Puzzle Jugs for Fools

Posted in museums by Editor on April 1, 2012

I have long thought that museum gift shops would make a mint with good quality reproductions of these vessels, or perhaps even better, commissions for updated versions from local ceramicists. I first encountered the type as a graduate student, at The Smart Museum of Art in Chicago, and have been childishly enamored ever since. The following comes from Kathryn Kane’s posting at The Regency Redingote (3 July 2009). Happy Fool’s Day! -CH

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Puzzle Jug, tin-glazed earthenware, Liverpool, ca. 1750 (Liverpool: Walker Art Gallery)
Inscribed: "Here Gentlemen come try your skill, I'll hold a wager if you will, That you don't drink this liquor all, Without you spill and let some fall." For more information, click on the photo. 

A diverting drinking vessel which could be found in village inns and public houses for centuries had a resurgence in popularity in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. These vessels had been made throughout England and northern Europe since at least the fifteenth century. Most commonly called puzzle jugs, they were also sometimes called teasing pitchers or wager jugs. It was a challenge to determine how to drink the liquor which they contained and wagers were often placed on the outcome of the attempt.

By the time of the Regency, puzzle jugs were being made not only for use in inns and taverns, but also for home use. Many gentlemen enjoyed entertaining their male visitors with drinking games using their own puzzle jugs.

Puzzle jugs are a puzzle because it is not obvious how to imbibe the beverage which they contain. The neck of the jug is perforated, often in ornamental patterns, so one cannot simply raise it to one’s lips and drink. Most puzzle jugs also have a hollow rim which can have between three to seven spouts which protrude from it. This hollow rim is connected to either a hollow handle, which opens into the lower part of the jug body, or the inside of the jug has a tube or pipe built into the jug wall. It is through this concealed piping that the liquid contents of the jug flow to the hollow rim. The secret of the puzzle jug is to know which of the spouts on the rim to plug with the fingers, while sucking the liquor out of the jug via the remaining spout. Some puzzle jugs have a small additional opening somewhere below the neck or beneath the handle which will spill the liquid on the hapless drinker if the jug is not held just so. . .

The full posting (including a brief reading list) is available at The Regency Redingote.

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