Answer Man: How old is glass bottle from Breese Bottling?

News-DemocratMarch 19, 2014 

My husband found an old bottle, and now we're wondering about its origins. It looks like a soda bottle and weighs about a pound. It came from the Breese Bottling Co. It has an ornate design consisting of raised glass diamonds or squares. I'm guessing it's from the 1920s or '30s. What do you think? -- K.B., of Smithton

You're apparently dazzled by the same bottle that captured Catherine "Caddy" Meier's heart soon after she and husband Edward "Lefty" Meier opened Excel Bottling Co. in 1936 in Breese.

This, of course, was long before plastic and nonreturnable glass bottles simply were tossed in the trash. It was even before they found a way to label a bottle so it wouldn't wash or fall off, says William Meier, the Meiers' grandson and Excel's current general manager. The company's bottles were simply clear glass and you determined the flavor of soda either by its color or reading the fine print on the crown.

"Bottles were just molded with the name of the company on it," he said.

So back then, Lefty and Caddy would choose from bottle designs shown them by the glass factories in East St. Louis and Alton.

"You would go and pick out a mold and they'd show you some examples," he said. "(Caddy's) the one who picked out that diamond bottle because she thought it was a very pretty, sparkly looking bottle."

I'm betting your bottle only held 7 ounces, but such pony-size containers remained popular for Excel for years until larger servings became the norm. Still, Excel had those diamond bottles made into the early '70s.

So, bottom line, the bottle you found could have been made anywhere from 40 to 75 years ago. But here's something interesting: That bottle may have been discarded only recently. Excel still uses the bottles that remain to sell commemorative batches for Christmas and other occasions.

"If you come to our plant today and you buy returnable glass bottles, you may still get one," Meier said. "We probably have a couple hundred cases left. But, yeah, at one time there was probably 10,000 cases out there."

However, there may be a foolproof way to determine exactly how old your bottle is. Meier said each bottle should be stamped somewhere with the date it was made. For example, one bottle an employee found had a "69" on it for 1969.

So you might look for that. Meanwhile, even though those diamond bottles have been discontinued and Caddy died in 2009 at age 99, her grandson continues to turn out his soda gems with real cane sugar.

I grew up in Belleville and worked in Belleville in the '70s. I am trying to remember a restaurant on East Main Street that had tabletop jukeboxes. I think it was a few doors down from Kresge's. I thought in the back of the restaurant was the bus station. Can you tell me the name of the restaurant? Was it the Capitol Grill? I did pull that up on the internet -- Capitol Grill 24 Public Square Coffee as you like it. Open all nite. Belleville's busiest grill. Geo. J. Reissen -- Mary Kujawski

I may need some help with this one because the only downtown "restaurant" I frequented in the early '70s was the lunch counter at Kresge's. (I still feel guilty that I often stiffed my waitress (and high school classmate) Barb Hillier on tips, but, hey, I was just a poor, lowly summer Answer Intern back then. Sorry, Barb.)

As it turns out, you could have been having a Capitol time, but by then it had moved from the location you may have seen on a matchbook cover for sale on eBay. ("We'll serve you a meal or a sandwich ... it's a pleasure.")

According to my hunt through city directories, the restaurant first popped up in about 1940, when Roland Castelli and George Reissen opened the doors at 24 Public Square.

In about 1962, it passed to Dorothy Becker and Jennie Etter. But just a year later, they moved it to 15 E. Main St., part of the former home of J.J. Newberry and Union Clothing. There it stayed until 1973, when it became the Green Parrot Restaurant before closing for good in about 1977.

I'm hoping some fellow swingers will tell me whether they grooved to the sounds of the '70s on the jukeboxes there or some nearby establishment. Stay tuned.

Today's trivia

According to Time magazine, in which world city are the most selfies taken per capita?

Answer to Wednesday's trivia: Roger Staubach, now 72, has become as successful off the football field as he was on. According to a recent story on Forbes.com, the former Dallas Quarterback was the highest-paid retired National Football League player last year, earning $12 million through the final part of the sale of a real estate company he had started in 1977. Overall, he was the 12th highest-paid retired athlete; Michael Jordan topped the list at $90 million followed by Arnold Palmer at $40 million and soccer superstar David Beckham at $37 million.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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