Did you know that the word torpedo comes from the Latin torpere, meaning “to be numb” and was first used in the English language in the 1500's to refer to a long round fish that gave a numbing shock to those who touched it? So what do you think of when you hear the word torpedo? I would venture to say that a glass bottle filled with soda water probably isn't at the top of your list, unless, of course, you are a bottle collector. Most people think of the long cylindrical tube-like explosive devices fired underwater, seen in World War II movies like “Sink the Bismarck!”
Taking breaks from reading Unbroken, I have been doing some research on the torpedo bottle we got for Christmas. It seems that torpedo bottles date from the middle of the 19th century to the early 20th century. They were made of heavy glass and in most cases held carbonated water. They were sealed with a cork, which needed to remain wet. A dried out cork led to shrinkage, which allowed carbonating gases to escape. Therefore, the bottles were purposely shaped in a way so that they could not stand up, but had to remain on their sides, thus preventing the possibility of a dried out cork.
Our bottle, a Webb’s Double Soda and Other Waters - To Her Majesty - Islington - London is a true “torpedo-shaped” bottle. Although torpedo bottles were first used by Jacob Schweppes in the late 1790's, he failed to register a patent and in 1809 William Hamilton applied for and received a patent and torpedo bottles became known as Hamiltons.
Based on my research, It seems that our bottle was likely made in the UK between 1850 and 1880 because it is made of thick heavy glass and has an applied blob top. (The earlier torpedo bottles did not have applied blob tops.) According to www.sha.org, “no torpedo bottles have been observed with crown finishes.” Once production of bottles that could accept the crown top closure began in the mid-1890s, there was no need for the torpedo bottles and it seems their production ceased. Webb’s was in business from 1836-1880. Therefore, I feel safe in assuming that it would not have been made after 1880.
What set Webb’s soda water apart from all the others of its time? Perhaps the fact that the equipment used at Webb’s manufactory was highly sophisticated for its time with the ability not only to purify the water but also to protect against mineral taste. Or maybe the fact that cleanliness and safety were of paramount importance every step of the way. But then again, maybe it’s just because with the purity of the water used and the high standards adhered to by Webb and his workers, Webb’s water just tasted better - good enough for Her Majesty.