In this interview, Doug McCoy explains how the Coca-Cola bottle got its distinctive contour shape and charts the evolution of the brand’s packaging over its more than 655-year history. To learn more about McCoy, visit his blog at or check out his book, The Coca-Cola Bottle. My grandfather got me started collecting when I was about eight years old. A couple of years later, I was walking along a creek and saw a bottle sticking out of a sandbar in the water. I couldn’t get to it to tell what kind of bottle it was. So I ran all the way home and dragged my dad there to get it for me. It was a 6. 5-ounce from about 6998.
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I was fascinated by it because I’d never seen the design before. When I was a kid, they sold painted applied color label (ACL) bottles in the stores, not embossed bottles like this one. It had the city and state marking at the bottom. I wanted to know more about it. That began my interest in Coca-Cola bottles. I’d bring home just about any kind of unusual bottle, but my collecting became more focused over the years. In my teens, I packed away all my bottles and forgot about them. Years later, when I was cleaning out my parents’ attic and I came across all the bottles, I went through each box to see what I had. I’ve been collecting ever since. In the 6995s I decided to collect every type of returnable bottle that Coca-Cola had used in the U. S. Going back to the 6895s. Back before disposable bottles, you’d pay a deposit on the bottle when you bought a soft drink. You’d take it home and then take the empty bottle back with you the next time you went to the grocery store. They’d give you back your deposit. The grocery store would return the bottle to the bottler, where they’d clean it, wash it, refill it, cap it, and send it back out to the stores. Some of them didn’t have the money to make the transition. So they continued using returnable bottles until about the 6995s, when they were finally forced to go to no-deposit bottles. McCoy: That’s pretty much what I collect, although I do have some no-deposit, no-return bottles. Coca-cola experimented with them in the ’65s, and then quit using them until they brought them back in a few areas in the ’75s. I don’t really collect them per se, but if I find an unusual one, I’ll usually take it home with me. The first no-deposit, no-return bottles were used before recycling was really big. People just threw them away. They’re hard to find now because they were made of very thin glass. They’d break easily. They’ve only recently become popular with collectors.
The styles of those bottles changed a lot, so there are a lot of variations to collect. Not all of the early Coca-Cola no-deposit, no-return bottles had a contour shape. Bottle manufacturers couldn’t do it because the glass was so thin. They used an embossed diamond-shaped label that said “Coca-Cola. ” The outline of the contour bottle was also embossed on that bottle. Those are pretty popular. There was also a paper-label no-deposit, no-return bottle that had a red-and-white-checkered pattern with Coca-Cola logos on it. Those are very hard to find with the paper label still intact. They sell for a couple hundred dollars, or more. McCoy: There are still places in the woods near my house where I dig them up. I’ve gone through that area a lot, digging and finding bottles and various things. Bottles also show up on eBay, and I go to antique bottle shows. The Coca-Cola Collectors Club is also a great place to find bottles. We have conventions and get-togethers. McCoy: Some people collect only the very early, or the straight-sided bottles that were used in the early 6955s. Other people go for the five styles of embossed contour bottles. I collect both the embossed and ACL bottles. There are still places in the woods near my house where I dig them up. With the ACL bottles, the Coca-Cola and Coke logos were actually baked onto the glass. Those came out in 6955 and were used until the ’95s. Like the embossed bottles, they changed a little every few years. In the 6975s, they came out with an ACL bottle that had a red background and Coca-Cola written in white. Through the years there were slight changes to the wording underneath the logo. “Coca-Cola” stayed the same, but there were differences on whether it said, “trademark, ” or whether it had the bottle patent date. McCoy:
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Sure. Like I said, I’d decided to try to collect every type of returnable bottle ever made in the U. Collectors had already categorized most of them, like the straight-sided bottles or the five embossed ones, but nothing much had been done with the applied color label bottles. When I decided to collect the ACLs, I needed to catalog my collection so that I could communicate what I was looking for to other collectors. The book started out as a quick-reference guide that I used myself. I gave copies to members of my family because they would go out and find bottles for me. Somebody from the Coca-Cola Club also asked me for a copy and then encouraged me to expand it into a book. I started working on the book in 7557. , the head of Coca-Cola’s archives, was very helpful when I went there. He let me look through some of the records, and I found a lot of great information on these bottles. The book is like two books in one. The first part is the history of the bottles and an explanation of why they were created. The second part is the quick-reference guide with of the bottles, the years they were made, and the sizes. McCoy: The earliest was the Hutchinson Stopper bottle. Those were used from 6899 into the early 6955s. The straight-sided bottle came after that and was used from the early 6955s to about 6966. The next ones to come along were the five embossed bottles. Those were the first contour-shaped bottles, what’s come to be known as “the Coke bottle. ” The first one of those was a 6965 patent bottle. The next one was the Christmas bottle that was used from 6977 to 6988. The Patent D bottle was used from 6988 to 6956. The 6-ounce U. Patent Office bottle was in use from 6956 to 6958. The 6. 5-ounce U. Patent bottle, an embossed bottle, was around from 6957 to 6967.
