What is a Peg Tankard?

Peg tankards, sometimes called pegged tankards, are drinking vessels with small knobs or ‘pegs’ set vertically on the inside of the vessel. The pegs were used to keep a measure of how much alcohol the drinker had consumed. These were social vessels, allowing one person to drink a specified measure of alcohol and then pass the tankard to the next drinker, who in turn would drink to the next peg, and then pass the tankard once more, and so on.

Pegged tankards find their origins in Scandinavia, with the earliest examples coming from Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. The Danish word for a pint is ‘paegl’, from which it is believed the term ‘peg’ stems. In Scotland and England, peg tankards are most commonly found in northern territories like Newcastle upon Tyne, York, and Hull. This demonstrates the areas which were most affected by Norse invasion as well as trading for much of the Medieval period.

peg tankard

The peg system was introduced in England by King Edgar the Peaceful; who reigned from 959 to 975AD. This system normalised the integration of the Scandinavian peg design into a significant proportion of wooden tankards most commonly used in taverns and inns. The intention of the peg system in England was to bring awareness to the quantity of alcohol being consumed. Tankards during this time could hold more than two litres of ale, and so rapid consumption was often dangerous and expensive.

The Peg Law was enacted through both the king and the church in order to reduce the rate at which people drank alcohol. With the peg tankard being a social drinking vessel, a tax was decreed wherein if a drinker consumed more than one peg’s worth of ale without passing the tankard, they were fined a penny.

A Royal Reference

Peg Tankard

Whether this measure was a genuine attempt at alcohol awareness or if it was actually more of a ploy to squeeze more tax money out of the public, it is interesting to see these very early examples of such enactments. It is actions like those of King Edgar the Peaceful that have created a domino effect, leading to the stringent health and safety campaigns of today which urge people to drink responsibly.

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Rachel O'Keefe-Coulson

Rachel O’Keefe-Coulson is also known as AC Silver’s ‘Silver Lady’. Rachel spends her days handling antique silverware and processing these items for display on the AC Silver website. Rachel will enlighten our readers with posts of a silver theme.