July 21, 2017 - In 1979, Wayne Fults found an odd bottle marked “Jasper Bottling Works” in a gulley in Sabine County. Having grown up around Pineland, he was no stranger to old “coke bottles” in ditches, but this one was different. It was short, thick, and had some sort of wire aparatus in the opening. Fults assumed it had been the product of a bottle manufacturer in Jasper but he wanted to know more. Thus began a nearly 40 year fascination with antique soft drink bottles that Mr. Fults shared with the Timpson Area Genealogical and Heritage Society at their July meeting last Wednesday.
Fults showed the strange bottle to his grandfather, who had been born in 1895, to see if he could shed any light on Wayne's find. His grandfather knew exactly what it was: an old “sody water” bottle. Wayne's grandfather said he had first seen “sody water” in Center when he was a boy. It was in just such a bottle that he and other family members were given one soda water each by a store operator. His grandfather twisted and pulled on the wire in the stopper but it would not come out. Finally his brother showed him that one opened the bottle by striking the wire with one's hand, forcing the stopper down into the bottle with a “pop”. His grandfather's soda was strawberry flavored and he, having never had a soft drink before, turned it up and tried to gulp it down. Fults says the soda foamed up in his grandfather's mouth, came out his nose, burning all the way, and got all over his fresh clothes. The experience was so unpleasant that he never drank another soft drink.
Naturally effervescent beverages like beer and some wines have existed for thousands of years, but the process by which this effervescence could be added artificially wasn't discovered until the 19th century. These “carbonated” soft drinks could only be found at the soda fountain of pharmacies, served from the spigot in a glass. Bottling soda water was another matter. It was easy to produce a bottle thick enough to withstand the pressure created by a carbonated drink, but it was not until 1894 that a patent was issued for the Hutchinson Patent Spring Stopper, the type first encountered by Wayne's grandfather, which used a wire device to hold the stopper inside, rather than outside, the bottle. The pressure inside the bottle pressed the rubber and steel stopper ever more tightly against the inside of the bottle's opening, creating an effective seal and making the bottling of carbonated soft drinks possible. Only by pushing the stopper back into the bottle could the bottle's contents be accessed. Soft drink bottlers began opening up all over, ordering their Hutchinson bottles from large glass factories in the North, but having their company's name molded into the side, as in Wayne's Jasper Bottling Works bottle.
Fults doesn't know when the first Timpson Bottling Works opened, but assumes it was around 1900. He thinks it is possible that there was more than one bottler given that some early bottles in his collection are marked Timpson Bottling Works, while other Hutchinson bottles of the same era are marked Timpson Bottling Company, with variations thereof. Because the stopper of a Hutchinson bottle could not be removed, washing and sanitizing the bottle for re-filling was difficult. The invention of the familiar crimped metal crown cap in the early 20th century spelled the end of the Hutchinson bottle but it allows bottle collectors to date a bottle's manufacture.
Fult's has a number of Timpson Hutchinson bottles as well as later crown-cap bottles in his collection. However, he has never seen a Timpson bottle from the 1920s, leading him to conclude that Timpson Bottling Works failed in the teens, possibly as early as 1913. This theory is supported by the fact that he has a newspaper article from 1928 announcing that a bottling plant was coming to Timpson. The bottles in Wayne's collection from the early 20th century are all of the “utilitarian” type, with no ornamentation. Those from the 1930's are in the “art deco” style, with greater attention to aesthetics and ornamentation in their design. Margie Holt brought one of that style to the meeting, which Mr. Fults revealed was from 1931 by decoding the numbers stamped on the bottle's bottom.
Mr. Fults brought an astonishing array of Timpson bottles for display at the meeting, including both Hutchinson and crown-cap types in different variations. Some were stamped Timpson Bottling Works, while others were stamped Timpson Bottling Company, or TBW. He also displayed three wooden soft drink cases marked Timpson Bottling Works, which he says would have been used for shipping new bottles as well as the collection of used bottles for return to the plant for re-filling. Unlike more familiar crown-cap bottle cases, these Hutchinson bottle cases have lids and were designed to have the bottle placed top down rather than up. Another unusual item he displayed was a crown-cap Timpson Bottling Works bottle about 20% larger than the other bottles. He has never seen another like it and doubts that it was used for soft drinks, but possibly syrup or perhaps even beer. No one in attendance knew its purpose either.
Mr. Fults was accompanied to the meeting by Casey Roby, a fellow collector who is putting together a bottling museum in Silsbee. Casey said the displays are about 80% complete and he hopes to have it open soon. A number of other bottle collectors had seen the announcements of the subject and theis month's TAGHS meeting and came as guests as well. Wayne still seekes out bottles from East Texas and Western Louisiana and maintains a website featuring his collection at fults.org.
The Timpson Area Genealogical and Heritage Society meets on the third Wednesday of each month at 2PM in the meeting room of the Timpson Public Library, located on the Corner of Austin and Bremond Streets. The public is always invited.