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Journal article

The early evolution of the tappit hen

2012

Abstract

The recent discovery of three pewter tappit hen measures from the excavation of a ship sunk off Mull in 1653 has enabled us to deduce something of the origins of this eponymous Scottish measure. They are of Scots pint, chopin and half-mutchkin capacity, and they display several hitherto unrecognised features. They were made by casting two vertical halves, unlike the familiar 18th-century forms. This left a hole in the base which was then filled with a plug. On the inside of this plug the pewterer struck a mark of a hammer and his initials, whilst his touchmark was struck on the collar of the measure. There was a coarse threaded projection on the underside of the lid, probably used to hold the lid in the lather for turning and finishing. The half-mutchkin has an unusual lobed palmette thumbpiece. The method of casting and the palmette thumbpiece has now also been observed on four early 18th-century examples. These are two chopin and two Scots quart tappit hens that have been identified in private collections, and described for the first time. The tappit hen form shows strong affinities with late 16th-century pewter vessels from the north-west of France, with whom Edinburgh had strong wine-trade links. However, the name appears to originate with Alan Ramsay c 1721, who used it in his poems to describe what was probably a quart with a knobbed lid and palmette thumbpiece, as in the examples described here.

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