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Mug

  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1840 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Britannia metal, of sheet form raised and soldered as a tapering cylinder, with cast handle, foot and lip, and engraved 'wrigglework' ornament

  • Credit Line:

    Jerome Bequest

  • Museum number:

    M.16-1998

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

The Britannia metal mug was manufactured around 1840-50 for use either in home or tavern. Britannia Metal is often mistaken for pewter. As an alloy consisting primarily of tin (around 95-97%) and containing copper and antimony (and no lead), Britannia Metal and modern pewter are virtually indistinguishable.

Much of the distinction between the two lies in the way they were produced. Pewter has always been most commonly cast in moulds. Britannia metal developed in Sheffield, a town with no established history of pewter production, in response to the Sheffield Plate industry (silver fused to copper). It borrowed much of the technology, employing die-stamps, rolling mills and fly presses. It could also be spun into shape over chucks and cast if necessary. In effect it was mass-produced pewter. Britannia metal was also manufactured as a base for electroplated wares. It was first developed by James Vickers in around 1790.

By the 1850s, the use of Britannia metal superseded pewter for cheap mass-produced items. In the 1886 novel Patience Wins (Blackie & Son Ltd, London, Glasgow and Dublin, 1886) George Manville Fenn describes how the hero comes across a Britannia Metal factory: "As I looked through into these works, one man was busy with sheets of rolled-out Britannia metal, thrusting them beneath a stamping press, and at every clang with which this came down a piece of metal like a perfectly flat spoon was cut out and fell aside, while at a corresponding press another man was holding a sheet, and as close as possible out of this he was stamping out flat forks, which, like the spoons, were borne to other presses with dies, and as the flat spoon or fork was thrust in it received a tremendous blow, which shaped the bowl and curved the handle, while men at vices and benches finished them off with files. ... in spite of the metal being cold, the heat of the friction, the speed at which it goes, and the ductility of the metal make it behave as if it were so much clay or putty."

Physical description

The Britannia metal mug has a cylindrical body tapering upwards with a vertical seam running down to the left of the handle. The foot is circular and tiered upwards and has been soldered to the body after the inclusion of a base inside the mug, so that the base is double-skinned. The lip of the mug has been cast and soldered to the body. The handle was cast in a two-part mould and has a flat thumbpiece.

Below the lip and above the base of the tankard are two bands of engraved ornament resembling pewter 'wrigglework' (freehand ornament made by walking a sharp tool in a zigzag motion along the surface): the upper band has joined upward arches and lower band has joined downward arches which rest on or hang from a line of diamond-shaped incisions. In the centre of the body, opposite the handle, is a large circular cartouche (left blank) with finely engraved acanthus leaf ornament flanking each side.

Place of Origin

England (made)

Date

ca. 1840 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Britannia metal, of sheet form raised and soldered as a tapering cylinder, with cast handle, foot and lip, and engraved 'wrigglework' ornament

Marks and inscriptions

Below the lip to the left of the handle: stamped 'VR' over a coat of arms on a shield, a verification mark of capacity from the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901).
Verification marks are symbols of an early form of consumer protection. They indicate that the capacity of vessel bearing them met government standards. Verified vessels could be used either to drink from or to serve other vessels of non-verified capacities.

Marks incorporating heraldry, such as the VR mark on this mug, were introduced around the time of the Weights and Measures Acts of 1834-35. This act appointed local inspectors with local stamps to verify capacities. The stamps often included the authorising city's coat of arms. The arms on this mark resemble the coat of arms of Birmingham, a major centre for the production of Britannia Metal after the 1830s.

To the left of the verification mark a stamped capacity mark: PINT

Scratched under the base in script: EL

Dimensions

Height: 13.5 cm top of handle to base, Height: 13.0 cm lip to base, Length: 15.2 cm end of handle to far end of base, Diameter: 8.7 cm top of body, Diameter: 11.1 cm base, Volume/capacity: 1 pt based on verification mark

Object history note

The mug was manufactured around 1840 for use either in home or tavern. The mug has 'verification' marks (a VR over a shield and the word 'PINT') stamped below the rim, that show it was of an approved capacity and could be used commercially for the serving of ale. Verification marks are symbols of a form of consumer protection. They indicate that the capacity of vessel bearing them met government standards. Marks incorporating heraldry, such as the VR mark on this mug, were introduced around the time of the Weights and Measures Acts of 1834-35. This act appointed local inspectors with local stamps to verify capacities. The stamps often included the authorising city's coat of arms. The arms on this mark resemble the coat of arms of Birmingham, a major centre for the production of Britannia Metal after the 1830s.

Historical significance: The mug represents major technological change in metalworking. Britannia Metal is often mistaken for pewter. As an alloy consisting primarily of tin (around 95-97%) and containing copper and antimony (and no lead), Britannia Metal and modern pewter are virtually indistinguishable.

However, much of the distinction between the two lies in their histories of production. Pewter has always been more commonly cast in moulds than produced using other techniques. Britannia metal developed in Sheffield, a town with no established history of pewter production, in response to the Sheffield Plate industry (silver fused to copper). It borrowed much of the technology, employing die-stamps, rolling mills and fly presses. It could also be spun into shape over chucks and cast if necessary. In effect it was mass-produced pewter. Britannia metal was also manufactured as a base for electroplated wares. It was first developed by James Vickers in around 1790. By the 1850s, Britannia Metal superseded pewter for the production of household items.

Historical context note

By the 1850s, the use of Britannia metal superseded pewter for cheap mass-produced items. In the 1886 novel Patience Wins (Blackie & Son Ltd, London, Glasgow and Dublin, 1886) George Manville Fenn describes how the hero comes across a Britannia Metal factory: "As I looked through into these works, one man was busy with sheets of rolled-out Britannia metal, thrusting them beneath a stamping press, and at every clang with which this came down a piece of metal like a perfectly flat spoon was cut out and fell aside, while at a corresponding press another man was holding a sheet, and as close as possible out of this he was stamping out flat forks, which, like the spoons, were borne to other presses with dies, and as the flat spoon or fork was thrust in it received a tremendous blow, which shaped the bowl and curved the handle, while men at vices and benches finished them off with files. ... in spite of the metal being cold, the heat of the friction, the speed at which it goes, and the ductility of the metal make it behave as if it were so much clay or putty."

Britannia Metal's light robustness even came to the attention of Charles Dickens. 'Pleasantry, sir!' exclaimed Pott with a motion of the hand, indicative of a strong desire to hurl the Britannia metal teapot at the head of the visitor. 'Pleasantry, sir! - But - no, I will be calm; I will be calm, Sir;' in proof of his calmness, Mr. Pott flung himself into a chair, and foamed at the mouth. (The Pickwick Papers, Chapter 18)

Descriptive line

Britannia metal tankard, England, mid-19th century

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

North, Anthony, Pewter at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, V&A Publications 1999 (Reprinted 2000), cat. 153, ill. ISBN 185177 2235
Peal, Christopher A., British Pewter and Britannia Metal, London, John Gifford 1971, SBN 70710172 7, Chapter 10
Scott, Jack L., Pewter Wares From Sheffield, Baltimore, Antiquary Press 1980
Lamb, David, 'Britannia Metal - Cinderella of Antiques', The Journal of the Pewter Society, Volume 5, No. 1, Spring 1985, pp. 1-12

Materials

Britannia metal; Tin; Copper

Techniques

Raising; Casting; Engraving (incising)

Subjects depicted

Leaf

Categories

Drinking; Metalwork; Food vessels & Tableware; Household objects

Production Type

Mass produced

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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