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