English wine cask units

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Capacities of wine casks were formerly measured and standardised according to a specific system of English units. The various units were historically defined in terms of the wine gallon so varied according to the definition of the gallon until the adoption of the Queen Anne wine gallon in 1707. In the United Kingdom and its colonies the units were redefined with the introduction of the imperial system while the Queen Anne wine gallon was adopted as the standard US liquid gallon. The major wine producing countries, both new and old world use barrels extensively and have developed standards at variance with the traditional English volumes (e.g. hogshead - 300 L; barrique - 220 L (Bordeaux), 225 L (Australia), or 230 L (Burgundy); and puncheon - 465 L).[1] are commonly used in the wine and wine cooperage industries.


Seven barrels, each of a different size.
English wine cask units


The tun (Old English: tunne, Latin: tunellus, Middle Latin: tunna) is an English unit of liquid volume (not weight), used for measuring wine, oil or honey. Typically a large vat or vessel, most often holding 252 US gallons (950 l; 210 imp gal), but occasionally other sizes (e.g. 256 gal., 240 gal., and 208 gal.) were also used.[2]

In one example from 1507, a tun is defined as 240 gallons:

Early Modern English: "He that ys a gawner owght to understonde there ys in a tunne lx systerns and every systern ys iiii galons be yt wyne or oylle."
Translation: "He that is a gauger ought to understand that there is in a tunne 60 sesters, and every sester is 4 gallons, be it wine or oil."

Untitled manuscript, consisting of a list of various customs duties, dated 15 July, 1507[2][3][4]

Originally, the tun was defined as 256, or (28), gallons; this is the basis for the name of the quarter of 64 corn gallons. At some time before the 15th Century, it was lowered to 252 wine gallons, so as to be evenly divisible by small integers, including seven, since 252=22×32×7. Note that a 252-gallon tun of wine weighs about 2,240 pounds, the same as a unit of weight (not volume) that is known today as the long ton or imperial ton.

With the adoption of the Queen Anne wine gallon of 231 cubic inches (3in×7in×11in), the tun became exactly 58,212 cu in, which is approximately the volume of a cylinder with both diameter and height of 42 inches (assuming π227). This gallon was adopted as the standard US liquid gallon – therefore, using the standardized international inch (of 25.4 mm), the US tun would be exactly 953.923769568 litres.

When the imperial system was introduced the tun was redefined in the UK and colonies as 210 imperial gallons. Since 210=2×3×5×7 the imperial tun remained evenly divisible by small integers. There was also little change in the actual value the tun; assuming the current definition of the imperial gallon, the tun would be exactly 954.6789 litres (only ~0.0792% larger than the US tun).

Pipe or Butt[edit]

The butt (from the medieval French and Italian botte) or pipe was half a tun, approximately 475 to 480 litres. Therefore the imperial butt was 105 imperial gallons (477.33945 litres)[nb 1] and the US butt was 126 US gallons (476.961884784 litres).[nb 2]

Tradition has it that George, Duke of Clarence, the brother of Edward IV of England, was drowned in a butt of malmsey on 18 February 1478.[5][6]

In Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Cask of Amontillado", the narrator claims he has received "a pipe of what passes for Amontillado".

Puncheon or Tertian[edit]

The puncheon was approximately 316 to 320 litres. The imperial puncheon was 70 imperial gallons (318.2263 litres)[nb 1] and the US puncheon was 84 US gallons (317.974589856 litres).[nb 2] The term puncheon, shortened to pon in the United States, is thought to derive from the fact that it would have been marked by use of a punch to denote its contents. The unit was also known as a tertian (from the Latin word for "third") since it was a third of a tun.[2] Another name for the unit was the firkin, a name which it shared with the much smaller beer firkin.[7][dubious ]


The wine hogshead was equal to two barrels, half a butt, a quarter of a tun or approximately 237 to 240 litres. It is of a comparable size to the beer hogshead. The imperial wine hogshead was 52 12 imperial gallons (238.669725 litres)[nb 1] and the US wine hogshead was 63 US gallons (238.480942392 litres).[nb 2]


The tierce was half a puncheon, a third of a butt, a sixth of a tun or approximately 158 to 160 litres. The imperial tierce was 35 imperial gallons (159.11315 litres)[nb 1] and the US tierce was 42 US gallons (158.987294928 litres).[nb 2] It is closely related to the modern oil barrel.


The wine barrel was half a wine hogshead, a quarter of a butt, an eighth of a tun or approximately 118 to 120 litres. The imperial wine barrel was 26 14 imperial gallons (119.3348625 litres)[nb 1] and the US wine barrel was 31 14 US gallons (118.29411825 litres).[nb 2]


The rundlet was a seventh of a butt, a fourteenth of a tun or approximately 68 to 69 litres. The imperial rundlet was 15 imperial gallons (68.19135 litres)[nb 1] and the US rundlet was 18 US gallons (68.137412112 litres).[nb 2]


English wine cask units[8]
gallonrundletbarreltiercehogsheadpuncheon, tertianpipe, butttun
12pipes, butts
11 123puncheons, tertians
11 1324hogsheads
11 12236tierces
11 1322 2348barrels
11 342 133 124 23714rundlets
11831 12426384126252gallons (wine)
11526 143552 1270105210gallons (imperial)


  1. ^ a b c d e f The conversion to litres is exact assuming the current 4.54609-litre definition of the imperial gallon.
  2. ^ a b c d e f The conversion to litres is exact assuming the current 25.4-millimetre definition of the international inch.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ http://www.apjohn.com.au/Upload/PrintPages/AP%20John_Technical_Specifications.pdf
  2. ^ a b c Zupko, Ronald E. (1985). "A Dictionary of Weights and Measures for the British Isles: The Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century, Volume 168". Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society (American Philosophical Society) 168. ISBN 9780871691682. "Quoting Gras (1918), p.706" 
  3. ^ Gras, Norman S.B. (1918). Early English Customs Systems. Cambridge. p. 706. "Quoting Forgon (1507)" 
  4. ^ Forgon, T. (15 July 1507). Untitled manuscript, consisting of a list of various customs duties. Reproduced at sizes.com. 
  5. ^ Dukes of Great Britain
  6. ^ Biography Channel Duke of Clarence
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ http://www.sizes.com/units/barrel_wine.htm