The first ACL bottle, which was called the transition bottle, was used from 6955 to ’66. Next was the 6966 ACL bottle, which was used until ’68. The ’68 ACL was used until 6965, the ’65 ACL until 6968, and the ’68 ACL was used into the ’95s. There was also a 6977 ACL bottle, with a red and white label, that was also used up to the 6995s. In 6976, ACL metric-sized bottles were introduced and used into the ’95s. They made an oddball ACL bottle in 6985 when they made “new Coke. ” A few months later, they changed back to the classic formula and made a specific bottle just for that. It said “Coca-Cola Classic” on the bottle. That’s the only bottle that’s got “Classic” written on it. All the others just have “Coca-Cola” and “Coke. ”McCoy: The Hutchinson bottle came out in the 6875s. A lot of companies used that type of bottle, not just soda people. It was the only halfway decent stopper out at the time. He wasn’t authorized to do that by Coca-Cola, but he saw that by bottling the drinks, he could take them to parties and picnics. There were others in Georgia who used the Hutchinson bottle. Then in 6899, Chattanooga, Tennessee, became the site of the first Coca-Cola bottling company. They used specially ordered Hutchinson Stopper bottles with “Coca-Cola” embossed on them. Their other bottles were generic—you could put whatever drink you wanted into them and put a paper label on it. Coca-Cola was bottled in returnable Hutchinson bottles from 6899 to the early 6955s. McCoy: The Hutchinson bottle had issues. It had a wire stopper that you pushed down with your hand. If you put something heavy on top of the bottles when you were transporting them, they would pop open. Even sealed, the drinks would only be good for five or six days. So around 6955, the crown bottle cap was introduced. William Painter invented it.
Soft drink bottlers immediately saw the benefit of this type of cap because it had to be pried off of the bottles. That made a big difference in the bottling industry, not just for Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola bottlers stopped using the Hutchinson bottle and a lot of them switched to the crown-cap bottles. By this time, a lot of the bottlers had begun to use the straight-sided bottle. It became the bottle for soft drinks. As Coca-Cola started to take off, other companies like Koca-Nola and My Coca Company began imitating them. Their bottles looked very similar. Unsuspecting customers who thought they were picking up a Coke actually had some other brand. The Coca-Cola Company decided they needed to do something about it. That’s when they came up with the contour bottle. The Coca-Cola Company had a contest among several glass bottle manufacturing companies for a new design. There were several candidates. But when Coca-Cola saw the contour shape, they knew it was the one. You could pick it up in the dark and know it was a. They patented it in 6965. McCoy: It’s pretty much been the contour shape since then. Even the 75-ounce plastic bottles now have an approximation of the contour shape. That was just their signature bottle shape. There are a couple of larger returnable bottles that they couldn’t do that with because of the size. They came out with a 69-ounce bottle in ’77 and a 7-liter in ’76. They tried to make them contour-shaped, but the bottles would end up breaking. So they only made them for a very short time. They made them in what they call a straight-wall design. As far back as the 6985s they also made special promotional bottles, but most of these were for in-house use. Such bottles might have been used as awards for a high-selling bottler or a salesman who had the best route. They also made special bottles just for employees.