Puzzle Jug Perforated Progenitors and Playmates

Some time ago, I published an article about puzzle jugs, a unique and curious drinking vessel type which had been popular in England for several decades, right through the Regency. There were other unique and intriguing drinking vessels in use in England, before and during the Regency, which were the precursors of the puzzle jug. Since their stories are just as interesting as that of the puzzle jug, I imagine visitors here might enjoy knowing more about them. Some of these drinking vessels were first introduced when Elizabeth I was on the throne of England and were still in use in the early decades of the nineteenth century, right along with puzzle jugs. However, in many cases, these older vessels had become relegated to the ale houses and taverns of the provinces.

Of tygs and fuddling cups and posset pots …

The oldest of all these drinking vessels is the tyg and it can trace its origins back to Elizabethan times. Its name is even older, tracing back to the Anglo-Saxon word tigel, which meant anything made of clay, particularly red clay. Over the centuries, the word tyg, or tig, came to mean a special kind of drinking cup. A tyg was similar to a loving cup, but it had many more handles, the number increasing with the size of the cup. Tygs have been found with as many as ten handles. A tyg was a social drinking vessel, for it was filled to the brim, then passed around a group of drinkers. Each member of the group would have his own handle and a section of the rim of the tyg to himself. Through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, tygs were primarily made of ceramic, but by the eighteenth century, they could also be made of pewter, and very occassionally, might be made of silver. Because they were meant for use by multiple drinkers, tygs were found almost exclusively in taverns and the tap rooms of inns and public houses. But there were some who favored convivial private drinking parties and they might have had a tyg or two in their homes. It was these privately owned tygs which were most likely to be made of silver. These silver tygs might be engraved, sometimes with the name of the owner, or more often with some amusing rhyme about the consumption of the alcoholic beverages which they contained.

About a century after the advent of the tyg, a new drinking vessel appeared in the tap rooms of England. The fuddling cup could be considered a cousin of the tyg, but unlike its cousin, it had several hidden perforations. Instead of one single vessel with multiple handles, a fuddling cup was made up of a set of matching cups, of any number between three and seven, which where joined together, usually in the lower half of the cups and had interlaced handles. What was not obvious was that each of the cups in the group had a small hole drilled in its side which communicated with that of its neighbor. Therefore, once the fuddling cup was filled, not only was it somewhat difficult to drink from any individual cup, it was completely impossible to drain one cup without emptying all the others. Thus, its name, since “fuddle” as a noun meant a long session of drinking. When used as an adjective, it described someone who was in an advanced state of intoxication. And so would one be, if one attempted to drain a fuddling cup of its contents. A three-cup fuddling cup could hold at least a pint, while a seven-cup fuddling cup could hold well over a full quart of liquor. In the county of Somerset, particularly in the town of Taunton, fuddling cups were known as "jolly boys." The fuddling cup, or jolly boy, was very popular for use in drinking games in taverns and public houses. In most of these drinking games, the rules not only required the drinker to drain the fuddling cup completely, but to do so without spilling any of is precious liquid contents. Such a feat was quite difficult to accomplish, as it required both a steady hand and a clever mind to determine how to successfully maneuver the fuddling cup while drinking from it. Because of their special design, fuddling cups were made only of ceramics, but in a wide variety from iron-glazed earthenware, to slipware, to stoneware. Some might also have inscriptions fired into the glaze of one or more of the cups, usually regarding the pleasures of alcoholic consumption, or less frequently, its risks.

There is a drinking cup or mug which appears to have been related to the fuddling cup. There are no pictures of these vessels to be found on the web, nor have they been given a name by the few scholars who have mentioned them. However, I have decided to call them "peg mugs," as small pegs, or in some cases, small knots, of fired clay, which are inserted into their sides are perhaps their most identifiable feature. Unlike tygs or fuddling cups, these vessels consisted of a single mug or cup, with a single handle. Victorian scholars would have us believe these vessels where used to restrain a confirmed tippler from overindulging. Their theory was that the toper, when sober, would set the peg in the cup to mark the amount of liquor to be poured into it. When that measure of liquor was gone, the fellow was to call it a night and return home. But these peg mugs were known to have been made in the days when men saw no sin in imbibing a few rounds at the local tavern, and took great pleasure in doing so as a form of amusement or competition. Early evidence suggests these peg mugs were used in convivial drinking games. The rules of the game might vary slightly from region to region, but the essential theme was the same, how many pegs could be revealed when its alcoholic contents were consumed. All the pegs would be placed in their holes in the side of the mug, the mug would then be filled with the competitor’s spirit of choice. If this contestant could drink the contents of the mug down, usually in a single draught, without taking a breath, they were declared the victor. Should a rival have failed to drain his peg mug, the victor would have been said to have "taken him down a peg," or quite possibly, two or three, depending upon how many pegs the loser had left still covered by liquor in his own peg mug.

