Fizz, bang, pop!: Christchurch’s early soda water industry.

Coke. Fanta. Lemonade. Lemon and Paeroa. Mountain Dew. Ginger beer. Dr Pepper. Seven Up. Ice-cream soda. Coke and raspberry. Lift.

Cartoon of soft drink rivals Coke and Pepsi battling it out. Image from Neatorama

Cartoon of soft drink rivals Coke and Pepsi battling it out. Image: Neatorama.

Fizzy drinks, or sodas, are everywhere in our society. In all the flavours and colours of the rainbow, they grace our televisions, billboards, magazines, movies, and our fridges. They are (to the chagrin of so many nutritionists) a staple of the modern diet. They are also, in a slightly different way, a staple of 19th century archaeology. Locally and internationally, soda-water (or aerated water) bottles are common finds on archaeological sites and can be some of the most informative artefacts we recover.

Advertisement for Schweppe’s aerated water from the Lyttleton Times, 5/02/1862.

Advertisement for Schweppe’s aerated water (Lyttleton Times, 5/2/1862).

The soda water industry has its origins in the latter half of the 18th century. It began as a medicinal product, created and sold by apothecaries for ailments like “putrid fevers, scurvy, dysentery, bilious vomiting etc” (Emmins 1991: 9). The first person to artificially carbonate water is believed to have been Dr Joseph Priestly, who wrote a book called Directions for Impregnating water with Fixed Air in the 1760s. Later, in 1792, Jacob Schweppe (yes, that Schweppe), established his first commercial scale soda water factory in London and the fizzy drink industry as we know it was born (Emmins 1991: 10).

Even after Schweppe started the ball rolling on the non-medicinal consumption of soda waters, the industry was still somewhat restricted by the available methods of bottling and storing their product. Glass and stoneware (ceramic) bottles were both used, but difficulties were encountered because of the internal pressure generated by the ‘fizz’ of the drink. Manufacturers had to use bottles with thick glass and find ways to seal the soda bottle and keep the cork or seal from being pushed out by the carbonation.

Two 1887 paintings by William Henry Hamilton Trood, showing the somewhat explosive uncorking of a torpedo shaped soda water bottle. Image: Munsey 2010: 3-4.

Two 1887 paintings by William Henry Hamilton Trood, showing the somewhat explosive uncorking of a torpedo-shaped soda water bottle. Image: Munsey 2010: 3-4.

In the early 1800s, one solution was the ‘torpedo’ bottle, which was constructed with a rounded or pointed base. This meant it had to be laid on its side, with the liquid inside the bottle keeping the cork moist so that it was less likely to shrink, fly out and unseal the bottle (Emmins 1991; Lindsey 2013; Munsey 2010: 4-9).

A torpedo shaped soda water bottle found in Christchurch and embossed with the details of Thomas Raine, Soda Water Manufacturer, Christchurch. Image: K. Bone.

A torpedo-shaped soda water bottle found in Christchurch and embossed with the details of Thomas Raine, soda water manufacturer, Christchurch. Image: K. Bone.

Lamont style soda bottle found in Christchurch, embossed with Lees & Evans, Reliance, Christchurch (1891-1913). Image: J. Garland.

Lamont style soda bottle, embossed with Lees & Evans, Reliance, Christchurch (1891-1913). Image: J. Garland.

 

Eventually, in the early 1870s, a man named Hiram Codd patented a new kind of soda water bottle, now known as the Codd bottle (or ‘marble bottle’). His invention used a marble to seal the bottle, in combination with the natural pressure of the carbonated liquid and a rubber seal, and quickly became a common and popular method of bottling soda water, particularly in the United Kingdom (Munsey 2010). Other inventions and adaptations were also applied to soda water bottles over the decades, including the Hogben patent, Hutchinson patent and, eventually, the crown finish (which we find on beer bottles today; Lindsey 2013). But none were quite so famous as the Codd patent.

