Rudimentary Bottling
Rudimentary Soda Water Bottling & Carbonation Process

It wasn’t until the 1830s that carbonated beverages became popular by the American public. Until that time, manufacturing carbonated water was a very difficult and time consuming process. English Chemist Joseph Priestley in 1767 discovered a method for creating carbonated water by infusing plain water with carbon dioxide. His method entailed suspending a container of water above a large beer vat. The method was a bit crude, but it worked.

Four years later another chemist, Torbern Bergman invented a similar process in Sweden. A year later, Priestly published a scientific article, “Impregnating Water with Fixed Air,” whereby he describes a process of dripping sulfuric acid onto chalk to produce carbon dioxide gas, and impregnating the gas into agitated water.

Further refinements of these rudimentary processes were undertaken over the next several decades. However, none were particularly economical nor easy.

All that changed when John Matthews pursued improving carbonation processes. An English inventor, Matthews had worked and studied under Joseph Bramah, a renowned giant of the era in British inventions. There, in England, soda water became relished by the public. With Matthew’s improvements, the popularity in England skyrocketed. In addition to his improved methods, Matthews also boosted its popularity by introducing various flavorings to the water.

Matthews' Compressor with Generator and Gasometer

In 1832 Matthews emigrated to the United States. Upon his arrival, Matthews continued his work with the carbonation processes, and subsequently invented and then patented a revolutionary “apparatus for charging water with carbon dioxide gas.” As with the English public, his flavored soda water quickly proved to be a hit in America.

Quickly thereafter, retail establishments, drug stores, and water purveyors soon adopted Matthews’ process. Demand for Matthews’ equipment blossomed, and his devices virtually made him an overnight success.

Matthews' Apparatus with Pump

Numismatic Specimens

Below please find several soda water tokens as they evolved throughout the 19th century and into the 20th. century.

Hard Times Era

The specimen featured below harkens from Charleston merchant Robert L. Baker. Struck in Feuchtwanger Metal, and minted by Bale & Smith, only a handful of surviving specimens exist. The R.L. Baker token is estimated to be at least R-7 in rarity, and is the first known privately issued token emanating from the state of South Carolina.

Robert L. Baker's Warehouse Drug & Chemical Warehouse
Advertisement for Robert L. Baker’s Drug and Chemical Warehouse, Charleston, Early 1830s

Although the pictured token is approximately AG-3 in grade, the author was overjoyed at having such a rare piece added to his cabinet.

HT-430 RL Baker Robert L Baker Soda Token Charleson SC

During the early times of carbonated water, soda and mineral waters were often used interchangeably.  Starting in the mid-19th century, Baltimore quickly became a place where soda water was immensely popular.

One of Baltimore’s early soda water purveyors was Dudley A. Randall. According to early Baltimore directories, Randall operated his business out of Barnum’s City Hotel from 1840-1842.  As with other merchants of the time, Randall issued his own token. Struck in German Silver (a variant of Feuchtwanger’s Metal) his token measured a mere 15mm in diameter.

HT-147A Randall & Co Soda Mineral Water Token Baltimore

Merchant Era

Soda water purveyor Paul R. Keach was one of the early merchants who offered his soda water product in reusable torpedo bottles. Customers could make their purchase, take the product home, consume their water, and upon return of the bottle, receive a small credit towards their next purchase.

P.R. Keach Soda Water bottle
Early Torpedo Bottle, P.R. Keach Soda Water

Matchett’s 1847 directory lists Keach’s business on Wine street. This was but merely an alleyway that ran parallel to Baltimore Street on the south, between Charles and Light streets. It’s most probable that Keach maintained a Baltimore Street entrance to his business, as a convenience for his customers.

Below is a P.R. Keach soda water token. Also struck in German Silver, the specimen measures 16mm in diameter with a plain edge.

Miller MD-78 P.R. Keach Soda Water

The fourth token hails from New York City.  As with the  other tokens, it was also struck in German Silver.  By this time, soda water was becoming mass produced, and frequently available for purchase as a take-home bottled product.

This is evidenced by the token’s denomination, where a customer could trade a token for twenty bottles of sodas.

Miller NY-645A Prescott's Soda Water

The next token illustrated below was struck for the business of Dr. Zabdiel Silsbee Sampson and his store in Boston Massachusetts. As soda water became more and more popular throughout the United States, various concoctions featuring adjuncts and flavorings evolved.

 One concoction which quickly became popular was the ice cream soda. Sampson operated one of Boston’s biggest drugstores. The enterprising druggist advertised all over Boston with signs that declared that any person who did not drink a glass of his soda water “would miss one-half the pleasure of his life!”

Mass-89 Samson's Ice Cream Sodas

Civil War Era

Even with the break-out of the Civil War, the public’s love for soda water did not wane.  Merchants during the Civil War area — those mostly in the north — were more than eager to satisfy the public’s thirst.

