Object histories in my garden #5: Fragment of a Codd-neck bottle

The things we find in the garden, digging out new beds and extending old ones, have added to my knowledge of all sorts of random things.  Until Joe found the Edisbury bottle in the garden (Edisbury was a 19th century Wrexham pharmacist), I had no idea that during the 19th century, when sparkling carbonated water was a new concept, special bottles had to be designed to keep in the fizz.  The Edisbury bottle that we found was not for sparkling water, but a fragment of a bottle that we found a few weeks ago, which was a complete puzzle, turns out to be part of the new carbonated water revolution.  It was stopped with a marble that was held in place in the neck by the pressure of the gas from below.  Fantastic.

It doesn’t look like much, and has to be seen in the context of complete examples for it to make any sense at all.  Sorting out books from my move in February (it is still taking forever to organize my books), I found a long-forgotten Shire Publications book entitled Bottles and Bottle Collecting, which I bought during my Thames mudlarking phase.  Just flipping through before deciding where it should go, and noting that it covers stoneware as well as glass bottles, I spotted a photograph on page 12 showing three Codd bottles.  What on earth is a Codd bottle?

Photograph on page 12 of “Bottles and Bottle Collecting” (Hedges 1988), annotated to show the section of a similar bottle found in the garden

In 1772 Joseph Priestley began to manufacture carbonized waters, which fizzed.  Stoneware was the traditional vessel for mineral-based drinks and tonics, but the gas leached out through the fabric.  Cork-stopped glass was the obvious solution, but the gas could built up to the point where the cork blew out, which both wasted the valuable product and created a considerable mess in the process.  One solution was the torpedo- or amphora-shaped bottle with a pointed base that had to be stored on its side, keeping the cork and the fluid in contact, which kept the cork moist, preventing shrinkage, which kept the cork in situ.  These were considerably unpopular, as storage was always a problem.  Wired-on corks were one solution, also unpopular, and in 1875 Hiram Codd came up with an entirely novel way of solving the problem that became very popular.

Hiram Codd. Source: Findagrave.com

Hiram Codd was very much a man of his era.  His father had been a carpenter, but by his early 20s, Codd was establishing himself as a mechanical engineer and went to work for the British and Foreign Cork Company, working to improve the cork production process.  As a specialist in bottle closures he realized that corks had certain limitations, and began to look at alternatives, carrying out experiments in a small mineral water works in Islington.  In 1872 he secured backing by Richard Barrett, whose two sons owned the Malvern Mineral Water Co. in Camberwell.  With this investment, he was able to develop his globe-stopper.

Banta bottle from Kerala, India. Source: Wikipedia

Codd’s innovation used a thick-walled bottle, a cleverly shaped neck with lugs, and a glass marble-sized globe as a stopper, which was forced towards the opening of the bottle by the gases, where it was stopped by a rubber ring.  In order for this to work, the bottle had to be filled upside down so that the marble could rise to the top to seal.  Two lugs were designed into the bottle, as shown in the fragment, and to pour the drink the marble had to be pushed down to the flanking lugs, where it became trapped, enabling the drink to be poured.  He patented many different versions of the basic scheme in order to try and find the perfect and definitive solution.

In spite of other innovations for stopping bottles, the design was still in common use throughout the 1920s, going out of use in the UK by the end of the 1930s. Dad says that he can remember them during the Second World War.  Superbly, the Codd bottle is still in popular use in India, popular for a drink called Banta.  One of the staggering things of the years of the Industrial Revolution until the late 19th Century was the tidal wave of innovation and the thousands of inventions that emerged, many of them small but fascinating like this one, and all devised to solve specific problems that arose as new products and new ideas emerged.

The survival rate of Codd bottles is poor, as many were deliberately broken by children trying to get at the marbles they contained.  It is has been suggested that the term codswallop (meaning nonsense, something that makes no sense) is derived from Hiram Codd’s bottles.  I’m absolutely not convinced, but you can Google it.

Photograph showing the neck of a Codd bottle with a marble in situ. The pale blue marbles were much in demand by small boys 🙂 Source: Drinking Cup

For other objects in the series,
see the History in Garden Objects page


Books and papers:

Hedges, A. A. C. 1988.  Bottles and Bottle Collecting.  Shire Album 6.

Munsey, C. 2010. Codd (Marble-In-The-Neck) Soda-Water Bottles, Then and Now!




Drinking Cup
The invention of soda water

Hiram Codd


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