Bottling Tables

By the late 1880s, the knee bottling process had been replaced by far more efficient and economical bottle filling tables.  In his 1888 book A Treatise on Beverages or The Complete Practical Bottler, Charles Sulz noted “The filling-machines may be placed at any convenient distance from the apparatus, the length of pipe only has then to be increased.  This connecting-pipe is better throughout of pure block-tin.  On American apparatus a flexible rubber hose is attached to connect with the apparatus, which should be of the best kind, compact, and stand the required bottling-pressures; it can be preserved and protected by laying it in melted paraffin of 100° C. (212° F.).”  Sulz included an illustration of a bottling table supplied by The Firm of John Matthews in New York.  The table was set up for bottling with corks and had a Matthews plunger syrup gauge attached.  The parts were labeled as indicated:

The description is as follows: a and b, gauge screws to cork gauge f, and d, cork gauge.  This attachment enables all the corks to be driven uniformly and to the proper depth into the mouth of the bottle.  When the cork is well in, the bottling-cylinder may be raised sufficiently to allow the cork to be readily secured with the cork-fastener.  c is an air valve or escape valve for the atmospheric air in the bottle; e, cylinder rods; g, bottling-cylinder with rubber packing inside; h, automatic screen; i, quart pot; j, pint pot; k, hand lever; l, walking-beam of the automatic screen; m, foot lever; n, balance weight of the automatic screen; o, and p, suspension rods of spring; r, syrup-cock of syrup gauge; u, cap of water valve of syrup gauge; x, lever of syrup gauge; y, balance weight of hand lever.

James W. Tufts’ 1888 book The Manufacture and Bottling of Carbonated Beverages illustrated a bottling table that Tufts offered for sale, plus highly-detailed directions for its set up and operation.  Accompanying the following illustrated are selected portions of Tufts’ descriptions:

To Set up the Table.

Place a bottle, of the size for which it is desired to adjust the shield, in the proper position, – a quart bottle should be placed in the bottom of the recessed plate pot; for a pint bottle place the small plate in position; for a half-pint bottle place the large plate in position, – and placing the foot on the treadle bring the filling-head or cylinder down firmly on the bottle.  Close the shield around the bottle with the hand, and press down the hand-lever slightly to enable the springs to catch and hold it in place…

To attach the patent syrup-pump: Turn back the check-nut on the long arm of the pump.  Place a leather washer in the filling-head or cylinder, and screw in the long arm of the pump, using great care not to cross the thread until it brings up on the washer.  Bring the barrel of the pump into a horizontal position, and turn up the check-nut hard, metal against metal with a monkey-wrench.  Do not place a washer between the check-nut and filling-head.  Hang the syrup can in a convenient place, or place it upon the table, and connect it with the syrup-pump by means of the rubber tube.  A cock is provided with which to shut off the syrup when desired.

If the syrup-gauge is used, instead of the syrup-pump, attach it by screwing into the filling-head.  As it has no check-nut, it will be necessary to use, on the arm or in the filling-head, a washer of such thickness that the gauge when screwed home will stand in the desired position.  The syrup-can must be placed in an elevated position if the syrup-gauge is used.

Attach the rubber tube from the cylinders or fountains to the water connection of the pump or gauge. 

To Operate the Table.

Place a bottle in position for filling.  Place the foot upon the treadle and bring the filling-head down firmly upon the bottle, at the same time bringing the cork-gauging pin into position by placing the toe on the brass strap.  Place a cork, previously well soaked in warm water, evenly in the top of the filling-head, and with the hand-lever drive it part way through, using care not to drive it far enough to obstruct the passage through which the syrup and water are to pass.  Having previously pegged the syrup-pump or gauge, and opened the cocks which admit the syrup and water, make a backward stroke and draw the syrup into the pump or gauge.  Then make the necessary forward stroke, throwing the syrup into the bottle and opening the water-valve.  The air in the bottle should escape through the air-valve on the further side of the filling-head, which may be adjusted by means of its cup.

As soon as the bottle is sufficiently filled, make a backward stroke with the pump, thereby shutting off the water and drawing syrup for the next bottle, and drive the cork by a downward stroke of the hand-lever.  Release the cork-gauge by raising the toe slightly from the brass strap, still holding the filling-head down firmly on the bottle with the foot, and raise the hand-lever a trifle to allow the pin to drop back out of the way.  Now let up on the treadle, (still holding the handle-lever down firmly to retain the cork in the bottle) which will permit the filling-head to rise from the bottle sufficiently to allow the wire-fastener to be turned up over the cork, or the bottle and cork to be seized with the corking-tongs if desired to wire it.  The hand-lever may now be released, and when it has risen to its highest point it will disengage the springs which hold the safety-shield, and the shield will fly open.  The bottle can now be removed, and if to be wired, is taken to the tyer where it is held while the wire is attached and fastened.

Keep the working parts of the table well oiled and free from rust.  Connections are provided on the pot of the recessed-plate, on the air-valve, and on one corner of the table, to which drain-pipes can be attached, for the purpose of removing waste-water and keeping the table and operator dry.  The table should be so placed that the waste-water will run toward the corner which is provided with the drain connection.

The cork-gauging attachment is a new improvement – patent applied for – which takes the place of the wheel on the cork-plunger, and which enables the operator to drive every cork exactly the same distance into the bottles, no matter how they may vary in height.  But little practice is required to enable the bottler to work rapidly with it, and it will be found a great improvement and convenience.  The pin can be adjusted, by loosening the check-nut and screwing the pin either up or down as desired.

As Tufts’ set up and operating descriptions indicate, early bottling tables weren’t much more than corking benches.  A valve regulated the flow of carbonated water, a foot treadle brought the filling head down onto the bottles, and a hand lever used a pin to drive corks into the mouth of bottles after filling.  Higher end models included an automatic snifting valve and a small safety screen encasing the bottle for protection in the event of an explosion. 

One of the options Tufts offered was this cork-pail: