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Opinion: Should’ve saved that Coke bottle

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Commentary by Ward Degler

By the way, there is an un-opened 1950s vintage bottle of Coca-Cola for sale on eBay. The last asking price I saw was $9,000.

I’m trying to get my head around that. When that bottle popped out of the vending machine in 1950, it cost a nickel. More ludicrous still, when you returned the empty bottle, you got your nickel back.

Most soft drinks come in aluminum cans today, a trend that kicked into high gear in the 1960s as a cost-effective alternative to glass bottles. Cans are recycled. Bottles were refilled, a pricy and sometimes iffy process.

But back in the day, soda came in bottles. RC, Pepsi, 7-up, Dr. Pepper and most other brands came in straight-sided bottles, distinguished from one another only by the logo on the bottle.

Coke was different. It’s bottles were contour shaped. In 1915, the call went out to glass bottle manufacturers to come up with a new design for Coca-Cola bottles, something that would set Coke apart from the rest of the herd.

The Root Glass Company of Terre Haute was declared the winner with a contour shaped bottle of green glass. The new bottle went on the market in 1916.

For the next decade or so, the Root company mined some 20,000 tons of sandstone annually from the banks of the Wabash River in Putnam County. The sand contained a high copper content, which translated to green glass, which became known world-wide as Coca-Cola green.

Coke became fiercely protective of its new bottle. The shape was patented and manufacturing lots were numbered. Bottles remained the property of Coca-Cola, and some were stamped, “Not for Sale,” and “Must be Returned” on the bottom of the bottles. Others had “Registered Trademark” stamped next to the Coca-Cola name.

The Root Glass Company went out of business in 1932, another casualty of the Great Depression. The Coke bottle business spread to glassworks around the globe. Each city stamped the bottom of its bottles.

A friend and I used to take a Coke break mid-afternoons. We’d put our nickels in the machine and then we’d bet another nickel on the bottle. We’d check the city name on the bottom, and whichever bottle came from the farthest away was the winner.

Mostly, our bottles came from Birmingham, Atlanta and Miami. Some from Kansas City and St. Louis. I once won big with a bottle from Mexico City. He trumped that with one from Singapore.

Now a bottle of Coke is worth $9,000. If I had only known.


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