Matrass Flask

This flask, made of green glass, is properly called a "matrass." Part of a distillation apparatus, a matrass is a vessel with a round bottom and a long slender neck. It is used with a head and a receiver, the two other pieces needed for the distillation process. Joseph Priestley used this 18th-century matrass in his Northumberland, Pa., laboratory.
Priestley, the noted chemist whose accomplishments include the discovery of oxygen, was born in England. He lived and worked in Birmingham for many years, but his views as a Dissenter and an advocate of the French Revolution incited an angry mob into burning down his house and laboratory. In 1794 he fled to America, eventually settling in Northumberland, near Philadelphia. His great-great-granddaughter, Frances Priestley, donated his surviving laboratory ware to the Smithsonian in 1883.
Date made
18th century
used by
Priestley, Joseph
Physical Description
glass (overall material)
overall: 11 1/2 in x 4 in; 29.21 cm x 10.16 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of Miss Frances D. Priestley
Science & Scientific Instruments
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Chemistry
Science & Mathematics
Joseph Priestley
American Stories
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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