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Although I prefer to describe glasses and not classify them, there are quite a few collectors who decide which glasses should be in their collection based on a classification. They only collect glasses from places that they have visited, or they only collect glasses from the Hard Rock Cafe. Here are a couple of the categories that I have heard people say that they collect.
Tourist glasses have a bad reputation, even though they are the largest group of glasses and are usually the first type of glass that a collector owns. As you might guess from the name, these are the types of glasses that you might buy while on vacation, as a souvenir of places that you have visited. Although many of these are made of high quality glass, with very nice designs, there are also the cheap ones.
The cheapest of these glasses are made in China or Taiwan, and are frequently made of low quality glass, and almost always have a thin base and thin sides. Although these glasses are made of low quality, thin glass, they often have high quality designs or graphics. Unfortunately, there are many more of these glasses that have very poor graphics, either poor designs or poor reproduction. These poor-quality glasses are the ones that turn many collectors away from this type of glass.
One way to categorize these glasses are by the amount of area they represent: There are glasses for countries, and for states or provinces. There are glasses for areas that might contain more than one city or town such as Cape Cod, glasses for cities and towns, glasses for national parks, amusement parks, and theme parks. There are glasses for historic buildings, for historic ships, etc.
One subcategory of tourist glasses is souvenirs from theme restaurants. The largest group of these are from the Hard Rock Cafe, which has establishments all over the world There are places that do not have a restaurant, but that does not stop them from selling glasses with the Hard Rock Cafe logo and their city name. The standard shape of these glasses is the tall, straight sided "shooter" which in the minds of some collectors is not a shotglass. There have been some special edition HRC glasses that are standard size and shape.
The second largest group of theme restaurant glasses comes from Planet Hollywood. The original glasses had a distinctive flared top or "tulip" shape, but more recently a new design has appeared on a standard glass. Planet Hollywood also has some generic glasses that do not have a city name on them, which are available at most, if not all restaurants -- if you classify glasses by the city or state they came from, how do you classify these?
Other chains that put out shotglasses include The Rainforest Cafe, All Star Cafe, Race Rock, Cheers, Bubba Gump, Fashion Cafe, Dave and Buster's, House of Blues, and Nascar Cafe.
Another type of tourist glass are the glasses for various sports teams. The most common type of sports glasses are those for the professional teams of the NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB. There are also glasses for minor league, semi-professional or farm teams, but these are often harder to find. There are many universities that have popular sports teams, so in addition to a more general glass with the university seal (which could be another type of tourist glass) these schools have glasses with the team mascot.
Commemorative glasses are made to celebrate a special event, whether a once-in-a-lifetime event or one that happens every year. These glasses often cross into other categories such as a glass from the 2001 Sydney Olympics, which might be considered a tourist glass, a sports glass or an event glass. A similar glass that crosses categories is a Holloween or St. Patrick's Day glass from The Hard Rock Cafe,
Some of the oldest "dated" glasses are commemoratives. I have two glasse from the turn of the century from Southern Baptist Conventions, one from 1897 and one from 1905. The 1905 glass also contains an advertisement for Victor's Liver Syrup, so it might also be called an advertising glass. Another common type of commemorative glass are "one of a kind" personalized glasses that were made as souvenirs at state fairs and other exhibitions.
Commemorative glasses might be made in small quantities for a small, local event like a wedding or the induction of a new leader at the Masonic Lodge. Larger quantities of glasses might be made for more regional events like a state fair or a university team winnng a conference championship, while massive amounts of glasses were made for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics -- they were sold for the four years before the event.
The theme restaurant glasses and some commemorative glasses might also be called advertising glasses. Advertising glasses are another popular type of collection. The most common type of advertising glass are, not surprisingly, the ones that advertise brands of liquor. Other advertising glasses that you might expect to find are ones for liquor stores, bars or clubs, and restaurants. There are also advertising or promotional glasses for brands, products and companies that you might not associate with alcohol: brands of soda (Coke, Pepsi and 7up), motion pictures (The Blair Witch, Austin Powers), television shows (South Park, Buffy The Vampire Slayer), large corporations (Sears, GTE and Disney).
Some of the oldest advertising glasses are known as "whisky tasters" or "sample glasses". These were originally made to be disposable glasses to be used by bar patrons when they sampled new products Since these glasses were meant to be "throw aways" they are made out of much thinner glass than your average shotglass. Combine this thin glass with the fact that most of these glasses come from the period before prohibition, and the members of this group are fairly rare. Since these glasses typically hold more liquor than your average shot, many collectors do not consider them shotglasses.
Another older advertising glass, the pharmaceutical glass, while not originally created as a shotglass, are the same basic size and shape, and often show up in shotglass collections. Back in the days before over-the-counter drugs were common, the local phamacist mixed up whatever the doctor ordered and often included a dosing cup to ensure the proper amount was used. Someone decided that these dosing cups were an obvious place to do some advertising, so they often have the name of a drug, drug company, or of a pharmacist molded into them. These glasses are slightly smaller than most shotglasses, and they do not have the thick bases of a shot glass.
An older but long running set of glasses have pictures of cartoonish characters on them. The unique feature of these glasses is that the pupils and whites of the character's eyes are on the inside of the glass, which gives them a 3D effect (well, the newest versions of these have the pupils on the outside and the whites are not white). There are at least three different sets of these with over 30 different varieties, and while most of them are standard sized glasses, some are larger glasses that hold about 4 ounces.
Another long-running set of glasses have multiple measuring lines on them, with a different name or character associated with each line, level or stage. Some of these are standard sized glasses with only two or three levels, while others are jumbo shots that hold from 10 to 15 ounces and have 10 or more different levels. Most glasses of this type fall somewhere in between these extremes, holding 4 or 5 ounces and having four to six levels (some start counting at zero and count all the way to the rim, while others start at one ounce ans stop before they get to the rim). Although I call these a set, these glasses were made by multiple companies.
There are also people who collect glasses based on their shape. Some people collect only the tall, thin "shooter" style of glass while other people only collect the "standard" sized shots. Another shape that is popular, especially from europe, is the boot shaped glass. These come in different sizes, shapes and material (glass, metal, ceramic) and also come in a variety of colors, both with and without added designs. Another similar type of glass is the miniature mug. These also come in a variety of sizes, shapes (even boot shaped) and materials.