The Gurgling Cod | Up Close

New Englanders just can’t get their fill of this odd collectible.

By Joe Bills

Mar 14 2022


The Gurgling Cod

Photo Credit : courtesy of Shreve, Crump & Low
The Gurgling Cod
Photo Credit : courtesy of Shreve, Crump & Low

The Gurgling Cod is hard to explain. Not how it functions—the namesake noise that this ceramic pitcher makes as its contents are poured can be chalked up to simple science. The real mystery is how this delightful bit of kitsch came to be the signature offering of Boston’s most venerable jeweler, Shreve, Crump & Low.

The company’s roots stretch back to 1796, when watchmaker and silversmith John McFarlane set up shop just across the street from fellow craftsman Paul Revere. At the time, George Washington was president, Tennessee had just become the 16th state, and the Old Farmer’s Almanac was in its infancy, just four editions old.

Named Shreve, Crump & Low after an 1869 reorganization, the company outlasted all its early competitors. Today it’s known as the purveyor of luxury jewelry and gifts, the creator of high-profile sports trophies the Davis Cup and the Cy Young Award, and the only source for the original Gurgling Cod.

Believed to have been the brainchild of Benjamin Dale Shreve in the early 1960s, the Gurgling Cod is a variation of the British “glug glug jug.” It’s designed to trap air in the fish’s tail, which escapes when the jug is tipped to pour its liquid, causing the fish to, well, burp.

At first the Gurgling Cods were all brown, but they have since diversified into a rainbow of colors and multitude of sizes. Despite several attempts at local “spawning,” these fish have almost always hailed from across the pond (made first by England’s Dartmouth Pottery and more recently by Wade Ceramics). But their quirkiness is pure New England, yielding a massive school of piscine heirlooms whose appeal only grows with each oddly satisfying, giggle-inducing pour.