The 20th Century Bottle Cult

Welcome to the first ever Mumble ART-icle. The twenty-first century is trundling along nicely, thank-you very much, everybody is buzzing off the way social media & its connected devices have become our new brains, the way Burnley Football Club are firmly established in the Premier league, & also the way some things never change. Among these are the artistic aesthetics of a number of drink bottles established deep into the previous century, which this little article will be taking a look at forthwith. These drinks were essentially icons to be worshipped, & the idea then, as now, is to manipulate the public into buying said products with a certain sense of sleek, hypnotizing familiarity. Art sells, & of course, helps to sell.


The tooth-rotting recipe of Coca-Cola was born in the days of snake-oil, quack medicine & hucksters peddling patent remedies at travelling fairs. It would eventually become institutionalized in America, & then the world, whose most endearing legacy would be to change from green to red the clothing of Father Christmas in an early advertising campaign.


In 1915, they created the iconic glass Contour Bottle, which was designed to help Coca‑Cola stand out from other drinks at the time. The design brief was to ensure that the bottle was recognisable even in the dark. The bottle evolved thro’ the century, from its prim neolithic phase, thro’ the full-blooded Mae West curves of the 1920s, to their anti-buxom slenderization suggested by Raymond Loowy in the 50s. And sure, there’s nothing like holding a chilled bottle of coke on a hot day, when the anticipation of opening it & quaffing the sparkling remedy is a quasi-sexual experience.



The Dutch brewery, Grolsch, is over four centuries old. On entering the twentieth century, a certain company boss called Theo de Groen introduced the flip-top, or Quillfeldt stopper (after the inventor, Charles de Quillfeldt). The mouth of the bottle is sealed by a stopper, usually made of porcelain or plastic, fitted with a rubber gasket and held in place by a set of wires. The bottle can be opened and resealed repeatedly and without the use of a bottle opener, with the wires acting in the same way as a latch clamp. By the 1920s, almost everybody else in the brewery world began using the crown-top to bottle their beers, but Grolsch stuck to the flip-top & you’ve gotta admit, its a funky thing still. The bottles are useful to, in the 80s the cool kids threaded the bottle-tops thro’ their laces, while the rubber gaskets are used sometimes by guitarists as an improvised straplock. The bottle itself is also a triumph of the glass-blowers art, with its proper fancy insignia.


Perrier sells over a billion bottles of water a year, a large part of which is down to the familiarity of its bottle & its Art Nouveau-style logo, which ooze a seductive & stylish freshness for the thirsty. This quintessentially French objet d’art owes its fame to an Englishman, actually, St John Harmsworth. It all began at Les Bouillens, in Languedoc, whose natural spring had been used as a spa since Roman times. Local doctor Louis Perrier bought the spring in 1898 and operated a commercial spa there; he also bottled the naturally carbonated water which bubbled to the surface.


Enter Francophile Sir St John Harmsworth, a younger brother of publishing magnates Lord Rothermere and Lord Northcliffe, who bought the company from Dr Perrier & placed the water in the distinctively tapering bottle. It was modelled on a club-shape Harmsworth had seen out East, where he used to swing Indian clubs to exercise. Through his marketing efforts, the water was exported to all corners of the British Empire and also became popular with the Royal Family. Following the Second World War, Perrier was re-acquired by the French, & using chic advertising helped position the brand as desirable at a time when many people still thought that it was crazy to pay money for something you could get for free from a tap.


Newcastle Brown Ale, fondly nicknamed ‘Broon Dog,’ is a dusty throwback to a long-departed age, long before the homegenous & homegenized paradise of shopping malls & fast-food outlets that mark our modern world. In 1924 a gentleman called Colonel Porter came up with the recipe for the North East’s most famous tipple, who said of his potent new concoction: “We tried for a long time, all ends up. I wanted something different but not far too strong. No one was allowed to mention what was going on, but we varied it so much that few really knew.”


The brand should have been killed off in the 1960s, but managed to cling to life long enough to become fashionable once more, thro’ its strong indivuality, distinctive flavour & of couse its unique bottle.  The key to this bottle is less its shape & more its big, brashy blue star on the packaging which stands out a mile. Introduced in 1928, the year after the beer was launched, & while Newcastle United were champions for the England for the last time; the five points of the star represent the five founding breweries of Newcastle. By the late 1990s the beer was the most widely distributed alcoholic product in the UK & as the 2000s dawned, there were huge sales in the United States where fans included Dirty Harry star Clint Eastwood who said it was his favourite beer – all down, one expects, to that shiny blue star!

Damian Beeson Bullen

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