Tankards were used all over northern Europe especially in Germany and the British Isles. They were also used in colonial America from the mid sixteenth century to the end of eightieth century and their designs varied accordingly.
The Elizabethan tankard, for example, had engraved or flat chased decoration to the body with continental influenced patterns and the classic S-scroll handle. Both the foot and cover were heavily embossed with designs depicting fruit and they featured a lobed thumbpiece and a cast finial.
By the 17th century, this design had been replaced by a plain cylindrical vessel with a flat topped lid. These tankards were simpler and usually only engraved with armorials. It was also around this time that the sizes of tankards increased and they were commissioned for ceremonial and presentational use, an applied skirt foot also became a popular feature. Due to the civil war which was taking place at this time tankards began to be crafted in a thinner gauge of silver.
Another interesting design variation in the 17th century was the peg tankard. This type of tankard had a vertical line of pegs on the inside. The tankard would be passed around as a form of wage: participants had to drink down to the next peg in one go. If not, there would be a forefeit to pay.
Silver tankards featuring domed lid originated during the 1800s and as the shape continued to alter, baluster/tulip-shaped bodies appeared. Some designs even included small whistles on the handles which were supposedly used for attracting a waiter’s attention.
During the 1700s, when the popular beverages changed from beer and ale to wine and spirits the tankard diminished in popularity, replaced with vessels such as goblets.
Tankards can vary in size, the most popular tankard sizes being half and quart tankards. The largest tankard on record was uncovered in wales and was two quarts- a four pint capacity!
The varying sizes correspond to different measures that were served. A quart is equal to two pints whereas a half tankard serves a pint. Interestingly, it is said this is where the phrase ”mind your P’s and Q’s” comes from, with the P’s and Q’s referring to the measure of alcohol. The bartenders in taverns would use this phrase to the customers to remind them "watch how much you are drinking”.
Today, the measurements served have been reduced by the world health organization and pint glasses have taken over. During the heyday of the tankard however, the vessels were used to serve the somewhat copious measurements that were expected at the time.