Monday, 15 December 2014

A Victorian Pence Jug



I have just knitted a little pence jug from a Victorian pattern.  Useless (at least I haven't thought of a use for it yet) but very charming and decorative.   The pattern came from a little book that John bought for me at the York Antiquarian Book Fair - The Knitter's Friend by Mrs Hope.  The book is not dated, but I think it must be 1847 or 1848 - there is an ad in the back for Hope's Protective Labels for directing passenger luggage (a fascinating read in its own right), that quotes several favourable newspaper notices, all dated 1847.


Illustration of pence jug from The Knitter's Friend
I have seen several patterns for pence jugs from 19th century publications, and we have several actual pence jugs in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection, so I decided to try this pattern.  The first question  was what yarn and needles to use.  The pattern specifies size 18 needles and "German wool".  Size 18s are about 1.25mm, and I do have a set of four, in steel, that I think are pre-First World War - I wrote about them here.  But I don't think I can knit with them.  And "German wool" obviously doesn't just mean "wool from Germany" but had a specific meaning - possibly the same as "Berlin wool".  But in either case I don't know what the modern equivalent would be, and anyway there would be no point in finding yarn that needs to be knitted on size 18 needles if I can't manage that.

The pattern suggests using four different colours of yarn - like many of the pence jugs I have seen, combining a few shades of one colour is a feature of the design.  So I thought of some of the space dyed yarns that are available now.  A pence jug will only use a small amount of each colour (the finished jug weighs about 10g.), so I thought that with the right yarn there would be a long enough stretch of each colour for the jug - effectively treating one ball of multi-coloured yarn as lots of mini-skeins, each of just one colour.

I chose Zauberball sock yarn, in the Oktoberfest colourway.  (Which is actually made in Germany, and so in that sense is "German wool", after all.)  It can be separated into six distinct colours so I decided to use them all (why not?) - one for each of the ridges in the body of the jug, and then repeating one for the neck and another for the rim and handle.  I knitted it on 2mm. needles, so that the fabric is quite dense - it needs to stand up by itself.



I reduced the number of stitches to compensate for the fact that I was using larger needles and presumably thicker yarn.  The pattern doesn't say what the finished size should be, and the jugs in the KCG collection vary quite a bit, but I think my finished jug is probably about right - it's just over 7 cm tall.

What did the Victorians use pence jugs for?  I think if you  had asked one they would have said (translated into modern parlance): "To put pennies in, dummy."   But beyond that, it's not at all clear. Some patterns, like this one, have a flat base, and appear to be intended to stand on a flat surface - like a jug, in fact.   But others were not designed to stand up by themselves and seem to be intended more as a purse for putting in a pocket or a handbag. Perhaps a jug like mine stood on a mantelpiece, as a combination of an ornament and a place to keep money.

The photo of the jug at the top shows it alongside some Victorian pennies.  They are 3cm in diameter - marginally bigger than a £2 coin.  And judging by the fact that in 1914, the suffragettes were calling for a minimum wage of 6d (six pence) an hour for women (see here), a penny would be roughly equivalent to at least £1 now.  A jug full of pennies would be a significant amount of money.

The pennies do easily go into the jug, by the way - the neck of the jug is in double rib and very stretchy.  In fact, the whole design is an object lesson in how different stitches behave.  The ridges around the body are alternate bands of stocking stitch and reverse stocking stitch, which gives it enough rigidity to stand up.  The neck is done on the same number of stitches, but the double rib pulls it in to create that elegant curve.  The only shaping is to create the lip of the jug, by adding extra stitches in a V-shape.   The rim and handle are all done in stocking stitch: the rim pulls the neck of the jug out again, and because the knit side is inside, the rim curls over to that side.  The handle is just an extension of the rim, on a small number of stitches; because a strip of stocking stitch naturally curls inwards from the sides, the handle is nicely rounded, even though it's just a flat strip of knitting.  



A satisfying (and quick) knit.   I'll put it on the mantelpiece and admire it, until I think of a use for it.

7 comments:

  1. I am struck by the resemblance between the pence jug and the "stay on baby booties" pattern that has come down through several sources. It also has a bottom surrounded by welting, and an ankle part done in double rib. It differs in that the base of the bootie is a rectangle, and the top of the foot is worked flat, back and forth, picking up and knitting together stitches at either side, but the basic concept and use of the stitch properties is the same. Is there a bootie pattern of this type in your book? If so, you may have found the Ur-source of this highly useful baby shoe. Pix of the booties in question are here, although the double rib ankle part is obscured by the ties:

    http://string-or-nothing.com/2013/08/27/woolworks-and-ann-kreckels-janes-baby-booties/

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    1. Thanks for that fascinating comment. I hadn't seen the bootees before, and you're right that they are technically similar to the pence jug. But there is no bootee pattern in "The Knitter's Friend" so it seems that that is not the source. But maybe it's in another publication of a similar date - I'll certainly look out for it.

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  2. Yes here's another version of the booties:
    http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/christines-stay-on-baby-booties
    I have knitted lots of pairs of these, often in red cotton.

    The pence jug is lovely. Let us know when you've thought of a use - although what about saving £2 coins and see how many can fit in?

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  3. I have used a pence jug for many years for carrying loose change. They have the advantage over a purse in that they expand or contract according to the contents. Also the handle is useful for hooking it out of a pocket stuffed with other things. Mine was crocheted by my mother

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Christopher. We have several pence jugs in the Guild collection that must have been used as purses, rather than say sitting on a mantelpiece, because they don't have a flat bottom, like mine does, and so can't stand up by itself on a flat surface. I can see that an expanding jug with a handle could be a useful shape for a purse.

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  4. Is the pattern available? I have just lost mine but a friend has agreed to try and produce another one for me as a Christmas present.

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    1. The Knitter's Friend by Mrs Hope, where the pattern I used came from, can be downloaded from the Winchester School of Art library: http://www.vads.ac.uk/images/WSA/PDF/00402917.pdf
      You'll find the pence jug on page 56.

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