By Jane Eastman
The sight of the gleam of any glass in the river gravels always makes your heart start to race! Sometimes it can be just wishful thinking, as you find yourself lifting a 1990s milk bottle from the silt, full to the brim with green algae, as if to cruelly mimic antique aqua glass! Old bottles are often well disguised, enveloped in a thick crusty build-up caused by the alkali chalk stream environment. However, with a lot of luck and a little experience, the crusted overall shape of a Codd bottle is unmistakable. Side on or slightly base up is how they usually present themselves, as you scour the river bed for treasure.
Underwater bottle digging is a labor of love, a tricky job when antique glass has become part of the river bed for 150 years and more. The water is often fast and deep, and you need to hold your glass bottomed bucket to see what you are trying to dig out, one-handed! You hold your breath and keep going, trying to stay steady, and just hoping that the bottle is intact. While these thick and heavy bottles look indestructible by today’s standards, the Codd had its nemesis: the kids who, for generations, had smashed them to bag the precious marble held inside. Luckily for me, once a bottle had been discarded into the waters here, it was usually out of easy reach of little hands and this is why I am incredibly lucky to still find them intact.
Carbonated drinks were first made by an Englishman named Joseph Priestley in 1772. The fizz was immediately popular, but the problem was to be able to bottle it without losing the cork, which would loosen under the pressure as it dried out in the bottle. The Hamilton bottle of 1814 (after a patent by William Hamilton) addressed this problem: with pointy torpedo shaped bases, the bottles had to be stored on their sides.
These Hamilton bottles were popular, but still not terribly practical, and so next came along perhaps the most famous nineteenth-century solution to the issue of bottling fizzy drinks: the internal stoppered Codd bottle. This bottle is named after Hiram Codd who lodged his first patent for a drinks bottle with a marble stopper in 1870. This was a work in progress, but by 1873, in partnership with Ben Rylands of Barnsley, Codd had developed a version with internal lugs and an inner rubber ring, to capture a marble in the bottle neck, both to seal the bottle and control the flow of liquid when poured. When filled, the gas pressure forced the marble against the rubber ring in the neck to seal it. To pour out the liquid, the marble was pressed down with a wooden cap and plunger, or more conveniently, the thumb.
Codd effectively franchised his bottle. The glass makers were required to buy the marbles, washers, and tooling from him, and the mineral water companies had to purchase a license. Ben Rylands was granted the first license in 1874, numbered “4,” and I have been lucky to find one, sadly broken, but still an example of the early design in use up to about 1881. Until I find an intact example I shall treasure this bottle!
In the late 1880s, Codd’s patent expired and the market was flooded with a range of designs, all based on Codd’s original concept. Over the next 30 years, literally hundreds of patents were launched. We start to see bottles of all shapes, sizes, and colors, some with different colored lips (known as “anti-theft”), others with different colored marbles, oval marbles (to deter deliberate breakages), wooden stoppers: the possibilities were seemingly endless.
So far, I have found examples from five mineral water companies that were trading in my local search area between the end of the nineteenth century and up into the early 1930s.
A. Faithfull of Winchester decorated their bottles with an elaborate monogrammed design, changing the branding frequently throughout the course of its 60-year trading history (approximately 1885–1940). I have found six variations of Codd bottles made for them and have little doubt that there are probably more: the prospect of a new discovery is always at the back of your mind whenever a bottle is lifted from the riverbed. There is no printed resource, the history of these local companies is currently held in the combined knowledge of the bottle hunters and collectors who trade information as well as glass at the local bottle shows.
The most striking Codd bottle by A. Faithfull found so far is the Dan Rylands Reliance patent bottle. Introduced in 1885, it features distinctive grooved recesses on both shoulders and looks very different from any other Codd I have come across.
My favorite Codd bottles are those produced by Wilfred Andrews, a mineral water manufacturer that was based at various sites in Winchester, Andover and Broughton, Hampshire (1897-1964). Wilfred Andrews was one of only a handful of firms that used a cobalt blue marble. I have been very lucky to have found six different blue-marbled Codd bottles and altogether ten of the 17 known variants that were produced by this firm. My small six-ounce bottle is very damaged at the neck, but so few have been discovered that this is still a treasured find.
The dream would be to collect them all, but in the meantime, I just love to get out there, enjoy the beautiful river and to wonder, what else lies beneath.
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine November/December 2020 issue.
Wade for treasures with Jane Eastman of My Ordinary Treasure
Come along as Jane Eastman @myordinarytreasure takes us on a video virtual beachcombing trip to some of her favorite rivers in England, where she finds treasures buried for centuries in the silt. She also shares some of her favorite pieces in her collection, and gives a brief history of some notable finds.