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18 Century Puzzle Jug, by Liverpool


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About the artwork

Liverpool grew at an extraordinary rate in the Eighteenth Century. As the population increased, the number of properties and levels of trade and manufacture grew in proportion. The improvements to the docks enabled Liverpool’s maritime trade to develop rapidly. Inland connections were also improved, with canal and toll road links helping the emerging city to prosper.

All of these improvements helped to open up trade routes with the Midlands and the North of England, which enabled the transportation of coal from Lancashire, salt from Cheshire, iron and metal from the Midlands and most importantly pottery trade with Staffordshire manufacturers. The increased availability of these raw materials and the improved trade links led to the huge expansion of Liverpool potteries.

This puzzle jug, made in Liverpool in about 1750, is made from tin glazed earthenware - also known as ‘Delftware.’ Although it is not known exactly when Liverpool’s potteries began manufacturing this material, the earliest mention of it being made here is in a London paper from 1710:

‘The Corporation of Liverpool in Lancashire have encouraged there a Manufactory of all sorts of white and painted pots and other vessels and Tiles in imitation of China, both for inland and outland Trade, which will be speedily ready and sold at reasonable rates.’

Tin glaze has been used extensively in Europe since the 15th century. Traditionally it is a lead glaze made opaque with the addition of tin. It is white in colour and has often been used to disguise poor quality body materials. The whiteness also makes the glaze ideal for painted decoration. It can also be stained to give a coloured ground.

Puzzle jugs have long been popular in homes and taverns. Perhaps the earliest known in England is the Exeter puzzle jug, one of the finest examples of medieval pottery in Britain. It dates from about 1300AD and was originally made in Saintonge, Western France. The greatest period of puzzle jug usage was during the 18th and 19th centuries when some of the best pieces were made. The puzzle jug is a descendant of earlier drinking vessels such as the fuddling cup and the pot crown which posed drinkers similar challenges. The method of tackling the conundrum is different with each type of vessel.

The verses written on puzzle jugs are a distinctive feature. These vary quite a lot but are usually composed of four lines offering the same challenge - how to drink the liquid inside without spilling it. The jug is traditionally filled with ale and offered to unassuming guests. Whenever the drinker attempts to tilt the jug towards their lips they get wet. When the jug is tilted the liquid pours out from the pierced decoration surrounding the neck of the pot. However hard the drinker tries it is impossible to drink from the puzzle jug in the normal way. The secret to successfully drinking from the jug is to solve the mystery of the puzzle.