Monday, March 21, 2016

A Mystery Uncapped!

Did you figure it out?

This mystery artifact is a bottle capper. Which means, it was used to fasten metal bottle caps,  or “crown corks” to glass bottles by hand. The machine uses leverage to push the bottle cap down onto the bottle top and seal it. The notches on the side of the bottle capper are there so it can move up and down and affix caps to many different sizes of bottles.

A patent for a very similar type of bottle capper was filed in 1921, so it is likely that this one is from around the same time. Even though the making, selling, and transporting of beverages with an alcoholic content was outlawed from 1920-1933 because of the Volstead Act, many people still brewed beer in the privacy of their own homes. It wasn't illegal to actually drink these beverages, and Prohibition agents couldn't search homes unless they had very clear evidence that alcohol was being bought and sold there.

To assist with this process of home-brewing, grocery stores also sold things such as these bottle cappers, along with hops, yeast, malt syrup and bottle caps under the guise of "breadmaking supplies" or similar euphemisms. In fact, the 1927 Sears & Roebuck catalog includes the following section, complete with bottle caps and grape crusher for making “grape juice”:

As you can see, there’s also a couple bottle cappers similar to ours.

These days, home brewers use similar bottle cappers (now referred to as "bench bottle cappers") that usually look something like this:
Looks pretty similar, doesn't it?

Finally, I leave you today with perhaps my favorite thing I've ever found while doing research for a blog post. It's a "bottle capping competition" from 1932, and they're using bench bottle cappers! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. 

That's all for this week! Check in here soon for a new mystery artifact!
And of course please stop by to see our new special exhibit Worth of Water and to check out the mystery artifacts up close.

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