Coca-Cola at the Design Museum

To celebrate its 125th anniversary, Coca-Cola has just opened a new display on the history of its visual identity at the Design Museum in London

To celebrate its 125th anniversary, Coca-Cola has just opened a new display on the history of its visual identity at the Design Museum in London…

The exhibition fills the Design Museum’s glass tank and features some rarities from the Coke archives, commonly housed in a vault in the Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta. The display also shows that while differently shaped Coke bottles have come and gone, the brand’s visual identity has survived largely unchanged in 125 years.

When I viewed the collection, Ted Ryan, manager of the Coca-Cola archives, was on hand to talk through the contents of the tank and to discuss the longevity of company’s design. The Coca-Cola logo itself was created by Frank Robinson in 1886 and, Ryan explained, was written out in Spencerian script because that was the favoured typeface of accounting folk at that time. Robinson was Coca-Cola inventor John S Pemberton’s book-keeper.

One of the stand-out pieces in the tank (though designers will love the rare design manuals and identity guidelines on show) is the Raymond Loewy-designed fountain dispenser, shown above. First made in 1947, it resembles a sleek speedboat engine and is a triumph of applied typography.

Occupying the rear of the Design Museum’s tank is a display of several Coca-Cola bottles, charting the subtle changes in shape that have occurred since the straight-sided Hutchinson bottle launched in 1899.

When first designed, Ryan explained, the now more familiar curvy frame of the Coke bottle was actually a reference the shape of the cocoa bean (though the bean has nothing to do with the drink) and the form has sashayed in and out of fashion ever since.

Ryan manages the company’s archives with Phil Mooney and Jamal Booker and is, undertandably, chock-full of facts relating to the visual history and design of Coca-Cola. I’ll be sharing the best of them in a piece in the next issue of CR, in which the Design Museum’s Michael Czerwinski and curator Ria Hawthorn will also be discussing why Coca-Cola’s brand heritage is of such interest to the museum.

For now, take a virtual tour of the Coca-Cola archives at and get across to Shad Thames in London for a close-up look at the objects on display.

The Coca-Cola exhibition is on at the Design Museum until July 3.

In the foreground, above: a sheet of Coca-Cola logos applied in different perspectives.

This dispenser is one of the oldest objects in the Coca-Cola archive, from 1896. It dispensed syprup that was then mixed with carbonated water.

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