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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