Sunday, 20 October 2013

Background to the Crown

Nothing to do with the monarchy. The crown meant is a crown cork and the title of a booklet produced by the Crown Cork Company.

I'd given little thought to stoppers before my current obsession with bottling. If pushed, I'd have said crown corks had been introduced a little before 1900 and that before that old-fashioned wine-style corks had been used. After reading the booklet, I'm much wiser. And that wisdom I'll be passing on.

A couple of words of warning. The booklet has no date. My guess, based on the style of the illustration would be 1950's or 1960's. It also lacks page numbers. It does name the author: Cecil J. Parker, Chief Chemist at the Southall Research Laboratories of the Crown Cork Company Limited.

We start with an account of early replacements for corks.

"The steady continuous growth of the industry which arose from these two modest beginnings brought with it the need for more and more bottles and for more efficient means of sealing. In point of numbers the demand for closures naturally exceeded by many times that of bottles, for whereas the former may be used but once, the latter is refilled several times over. It is interesting to note that although, particularly in Great Britain, the ordinary cork stopper, which was a "one use" device, took pride of place, the tendency of new inventions during several decades was to produce a closure which would have a life equal to that of the bottle and which in many instances formed almost an integral part of the same.

There was indeed no lack of inventive thought applied to the solution of the stopper problem. For some unfathomable reason it seemed that the one great urge of innumerable mechanically minded men over a period of many years was to introduce a new form of bottle closure. Imagination truly ran riot and some of the ideas evolved bordered on the fantastic. Simplicity of design and practicability were forgotten while intricacy and caprice raced hand in hand to the Application counter of the Patent Office.
"Background to the Crown" by Cecil J. Parker.

Interesting motivation that, to make a stopper with as long a life as the bottle it closed. One that, ironically, remains unfulfilled by the crown cork. Surely the kind of stopper, given the booklet was published by the Crown Cork Company, the text is trying to promote.

You may have noticed that the original text is a bit flowery. Reads like someone trying a bit too hard to me. (Something I can never be accused of. Trying too hard. I knock these posts off in 20 minutes before breakfast.)

"It is not the purpose here to discuss the merits and disadvantages of the thousand and one types of stoppers that were engendered in the brains of inventors prior to the appearance of the Crown Cork. Many were virtually stillborn and as many again enjoyed but a brief span of life before being thrown into the discard by the perplexed and harassed bottlers. Some of the more whimsical forms are shown herewith in Plates 1a and 1b, but all have perished "unwept, unhonoured and unsung".

Out of early chaos emerged three closures that were destined to survive the holocaust and in one case at least to endure to the present day. They owed their survival to the one characteristic they had in common — simplicity. The first of these was the interior glass marble which was kept pressed against a rubber ring in the bottle neck by the gas pressure of the beverage. It was invented by H. Codd in 1870 and had a life extending well into the memory of most of us. It was known generally as the Codd Stopper and used exclusively for minerals. It was simple and effective, but necessitated inversed filling. The seating of the rubber ring provided a breeding place for bacteria and breakage was a considerable item. This was not due to any weakness of the bottle, but rather to the cupidity of small boys who liked marbles. See Plate 2."

The bit about pop bottles closed with marbles should help date the piece. I'm a bit of an old bastard, but I can't remember those stoppers. I can remember my mum telling me about them. It always sounded a weird way to close a bottle to me. And not the most secure method. Even putting aside cleaning problems. "Most of us" implies that a mjority of people would still be able to remember them. And I think they fell into disuse around WW II. Late 1950's or early 1960's is my revised guess.

"The second survivor for many years was the levered wire bail stopper. The origin of this type of closure is obscure, but the earliest reference to it in its best known and simplest form is found in a patent taken out by W. J. King in 1888. See Plate 2. Other forms were introduced many years prior to this but were either without the lever action or else achieved the latter by more complicated design. This stopper had a much greater vogue on the Continent than in Great Britain and is possibly still on use there."
"Background to the Crown" by Cecil J. Parker.

Mmm. For an expert on bottle closings the author seems remarkably ignorant of what went on in the rest of Europe. Flip-top ceramic stoppers definitely never went out of use in continental Europe.

"The third, and so far as this country is concerned, the only present day survivor of the trio is the yet familiar screw stopper. It is used as we are well aware almost exclusively for the largest sized beer bottles. Its continued use is due to the fact that it provides a quick and efficient re-seal when only part of the bottle's contents have been consumed. Here again its beginning is rather obscure, although its prototype was clearly indicated in a patent of 1876 by one S. Walker. This would appear to be one of the first screw stoppers to have been applied to an interior thread formed in the glass and employing a rubber ring washer. It will be noted — Plate 3 — that a sharp thread was used, but this was modified in a later patent by H. Barrett, 1879, when the coarse pitched rounded thread as used to-day was introduced. Plate 3."
"Background to the Crown" by Cecil J. Parker.

Ah, more dating evidence. I can remember internal screw stoppers. Just. Last time I spotted them in the wild must have been about 1978 in Mr. Fisher's shop and offie on Brudenell Road in Leeds. Sealing quart bottles of something from the Whitbread brewery in Kirkstall. Which confirms what the author says about them being used for larger bottles. Both quart bottles and internal screw stoppers weren't common after the mid 1960's. Newly-revised date guess: late 1950's.

There's quite a bit more of this. I would say: "Tell me to stop when you've had enough." But we both know I wouldn't listen.


Bea said...

While sitting in the sun on the rocks of the Falls of Dochart in Klllin paddling in the water, we found a bottle stopper. Thanks to your blog post, we were able to figure out that it's one of the Barratt bottle stoppers from "McLennan & Urquhart Dalkeith", dated 1939. Thanks for you blog. :-)

Ron Pattinson said...


that's a great find. McLennan & Urquhart are one of the Scottish breweries that fascinate me.