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Last Updated 30-05-2018

David Moulson

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Collectors and others have noted the presence of these marks struck on the lips of some baluster measures since the early years of pewter collecting. However, despite several attempts to explain them, no one to date has been able to rationalise the varieties of this type of mark and the apparently inconsistent capacities of the measures on which they appear. Attracted by this problem some years ago I set about gathering data on measures marked in this way.

I wish to thank the owners, including the Worshipful Company of Pewterers, the Museum of London, The Victoria and Albert Museum, and Colonial Williamsburg for their co-operation in this somewhat drawn out process.

When gathering data for research it is important to eliminate as many variables as possible. Previous surveys into other pewter vessels have been undermined because the measuring was done by a number of people leading to inconsistent results from which no meaningful conclusions can be drawn. Therefore, wherever possible I attempted to measure the capacities of these measures using one graduated measuring cylinder. I asked members owning such pieces to bring them to Society meetings so that I could record them myself, and thereby ensure comparable results.

I identified 39 measures bearing a version of this mark, and measured and recorded 29 that I detail in the table at the end of this article. I exclude seven whose whereabouts are unknown; a gallon bud by John Langford, a half-pint and a quart by Nicholas Marriott and a gallon double volute all mentioned by Michaelis together with a half-pint hammerhead with HR struck twice on the lip as described by Peal and two ‘wedges’ illustrated by Cotterell and referred to later.  I know of three more but have no measurements for them. One is a pint bud by William Battison, another is a gallon bud now in the Auckland Museum by Thomas Stevens and the third is a recently identified half-pint hammerhead in the Museum of London #8467.  A hammerhead quart with a crowned hR mark was also considered, but is excluded as it was deemed a fake when it came up for auction. I excluded Lot 190 in the sale catalogue of the Shemmell collection, a pint ball & wedge with a crowned hR mark, as it is uncertain where to measure its capacity. The capacity full is 18.3 fl oz but measured to an incised line inside the lip it is only 17.0 fl oz.  The remaining 29 comprise two ‘wedges’, three ball & wedges, 12 buds, 10 double volutes, one hammerhead and one Type 1 bulbous measure.

Throughout this article, when I refer to a fluid ounce I mean the British fluid ounce, which is the volume of one ounce of water, not the American fluid ounce that is their (wine) pint divided by sixteen.


People have recognised the existence of these marks for over a century and pieces so marked are much sought after, and highly prized by collectors.  Several eminent scholars have wrestled with what these crowned HR marks signify and I thought it would be useful to assemble and discuss their various theories before adding my own.

Masse in his 1904 book Pewter Plate considers the existence of crowned letters ‘give a clue to the date by accentuating the name of the reigning sovereign’ 1.  In those early days the distinction between hallmarks, verification marks and owner’s initials had not yet been drawn let alone the fact that regnal initials referred to Acts of Parliament which may have stayed in force long after a particular monarch had died.

Cotterell in his 1932 Pewter down the Ages illustrates two baluster measures with wedge thumb pieces (which we now believe to have started out as wedge & ball or hammerhead thumb pieces), now both unlidded and with crowned HR marks to the lips.  He thought the ‘H’ was for Henry VIII and implied that these two were from the period of his reign, perhaps influenced by Masse’s earlier assertion 2. If anyone knows the whereabouts of these, I would be grateful for the chance to examine them. 

HR marks 1
HR marks 2


1.  Ball & wedge measure with crowned hR verification mark dug up 1903 in Parliament Street, Westminster. Unidentified touchmark 'F' between two stags, house mark of a bishop with mitre and 'NE' (V&A dating c1550-1600)

In June 1950, Peal muddies the waters further in an article about baluster measures and their capacities 3, when he assigns a date of c1640 to a wedge & ball measure with three housemarks on the lid and HR to the lip.  We would now date this to the last quarter of the 17th century.  Yet, in another article he shows a half-pint hammerhead with five housemarks on the lid and, most unusually, HR struck twice on the lip 4.  Peal there says that ‘these do not denote being made in Henry VIII’s reign but merely that its capacity is in accordance with Henry VII’s enactment of 1495’.  Was he right and where is this piece now?

Peal adds that the HR mark is never seen on double volutes but several are now known.  He hoped to prove that the HR mark ‘denoted accordance with Henry VII’s Corn gallon enacted in 1495 and later called the Winchester Corn Gallon’ but this was of 19.13 fluid ounces per pint which did not equate to the three HR marked measures which he owned having capacities of 15.5, 16.0 and 17.5 fluid ounces per pint.  He concludes ‘that problem awaits a new theory!’

HR marks 3

2.  Four measures with crowned hR/HR verification marks

In August 1954, Michaelis wrote about capacity marks on old English pewter measures 5.  He believes Masse started the ‘hare’ running that measures with HR marks date from the 16th century when describing a half-pint bud in his catalogue for the exhibition at Clifford’s Inn Hall in 1908.  Masse later confirms the description of this measure as ‘Measure Temp. Henry VIII’ 6.  However, when Past President Bill Cooper cleaned the piece he revealed the touch mark of Nicholas Marriott of London c1690-1700!