Two different variations on the Codd patent, both found in Christchurch. Note the wide indent on both bottles, there to keep the marble at the top of the bottle after it was opened. The smaller indents above it stopped the marble from resealing the bottle when the drinker tilted it a certain way. The bottle on the left is embossed with T. C. Hill, Waltham, ChCh, Zebra Trade Mark Regd (1904-1914), while the one on the right reads Smith & Holland, Christchurch, Trade Mark (c. 1920-1924). Image: J. Garland.

Two different variations on the Codd patent, both found in Christchurch. Note the wide indent on both bottles, to keep the marble at the top of the bottle after it was opened. The smaller indents above it stopped the marble from resealing the bottle when the drinker tilted it a certain way. The bottle on the left is embossed with ‘T. C. Hill, Waltham, ChCh, Zebra Trade Mark Regd’ (1904-1914), while the one on the right reads ‘Smith & Holland, Christchurch, Trade Mark’ (c. 1920-1924). Image: J. Garland.

 Crown top soda bottle embossed with Ballin Brothers, Trade Mark Christchurch (1914 +). Image: J. Garland.

Crown top soda bottle embossed with ‘Ballin Brothers, Trade Mark Christchurch’ (1914 +). Image: J. Garland.

These bottles, in all their various forms, are the artefacts of the soda water industry that we find on archaeological sites throughout Christchurch. Here, soda water production began in the early 1860s (possibly slightly earlier) with manufacturers like Thomas Raine (later known as ‘Soda Pop Raine’), the Milsom family, and James Swann (among many others). Later, names like Henry Mace, the Sharpe brothers, Lees & Evans, the Ballin Brothers and George Ellingford came to dominate the industry (Donaldson et al. 1990). As the industry grew, it remained the province of small, almost boutique, manufacturers rather than large companies or conglomerates (Wilson 2005). Most of the factories employed only a couple of people to work on the bottling process (Press 20/7/1908: 8) and produced soda water for the local, rather than national or international, market.

An 1885 sketch of McPherson’s Aerated Water Manufactory on the corner of Worcester Street and Cambridge Terrace. Image: Christchurch City Libraries, File Reference CCL PhotoCD 12 IMG0064. Source: Lyttelton Times, 28 June 1851, p. 3.

An 1885 sketch of McPherson’s Aerated Water Manufactory on the corner of Worcester Street and Cambridge Terrace. Image: Christchurch City Libraries, File Reference CCL PhotoCD 12 IMG0064. Source: Lyttelton Times, 28 June 1851, p. 3.

Local soda water manufacturers branded their bottles with their names and company logos, and it’s these embossed designs that make these bottles so informative for archaeologists. As well as using the physical shapes of the bottles to understand the bottling technology being used in Christchurch, we can use the designs and names embossed on the glass to understand the who and the what and the when of the local soda water industry. Alterations to these designs can tell us when a bottle was made and, perhaps, when it might have been placed in the ground. We can see changes in the history of a company, like when it might have passed from father to son or when a new partner was brought on board.

Some of the bottle designs we come across are also tied to personal events or stories in the lives of the manufacturers, giving us a glimpse of the people behind the industry. Henry Mace, who operated a soda water factory on St Asaph Street from the 1880s until his death in 1902 (although the business continued until the 1920s), used a dog trademark on his bottles, supposedly in tribute to a dog that saved a member of the family from drowning (Donaldson et al. 1990: 244-245). Another manufacturer on St Asaph Street, John Robinson, used the image of a bicycle on his bottles in reference to his previous occupation as a cycle engineer (Donaldson et al. 1990: 254).