Another perforated drinking vessel, perhaps a bit more refined than those mentioned above, was the posset pot. From the Middle Ages, right through the Regency, posset was a favorite drink in Britain, especially around the times of winter holidays. Posset was made by adding wine or ale, both of which at that time had a similarly high alcoholic content, to milk which had been brought to a boil. The liquor curdled the milk, eggs might then be beaten in, after which sugar, and spices, most often nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves, were stirred in to the hot mixture. The posset pot was created to enable those who enjoyed this curious beverage to drink it while avoiding the debris of content which floated on its surface. The posset pot was a two handled cup, most often with a slightly narrower neck and a bulging belly. A long tube ran up from the base of the cup to near the rim. This tube functioned as a straw, to allow the posset in the cup to be siphoned from the bottom of the cup. In this way, the posset could be enjoyed without having to deal with the milk curds and chunks of spices which floated on its surface. Some posset pots also had a cover, though this was more common for those used in the home than in public houses and taverns. There do not appear to have been any drinking games associated with the posset pot, it had been designed and created primarily to provide posset drinkers the best way to enjoy the beverage in the most convenient manner. However, posset pots were also commonly to be found in many Regency homes, and might be considered the Regency version of the sippy cup. Cups of this type were very convenient for feeding small children, the elderly or the infirm, various types of nourishment in liquid form. Milk, gruel, porridge or thin soups could all be served in a posset pot. The double handles were convenient, should the patient be in need of assistance when drinking from the pot. Posset pots intended for use in the home nearly always included a cover and tended to be more highly ornamented than did those intended for use in a tavern or ale house. Most posset pots were made of ceramic, from earthenware to porcelain, though there were a few made of glass. Posset pots were seldom made of metal of any kind, as their contents were usually hot, and metal transferred heat too quickly.

Perhaps the drinking vessel which came closest to the puzzle jug in design was kept in many tap rooms, to be presented only to strangers, the first time they called for a drink. These large mugs were inscribed on one side with the word "King" and on the other with the word "tinker." Whether because they considered themselves to be a loyal subject of His Majesty, or because they did not want anyone to think they were a lowly tinker, most would drink from the "King" side of the mug. And would be instantly deluged with streams of ale or beer which flowed out from a pattern of tiny holes which were pierced beneath the rim of the mug on the "King" side. The surprise of these King/tinker mugs would work only once on each victim, as they were all made the same, unlike puzzle jugs, each of which was unique. The few of these mugs which have survived were all made of ceramic, and were apparently all part of the bar ware of a tavern or tap room. It does not appear that any of these mugs were created for use in the home.

For at least three centuries prior to the Regency, English potters had employed their ingenuity and skill to create vessels which would amuse and entertain patrons of public houses and taverns across the country. Barmen and tavern-keepers made it a point to have at least a few of these vessels on hand, not only for the amusement of their customers, but to encourage greater consumption of their liquid wares. By the early years of the Regency, most of the drinking vessels discussed here were considered rather old-fashioned. The posset pot was the exception, as it was still made and used in most taverns and tap rooms throughout the country during the Regency, even in the large cities, including London. However, they were also to be found in most homes, not only for the enjoyment of posset, but for use in feeding those who required liquid nourishment. But tygs, fuddling cups, peg mugs and those tricky King/tinker mugs were no longer in vogue for drinking games, at least not in the more fashionable taverns and public houses in the larger cities. Drinking games were certainly still popular, even in the Regency, but by then, certainly in urban areas, the puzzle jug was the preferred drinking game vessel. In more rural areas, these older vessels could still be found, as they might even in a few London taverns which catered to country folk in the city. No English gentleman would expect to find a tyg or a fuddling cup used to serve a drink at his London club, but he might easily run across either vessel if he stopped to refresh himself in a country inn tap room. Perhaps one or two of the locals might challenge the townie to a drinking game using one of these older vessels.

The majority of the drinking vessels discussed here would have been found only in the taverns and the tap rooms of rural England. Country folk would have been familiar with all of these various mugs and cups, since they were likely to be found in most of their local taverns and ale houses. Men of the gentry, and even the aristocracy, who owned a country home and spent time in the local village would also be likely to have some familiarity with these vessels. Few ladies, certainly not those who were properly brought up, would know much about any of these vessels, with the exception of the posset pot. That was the one vessel which would commonly be used in the home for the enjoyment of posset during winter holiday celebrations or for the care of the sick. There was, of course, always the chance that a particularly social gentleman or peer who hosted drinking parties in his home might have owned some of these vessels, most likely tygs and fuddling cups, but also peg mugs. In such cases, it is possible that the ladies of the house, however gently bred, would have been aware of these drinking vessel types. They might also then have been aware of how these vessels were used in drinking games, unlike their more closely sheltered sisters. Like the puzzle jug, any of these drinking vessels might offer the opportunity for some humorous by-play in a novel with a Regency setting. I look forward to reading how creative and imaginative Regency authors might incorporate any of these vessels into their stories.

About Kathryn Kane

Historian with a particular interest the English Regency era.   An avid reader of novels set in that time, holding strong opinions on the historical accuracy to be found in said novels.
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3 Responses to Puzzle Jug Perforated Progenitors and Playmates

  1. Pingback: Quirky Quaffing:   Bottoms Up | The Regency Redingote

  2. Julia says:

    Love your blog – you write so well. I will have to spend some time reading your posts more thoroughly, I’ve quoted a large part of this post in my blog today, I hope that is ok, all attributed http://mudlarking.blogspot.co.uk/
    with best wishes

    • Kathryn Kane says:

      Thank you for your kind words. I hope you will like the other articles. Though, as a mudlark, I suspect your primary focus will be ceramics, glass or metal, since they will survive longer in the Thames than might textiles, paper or wood.

      It looks like you have made some interesting finds already. I wish you continued success.



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