The Bottoms Up Naked Flapper
by Stephen Visakay
The Chinese say Ganbei, pronounced “gon-bay” which literally means dry glass or bottoms up. In Japan its Kampai, pronounced “Kahm-pie” and in Zulu it’s Oogy Wawa. Any way you say it, “Bottoms Up” is from the old custom of turning the glass upside down after a toast to prove it was empty. Bottoms Up was also used as a “last call” in the early 20th Century among tavern keepers in New York City; Finish your drink; we’re closing.
In the roaring and pouring 1920’s a small pottery company, White Cloud Farms Inc, of Rock Tavern New York, designed a true double entendre drinking vessel; the Naked Flapper bottoms up cup. She’s draped over the bottom of a drinking cup, arms and legs spread wide; her bottom up. The cup can’t sit upright because of the rounded bottom, only upside down on the rim. And if using the cup you need to finish your drink first.
White Cloud was granted a design patent, number 77,725, for this lady on February 19, 1929. The term Bottoms Up was trademarked on February 12, 1929 applying to the production of earthenware drinking cups and was applied to each said cup by a paper label.
The Naked Flapper was born with American artistic creativity imbedded in her DNA, designed by, Will Low Bacher, the son of one of the early impressionists in American art, Otto Henry Bacher; who studied with James McNeill Whistler and whose work hangs today in major museums Nation wide. The molds were made and cast by another Son; Holland Bacher.
The Naked Flapper brought to life by the two brothers was an immediate success. Maybe to much of a success, anything popular on a small scale won’t stay small for long. And soon after the flapper began making her name in pottery circles, the giant McKee Glass Co. of Jeannette, Pa., took notice. In business since 1888, McKee made economical glass kitchenware such as bowl sets, dinnerware, platters and covered refrigerator containers. Their catalog also offered crystal products and a few arty items; an art nude vase and nude table lamp, pen and ink desk sets. McKee dearly loved the swell little nude flapper, she would fit right in. With a slight amount of hubristic glee they began to manufacture the spread eagle nude flapper in droves.
Not for long thought. McKee was surprised to find the small pottery company held a patent; this information delivered via a large law suit by the New York City attorneys of White Cloud Farms for patent and trademark infringements. The problem was solved when McKee Glass purchased all rights from the Bacher Brothers with a handsome settlement that one just could not refuse.
The next problem for McKee came with a loud outcry from those picky, picky people at the Catholic National Legion of Decency, whose powers were well known to all; especially the motion picture industry. Art pottery by a small unknown company was one thing, but this naughty glass copy by a mass-producing major manufacturer was something else. McKee caved in and agreed that the nude flapper was a tad risqué for national audiences and advertising campaigns. They closed up the nude flappers legs and continued production.
Today the rare open leg cups are the most valued and sought after examples by Art Deco and antique dealers, as well as Depression glass collectors. When the patent had expired, the Naked Flapper was copied, reproduced, and copied again in both glass and pottery by a number of manufacturers. They’re still being produced today. Just punch up the words Bottoms Up on www.ebay.com , right now we’re facing an invasion of new reproductions from Mexico.
The popular toast of Bottoms Up is also still in use today, thought it’s not used when drinking to the launching of a new ship, and not used in the way the former Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev did when trying to impress an English speaking audience by blurting out his toast of “Up Your Bottoms!”
Copyright, all rights reserved, Stephen Visakay July 2004