Q: Reader Matt Collom of Healdsburg wrote, “I have a Coca-Cola bottle patented Nov. 16, 1915. The bottom is embossed with “Santa Rosa and Sebastopol.” I’m trying to figure out where and when this bottle came into existence.
A: Well, it took us awhile, but we found the answer. Despite the local names embossed on the bottom of the bottle, according to the nation’s foremost Coke bottle historians Bill Porter and Roger Koch, your bottle was not made in Santa Rosa or Sebastopol. It was made by the Illinois-Pacific Glass Corporation (IPG), a large bottle maker in Los Angeles, for the Coca-Cola plants in Santa Rosa and Sebastopol.
Porter and Koch predicted that, if Collum looked closely, he would find an IPG triangle embossed on the bottom rim of the bottle, along with the number 7, which stood for the year 1927. IPG only lasted from 1926 to 1929 before it was bought by another glassmaker and changed its mark. When Collum checked the bottle, sure enough, there it was.
So there you have it: the mystery bottle was made in Los Angeles in 1927 for two Sonoma County Coca-Cola bottlers.
But the story doesn’t end there. Our search for the bottle’s origins took us down a rather deep rabbit hole. Along the way we learned a lot about some important players in Sonoma County’s early industrial history and about the history of Coca-Cola in the county.
Bottling empires of Sonoma County
Perhaps because of its long history as a center of apple processing, Sebastopol had several bottling plants. Laura Schafer, a docent at the West County Museum, said there were a couple of different bottling plants in Sebastopol that bottled soda water and soda pop. These included Crystal Bottling Company, Kist Bottling Works and Sebastopol Bottling Works, which was purchased by George Sollars in 1922. Sollars also operated White Diamond Soda Works, which he renamed Coca-Cola Bottling Works, Sebastopol, after he bought the franchise in 1924.
Sollars died just seven years later, at the age 39, while having a tooth extracted under anesthetic in a doctor’s office in Sebastopol, an event marked in this newspaper, which was then known as the Sebastopol Times.
According to Santa Rosa bottle expert John C. Burton, “Edmund Meyer purchased Sebastopol Bottling Works” from Sollars’ widow in 1931. Meyer already owned the Santa Rosa Coca-Cola bottling plant and would soon open one in San Rafael as well. He ran the Sebastopol plant for a few months concurrently with his own plant in Santa Rosa, then closed the Sebastopol bottling plant down. It is assumed that he bought the plant primarily for the franchise rights and the territory that went with it.
What’s with the 1915 patent date on the bottle?
Why does a bottle made in 1927 carry a patent date from 1915? It has to do with the Coca-Cola company’s plan to make its bottle as memorable as possible.
Coca-Cola was created as a soda fountain drink in 1886 and was first bottled in 1899. The earliest version of the bottle was a simple, straight-sided “Hutchinson” bottle with a metal stopper. The next version in 1906 was a generic-looking amber-colored or clear bottle with straight sides that tapered at the top.
In 1915 the Coca-Cola Bottlers Association offered $500 for a new bottle design that would make Coca-Cola instantly recognizable on the shelf by its shape alone. That’s when the shape we recognize today as the Coke bottle was born.
The shapely glass bottle, known as the contour, was patented by the Root Glass Company in 1915, according to the Coca-Cola Company website. It was known as the “Hobbleskirt” design and was just 6 ounces. (This was before the age of super-sizing.)
All bottles using this design carry the patent date “November 16, 1915” on the front of the bottle. It’s color — that blue green — is known as “Georgia green,” in honor of Coca-Cola’s home state.
The 1915 design didn’t actually go into production until late 1916 or 1917. It was phased in slowly over a couple of years to give Coca-Cola bottlers a chance to use up their old bottles. Though it was advertised to the trade in 1917, the new bottle shape didn’t appear in Coca-Cola’s mainstream commercial advertising until 1918. When Sollars was awarded the Coca-Cola franchise in 1923, he started running Coke ads with the 1915 patented bottle in the Sebastopol Times.
A new, slimmer bottle with a slight indentation above and below the embossed Coca-Cola was patented in 1924, but according to Koch, it wasn’t produced until 1928. Instead, the 1915 patent was used on bottles until 1929.
From game to collectible
The towns where Coca-Cola was bottled were embossed on the bottom of bottles until the early 1960s. In the ’50s, teenagers played a game called "the distance game" while drinking Cokes. They’d look at the towns embossed on the bottom of each of their bottles, and the one with the bottle that came from most distant city was the winner. Some people collected the bottles from every state, much like children collect state quarters today.
Antique enthusiasts still collect vintage Coke bottles. Our expert informants, Bill Porter and Roger Koch, two of the nation’s top experts on Coca-Cola bottles and their history, are avid collectors.
“I tried to get a hobbleskirt bottle from every city, then as many types as were made, then varieties,” said Bill Porter, author of The Coke Bottles Checklist. Porter said there were about 1,520 bottling cities at one time, and he’s got around 1,505 of them. “I believe no one else has come close to 1,500 different cities,” he said.
Every collector takes a slightly different approach.
“My principal collection is straight side Coca-Cola bottles that are of the pre-1915 style,” Koch said. He has approximately 1,800 of those bottles. “I only collect Coca-Cola embossed hobbleskirt bottles from California. I have 217 of them comprised of 1915, 1923, D-105529, USPO 6 oz. & USPO 6½ oz. I have the most complete collection of California hobbleskirts known.”
Some bottles are more valuable than others. One of the original test bottles from the 1915 bottle contest sold at auction for $240,000 in 2011, according to Food and Wine Magazine. Right now, an original Coca-Cola bottle from the 1915 bottle marked “San Francisco” is on sale on eBay for $4,500.
What about Matt Collom’s coke bottle? Though Koch called it “rare,” it’s not worth a lot of money. By the late 1920s, bottles like these were being turned out by the millions, and the company started selling them in six-packs.
In terms of the bottle’s value, Koch said, “Hobbleskirt bottles have had a rough past few years as prices have generally declined.”
Burton said a “Santa Rosa & Sebastopol” bottle, just like this one, sold at the Reno Bottle Show this July for $30. Koch said, “I have someone with this bottle on their “want” list, and he would be willing to offer $50 for it.”
All in all, it’s probably worth more as a reminder of west county’s industrial past and the part it played in the early days of one of America’s most famous companies.
Is there something you’ve been wondering about west county — something about local politics, local people or even local history — that would make a good news story? We want to hear from you.The idea is simple: You ask a question, and we track down the answer. For more information or to submit a question, go to sonomawest.com and click on the SoCurious tab.