Embossed Cornucopia Flask

A thick glass flask. A triangular chip is missing from each side. It has a cornucopia embossed in the center.
19th century flask with embossed cornucopia from the Fort Stanwix National Monument museum collection.

National Park Service

The word “cornucopia” often summons images of a triangular basket with an abundance of food tumbling forth from its opening. For many, cornucopias, or horns of plenty, bring back memories of autumns and Thanksgivings passed. The image to the right may do just that for you.

This flask from the Fort Stanwix National Monument collection features a cornucopia overflowing with vegetables and other plants embossed on its dark green glass. The bottle was found in a privy in the Northwest Bastion of the fort, dating to roughly 1890-1930 and is 5 ¼ inches tall. While the cornucopia symbol like this one is common, do you know what it represents, where it originated, or why its symbolically tied so closely to Thanksgiving in the United States?

The earliest references to cornucopias can be found in Roman and Greek mythology. There, it was used as a symbol of unending nourishment and abundance. No wonder these horn-shaped vessels found their way into Thanksgiving décor! Depictions of cornucopia have been represented in art and architecture for hundreds of years. In popular culture, the cornucopia has been depicted in well-known film, television, and literary works including The Hunger Games and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld fantasy series. Even the state flag of Idaho and state seal of North Carolina display cornucopias.

The seal of the State of Idaho. A woman, a man, rivers, mountains, animals, and cornucopias in a circle.
Idaho state seal with cornucopias at the bottom.

While the symbolism is clear, the Roman and Greek mythology provide different origins for the cornucopia. For instance, one myth states that the first cornucopia was made from the broken-off horn of Amaltheia, a goat who nursed baby Zeus. Another myth states that the cornucopia developed from the horn of the river god Achelous, whose horn was broken off during a fight with Hercules. Further, the cornucopia is associated with several Greek and Roman figures, including the gods and goddesses Terra, Plutus, and Fortuna.

The half-pint flask in the park’s collection was likely made in New England in the first half of the 19th century. It is mold blown and was very popular as they were inexpensive to produce and purchase. As noted by the Henry Ford museum, “These figured flasks, often decorated with symbols of national pride or political or cultural affiliation, appealed to America's common man.” The cornucopia here represents the ideal bountiful harvests of American farmlands.

A man holding a bull by the horns and wrestling it to the ground.
Cornelis van Haarlem, Hercules and Achelous, 1590. This painting depicts Hercules wrestling Achelous, one of the origin myths of the cornucopia.


Part of a series of articles titled Curious Collections of Fort Stanwix, The 19th & 20th Centuries.

Fort Stanwix National Monument

Last updated: March 7, 2024