Fizzy drinks, the Codd patent bottle and some experimental archaeology

When aerated mineral water drinks were first manufactured way back in the eighteenth century, they were stored in stoneware bottles. But the gas often escaped, the fizz disappeared and the drinks became flat. When glass bottles were used, a different problem popped up. Literally. The pressure of the gas in the bottles could force the cork stopper out, especially if the cork was dry. Again, no fizz. In 1809, William Hamilton invented a round-bottomed bottle to solve the problem. This bottle had to lie on its side, the corks stayed wet, the drinks stayed fizzy. Hamilton bottles were very popular right through to about 1900. However, they did have a tendency to roll off shelves and they were hard to transport.

Enter Hiram Codd, an English mechanical engineer, who lodged his first patent for the Codd bottle in 1870. Codd’s ingenious invention used a flat-bottomed bottle and sealed it with a marble stopper instead of a cork. The pressure of the aerated water was used to force the marble against a rubber washer in the neck. To open the bottle, the user pushed the marble down where it rolled happily into a channel designed for this purpose.

In Australia, Codd bottles became available in the 1880s and were used widely until the mid-1930s. Many didn’t survive because children would break them to get the marbles. But the one in this picture did, and you can see the marble still safe inside. It was made for the M.W. Co-operative Company of Adelaide. And we can date it to between 1893 and 1907, because on the base there’s an upper case ‘H’ in an embossed circle that indicates it was made by the Adelaide Glass Works. These glassworks were established by Gustav Henrichson at Croydon in 1893 and bought by the Melbourne Glassworks in 1907.

Well, that was mildly interesting historical information, you’re probably thinking. But, remarkably, Codd bottles are still being made in Japan. The Ramune carbonated soft drink comes in a variety of flavours including blueberry, cherry, cola, green apple, green tea, melon and strawberry. You can buy them in Adelaide, I discovered to my delight. There’s a strawberry one in the image below, and you can see how similar it is in design to the nineteenth century original.

19th century and 21st century Codd bottles

And now for some experimental archaeology. We start by opening the bottle, as indicated in the pictures below. First, peel off the plastic wrapper, making sure to first take a close look at the instructions. The bottle top is revealed with the marble in situ. Click out the green plastic bottle opener (these were made of wood in the old days, and you can use your thumb if you prefer). Place the opener on top of the bottle, press down firmly for about five seconds. And, like magic, with a satisfying pop, the marble dislodges and falls down into the channel. If you drink with the two indentations (the ones like alien eyes) facing you, the marble is contained there while you indulge in the strawberry flavoured contents.

But there’s more. A further experiment. The really smart thing about the Codd bottle was that the glass marble could be brought back into position after being opened so that the remaining liquid was sealed in. You just put your finger over the opening, shake vigorously for a few seconds, turn the bottle upside down so the marble moves back to the seal, then remove your finger. Although I discovered that this is a really difficult action to photograph when you’re the only person in the house, I offer the images below as proof that it really does work. In the first photo, I’ve put the marble back successfully and it’s no longer in the channel. Second and third photos, I’ve re-opened the bottle, and the marble is back in the channel, then resealed it, no marble in channel and also a reducing level of liquid as I’ve needed sustenance during the process. Fourth photo, proof that the bottle doesn’t leak.

And finally … there’s a legend that the Codd bottle gave rise to the term ‘codswallop’. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable states that ‘wallop’ is a slang term for beer, and ‘Codd’s wallop’ became a disparaging term among beer drinkers to describe those who drank mineral waters and ‘weak’ drinks.

Ayto, J. (ed.) 2007 Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
Boouw, J. 1991 Early Australian Commercial Glass: Manufacturing Processes. Sydney: Heritage Council of NSW.
Vader, J. and B. Murray 1975 Antique Bottle Collecting in Australia. Sydney: Ure Smith.

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4 Responses to Fizzy drinks, the Codd patent bottle and some experimental archaeology

  1. GenieJen says:

    That was fascinating. I had no idea they were still made and on sale in Adelaide. Thanks

  2. cshowe says:

    Fascinating stuff. And you slipped in codswallop, the best word I haven´t heard for ages! Thank you. I used to live near a contemporary glass factory in West Croydon with some history, they claimed it was one of the largest in the southern hemisphere. I toured it once and the molten glass in action was quite spectacular.

    • sarthure says:

      Thanks Claire. I think I shall start using codswallop more in general conversation. And I always think factories are really interesting. Especially when they’re in inner cities, that mix of industry and residences.

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