Monday, March 26, 2012

Water, Water Everywhere

QUESTION: I discovered this unique water bottle at a local antiques co-op. While most antique water decanters are solid cut or pressed glass, this one comes apart into two pieces. A metal ring, with a rubber gasket to make the seal tight, screws onto the base. The mark on the bottom edge of the top section reads: Perfection Bottle Co., Wilkes-Barre, PA Pat March 30-97. What can you tell me about this type of water bottle?

ANSWER: You, indeed, have found a unique water bottle. Though a revolutionary idea, this type of water bottle appeared in stores for only a few years.

From the mid-19th century to the early 20th century, water bottles were standard items in many American Victorian households. They appeared on dinner tables either alone or with matching glasses and in bedrooms often with a glass that set upside down over the top of the bottle. They also could be found on the nightstands in hotel rooms and steamship cabins, and on tables in railroad lounge cars.

At first, manufacturers made them of elegant cut glass, but that was too expensive for the average person. Some turned to using pressed glass in a variety of patterns which lowered their cost.

However, cleaning these crystal beauties posed a serious problem with hygiene. The bottle’s narrow neck made it hard to get a brush down into it, making it almost impossible to clean the inside surface of the bottle’s bulbous interior. But that changed in 1896 when William B. Fenn came up with the idea of a separating water bottle—one with pieces that could unscrew for easy cleaning. On March 30 of the following year, he applied for and received a patent for it.

Fenn’s separating water bottle had an ingenious design. He made the neck and base two separate pieces, with the bottom edge of the neck fitting inside the top rim of the base. A rubber gasket formed a waterproof seal between the two parts and a metal ring screwed over the joint to lock the pieces in place.

Even though Fenn used glass for his original design, he stipulated in his patent that any material, including ceramics and porcelain, could be used for the bottle, itself, and any metal could be used for the joining ring as long it wouldn’t corrode.

It took nearly three years for Fenn's" bottle to be available to the public.,Priced at $4.50 each when they first came on the market in 1900, they were well beyond the means of the average person. Realizing he had to do something to increase sales, Fenn redesigned the pattern on the bottle so that it could be pressed instead of cut. Suddenly, the price per bottle dropped to 50 cents per bottle, or 34 cents each for a dozen, making the Fenn water bottle affordable for everyone.

Fenn’s invention was so successful that he decided to expand production. By October,1902, consumers could purchase a decanter and stopper in four sizes—half pint, and one, two and three-pint versions. And during 1903; He expanded the line further to include other glass containers, such as   syrup pitchers and cruets, as well as bitters, cologne, and barber bottles, each with a different pattern.

The separating water bottle came in three models—the Royal, with a delicate design imitating cut crystal, the Imperial, also sold in two and three-pint capacities but without a pattern, the Optic, with a succession of single, convex protruding, vertical panels with rounded tops and bottoms, and the Colonial, featuring nine rounded panels with flat bottoms around the base. Each came in two and three-pint sizes, except the Colonial which also came in a half-gallon size.

In 1903, the Perfection Water Bottle Co. and the Sterling Glass Co. combined to create the Perfection Glass.Co. of Washington, Pennsylvania, with William Fenn as one of the initial investors. But the new company was only to last until 1907 when it closed its doors for lack of sales.


Michelle and Julie said...

Thank you for sharing your insight! I purchased a pressed glass decanter today very similar to the one you pictured.
I wasn't sure what it was used or anything about it until stumbling upon this post.
I am enlighten and grateful. Thank you for sharing!

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