The blog has been skewing a little modern in the past few weeks, so here’s something a bit older for your enjoyment. This is an 18th century pewter measure, owned by the Jones family of Chevy Chase.

The family described the piece as a “tankard,” and indeed there are pewter tankards and flagons with lids and thumb-pieces like this one, and some are in the baluster form seen here. However, this particular vessel is eleven inches tall (base to lid), has a base diameter of six inches, and is extremely heavy – not exactly an easily hefted tankard o’ ale, there. This form was commonly used for wine measures, and although our piece does not have its capacity marked, I’ve found other examples of gallon wine measures that are this size and shape. The thumb piece is double volute shape, with a fleur-de-lis on the hinge plate, fairly typical for mid 18th century pieces. The piece is in good, if used, condition, except for the tail of the handle, which has been bent (it should have a nice curly flip to it), and the lid doesn’t fit snugly anymore.

According to the Pewter Collectors’ Club of America, lidded baluster measures were imported from England to the American colonies in the 1740s and 1750s; some were made here, as well. Other than the incised circles on the lid, the only deliberate mark is a small WP (or WF) stamped onto the side of the rim; so far we (I enlisted a colleague in the search this morning) have not identified either a British or American maker to match the mark, so its exact origins are still unknown.

As for its history, this piece came from Clean Drinking Manor, the home of the Jones family. The house was built for Charles Jones around 1750 (it is no longer standing, but was off of Jones Mill Road in Chevy Chase). The donor, Robert Jones Jr., told us in 1976: “The tankard was in the household [by 1775], and when John Courts Jones served with rank of Major, Fourth Maryland regiment, Maryland Continental Line, he used the tankard while on duty and returned it to Clean Drinking Manor upon his discharge.” John Courts Jones, Sr. (1754-1802) served in the Maryland Line, including two years as aide to General William Smallwood, from 1775 until 1783. The Jones family’s story of the ‘tankard’ going off to war and being “used… on duty” always makes me imagine some poor horse charging into battle with this gigantic vessel strapped to the saddle, whomping him on the rear with every step. That’s not what happened, though. If indeed this piece went off to war, it no doubt stayed in the officers’ tent where it belonged; officers supplied their own luxury items (including servants). Anything else Jones brought with him is unknown; did he include a matching set of graduated measures, or was a gallon all he needed? Whatever his reasons for choosing this piece, both the story and the actual piece were “treasured” by the family (to use the donor’s own word), along with other, more traditional mementos of military service.

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