The Iconic 1896 Coca-Cola Syrup Urn

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The birth of an icon

 

Beginning in 1896, ten years after Coca-Cola first appeared in soda fountains, The Coca-Cola Company offered an elaborately detailed point-of-sale syrup urn to its customers. The porcelain urn was provided on loan to soda fountain operators who sold 100 gallons or more of Coca-Cola syrup a year. By 1899, the syrup requirement was lowered to 35 gallons a year.

Though the urns were considered to be on loan, it is not known how many (if any) urns were actually returned to the Company. The number of urns available in private hands today would suggest that they were most often kept by the soda fountain and then stored away or given away when they were no longer in use.

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1890's card showing the lending of the urn to soda fountains to be returned when no longer in use.

 

1900 Price List showing the Coca-Cola syrup urn. The statement below the urn reads "ONE URN ONLY loaned to our customers who buy 35 gallons or more"

Designed in an elaborate Victorian style, the twenty-one inch tall urn was made of a semi-porous white porcelain material with gold leaf detailing and and red Coca-Cola logos. The 18 inch tall urns were meant to be decorative and were intended to sit prominently on the front or back bar of the soda fountain.

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Many urns are found today with a discolored bowl. This was caused by the Coca-Cola syrup soaking into the semi-porous porcelain of the urn.

The bowl of the urn was filled with Coca-Cola syrup which was dispensed through a faucet connected to the base of the bowl. Each drink consisted of one ounce of syrup and five ounces of carbonated water and chipped ice. The bowl's capacity is one and one-eighth gallons of syrup (nine pints) —­enough for 144 servings of Coca-Cola.

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A 1905  magazine advertisement depicting the urn in an early soda fountain setting.

 

Article from an 1899 issue of The National Druggist describing the urn and details about the promotion.

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The urns were made by the Wheeling Pottery Company of Wheeling, West Virginia. The Wheeling Pottery was founded in 1879 and was well known at the time for making art and sanitary wares. The company's wreath shaped mark can be found both on the base and the bowl of the dispenser.

Since its appearance in 1896, the Coca-Cola Syrup Urn has become the iconic collectible related to Coca-Cola's early history. A replica made of rubber was produced for promotional purposes in the mid 1950's and a ceramic replica was produced for collectors in the 1970's. Both are easily distinguishable from the original.

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Turn of the century photographs showing the syrup urn in use. Notice missing lid  in may photos. Sometimes it is replaced by cheesecloth or another type of lid. This shows that many lids were broken at the time during use.This explains why so few lids actually survive today.