Left) A Henry Mace stoneware bottle, also found in Christchurch, showing the ‘Dog’ trademark; Right) A crown top J. Robinson bottle found in Christchurch, with the image of a bicycle embossed in the center. Images: J. Garland

Left: A Henry Mace stoneware bottle, showing the ‘Dog’ trademark; Right: A crown top J. Robinson bottle found in Christchurch, with the image of a bicycle embossed in the centre. Images: J. Garland

Yet, these bottles, despite their personal and commercial branding, were not made in New Zealand. The first New Zealand bottle production plant wasn’t started until the 1920s (Auckland Star 11/12/1925: 11), which means that every local manufacturer in Christchurch, and throughout the rest of the country, had to source their bottles from overseas. Fortunately, as well as the name of the contents manufacturer, many bottles were also embossed with the initials, logo or name of the bottle manufacturer. Manufacturers that we’ve come across include Australian, British and American glass-making factories, some of which made bottles for multiple Christchurch companies.

This George Ellingford & Sons bottle, although embossed with the details of the Christchurch based company, was made by Cannington, Shaw & Co, bottle makers based in St Helens, England. We know this, thanks to the C. S. & Co also embossed on the base of the bottle. Image: J. Garland.

This George Ellingford & Sons bottle, embossed with the details of the Christchurch-based company, was made by Cannington, Shaw & Co, bottle makers based in St Helens, England. We know this thanks to the ‘C. S. & Co’  embossed on the base of the bottle. Image: J. Garland.

It’s worth remembering that this also took place long before any kind of high speed communication was common in business endeavours. To get their personalised bottles, Christchurch manufacturers would have had to send off for them months in advance and wait for their purchases, not necessarily knowing whether or not their order had been received, processed or even produced correctly. It shows a kind of risk taking, a leap of faith, that those of us in the present day, with our instant communication and electronic transactions, can’t really comprehend.

There’s an interesting pattern to see here too, in the relationships between the local (grass-roots even) Christchurch soda water industry and the much larger industry of glass making in the late 19th and early 20th century. We’ve talked about global relationships on the blog before, in relation to importing overseas products like Wolfe’s Aromatic Schnapps, various pharmaceutical products and ceramics, and it’s something that leaps out again in this case. No matter how small the scale of production, how local the market, or how personal the branding, the Christchurch aerated water industry was part of a much wider, much more global industry. Frankly, it’s kind of cool that every time we pick up a soda water bottle at a site, we can see that connection right there in our hands, embossed onto the glass.

Jessie Garland

References

Auckland Star. [online] Available at: <http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz>.

Donaldson, B., Hume, G. & Costello, S., 1990. Antique Bottle and Containers of Christchurch and District. Christchurch Bottle and Collectibles Club: Christchurch.

Emmins, C., 1991. Soft Drinks: Their Origins and History. Shire Publications: Buckinghamshire.

Lindsey, B., 2013. Historic Glass Bottle Identification and Information Website. [online] Available at: <http://www.sha.org/bottle/>.

Lyttelton Times. [online] Available at: <http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz>.

Munsey, Cecil, 2010. Codd (Marble In the Neck) Soda Water Bottles: Then and Now. [online] Available at <http://www.sha.org/bottle/pdffiles/coddarticleMunsey.pdf>.

Press. [online] Available at: <http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz>.

Wilson, J., 2005. Christchurch City Contextual History Overview. Theme IV: Industry and Commerce. [online] Available at: <http://resources.ccc.govt.nz>.

16 thoughts on “Fizz, bang, pop!: Christchurch’s early soda water industry.

  1. Me and my gang of friends used to collect marble bottles as we called them in Reefton in the early 70s. We’d sell them for a dollar or two at Dossie Williams’s milk bar. What interests me is how many bottles used to say ‘remains the property of” ….. which indicates they were re-used? When I stayed on in Munich in the late 80s most of their beer bottles were reused, which I though was pretty cool.

    • Hi John,

      Yes, most of these bottles were returned to the soda manufacturer and re-used. Probably because they had to come from overseas, glass bottles were expensive and manufacturers (soda and beer etc) had to use them more than once to make up for the initial expense.

  2. Hi Jessie – do you have any information on The Centenary Wines, that were manufactured in Ferry Road Christchurch ?

  3. Hi, I have dug up a brown J. Robinson & Sons bottle with bicycle trade mark, from the old Dairy site in Heathcote Valley. Any idea on it’s age? Or value? A very nice bottle with interesting history.
    Steve Marsh

    • Hi Steve,

      Is the bottle in brown glass or brown glazed ceramic? Does it have any marks indicating whether the contents were aerated water or something else? J. Robinson & Sons were operating from 1882 – 1959, but I probably can’t narrow it down without seeing a picture of the bottle.

      Jessie.

  4. Hi Jessie,
    Yes the bottle is glass with join lines down each side. Nothing to suggest contents. Looks identical to the green Robinson bottle on this page.
    Markings on the bottom N I 2, A G N however difficult to make out and had to guess some of the characters.
    Have emailed a photo.
    Thanks Steve

  5. Hi Jessie

    My father had the business Centenary wines and areated waters. Chch. If you are interested in some information about this, drop me a line.

    Regards Brent Hulston

  6. We have a stoneware bottle with ballin bros on it pale brown on bottom green on top has any info of age value etc thankyou.

    • Hi Loraine,

      Ballin Brothers (Bernard and Louis) were aerated water manufacturers based in Christchurch from the late 1870s until the mid-late 20th century. Before they set up in Christchurch, they had emigrated from Hamburg in Germany to the gold rush on the West Coast and later in Thames, where they ran a store and a brewery respectively.

      Is there a trademark on the bottle? If the letters B B are in a diamond on the bottle, it dates from 1914 onwards. If there’s an eagle symbol, it will date prior to 1914. I’m afraid I can’t help with value, though, sorry.

      Cheers,
      Jessie.

  7. Hi Guys,

    I wonder if anyone can help me.

    I am researching my family Griffin – Nathaniel Griffin and his wife Mary
    were among the original settlers from the four ships in 1850.

    Their son Ernest William was born in 1853 and died in 1931 in Christchurch. His last Will and Testament says that he was a Soda Water Manufacturer in Christchurch. He retired around 1925c. If anyone could give me any info about him or point me in a direction for help I would be very grateful.

    Many thanks Mike Clarke (England)

    • Hi Mike,

      Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ve come across an Ernest Griffin yet. You might be able to find more information on him and his parents through Papers Past, an online repository of New Zealand newspapers from the 19th and early 20th centuries (https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers). I’ll let you know if we happen to come across him any time soon – I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more help.

      Cheers,
      Jessie.

    • In 1882 he was working for one of the Milsom’s soda water businesses, at either Lyttleton or Christchurch.

  8. Hi Jessie,

    Are you aware of Ballins Bro’s ever using a Double hexagonal logo with the letters B in each hexagon? only other mark on bottle (aside from double seams) is a 12 on base. It is a clear bottle somewhere between 6-10 oz’s.

    It has been found in Wellington region.

    Any help appreciated.

    Cheers,

    Ricky

    • Hi Ricky,

      Yes, the hexagon mark seems to be a feature of bottles dating from at least the 1920s onwards (it may be later, but I’m not sure). Ballins started using a double diamond during WWI (a diplomatic change from the Imperial German Eagle mark they were using before that) and then changed to the hexagon after that. We’ve only seen that mark on crown top soda bottles, but I can’t say for certain that those were the only bottle type it was used for. It might be worth contacting the Christchurch Antique Bottles and Collectables Club? They will know more about Ballins than I do, especially about their 20th century bottles. I can give you a contact email address if you want to try that route.

      Cheers
      Jessie.

  9. My great grandfather started Cowles and Son which later turned into quill Morris cowles. Do u know where I could get more info or see a bottle of theirs.

  10. Hi there. I found a quill Morris bottle today in lyttleton today. It come from the haul road above the port coal yards and was buried under some loess (wind blown material) I can send through a picture if u send me an email address

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