Shot Glass Buying Guide

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Shot Glass Buying Guide

Shot glasses are commonly small, thick-sided glasses used for a single measure of spirits. They are also frequently used to serve shooters, which are drinks made from several different liquids, whether they are alcoholic or otherwise. Given the range of shot glasses available, shoppers have a choice of styles and sizes that can make a versatile addition to any glassware collection.

Origins of the Shot Glass

Shot glasses have existed for at least half a century and are a popular addition to many people’s home glassware. There are very many theories as to why these items are called shot glasses, none of which can be stated with any real degree of confidence. The first known example of the term appearing in the Oxford English Dictionary was a citation from an edition of The New York times, printed in the 1940s. The word was yet to obtain common currency at that point, even if the development of specialist glasses for drinking spirits from was gaining in popularity. In real terms, it is likely that shot glasses – or a variant of them – were being used well before the middle of the twentieth century. The extreme regulation of alcoholic drinks during American prohibition may have stymied their development, but whisky glasses with thin sides were readily used before congress passed laws restricting the sale of alcohol in 1919. These slighter glasses survived the period and gradually developed into the thicker, stouter shot glasses we know today.

Types of Shot Glass

The growing popularity of shot glasses, in the home or in bars and restaurants, has led to the development of a huge range of such glasses being available. They can be obtained in multi-packs or as single items, in classic materials and colours or with a modern twist, from personalised individual glasses to collectables in multiple categories, from animated characters to royal jubilee commemorative examples. Listed under shot glasses are some fun alternatives, such as test tubes that come in bright colours, in large numbers and which can add a little fun to any party.

Standard Shot Glasses

Careful searching will reveal a number of simple, elegant shot glasses; constructed of glass or crystal, with heavy bases and straight or gently curved sides, these are the classic shooter style glasses that can be used for single shots or cocktails. Equally at home in a kitchen or dining room, standard shot glasses are also likely to be found in pubs and clubs where patrons finish the night off with a measure of their favourite spirit after drinking beer or other kinds of alcoholic drinks. Expect to pay a little more for crystal varieties. The nature of crystal itself allows it to be ‘worked on’ more than standard glass, leading to patterns that can offer great ornamental value as well as practical use. Current popular trends include intricate engravings of classic brand names or cultural icons that are particularly suggestive of certain places, times and countries.

Coloured Shot Glasses

A fun variation on the standard shot glass is the coloured variety; these come in a wide range of materials and styles. A set of individually coloured shot glasses can come in handy at parties, celebrations or at the table, as each person can be given a glass that they can then recognise as theirs. Coloured shot glasses are available in gift sets, as individual items or in large packs for catering for large groups – these are often plastic, which can be a practical, economical and safe option.

Personalised Shot Glasses

For gifts or for commemorating a special occasion, a personalised shot glass can be easily obtained and will make a memorable and thoughtful present. Names, dates, or occasions can be added to glasses of different types, either hand painted in bright, fun colours, or etched into the glass in a more traditional style. Particularly popular options include birthday dates or phrases and sayings that describe the character of the intended recipient.

Toy Tumblers

For shoppers looking for a distinctive twist on the shot glass theme, ‘toy tumblers’ are proving a popular addition to any collection. Originally designed as objects for children playing domestic games in their infant years, many people are now looking at them as serviceable, interesting alternatives to their big brothers. Despite being roughly half the height of a standard shot glass, toy tumblers' range of cut glass designs make them fit in well with vintage and modern styles of glassware and their date of manufacture in the late nineteenth century usually means that they make excellent companion pieces in a room that features other period items. Their age often precludes them from being flawless, but distressed and chipped glass can sometimes add to the appeal.


Shot glasses for the collector are numerous and very varied – from drink-specific glasses in the ‘breweriana’ category to commemorative items marking special occasions, to advertising glasses featuring the names of famous drinks brands. For those wishing to drink a favourite tipple from a glass with the drink’s name on the side, or those who wish to down a shot from a glass with a picture of a famous race horse or even Captain Jack Sparrow, this is the ideal category. To get a full picture of whether the glass has any claim to being described as collectable or vintage, it is worth obtaining some basic knowledge about colouration, size and manufacturer's marks.


Contemporary glasses are usually only one colour, whereas older examples were often made using multi-coloured designs. If there are few other distinctive features, check to see whether the glass displays several different hues, before moving on and trying other dating methods.


Shot glasses made before the 1960s generally exhibit a thicker base than modern designs. In recent times, manufacturers have tended to spread the weight throughout the whole glass, resulting in a less bottom heavy look and feel. If possible, hand weigh the glass before purchase or ask for more photos if the transaction is based online.

Maker's Mark

There are various ways to go about identifying a maker's mark. One cast iron method is to use identification guides and sheets, but if the shot glass is available to handle applying some basic knowledge can prove beneficial. In general terms, manufacturers used distinctive marks, patterns and logo shapes in order to identify their products. Currently desirable vintage shot glasses such as those made by Hazel-Atlas had an ‘H’ mark with a smaller ‘A’ lodged just inside the bottom of the ‘H’. Of course, ascertaining the maker's name is no guarantee of pinpointing the exact age of the glass. In this example, it could have been made before prohibition or after the Second World War. The best solution is to get as much information from the seller and combine as many of these methods as possible in order to get a clearer idea of the date of manufacture.

Find Shot Glasses On eBay

From the eBay homepage there are two primary ways to find shot glasses; through a generic search in the search box or by using the interactive menus. The first option, typing shot glasses into the search box, will generate a dynamic menu that includes all the categories in which the search criterion appears. Knowing in advance the type of shot glass required will help if using this method. The other way of finding the right item is to use the Home & Garden link on the homepage; this will click through to a page that includes a link to dining rooms, and from there to Glassware. This will generate a page that includes a category list in a panel at the left side of the screen, from which a buyer can select options in order to find the specific item they require.


Shot glasses can provide an interesting addition to any household's range of glassware. As well as providing just the right measure for a tipple of a favourite spirit, the sheer variety available means that collectors or casual buyers will not be short of options. eBay lists a great selection that is sure to contain just the right glass for any buyer, whether it is for sipping a fine spirit as a nightcap or for a wild mix of cocktails at a hen-party. From neon plastic fun to cut-glass elegance, eBay has a glass for every occasion.

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