Pub Dispensers & Soda Bottles - The range of drinks available in public houses in the 1920s was considerable and while a great number of these were individually served in glass or stoneware bottles, many were also dispensed from attractive barrels and other largish containers. Most spirits, in fact, along with ginger beer and sherry, were served from stoneware barrels. Chatelaine's Antiques Collectibles Appraisals


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Chatelaine's Antiques & Appraisals Magazine > Collectibles > Pub Dispensers & Soda Bottles

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Pub Drink Dispensers
 In the Edwardian era and the 1920s drinks were stored behind the bar in a wide range of glass and earthenware containers.

 The range of drinks available in public houses in the 1920s was considerable and while a great number of these were individually served in glass or stoneware bottles, many were also dispensed from attractive barrels and other largish containers. Most spirits, in fact, along with ginger beer and sherry, were served from stoneware barrels.

 In the 19th century Doulton were the largest manufacturers of earthenware barrels and in the early days produced simple saltglazed wares with a characteristic brown finish, often with simulated 'wooden' hoops. Some had an applied label to indicate the contents as whisky, gin or rum but others might be decorated with the royal coat of arms or sport elaborate borders. By the turn of the century, however, Doulton were producing an enormous number of fanciful pub dispensers in moulded, highly-glazed earthenware.

 Public-house interior design at this time was a mixture of Gothic, high Victorian and art nouveau styles and Doulton's elaborately decorated and coloured wares suitably reflected this style. Many of the barrels and dispensers carried the distiller's name in wonderfully scrolled type. Gone were the simple brown glazes and in their place were bright wares in deep blues, greens and reds, embellished with any number of decorative motifs.


 Swags and garlands made an appearance, as did less elaborate leaves and flowers. Ears of barley were a favourite theme on whisky containers and so were thistles. The most desirable of Doulton's containers, which came in a variety of urn- and pot-bellied shapes, complete with decorative lids and a spigot hole at the base, were designed by some of the factory's best artists such as Eliza Simmance.

 Few factories were able to rival Doulton's elaborately embossed wares. Attractive but of less interest to serious collectors today are the relatively simple barrel-shaped containers, perhaps decorated with a coaching or hunting scene on a cream or light-coloured ground with simulated bands in gilt or brown. Even simpler were the cream and brown glazed stoneware flagons which carried just the distiller's or maker's 'logo' or coat of arms along with the contents label in black type.


 Glass water dispensers sat on the bar, so customers could add water as required to whisky, gin and increasingly to the newly popular aniseed-flavoured aperitifs from France.

 Soda syphons, usually in clear, coloured or etched glass, were also common. The classic soda siphon shape was developed in the second half of the 19th century and examples in coloured glass are popular. Gazateur and Seltzogene syphons, with wire or basket-weave covering - against the possibility of explosion caused by gas pressure within the syphon - appeared in the early 20th century.


 From Edwardian times to the end of World War 2, pub design remained relatively unchanged and although bottles gradually replaced earthenware barrels and other containers, the two co-existed side by side in many public houses for decades. Moreover, barrels and containers advertising distillers' products; continued to be produced in designs identical to late Victorian and Edwardian ones. This can make dating difficult.

 Doulton barrels and containers are collectors items and canny dealers have long since snapped up any bargains which were to be found in junk shops or salvage merchants. Highly glazed, urn-shaped containers with fanciful moulded decoration fetch high prices, especially if they are by Doulton who invariably marked their wares. Plainer ceramic or stoneware items are more affordable. Large water filters may not be instantly recognizable, since a lot have been put to use (minus their lids) as plant holders or umbrella stands. The spigot hole at the base is a giveaway.


 There are few specialist dealers in public house collectables although sometimes specialists in old bottles will have some good quality barrels and other drinks dispensers. Dealers in Doulton wares, of which there are many, will always be able to find spirit containers but at a price. Junk and second-hand shops can be a fruitful source and architectural salvage warehouses will often have such items at fairly reasonable prices. Auctions of general effects can often have a few pieces, when pub a well as house clearances are sometimes included in the sale.

 Soda syphons in clear or coloured glass with et bed designs, often advertising Schweppes or other makers, are fairly common and can be found on market stall in bric-a-brac and junk shops and at car boot sales. Since these were made in the same style from Edwardian times until relatively recently, many of the items you will come across will be of fairly recent origin, particularly those with a plastic 'syphon'. Although these can be attractive, they are not valuable. Syphon tops can, in fact, give some guide to age. Early tops were made of tin or pewter. These were superseded by porcelain lined and chrome-plated ones which were replaced by plastic tops.

 Syphons dating from the early years of this century are generally more ornately decorated than later examples. These can be found fairly cheaply and a varied collection can make a pleasing display. Many are perfectly usable and can be refilled for a small charge.

 Make sure, though, that the glass is in good condition and is free of chips, cracks and cloudiness. Wire-meshed soda syphons, many of which date from the 1920s and the 1930s, are more sought after. Many of these come in interesting hour-glass shapes but be prepared to pay a higher price for such pieces. Again, condition is important so make certain the mesh is intact and  not rusted and that the metal syphon is in good working order.


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