Below are two soda water tokens. The first is from New York City, and the second from Philadelphia. Both were struck on white metal.

Fuld NY630K-3c T Brimelow Druggist Soda WaterFuld PA750U-1c A B Taylor Soda Water

By this era, John Matthews had become a very rich man. His multitudes of patented soda processes and machinery had created a money-making and successful empire. As a means to advertise his company, Matthews commissioned his own storecard medal to be engraved and struck.

Fuld NY630AV-1a John Matthews Soda Water Apparatus

Trade Era

After the Civil War, soda water continued to be a popular American libation. By this time, soda dispensaries were standard fixtures in almost every big city drug store.  Indeed, by this time, they all had a soda fountain where customers could pull up a stool, sit, and enjoy their favorite soda-water concoction.

In the 1870s, even R.H. Macy’s department store had entered the fray.  Producing their own advertising storecards, they issued a token featuring Matthew’s signature trademark, as well as Macy’s familiar star insignia.

Rulau NY-NY-174 RH Macy Soda Water Token

Turn of the 20th Century Era

Nearing the turn of the 20th century, even small town America had its share of soda fountains. Every corner druggist had a bar, open for customers to sit and enjoy.  By this time, all sorts of adjuncts were being added into soda waters.  Eggs, fruit, candy, ice cream, syrups, mints, and herbs were all common ingredients. Moreover, other more exotic and shocking ingredients, were also commonplace. including coca, calisaya and cinchona (quinine), cochina (insect dye), cascara (laxative), acetanilide (analgesic), wormwood (absinthe), and even ambergris (whale dung!).

Below are three tokens hailing from such small town fountains:

Unlisted CG Lennon Alexandria VirginiaMD 410 D5-1 Dutrow Soda Water Frederick MDUnlisted Paul G. Klinkenberg Soda Token Kendallville IN

Aaron Packard [End Mark]

Notes and Sources

  1. Sundae Best: History of Soda Fountains, Anne Cooper Funderburg, Popular Press, ©2002, pg.27
  2. 1795-1895. One Hundred Years of American Commerce, Chauncey Mitchell Depew, D.O. Haynes, 1895, pgs.470-474
  3. The Standard Manual of Soda and Other Beverages, A. Emil Hiss, G.P. Engelhard & Co, 1897
  4. A Treatise on Beverages or The Complete Practical Bottler, Charles Herman Sulz, Dick & Fitzgerald Publishers, 1888
  5. Torbern Bergman Biography – by James S. Aber
  6. Matchett’s Baltimore Director For 1847’8, R.J. Matchett, 1847
  7. The Numismatist Volume 20, 1907, pg.76
  8. N.A.R.D. Notes, Volume 22, Issue 18, 1916
  9. Directions for impregnating water with fixed air; in order to communicate to it the peculiar spirit and virtues of Pyrmont water, and other mineral waters of a similar nature, Joseph Priestly, 1772
  10. Obituary of Robert C. Klinkenberg, Hite Funeral Home, Kendallville, Indiana, November 6, 2003
  11. Alexandria Gazette Newspaper, January-February 1900
  12. Boyd’s directory of the District of Columbia, W.H. Boyd, 1908
  13. ‘C.G. Lennon succeeds A.A. Warfield of Alexandria,’ Western Druggist Volume 10, Engelhard, 1888
  14. The Era druggists’ Directory Volume 11, D.O. Haynes & Co., 1905
  15. The Pharmaceutical Era Volume 19, D. O. Haynes & Co., 1898
  16. The City of Alexandria Library System
  17. What the Food Law Saves Us From, Dr. Edward A. Ayers, The Worlds Work, August 1907
  18. Historic Main Street Kendallsville, Chad Sievers
  19. Standard Catalog of United States Tokens 1700-1900 Fourth Edition, Russell Rulau, Krause Publications, ©2004
  20. The Library of Congress Digital Archives
Aaron Packard


  1. have you ever come across some soda machine plaques? I have found two for John Matthews apparatus’

  2. I have found a soda water facet that looks silver. I know nothing about it but it’s the nicest plumbing you ever saw

  3. Aaron,I am a token and medal dealer from MA. Last week i bought a drug store token in it are 3 tokens that you do not have listed. I thought you would like to know
    1. Cargen & Young Druggists ( La Crosse, Wis. )
    one glass soda uniface alum. 24mm fine
    Cargen & Youngdruggists one glass soda / 301 Main St., La Crosse, Wis alum. 29.5 mm fine
    3. Weyrich & Hadraba Plattsmouth, Nebr. Drugs, Kodaks, soda / Good For 10C in trade alum.23 mm
    AU ( crack )

    1. Author

      Thank you very much Robert. I greatly appreciate your information!

      Aaron Packard

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