Pictured here is an early twentieth century ketchup bottle produced by the Curtice Brothers Company, which was founded in 1868 in Rochester, New York. Although you have probably never heard of Curtice Brothers, their ketchup once rivaled the more well-known Heinz in the early twentieth century. The story of their descent into the recesses of popular memory is bound up with early government food safety regulations, but I’ll get to that in a moment…
The bottle itself was mouth blown and made in a two piece mold with a cup bottom, likely manufactured by the Berney-Bond Glass Company based in Pennsylvania.1 The finish (the lip of the bottle) is externally threaded so that a cap could have been screwed on it and was made using the “improved tooled finishing” method, meaning that most of the finish was created in the mold itself with just minor tooled touches to ensure that the cap would fit.2 This is evident in the seam on the finish, which nearly reaches the mouth, but you can see where the tool turned the seam.
Also visible on the bottle is the maker’s seal on the shoulder reading “Curtice Brothers / Preservers / Rochester, N.Y.” within a circle. Vertical ridges line the sides of the body with an open space for the label, which would have marketed the company’s Blue Label Ketchup. An example of one of Curtice Brothers’ ads from around 1910 is shown below.
The Curtice Brothers’ Blue Label Ketchup was a casualty of one of the first federal consumer protection regulations, the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, a precursor to the establishment of the Food and Drug Administration. This Act sought to inform and protect consumers from drugs and additives that were perceived as dangerous. One of those dangerous additives was benzoate of soda, then a common preservative in many condiments, including Curtice Brothers’ ketchup. Unfortunately for the company in the long run, Curtice Brothers refused to change their ketchup recipe as they believed benzoate of soda was necessary and posed no threat. On the other side of the argument was Heinz Company, which began producing ketchup using a different recipe that omitted benzoate of soda but sold at a higher price. Despite initial successful legal pushback (note the language of the above ad referencing the endorsement of the US government), ultimately public opinion and government regulation against the additive won out and Curtice Brothers “Blue Label Ketchup” lost its market share to Heinz.3
- Society for Historical Archaeology, “Bottle Typing/Diagnostic Shapes.” https://sha.org/bottle/food.htm#Catsup
- Soceity for Historical Archaeology, “Bottle Finishes & Closures.” https://sha.org/bottle/finishes.htm
- Smith, Adam F., 1996. Pure Ketchup: A History of America’s National Condiment, with Recipes. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.