THE BRITISH "BLACK-JACK"
Although the use of leather drinking vessels extends to ancient times, their use in Britain is longer -
and in greater number - than anywhere else in history.
A Neolithic beaker of tanned cowhide, with some hair still attached, was found at West Smithfield, London.
And waterproof leather bags joined by the neck, referred to as drinking vessels,
were introduced into England during the Crusades.
These were but forerunners of the hard bodied water bottle -
and the well loved quintessentially British leather "Black-Jack".
For those of you unfamiliar with the black-jack :
"The 'Black-Jack' was a kind of leather pitcher or jug, always lined with pitch on metal,
of massive and sturdy build, corpulent and capacious.
It quite dwarfed all rival pots, mugs, or pitchers of leather."
Leather soaked in hot water and then dried is known as "Jack" leather -
(also the origin of the modern word "jacket").
Jacks were originally black because the black material used to line the inside.
They were referred to simply as "Jacks" the until 1567,
when Corpus Christi College, Cambridge,
purchased a "black jack" for one shilling -
the word black possibly to distinguish it from the leather jerkin -
a man's sleeveless close fitting jacket, generally made of buff leather.
As early as the 13th century, the Guild of Cordwainers was established
to supervise the tanning and currying of leather.
Laws passed by various English monarchs, from Edward II to Elizabeth I,
placed high export tariffs on leather, resulting in a price reduction on the material, and
making it the material of choice for drinking vessels and the transportation of liquids.
Black Jacks and bombards* were unknown in France.
A French courtier returning to his country from the court of Charles II,
reported that the "Englishmen used to drinke out of their bootes".
The leathern vessel retained its high place in both taverns and homes for many centuries.
"Every man of substance took his meals in his hall with his family and servants…. "
When the more luxurious 18th century dining fashions arrived,
"the lord took his meals privately in parlour or dining room,
and the leathern pot re-mained in the servants' hall -
with the exception of those that were silver mounted.
These latter were smaller as a rule and more richly treated;
they were edged with silver and often lined with that metal or with pewter
in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries -
and were highly prized."
Jacks remained in popular use through the mid-19th century.
Other Leathern Black-Jack Forms :
*A Bombard : A name given to the largest Jacks was the "Bombard"-
probably named after the squat broad cannon called a bombard.
Bombards made in the 16th and 17th centuries could hold six or eight gallons,
and made for households or communities rich enough - and hospitable enough - to use them
A Bottell : A bottle.
During Elizabethan times, even wealthy merchant families would possess only one wine glass.
Placed in the middle of the table and used communally,
this glass would be refilled by a man standing in the corner with a leather bottle ("bottell"),
and known as the botellar :