Looking for binoculars that double as a flask? This auction has you covered.

By Mike Pomranz
April 29, 2020
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This year marks 100 years since the start of Prohibition. It’s an important anniversary to be sure, but even its repeal, which happened 13 years later in 1933, was so long ago, it’s easy to feel detached from the era and its impacts. So for anyone interested in a tangible reminder of what life was like during the attempted absence of alcohol in the 1920s, an upcoming auction from Sotheby’s will offer the chance to own a piece of American history.

The online auction “100 Years—Prohibition in America”—set to take place from May 7 to 21—will feature “vintage barware and fine silver created during and inspired by the era,” according to Sotheby’s. The collection was curated by Alan Bedwell, who owns the vintage accessories gallery Foundwell which is based in both New York and London.

Credit: Sotheby's

“America experienced a great surge of interest in novelty barware towards the end of Prohibition and the years following it,” Bedwell explains. “Innovation during this time flourished as designers began creating barware in whimsical shapes and styles, which doubled as decorative pieces that people would want to display in their home, rather than secret away in a cabinet. One hundred years later, this fascination and interest in novelty barware is experiencing a resurgence, with the current trend of the at-home bar—everyone wants to build their own home bar cart, curated with personal touches and unique tools and glasses.”

Credit: Sotheby's

Among the top vintage items are a golf-themed, silver-plated cocktail set designed made in 1926 and estimated to sell for as much as $7,500. Sotheby’s says the large pitcher and six matching miniature golf bag cups was “perhaps intended to fool authorities by making it appear to be decorative or ornamental, rather than practical” and is possibly “the first figural cocktail shaker to have ever been made.”

Also for sale, in true Prohibition fashion, is a set of cut-class decanters that are literally protected by lock and key (estimated price between $5,000 and $7,000). And, a must for anyone trying to conceal their drinking, Sotheby’s is also selling a double flask from the 1930s that is disguised as a real pair of aluminum binoculars. “The caps of the ‘ocular lenses’ can be twisted off and filled with a spirit and/or mixer while the ‘objective lenses’ on the opposite side contain two removable cups,” the auction house explains. This sneaky invention is expected to sell for between $800 and $1,200.

The online-only auction can be found on Sotheby’s website next month. You may want to practice some personal prohibition while bidding—lest you find yourself in over your head trying to land a highly collectible penguin-form cocktail shaker.