Writing and drinking have a long and complicated history together. On the romantic side, we have Hemingway moodily sipping Rioja in Spanish bars. On the tragic side, we have Tennessee Williams home alone, finishing off a bottle of wine, then choking to death on a medicine bottle cap.
Reading while drinking, on the other hand, isn’t talked about very much -- perhaps because, by its very nature, it’s a solitary vice. I have some wine-ringed paperbacks that will attest to the fact that it’s a very real one.
But what about people who want to drink and read when they’re not so solitary? Libraries, classrooms, and workplaces don’t usually take too kindly to people tippling behind a table of contents. For those who want to flout the rules and booze their way through a book anyway, you’ll be pleased to know that book flasks are an actual thing.
In fact, it’s a thing that goes back at least as far as 1740, as this artifact from the Metropolitan Museum of Art attests. It’s not much bigger than a matchbox, so it might be more easily concealed while lighting up than getting your lit on, but it is a flask that’s shaped like a book, and the earliest one I could track down.
|1740-ish book flask. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)|
In 1885, patent solicitor Herbert Torr William Jenner received British patent no.14,055 for his book-concealed liquor flask, which he believed to be an improvement on previous designs. He stated in the patent description that the design is the first to have both a concealed stopper and ease of access. He also noted that it could be used just as easily for “drugs, chemicals, perfumery, or any other substance or liquid,” so laudanum addicts and serial strychnine poisoners probably enjoyed it as much as drunken barristers.
|Book flask patent, 1885.|
Jenner’s patent was the subject of a cartoon spoof fifty years later in 1935, featuring in “Odd -- But True Inventions” which was syndicated in U.S. papers.
|Glenwood Opinion Tribune, March 21, 1935.|
While the Met’s ceramic sipper and Jenner’s patented book boozer are unobtainable, there are plenty of modern day devices and products for stealing a drink while reading. Here are eight more book flasks either currently or recently on the market.
|For Chem student quaffing.|
The perfect book flask for turning late-night cram sessions into dram sessions. The flask itself has a cool design, etched with a molecule of alcohol, so it can be of use even after the novelty of drinking in the university library wears off.
|I'll bet more than one flapper whooped it up in the library with this.|
This fake book with a wink-wink title was produced in 1927, smack dab in the middle of the Prohibition Era. I’m surprised it wasn’t at the top of the bestseller list. This auction listing is current as of posting, so move quickly and you could nab this bit of hic-story.
|For elegant but oh-so-secret aperitifs.|
This concealed-flask book company is succinct about what they do: “We sell books filled with liquor,” says their website. Not just any books, though. Bender Bound custom makes their product, and it’s one of the classiest-looking book flasks on the market.
|Convenient flask-shaped hole allows for a private glut.|
This Etsy seller recycles unwanted books into stash boxes for just about every vice. (Other books have custom cut-outs for money, guns, and that most secret of vices: the Kindle Fire.) Unlike some recycled book flasks, these have loose pages, so keeping up appearances is all the easier.
|Firewater and brimstone.|
More like an imbible, am I right? I’m not sure who the target market is for this hidden flask, but I’m guessing stressed-out Sunday schoolers or thirsty clergymen. You can probably cut down on the glares if you’re caught with your holy spirits by memorizing booze-friendly bible passages (drunken Noah is a good one).
|Forget Tom Collins; mix up a Suzanne Collins.|
If the destruction of books to make hidden compartments bothers you, then this book flask might be for you. It’s only Mockingjay.
|Dear Diary: I hit the hooch again today.|
The design of this diary book flask is rather on the little girl side, but you could consider it a plus. It’s ideal for surreptitious snorts of Brandy while attending children’s birthday parties. (Sneak a smoke while you’re at it. Remember to exhale into a balloon.)
|Step one: open flask.|
This secret stash book makes a great gift, provided the recipient has a wicked sense of humor. A little irreverence makes whiskey taste sweeter, I always say.
What book title do you think would make the perfect secret book flask? I’m considering a custom edition titled Even Cowgirls Get the Booze.