News from the Tennessee Valley News

Ronnie Thomas

Doug Wigginton with the old Coca-Cola bottle he found on his 160-acre cattle farm. The bottle has markings from Bucheit's Bottling in New Decatur and may be worth as much as $800 or more.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
Doug Wigginton with the old Coca-Cola bottle he found on his 160-acre cattle farm. The bottle has markings from Bucheit's Bottling in New Decatur and may be worth as much as $800 or more.

Treasure in an old Coke bottle
Somerville man finds rare early 20th century container marked 'New Decatur'

SOMERVILLE — Jim Croce sang about saving “Time in a Bottle.”

Doug Wigginton found a bottle with a lot of time in it.

A bulldozer operator unearthed the amber-colored bottle on Wigginton’s 160-acre cattle farm off South Old Six Mile Road while leveling a gully. With bottles, some broken, and other debris left on top of the ground, Wigginton put a trash bag in his four-wheeler and began cleaning up.

“That was the first bottle I picked up. I was going to put it into the bag, but was struck by the color and the odd shape,” said Wigginton, president of the Morgan County Cattlemen’s Association.

He rubbed off the dirt, revealing the familiar Coca-Cola emblem. He took it to the house and his, sister, Sue Nelson, cleaned it, and the little bottle gave up more secrets.

Buchheit’s Bottling in New Decatur had processed the Coke. “ROOT” was imprinted near the bottom of the bottle, just above “Minimum Contents” and “61/2 Fluid Oz.”

And it was easy for Wigginton to surmise the contents might have been root beer.

Good guess, but no free drink. Randy Troup, president of Coca-Cola Bottling Co. at Number One Refreshment Place, said Root Glass Works in Indiana produced the bottle.

For obvious reasons, Troup knows the history of Coke. He has other reasons, too.

His grandparents, Roy and Ruby Nash, moved from Corinth, Miss., in 1922 and bought the plant, then at another location.

“This was before it was Decatur Coca-Cola,” Troup said. “I don’t recall. It might have been Buchheit’s.”

Troup said officials contacted his grandfather, who worked for Corinth Bottling Co., and asked him to take over the Decatur plant because it was losing money. Coca-Cola in Huntsville and Corinth owned the plant at the time.

“My grandparents bought it and incorporated as Decatur Coca-Cola Bottling Co. They paid it off around 1936 or 1937,” Troup said.

Georgia Green

While Coke bottles used outside the United States are predominantly clear, the green color Americans are accustomed to is known as Georgia Green, a reference to the company’s Atlanta headquarters. Some say the amber color of Wigginton’s bottle suggests a date range in the first two decades of the 20th century.

Whatever, Wigginton believes he has found a treasure and hopes to replace the packed dirt that once smothered bottled memories with cash. He took it to a meeting of the Morgan County Soil and Water Conservation District board of supervisors.

Ann Smith, district coordinator, looked at the bottle and later asked Wigginton if he’d take $100 for it.

She offered $400 before he told her it wasn’t for sale.

“She had looked it up on ebay, and had the paper in her hand. She showed me where one like it sold for $799,” he said.

The history of the type bottle Wigginton found began in 1899, when two young attorneys from Chattanooga believed they could build a business around bottling Coke, first served as a fountain drink in 1886. They got exclusive rights to bottle it across the country for the sum of $1. A third Chattanooga lawyer signed on.

By 1909, nearly 400 Coke bottling plants were operating, most of them family-owned businesses. The pioneer bottlers, concerned that the original straight-sided bottle was easily confused with imitators, held a national competition for a new design.

Root Glass Works, founded by Chapman J. Root in 1901, in Terre Haute, Ind., won over 11 other designs. The company patented its design Nov. 16, 1915, after the image of a cocoa tree pod. Production of the contour bottle began the next year.

The Coca-Cola Co. likes to say that “today, it is one of the most recognized icons in the world — even in the dark.”

Wigginton says add dirt.

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Ronnie Thomas Ronnie Thomas
DAILY Staff Writer

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