Bulge Top Sham Pilsner Glasses




The style of glass we are discussing has been called a “sham pilsner” glass in a classification system devised by fellow collector Bruce Marks about 10 years ago.  Sham pilsner, however, is a generic term that could be used to describe several styles of beer glass, so some discussion of terminology is in order.


Pilsner glass- A pilsner glass, in general, is at least twice as tall as it is wide.  It is relatively wide at the top and tapers to a point, or at least becomes much narrower, at the base.  It has no handle.


Bowl- The liquid-holding portion of a glass.


Foot (or base)- The bottom of a glass.  Since a pilsner glass tends to be tall and narrow, its base must be wide or heavy to keep the glass from tipping.  The foot usually extends peripherally beyond the bowl, but may not if it is thick and heavy.  The foot can be attached directly to the bottom of the bowl or it may be separated from the bowl by a stem.


Sham bottom- A sham (or shammed) bottom refers to a thick (at least ˝ inch) heavy solid glass base.  This type of base is usually directly attached to the bowl.


Lip- The edge of the bowl that contacts the drinker's lips.  The "safety edge lip (Libbey lip)" is a rounded thickened lip invented by Libbey Glass, Inc. in 1924.  It is used mostly on thin-walled bowls and prevents chipping or breakage.


Using these terms, many glasses in Bruce’s classification (flare pilsner, sham pilsner, hourglass, heavy-based footed ale, weiss, bubble-in-sham cooler) and a few others would fall under the generic term “sham pilsner”.  The current Libbey Glass, Inc. and Anchor Hocking Co. online catalogs call the style of glass in this article “bulge top pilsner”.  If we wanted to be precise, we could call this style of glass “bulge top pilsner with a sham (or shammed) foot”, but I think “bulge top sham pilsner” will suffice.




Many older collectors believe that “sham pilsner” glasses were used to fool the tavern customer and thus named.  The glasses have wide tops and narrow bottoms.  If a glass of beer was tapped into this style of glass with a large foamy head, a seven ounce glass might have held as little as five ounces of beer.  This effect was even studied extensively by the Kooler-Keg Systems division of the Novadel-Agene Corp.  One of their technical publications from the 1940's or 1950's showed barkeepers how glass selection affected profitability of draft beer.  That, however is not the origin of the term "sham".  The 1939 Libbey glassware catalog clearly shows the terms “sham”, “shammed” and “sham bottom” were used for a thick solid glass base on pilsner glasses, tumblers, juice glasses and soda glasses.


Bulge top sham pilsners all have the safety edge lip, so cannot predate 1924, which was mid-Prohibition.  It is safe to say the no brewery logo bulge top sham pilsners were produced until after Prohibition (1933).  The style of glass arose in the mid to late 1930’s and was used most heavily from the late 1940’s through the early 1970’s.  Brewery logo bulge top sham pilsner glasses tend to be more common in states with prominent brewing history and a tavern culture.  The glasses were most commonly produced by breweries in states of the midwestern U.S., particularly Wisconsin.  They were distributed by scattered brewers in most other areas.  Baltimore is noteworthy for a number of brewers with multiple logo variations.  Brewery logo bulge top sham pilsners are rare in states with restrictive beer advertising and promotion laws, such as Pennsylvania.  They are also rare from brewers of the New England states and not often seen outside the U.S.
(Atlas Brewing Co., Chicago, IL, late 1930's)

 Few brewery logo bulge top sham pilsners are produced currently.  One reason is the consolidation of the brewing industry that began in the 1950’s.  Fewer brand logos are available.  In addition, use of this style of glass has waned due to the supersizing of American portions and the advent of microbreweries and brewpubs.  The 16 ounce pint (shaker, pounder) is much more commonly used today, especially in brewpubs.  Occasionally, one of the major brewers will produce a new bulge top sham pilsner.


If one were to collect logo variations, but not glass size variations, slightly more than 500 different brewery bulge top sham pilsner glasses of varying rarity are available.  Price, as in any category of breweriana, depends on rarity and condition, plus popularity of the brewery of origin.  For example, Breunig's Lager is a scarce glass is from a thinly collected small brewery in northern Wisconsin.  It has sold recently for $50-80.  The Hamm's glass, from nearby St. Paul, Minnesota, may be slightly more common.  Hamm's, however, is a heavily collected large brewery that had many popular and artistic advertising campaigns.  It usually sells for $125-150.
(Rice Lake Brewing Co., Rice Lake, WI, 1940's)(Theo. Hamm Brewing Co., St. Paul, MN, 1930's)


New areas to collect


Currently there are approximately 900 microbreweries and brewpubs in the U.S., plus at least 500 that are out of business.  Of these, only about 20 microbreweries have produced a bulge top sham pilsner glass, often in a “taster” (4 or 5 oz.) size.  One interesting new area to collect is glasses produced for attendees of craft beer tasting festivals.  These glasses have the festival logo and may have the logo of other sponsors, sometimes including a microbrewery.  At least 70 different festival glasses, but probably many more, have been and will continue to be produced.

  (Rohrbach Brewing Co., Rochester, NY, c.2000)