What is a Tankard?
A tankard is a large drinking vessel with a hinged cover and a handle which is used for drinking beer or ale out of. The decoration of these items vary depending on the period in which they were made: some made out of pewter, clay, silver with a glass bottom, some very decorative where other's were just plain. They were also very large back in the 1600's- perfect to serve the working gents of the time.
Tankards were originally crafted in wood for use in taverns; today however, they are mainly regarded as collectors’ or novelty items. The concept of creating a tankard with a lid (as we recognise today) was first initiated in Germany in the 1400s. These early lidded tankards were known as ‘steins’ (steinzeugkrug) and were made from decorated stoneware. Gradually, similar designs began to be crafted in pewter, silver, glass and by the 1600s, faience- the European equivalent to China’s porcelain.
There is much speculation as to why these drinking vessels were fitted with a ‘lid’. One theory is that during the time in which they originated, ceilings weren’t plastered and the lid was to protect from anything unwanted falling into your drink. Alternatively, the design could have been implemented to avoid spillages during brawls in taverns. Another feature of these early tankards that would have been useful in the case of an attack was their glass bottoms. This way an approaching enemy could be spotted through the bottom of one’s drink. A second speculative reason for the glass bottoms was so that the drinker could avoid ‘the king’s shilling’ which was sometimes slipped into people’s drink as a sly way of conscripting them into the British army or navy.