In the last century, all soft drinks were packaged the same, and nobody got to laugh together on beaches or throw impromptu street parties. Then, in 1915, an obscure engineer in an Indiana glassworks came up with a bottle shaped like a cola nut, and the rest is design history.

With the original Coke bottle about to be relaunched in the UK, a "design classic" will be back on the shelves, according to Stephen Bayley, founder of the Design Museum. For Bayley, the bottle comes close to being a sacred vessel. "It's an ordinary thing of great beauty. A wonderful piece of intuitive design, imbued with mythic values."

A 20th-century icon, the Coke bottle has permeated every sphere, adding a new meaning to pop culture. Warhol and Rauschenberg featured its fine contours in their art works, while photo archives show everyone from JFK to the Pope sipping from that curvy bottle.

The world's favourite fizzy brown drink was originally delivered to the mouths of thirsty consumers in standard syrup jars, but Coke were pioneers of product differentiation and soon sought to scotch their rivals with crafty packaging. The brief was to design a bottle that a person could still recognize in the dark or when broken - an early intimation of the "glassing" Coke planned to deliver to any cola competitors.

The resulting design is the first object, rather than symbol, to be commercially branded. Stamped with a 3D trademark, Coke are claiming it as the UK's "first official shape". Apparently all our unpatented triangles and hexagons just ain't the real thing.

LIESE SPENCER

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