Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Weird stoppers

I'm continuing with the very informative account of the history of beer bottle stoppers. I know. This blog has hit a new low. The really sad bit is that I really am finding it fascinating.

The crown cork is so simple, cheap, easy to remove you wonder why it wasn't developed earlier. Instead there were plenty of whacko and totally impractical solutions kicked around. The first - finding ways getting an unwired cork to remain in place - was never going to fly.

"The defenders of the long stopper did not, however, give in without a struggle and attempts were made by altering the shape of the bottle neck to enable it to withstand higher internal pressures without resorting to wiring. Various patents were issued embodying different principles, some of which are illustrated in Plate 4.

J. Yeo in 1879 concentrated on the idea of neck designs in which the cork was subjected to side pressure only. H. T Lufwin in 1880 was one among several who made use of a metal pin through the stopper and P. England in 1887 introduced an offset bottle neck in order to increase the frictional hold. The patents of Yeo and England would obviously have met strong opposition from the bottle makers owing to the technical problem of reproducing the shapes required in the glass, to say nothing of the difficulty which would be encountered in drawing the cork in the case of the latter. Lufwin's idea was objectionable from the point of view of the use of a sharp spike and the necessity of fitting it by hand in each bottle."
"Background to the Crown" by Cecil J. Parker.

Most of those necks look like they wouldn't pour very well. And you'd have to hold the bottle the right way. Lufwin's design, on the other hand, looks plain scary. What would happen when you tried to take out the cork from a bottle with too much pressure in it? I can imagine that spike flying out in an eyewards direction. Wouldn't that be fun? Risking your sight every time you drank a bottle of beer.

Bottles like that would probably have been a bugger to clean, too. Something which would really have put bottlers off them.

I'm sure Cecil Perker would be amazed (and a little dismayed) at how many bottles are sealed with corks today. Especially as he worked for a manufacturer of a rival stopper. I'm not sure what I think of corked and caged beer bottles myself. I'll admit that they look classy. But opening them isn't my favourite passtime - I can also imagine a cork flying eyewards. And they form a very imperfect seal. Longterm, a beer is going to struggle to remain carbonated. Like Harvey's Imperial Stout. Cracking beer, but I've only had one bottle with a normal level of carbonation. Then there's the problem of "corking" - fungus growing on the cork tainting the contents. Really not nice.

Others were busy with a different kind of stopper.

"The early attempts at closure simplification contained in general the same basic principle, that is to say employment of a cap easily stamped out from sheet metal and in most of them the utilisation of a thickened neck ring to the bottle under which the cap was to take hold.

One of the first to introduce a preformed dished cap was B. Martin in 1878 — see Plate 5 — who employed a separate outer holding band bent at intervals under the shoulder of the container. No provision was apparently made for a sealing gasket, but the fundamental idea of the two-piece cap was sound and indeed persists to-day in the well known band cap, used chiefly for wide mouthed closures."
"Background to the Crown" by Cecil J. Parker.

The well-known band cap? Not well known by me. If you know what he means by this, let me know. I've genuinely no idea.

Here are some other experiments with metal caps:

"Two months later in the same year a patent was issued to W. E. Gedge for a one-piece cap of sheet metal, the lower edge of which was spun under the shoulder of the glass by means of a wheel which was pressed against it while the container was rotated in a machine. An india-rubber washer was used as sealing medium. Cork discs were evidently used as well, for in 1887 we patent taken out by C. Laurent covering the use of gold-beaters skin as a facing to the cork in this type of cap. Plate 6.

Also in 1887 a closure was patented by J. Holmes which consisted of a dished cap with a flanged edge, in which a packing ring of cork formed a side seal on the container. Plate 5.

H. J. Haddan followed soon with a sheet metal cap containing a very thick cork washer. As will be seen in Plate 6, this was deep in section and was provided with a number of dependent lugs though the extremities of which a wire was threaded. When the wire loop was tightened a gripping action was obtained below the shoulder provided around the bottle neck."
"Background to the Crown" by Cecil J. Parker.

Mmm. Gedge's cap looks very much like a crown cork to me. Except for bit about attaching it with a wheel. There's something else I don't understand. I can't see what's holding on the cap designed by Holmes. Surely it needs to hook under something at the mouth of the bottle?

Haddan's cap with its lugs and wire, sounds as complicated as a flip-top stopper. Wasn't that exactly the sort of thing they were trying to avoid?

The last one is a variation on that design, but even less practical, by the look of it. It doesn't even look as if it's forming a proper seal.

"In a specification of November 1888 issued by E. L. Blake and J. Wild—see Plate—there was a modification of the Haddan cap in which the body was shallower and the lugs were clipped on to a spring band. The glass finish was practically identical with that of the Haddan patent but the holding point was beneath the reinforcing ring instead of the lower shoulder.
"Background to the Crown" by Cecil J. Parker.

We've not finished with the weird stoppers quite. Did brewers ever use the devices at a commercial level? I'd love to know.  Unfortunately the author doesn't mention anything about that. The band cap presumably was, as it's mentioned that it was still in use. But what about the others?


mentaldental said...

Lots of ingenuity on display in these stopper designs but little appliction of the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Sucker).

Jouni Koskinen said...

Just a pure guess, but could the "well-known band cap" be a pull-off cap? The kind that you still see occasionally on soft drinks? It has sort of a "band" that is pulled off.

This: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pull-off_bottle_cap

Ron Pattinson said...


I'd been wondering if it were that type of top. But it seems to be more modern - that link says 1930's.

kaszeta said...

To your knowledge, have any beer bottlers used the Codd Neck Bottle (A glass ball stopper)?

Ron Pattinson said...


I've not seen an example, but I text implies that it was used in the 19th century.

Craig said...

I found this website to be very interesting - lots of pictures:

The article mentions band caps.