A tumbler is the most generic of the serving glasses for liquids. It may come in a range of sizes, usually between 12 oz. and 20 oz. (0.35 to 0.95 liters). There is no "right" shape for these glasses, but the most common features a flat circular base and a conical wall rising up to the rim. Though not specifically intended for alcoholic drinks, many bars use them as a substitute for both the Collins glass and the highball glass.
Different sources give different accounts of the origins of the word tumbler. The most common etymology holds that the original glasses give this name had bases that either rounded out or came to a point, making them impossible to put down because they would fall over. This limitation is explained either as a result of glass-making practices of the day, or as an intentional design flaw to inspire patrons to imbibe more alcohol by requiring them to finish their drink before they could put it down. An alternate etymology of the term cites the 17th century use of the phrase "Venice glass tumblers" to describe glass-makers who made the these types of glasses.
The earliest glasses that could be given this name were made in Rome during the pre-Christian era. These glasses were blown, not pressed, which gave them a rounded appearance, almost of a ball. Their bases were most likely flattened, however, so that they would not in fact "tumble" over.
In the 19th century, the first pressed-glass tumbler was manufactured. The story goes that a carpenter came to a glass maker, Deming Jarves, and requested a glass of certain dimensions and shape. Jarves informed the man that such a glass couldn't possibly be blown, and the man suggested a machine could be made to press it into the correct shape. He made the machine and produced the first of these containers, a rough proxy of today's modern version.
These days, a tumbler may come in many different shapes. Because of its wide-spread popularity, most glass makers have at least one, if not many, different varieties for sale. The glass may be simple, with a flat base and basic outward-arcing body, or may be wavy and artistic, pointed with no flat base, rounded and nested on a stem to a flat base, or any number of other designs. They come in all sorts of colors and patterns and may not even be made of glass — some are constructed of stainless steel or plastics.
As glasses go, the tumbler is a must-have for any bar and for most kitchens. Larger than an 8 oz. (0.23 l) cup, they generally offer a good marriage of simplicity and usefulness, at an affordable price.