Earliest Coca Cola Bottle Rare Labeled Pemberton's French Wine Coca Sold for $13,000

Rare Labeled Pemberton's French Wine Coca / Earliest Coca Cola Related Bottle / Up For Auction May 2014

The history of Coca Cola, from Pemberton's cocaine drug infused concoction of the 1880's on, is well known. Many, many websites and books have covered every detail and angle.

So, let's talk about just this bottle...

There are only 3 known examples of the embossed Pemberton's French Wine Coca bottles. And this is the only labeled example. Remarkably it has most of the original paper labels.

And it's for sale! This rare paper labeled version is listed in Heritage Auction's May 2014 Americana Auction. Given how huge the Coca Cola brand became, it is definitely a piece of Americana.

“It’s the oldest Coke relic there is,” Noah Fleisher, Heritage’s director of public relations, told ABC News. 

See the auction listing bottle photos below. I wonder who owns this labeled one? Who will be the new owner?

Update 5/22/14 --

Newsflash: The bottle was found by Jim Vergo of Albuquerque NM, earlier in 2014, at a flea market, for just $4. Amazing luck! [Sources]

Now we just have to see if it meets the $5,000 reserve.

Update 5/24/14 --


The Pemberton's Wine Coca bottle sold for $11,000 + Buyers Premium for a total of $13,750.


Here is some history on the Pemberton's Wine Coca bottle in an image from Blaine Martin's EARLYCOKE.com.

He owns one of the 2 other known non-labeled bottles, which he had loaned to the famous Schmidt Coca Cola Museum, so we know the Schmidts did not own one.

Blaine Martin's bottle is pictured in the above history collage. He also posted photos of his rare embossed Pemberton's bottle on Collectors Weekly, where he writes:

"This bottle was on display in the Schmidt Museum for many years, and it is thought to be the only known one in existence. Certainly the only one in perfect shape. My wife Jeannine collects items associated with Pemberton and bought this bottle many years ago from a home in Alabama."

Photo by Blaine Martin

From the Heritage Auction catalog:

John Pemberton's First Coca Bottle: The Precursor to Coca-Cola.

  • French Wine Coca Bottle with Original Paper Labels. 
  • Embossed at the base of the neck of the bottle it reads "Pemberton's Wine Coca." 
  • Although there is loss on the back label, the front is nearly complete. 
  • Typical of medicinal bottles made during the 1880's, this bottle has an applied lip and shows some residue or "sickness" to the inside. 
  • Size: 11" tall. 
  • We are aware of only three Pemberton "French Wine Coca" bottles in existence. 
  • This example is the only one with the labels largely intact.
  • Estimate: $5,000+
  • Lot # 38223 [link]

And here it is... 



[Pic and info added 1/16/15] Also from this time period is a FRENCH WINE COCA sign. It also says "On Draught Here", so it would have been displayed in a soda fountain setting like the one pictured above. You can see many similar signs in that photo. 

This sign is listed for sale on ebay (as of 01/16/2015) here, and the seller says it was purchased in Petretti Auction #62. 



After I posted this, there were some comments (on our facebook post) that this is not really the first Coca Cola bottle. While it's not embossed Coca Cola, nor did it ever contain Coca Cola, it is however a very early part of official Coca Cola brand history.

There were also comments that Pemberton didn't invent Coca Cola, but that Benjamin Kent did. So I looked that up.

Yes, Benjamin Kent did patent a beverage he called Kent's Coca Cola, in 1888.

Yes, Kent had patented the name. And his formula. But is that the same formula as Pemberton's? Possibly. Probably not exactly. Did Pemberton steal it, or did he come up with his own variation coincidently. Lots of people were selling variations. Basically, they both ''appropriated'' the recipe from Europe. Remember Vin Mariani? Pemberton pretty much copied that for his French Wine Coca. Candler made a point of changing Pemberton's formula, and then guarding it, so no one could copy it.

Did Pemberton, Robinson, and Asa Candler get around Kent's patent when they launched their Coca Cola juggernaut? Absolutely. Did they and their lawyers try to (and succeed) squash any and all competitors that got in their way. Sure.

Pemberton ALSO patented the Coca Cola name, in 1887.

Maybe Kent sold his C-C-product before Pemberton, but Kent had some bad legal advice, and his patent date wound up, on a technicality, dated after Pemberton's.

Kent tried to fight it, but gave up in 1894, when Candler bought Kent out for $400.

From For God, Country, and Coca-Cola by Mark Pendergrast [Google-books is the Source for excerpt image above. Read some of the book there.] [Book available on Amazon - use the ''look inside'' feature.]

So, Pemberton really is the one that started the legacy of today's Coca Cola brand that everyone collects. Payment to Kent was just for the name rights, as the company used Pemberton's formula.

Kent's pharmacy bottles are certainly desirable and collected. I don't think he had one marked Coca Cola. And neither did Pemberton.

Pemberton's Wine Coca is a pivotal point in Coca Cola the brand's history, and the bottle is coveted by many collectors.

  • Read a discussion of Benjamin Kent, with photos of his Paterson, NJ pharmacy and bottles, on the New Jersey Bottles Forum.

Kent's Pharmacy is at far left of this vintage Paterson, New Jersey postcard.
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