Sunday, July 28, 2019



Many years ago I called upon bottle digger and collector, Mel Hughes, who has long since gone to his reward, to photograph his Baker & Cutting pickle bottle. Mel was an avid digger, and if you find an Oly beer can at the bottom of a privy hole in California that you thought was un-dug, Mel beat you to it. He also owned the bottom portion of a spectacular Napa Soda bottle that I have not seen before or since.

Many people are not aware that Napa Soda has been bottled since 1856 but its early history is shrouded in intrigue and even violence over the rights to ownership. Even during the long California Supreme Court battle over who owned the spring, various people were given rights to bottle and sell the water as agents. Its early bottling history, therefore, is not very clear.

Mel’s bottle is unquestionably the crudest Napa Soda and most enigmatic. It is not known if it is the earliest embossed bottle used for the water but certainly must be one of the first. Its age is only part of the mystery, for the mold used to blow the bottles has to be the crudest on record. No respectable eastern or mid-western glass manufacturer would have allowed the use of such a mold. There is no record of this Napa Soda bottle being blown in the West, even though that would be the logical favorite. The wastage from the first San Francisco Glass Works has been excavated by several people over the years and no trace of Napa Soda bottles were found. The only other western source may have been the glass works established by J. Lambert & Co. of San Francisco. The Sacramento Daily Union of August 16, 1860, noted, . . .”Lambert & Co. state that it makes an excellent quality of common glass, and that they will use, at present, from one to four tons per week.” This glass works was obviously not successful as very little documentation exists, and given the crudity of the above noted bottle, it may be one of the reasons failure soon followed. This works lasted at least through September 1860, as noted in Warren Friedrich’s book on EARLY GLASSWORKS OF CALIFORNIA. This is only conjecture, but there seems to be very few logical options available for the manufacture of this bottle.

I am posting these photos to see if any other examples of this bottle may have been found by someone else.

The front of the bottle is embossed with the familiar wording, NAPA SODA. The most significant clue to its origin is embossed near the base of the front, P & W  SF, which must be either the initials of the agent, or the short-lived proprietors of the spring.

The reverse is lettered with the typical words, NATURAL / MINERAL / WATER, but in a very crude and clumsy style.

The base sports a very nasty, almost dangerous, blowpipe pontil.

While several parties involved with the early Napa Soda Springs have surnames beginning with W (Whitney, Wood & White), a likely candidate for the partnership initials embossed on this bottle may be Thomas A. White. The surname beginning with a P is a complete mystery to me. White apparently had some involvement with the springs as early as 1860. However, his earliest documented involvement as a sales agent wasn’t until 1861.

The other known early variant of an early Napa Soda bottle is marked W. & W., and is most likely the initials of Whitney & Wood. I have seen one example, nearly whole, but if my memory serves me correctly, it did not show any signs of a pontil mark.

 By October of 1861, as San Francisco agent for Napa Soda, White advertised the sale of this water in his own trade marked bottles, which included his initials – T. A. W.

Note also that Phil Caduc, Sacramento agent for Napa Soda, was the first to register his Napa Soda trademark, on September 16, 1861, but it only consisted of the bottoms of his bottles painted white, with no embossing involved. For some unknown reason T. A. White chose not to register his trade mark initials with the State. Perhaps he felt the precise establishment of his trade mark features described in his advertisement in the Daily Alta California, beginning October 6, 1861, and running for one month, was enough to adequately document his proprietary rights.

T. A. White’s October 6, 1861, advertisement clearly documents his trade mark for his Napa Soda bottles.

White’s Napa Soda bottles were as well made as any of that period and were probably blown in the East. The only slightly unusual feature is that the lettering is deeply cut into the mold.

It is not clear when White stopped functioning as agent for Napa Soda. He no longer advertised after 1861. White almost certainly gave up his association with the springs after November 1862 when the bottling house and other structures were destroyed by Amos Buckman, one of the previous stakeholders in the spring who went on a vengeful rampage against Whitney and Wood, the other claimants of the spring. T. A. White subsequently entered the mining business by 1863. The ownership squabble over the springs went well into 1865.

Please note that this was not written as a complete early history of Napa Soda bottles. As many are aware, John O’Neill has been collecting information about Napa Soda for many years in anticipation of publishing a book on the subject. I know he will eventually succeed in this task and I am sure it will be a necessary read for many of us. My objective here is to elicit response about the mysterious broken P. & W. bottle shown above and hopefully add some knowledge about its place in this world. It would be great to see a picture of a whole specimen.


  1. Excellent article. Thoroughly researched and well written. Two thumbs up Eric! Keep up the good work.

  2. In my research of my book. I found this article. "Excellent soda bottles have been made at the Bay for a Folsom house from Folsom quartz dated Sept 21, 1860. Likely these were produced at the 2nd San Francisco Glass Works as stated above.