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Last Updated 29-05-2017

BULBOUS MEASURES

TYPES COMMONLY FOUND AND A GUIDE TO DATING THEM

from a talk given by R F Michaelis at Peterborough in March 1966

No real research has formerly been done on this well-known type of English pewter measure, but as it appears that there is now a danger of specimens of some of them fast disappearing overseas, I have compiled a few notes from the numerous examples which have come to my notice.  These are my personal findings, and it is not suggested that the notes are exhaustive, nor that the tentative dating will, necessarily, not require further amendment as more study is undertaken.

EVOLUTION OF THE ENGLISH BULBOUS MEASURE

bulbtanks

The distinctive features of all (except No. 7 which will receive special mention later) are:-

(a) the collar at neck;
(b) the incurved waist and bulbous “belly” (and the seam at this point where the two half castings are joined);
(c) the moulded, splayed, foot-rim, hollow on the underside;
(d) all were made in at least six “regular” sizes (of quart, pint, half pint pint (gill), 1/8th pint ( gill) and 1/16th pint (3/4 gill);
(e) the shape is uniform, and quite distinctive from the well-known baluster measure, and also from the so-called “tulip-shaped” tankard or measure (the latter having no collar, and a slightly different, but nevertheless distinctive contour).

A drawing by Hogarth entitled “Gin Lane”, published c.1760 shows hanging tavern signs of this almost identical form, but although no actual specimen, in pewter, of that early date has come to light, it now seems quite reasonable to assume that the form was, at least, well known in the last quarter of the 18th century, and that it became increasingly more so from c. 1790 onwards.

The standards of capacity in use at that time were almost certainly the Old Ale Measure, known as the 1688 “Customary Ale Measure” (of 20.62 fl. oz. to the pint), or the Queen Anne Ale Measure of 1704 (of 19.59 fl. oz. to the pint) and also of course, the Queen Anne Wine Measure of 1707 (of 16.69 fl. oz. to the pint).

The “Imperial” standard (of 20 fl. oz. to the pint) did not come into force until 1826 (legalised in 1824), and superseded all former standards.

There is no doubt that the earlier of the lidless tavern measures known to us of this form were made to the Old Ale Standard, and seem to date from about 1790.  When still in use in 1826, these were checked for capacity, and found to conform so closely to Imperial that they were “sealed” by inspectors.  It is believed that the only measures of pre-Imperial capacity are to be found in the two groups, 1 and 2.

GROUP 1
has a body entirely bereft of engraved or cast bands of reeding.  The normal shape which becomes a feature of all later specimens has not yet become “stabilised”, and the contours will be found to vary somewhat, one from another.  Some are more squat in form; some are slightly slimmer than normal; and some have slightly deeper collar.  All in this group have a handle of the type somewhat similar to that on “double volute” baluster measures, i.e. with a “ball” or “semi-ball” terminal.  The type has, so far, been found only in the six regular sizes already mentioned, but may also have been made in half and one gallon.

(A single exception to the above may be mentioned which is Q.A. Wine pint, of 16.25 fl. oz., in possession of Dr. R. Roberts).

The type is given the provisional date of c. 1790-1826 (see note beneath group 2).

GROUP 2
combines all the above features, but has bands of reeding at the waist.  It has the long “ball”, or “semi-ball” handle terminal, and is found in the six regular sizes, and also the and 1 gallon.

Date c. 1820-40.

(NOTE.  Examples of both above groups were made in pre-Imperial measure, and in these cases it is unlikely that the markers, themselves, stamped them with capacity marks; in 1826 however, this became a frequent practice, and measures with such a mark may reasonably be classed as c.1826, or later).

GROUP 3
the shape now stabilised.  Bands of reeding at the waist, and an additional thick band at the belly (this, evidently, to strengthen the weak spot at the seam of juncture).  Not a prolific type, but found in the six regular sizes.  Long “ball” or “semi-ball” handle.  c. 1826-50.

GROUP 4
as above, but with heavy band at belly only.  The slightly slimmer handle with long “ball” or “semi-ball” terminal handle.  Not a prolific type, and probably made only in the six regular sizes.  c. 1830-60.

GROUP 5
the most common group found today.  Bands of reeding at waist only.  The handle now a more bulky construction, with short pointed terminal only slightly projecting at the lower end.  The handle cast hollow except in the smaller sizes (usually gill and under).  Made in all regular sizes, and also and 1 gallon

In addition, this group contains the unusual diminutives of the pint (not found in any other group), as follows:  the 1/10th; 1/12th; 1/18th; 1/20th; 1/22nd; 1/24th; 1/30th and the “pin”, of 1/32nd.  (A 1/14th and 1/25th are believe3d to exist, but I have not met them).  A very prolific type, probably commencing in c. 1850, but contained to the present day.

GROUP 6
another late type, with single heavy band at belly only.  Shirt handle, as 5 above.  Probably made only in six regular sizes.  c. 1860 – to date.

GROUP 7
a very late type, the distinguishing feature being the lack of a collar.  Mostly with single heavy band at belly only, but occasionally found with no band at all. Similar short handle, as above.  (This should not be confused with a “tulip-shaped” bodied tankard which usually has a “double-curved” handle; the shape of Group 7 is quite distinctive, and more closely resembles all former types).  Known in the six regular sizes, but may include the and 1 gallon.  A fairly prolific type.  It is doubtful if it came into use until c. 1880, and is certainly still made today.

I have indicated the strong features which enable me to confine this type of measure into sever “main” groups, but would stress that each group probably contains individual specimens with minor variation in contour, banding or foot shape; these are considered to be merely vagaries of a particular maker, rather than significant factors, and one would not expect any of the minor varieties to have been made prolifically, or even in sufficient quantity to justify a separate grouping.

(A talk given by R.F. Michaelis at Peterborough in March 1966).

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