Saturday, August 20, 2011

Pocahontas Beverages

If you have never heard of the town of Pocahontas, VA then I’m not surprised. When the Appalachian Coal boom started Pocahontas was ground zero with it’s unusually high coal seam. This little backwoods town exploded into a boom town, and of course every growing town needs a soda bottling company. While there are earlier bottlers in Pocahontas’ history one individual stands out, Nick Crist. Crist opened his Pocahontas Bottling Works operation on a small scale in 1919, equipped with a foot operated bottling machine and a wagon, which he used to deliver his sodas himself, he created a bottling business which would spend fifty years serving the coal fields of Southwest Virginia and Southern West Virginia. Throughout it’s history the company would bottle brands such as Nu-Grape, Canada Dry's Carlton Club, Spur Cola, Double Cola, Nesbitts Orange, Sunny Isles Pineapple Soda, and Sun Drop among other brands.

Of course this article isn’t about the bottling company itself, or the man, but it is actually about the Pocahontas Beverages line which it appears the company created around 1935 after Crist renamed his Nick Crist Pale Dry Ginger Ale to Pocahontas Club Ginger Ale, and produced a 7oz green embossed neck bottle for the drink. With the bottling company name being the Pocahontas Bottling Company I’m sure that they were bottling a flavor line which would be the true origins of the brand; however, the Pocahontas Club bottle is the first evidence of the name used as branding. The earliest acl bottle I have found is from 1947 and is from the period when the company was bottling Canada Dry's Spur Cola, thus calling itself the Spur Bottling Company. These early acls for the brand are a deco bottle with an applied color label and are usually 7 ½ ounces with red lettering on a white background.

The centerpiece of the label is the side profile picture of the Native American Princess Pocahontas who figures prominently in the marketing of the town, and coal company that shares her name. Of course Pocahontas is deeply ingrained in the history and legend of Virginia itself. She was the daughter of Powhatan the chief of a group of thirty Algonquin speaking tribes in tidewater Virginia. John Smith, who was among the colonists of Jamestown, was captured by Powhatan’s brother’s hunting party and was to be executed, but Pocahontas intervened on his behalf. The story has been told over and over again, and is also debated among historians as to it’s authenticity. Needless to say the legend of Pocahontas inspired the name of the town, and beverage line that sprang from it.

After the company moved from Pocahontas, VA to it’s new plant in neighboring Falls Mills they updated the label on the Pocahontas Beverages bottles. They still use the deco design of the earlier bottles; however, now have a red  & white acl on a clear background. This bottle is dated 1951 and is labeled property of the Nesbitt Bottling Company of Falls Mills, VA. By 1953 a 10 ounce bottle has been added to the line and uses a different deco type style with a new all white ACL design. They are still bottling the 7 ½ ounce size that by 1963 has dropped the deco aspects in favor of a straight side design with all white acl and the portrait of Pocahontas has been applied to the shoulder as well as the main body label. This is the form that the label will take on all of the sizes of Pocahontas Beverages bottles from this point forward. The next step seems to happen in 1965 when the brand is moved to a 16 ounce size bottle. These 16 ounce bottles are the most common form of this bottle that can be found; however, I have identified at least seven variations of this bottle, most of which can be seen on my page dedicated to the Pocahontas Bottling Works on my website The 16 ounce  bottle would be the standard bottle for the brand from 1965 until the closing of the bottling company after the death of Nick Crist sometime after 1982, which is the newest Pocahontas Beverages bottle I have found.

If you are interested in collecting some of these then maybe some advice is warranted. I’ve been collecting from this area for going on five years, and while some of these bottles are easy to find in the area, the 16 ounces, others have proven more difficult. The toughest one to find for me was the 1963 7 ½ ounce, I ended up purchasing one off eBay from Indiana. That’s a long way for a Pocahontas bottle to travel. The deco style 7 ½ ounce bottles are a tougher find, but are the more desirable bottles from the brand. My personal favorite is the 1953 10 ounce deco/ACL which is a tougher find than the 7 ½ ounce bottles, but well worth the effort, it is the best of these bottles. There isn’t much in the way of advertising for this brand, there are brand specific crates with white lettering on a blue background that have been showing up on eBay recently. Unfortunately there are no brand specific bottle caps for this brand as the company used generic flavor caps with the company information on the skirt. Truly a shame as the profile of Pocahontas would have made for a nice looking cap. You can read more about the company in the Pocahontas VA section of my site.

1935 Pocahontas Club bottle.

1947 Pocahontas Beverages bottle.

1951 Pocahontas Beverages Bottle.

1953 10oz Pocahontas Beverages bottle.

1960 7 1/2oz Pocahontas Beverages bottle.

16oz Pocahontas Beverages bottle.

Pocahontas Beverages crate.