There is no evidence that pewter measures were in use at the time of Henry VIII or Elizabeth. None of the pewter vessels from the wreck of Henry’s warship the Mary Rose that sank in 1545 has a verification mark or any indication that they were measures.  To the contrary, pewterers were busy producing lids for earthenware pots from the Continent.  Indeed, their use for tavern purposes became so widespread that in 1632 the pewterers’ Court petitioned His Majesty’s Council to the effect that ‘no victuallers or others should sell any beere or ale but in pewter potts’.  A further petition of 1649 stated ‘That all measures for liquid Commodites may be mad of such mettle or stuffe as will take the faire impression of a seall’.

This was the first reference Michaelis found relating to the sealing of measures in the Pewterers’ Company records.  He suspects this was a certification of capacity and was the crowned hR mark 7.  He uses a later minute from a Court meeting of December 15th 1708 to support this assertion.  This quotes Mr Wroth, Clerk of the Market of the Queen’s Household, who reported that the principal potters making mugs lived in his jurisdiction and that ‘their muggs, though sealed, were not of full (at least, of uncertain) measure’.  Michaelis speculates that the hR mark could represent ‘household Rex (or Regina)’, and is the mark used by the Clerk of the Markets of the Royal Household to denote that he had checked the capacity of the mugs.  However, these probably were mugs not measures, and may be the banded and sometimes gadrooned mugs, which we find with crowned AR verification marks.  Michaelis also points out that many of the balusters under discussion have crowned HR marks either with the City of London Arms or with the sword of St Paul used by the City, and that a number had been dug up in the City or had house marks traceable to known London taverns. Was this method of sealing restricted to the City of London only?

Peal returns to the significance of regnal initials in his 1971 book8, and says ‘The meaning of hR is still not solved, and there are very few even remotely feasible suggestions.  We can reject the small ’h’ as standing for Henry’. He also rejects Michaelis’ theory that hR or HR denotes belonging to the royal household, but has nothing better to suggest.  ‘At present’ he says ‘we have something of an enigma which looks very well on balusters’.  However, Peal did realise that the crowned WR mark was the verification seal of vessels that conformed to a 1688 memorandum that standardised ale and wine measures.

Next to attempt to solve this ‘enigma’ was Stanley Woolmer in an article in this Journal in 1975 9.  He cites the lettering on coins of the Henrys, from the II to the VIII, which use Old English script in which our modern ‘H’ is written ‘h’.  Woolmer had seen a coin from Henry VIII’s time using hR for Henricus Rex and correctly concludes that hR ‘can only have been intended as a capacity verification seal’.  He thought this referred to the Henry VII standard of 268.43 cubic inches giving a pint of 550ml, which equates to 19.35 fl oz per pint.  For comparison, an Old English Ale Standard pint is 556ml and an Imperial pint 568ml.  A Henry VII bronze standard measure in the Science Museum in Kensington  is inscribed ‘henricus septimus’ with a greyhound before the words and a portcullis between them.  Both of these were Tudor badges and the City of Westminster used the portcullis.  We will see that the measures under discussion contain less than 19.35 fl oz per pint.

Peal returns to this vexatious problem in 1979 in a Journal article ‘A new line on ‘hR’ balusters’ 10.  He hoped to show a variation between genuine balusters so marked and the ‘several measures, which have been deemed as fake’.  Sadly, he relied on owners measuring their own balusters and he measured his own using a kitchen measure, which in my opinion, made the results of little use.  They measured 31 examples, and Peal concluded tentatively that ‘fakes appear oversize but we should seek further examples’.

Angus McInnes is the next to discuss these marks in the Spring 1991 Journal 11.  He describes the hR mark as ‘that rare and alluring extra sometimes found stamped on the necks of balusters and early tavern pots, which has always been something of a puzzle for the collector’.  He was wrong, as we do not find these marks on tavern pots.  He also makes the point that none of the vessels from the Mary Rose has the crowned HR mark, and reiterates some findings by Homer, Shemmell and Michaelis. 

He then writes about a document he found in the British Library’s Manuscript Department: the commonplace book of the London mercer John Colyn that contains a complaint addressed to the Royal Council in 1517 about a gallon measure which had the ‘Knynges lettyr H upon a potte that holdythe but vii pyntes of the Kynges standard pynte: whyche potte ys occupyed for a gallon.’  In modern language a gallon measure that was a pint short had been verified with the king’s letter as dictated by the 1496 Act of Henry VII, which said that weights and measures should be checked against standards and marked with a crowned H.  McInnes asserts that this proves conclusively that the seal was used in the reign of Henry VIII and that hR stood for Henricus Rex, as ‘H was the Kynges lettyr’.  While the document shows that pots were verified in Henry VIII’s time, it does not prove that the crowned hR or HR were used as Colyn only refers to the King’s letter.  Nor can it be used, as he states to ‘make it crystal clear’ that hR stood for Henricus Rex. 

McInnes thought the crowned hR mark continued for around 300 years until the introduction of Imperial measure just because people were used to it.  A weight struck with a crowned h (Fig. 3) shows that this was the form of their verification mark. 


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