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The beverage industry’s nightcaps

At first I view my mother’s latest acquisition with quite a bit of scepticism as she proudly models it for me. A rather idiosyncratic piece of costume jewellery, I feel. I’m talking about a bracelet made of crowns in a huge variety of different colours and decors – a trendy accessory that in my opinion may even contrive to look rather good. This unusual yet at the same time creative use of simple beer stoppers aroused my curiosity. What’s behind these unobtrusive little everyday widgets that have become an indispensable feature of the beverage industry?

Bottle closures and stoppers have been around for a long, long time, in innumerable variations and materials. Starting with corks featuring a metal swing-stopper, all the way through to a china closure – everything’s been tried. These early forms, however, were often very costly to produce, or couldn’t even withstand the pressure inside the bottle. What’s more, it was not uncommon for the liquids concerned to spoil, particularly in bottles with metal closures.

It was only when an American called William Painter patented his concept of a special bottle closure in 1892 that the crown came into being. But why is it called a “crown”? It’s very simple: the new type of bottle closure consisted of a circular metal lid with a crown-shaped punched rim, plus a ring made of cork inside the lid, to prevent liquids from escaping. And the 24 serrations at the edge of each closure have been (almost!) retained up to the present day. They make sure that the pressure acting on the neck of the bottle when the crown is pressed onto it is evenly distributed without causing the bottle to break; this had not always been guaranteed when using the conventional bottle closures. What’s more, crowns were quite a bit more affordable to manufacture than their predecessors. Which meant that Painter’s invention won out over the swing-stoppers in common use beforehand – the path was now smoothed for the resounding success of the crown and its progenitor! I wonder if William Painter was aware back then about the huge implications of his idea?!

Be that as it may, one year after his patent had been approved, Painter set up a firm called the Crown Cork and Seal Company, which up to the present day ranks as one of the premier producers of these crowns. Although from time to time various other closures, such as twist-off closures or screw-caps, have attempted to dent the hegemony of the ubiquitous crown, with the exception of a few swing-stopper-lovers no serious competitors have as yet emerged. Apart from the fact that the crowns we know today now feature only 21 serrations, not much has changed since its original incarnation.

Nowadays, you encounter crowns in a whole host of different fields. Pointer’s invention performs impressively ready being used in the toys and games industry, as substitutes for tokens in board games like checkers or nine men’s morris. As objects in artworks, as simple collectors’ items for crown-lovers, or even as egg-cups – the crown has long since become omnipresent way beyond the confines of the bottling industry! A true all-rounder then!

Did you know, by the way, that back in the 19th century crowns were also referred to as nightcaps? When you take a closer look, you can see that the nightcaps feature a serrated edge –and therefore have something in common with the crowns in this regard. Which is also presumptively the reason for this honourable title which crowns have borne ever since. 🙂

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