a great deal during Prohibition. Modern Drunkard Magazine—a fitting source for this kind of information—reports that more flasks were sold in the first few months of Prohibition than in the entire decade prior, adding that, in those 13 years, glass flasks virtually disappeared in favor of sturdier vessels that’d withstand a rough pat-down by a policeman’s nightstick.
After repeal, many assumed that flasks might disappear for good—after all, the greater availability of alcohol had deemed them largely unnecessary. But there was something undeniably appealing about the hip flask, and the mischief it signified. The authorities were less impressed, however. In a 1934 address, New York State Liquor Authority Chairman Edward P. Mulrooney asserted that pocketed liquor, the speakeasy and the saloon—these things that represented “the glamour of illicit and secret drinking“—were subject to a zero-tolerance policy. But just two years later, Princeton University President Dr. Harold W. Dodds made headlines for scolding students who had made a habit of toting their hidden flasks to college football games, calling forth “deserved criticism of our national system of higher education.”
So while the speakeasy grew up, the Prohibition-era flask never graduated. Today, a spin through Reddit will cue you to inventions like the Freedom Flask, a below-the-belt sack that can be tucked into the wearer’s pants, not to mention step-by-step videos on how to design your own flask, more or less, by smuggling clear liquor hidden in sealed water bottles. And let us not forget the “Cool Baby,” an “expressive, customizable, hands-free beverage insulator that looks like a baby.” Clearly, it’s not a question of the vessel so much as it is intended purpose.
In this light, there’s something really very innocent about our little radio, especially in that it comes with not one, but two tiny shot glasses, for sharing. And though carrying this thing around might earn you a double-take, you can be certain that no one’s going to suspect what’s inside—and isn’t that the point?