CONSISTENCY IN CAPACITY
In 1963, Dr Homer personally measured 160 balusters from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Of these, only 25 had verification marks including 13 with either crowned hR or HR. He published the results in Libra 12, and summarised his findings in an article for this Journal entitled ‘Standard Measure?’ 13. He said that these 13, which presumably had been verified in London, were on average larger than the others measuring about 1008ml or 35.5 fl oz to the quart compared to 960ml for the others He felt that his results showed a somewhat casual attitude by pewterers to producing baluster measures to size.
I wonder whether they may have been more concerned, not with accurate capacities, but with conforming to the Company’s Sizing of 1673-74 detailed by Welch History of the Pewterers’ Company’, Volume II. This is the earliest specific mention of wine measures in the Company’s records. As a point of interest, they also dictate that wine measures were to be made of lay metal rather than fine, which explains the rather heavy feel of baluster measures. The weights specified were three pounds for quarts, two pounds for pints and one pound for half-pints. Double volute measures tend to be lighter and do not conform to the Sizing being made largely in the second half of the 18th century when the Company’s powers were waning. However, bud measures made at the end of the 17th and into the 18th centuries may well conform. I weighed a quart, two pints and a half-pint and they all fell within only one or two ounces under the prescribed weight, probably explained by wear and polishing for three hundred years. Possibly, as pewter was sold by weight, the pewterers ensured the weight was always a bit below the standard but charged for the standard weight and gained an ounce or two on each sale! Of course, this is a very small sample, and more research is needed.
THE ORIGIN OF STANDARD CAPACITIES
Having reviewed previous theories about HR marks, and before analysing the evidence I gathered, we need to try to understand the process that gave us our current standard measures of capacity, and how they were verified and marked.
Monarchs have tried to impose standard measures across the country since early medieval times. The first successful attempt, after much earlier confusion, was the establishment by Henry VII of a Wine Standard and Ale Standard in 1496 as detailed by Professor RD Connor 15. This gave Wine and Ale Standards respectively of 231 and 282 cubic inches per gallon, which equates to 16.65 and 20.33 fl oz per pint. Connor debates at length the origin of these capacities but draws no firm conclusions.
Some late 15th century standard measures still survive. However, even these primary standards against which the standards in daily use were to be checked throughout the country, do not conform to the amounts above! Nevertheless, these two capacity standards were accepted during the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth. 250 years later, the Carysfort Committee tried to find out why these amounts had been adopted for ale and wine. In 1758, they applied to the Commissioners of Excise for an answer, and they in turn cited a memorandum dated 15th May 1688 which said that ‘all beer and ale had been gauged at 282 cubic inches for a gallon and other excisable liquors at 231 cubic inches.
In 1700, the courts heard a test case against Thomas Barker, a wine importer. It concerned excise he had paid, but because of confusion over which standard should be used in the calculations, the case was abandoned by the Crown after five hours. The matter was left to Parliament to resolve which was done in the form of the Act 5 Anne c27, s17 of 1706 – six years later! This stated that a lawful wine gallon should be 231 cubic inches but did not stipulate how such measures should be marked.