Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Reputed Pint Bottles

This article highlights one of the nightmares of deciphering old price lists. The vagueness of the terms "pint" and "quart". Do they mean a reputed pint or an Imperial pint? Sometimes the distinction is made, but often not

I must say that I'm surprised by this case, pointed out to me by Korev in a recent comment. Even I know, almost 150 years later, that a reputed pint is way short of a proper pint. Why did the revenue inspector decide to prosecute this particular grocer? Especially when it was clear that everyone was aware that a reputed pint wasn't a full measure.

The other thing is, having lived myself in Melbourne, I know what measure they sell draught beer in there. One is something called a reputed pint. Or schooner. It's about two-thirds of a pint. Oh, the happy memories of nipping into the Canada for a quick schooner of Copper's Stout on the walk home from work. It was often 40º C. That's my excuse.


The postponed cases in which Henry Black, grocer, at 175 Bourke-street west, and Alexander McIntosh, grocer, at 180 King-street, were summoned, under the Wines, Beer, and Spirits Sale Statute 1804, for selling bottles of liquor in bottles containing less than a pint, to wit, five-eighths of a pint, came on at the District Court yesterday, before Mr. Sturt, P.M., and Mr. Wilton, J. P. Black's case was taken first. Mr, F. Stephen prosecuting, and Mr. Gillott defending.

John Wilson deposed that he was a surveyor in the employ of the revenue inspector, Mr. Evans, and on the 10th inst., by the latter's direction, went to the defendant Black's shop, and purchased the bottle of "Guinness's stout, bottled by Burke," produced. Purchased it from the grocer's assistant.

Wm. McDonald gave evidence to the effect that he had measured the bottle produced when empty, and found it would contain barely five-eighths of a pint.

For the defence Mr. Gillott urged that there was no deceit proved, as the bottles were those universally known as pint bottles, though known by the trade and the public not to contain a pint. He also deprecated the style of doing business by the revenue inspector, who sent informers to buy these bottles, and pointed out that there was no proof of the reliability of such an informer. He called -

Hugh Miller Guthrie, customs officer, who deposed that he very frequently received through the custom-house bottles like that produced, reputed pint bottles, and sold in the trade as pints, though they did not contain a pint. Witness has been in Melbourne 23 years, and never saw a reputed pint bottle that contained-a-pint.

Cross-examined. - The duty on pints reckoned 12 to a gallon. The act said they should take them as reputed pints. About 20, or a good many, years ago they used to take them by usage as pints without any act, and afterwards they were required to measure them ; but that was put a stop to, and an act of Parliament was passed to take them as reputed pints, at 6d. per gallon. The bottle produced was a little smaller than usual. Five years ago pint bottles were not "much larger" than that produced. Quart bottles held more than a tablespoonful more than a pint. He should say they held six-eighths of a quart.

To Mr. Gillott.-Witness had measured thousands, and never found a reputed pint bottle that contained a pint. Six reputed quart bottles were reckoned to a gallon, but it would take about seven, or six and a quarter, or six and a half, to actually make up the gallon. Some brewers placed more than others did in a reputed quart bottle. There were no twelve bottles of brandy containing two gallons of brandy. The nearest was Hennessy's, and that was 2-32nds short. That mode had been in the trade ever pince Johnny Fawkner sold liquor.

To the Bench.-Witness never saw a full imperial pint or quart to come in full-sized bottles, and they used to measure every cargo that arrived. The nearest was Byass's porter.

Euler Smythers, wine and spirit merchant and grocer's licence holder, said he bad been 17 years in the trade. Burke's stout was sold as pints. The bottle produced was exactly the same as those sold as a pint in the trade. Quart bottles were about six to a gallon. Bottles like that produced had always been sold as pint bottles during the last 17 years. The public, of course, knew they were not getting a pint. It would not bo safe to import such large sizes as bottles holding a quart, on account of the loss which would result from breakage.

To Mr. STEPHEN.-Witness knew that by his grocer's licence he must not sell a less quantity than a pint. Had never measured the bottles to see what they contained. He believed that produced held about six-eighths of a pint.

- Smithson, grocer and wine and spirit merchant, in Queen-street, said he had been 18 years in the trade, and sold bottles like that produced as reputed pints. Had sold that class of ale and porter since the act came into force in 1865. Never came across a case of brandy containing two gallons.

Cross-examined. - Never compared other bottles with that produced. Did not think Guinness's pint bottle wad a whit smaller now than 10 years ago. Did not know that the importers at home had been reducing the size of the bottles in order to make a greater profit.

Isaac Sewell, of Elizabeth-street, 16 years in the trade, deposed that be had never had any complaints from the public, and he sold the bottles as reputed pints.

This was the case for the defence.

Mr. Sturt, P.M., said that the Bench considered that in complaints of this kind under a penal act, it must be a wilful evasion of the act to constitute an offence. Now in this case there was not wilful evasion of the act, and, moreover, it was selling by the pint bottle by repute, and custom, he thought, bore it out ; and the case was therefore dismissed. On the same plea, he might observe, persons might be actionable for selling a dozen quart bottles of wine, which would be for selling less than two gallons.

Mr. Stephen said ho would apply to have a case stated.

The case of McIntosh was the next, and the only difference being that the bottle in question was one of Tennent's reputed pints, Mr. Stephen said he would allow it to be dismissed with the other, and it was accordingly dismissed.

Two other cases, in which Henry Black was charged with permitting to be sold on two occasions liquor not in the quantity and manner which his grocer's licence authorised under the Act of 1804, were by consent postponed until Thursday.
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.) Tuesday 28 March 1871, page 7.

It all seems like a huge waste of time and money. Everyone except Mr. Evans, the revenue inspector, understood perfectly well that the bottels weren't an Imperial pint in size.

One thing that struck me was that the beer was being imported already bottled.I'd have expected mostt to be sent out in casks and to be bottled locally. Did they really avoid large bottles because of the risk of breakage? Sounds like a godd excuse for using under-sized bottels to me.


Anonymous said...

When were you in Melbourne? I only ask because for the majority of my drinking life, schooners (425ml) have been an anomaly of the Northern states - and are only now becoming popular here in Victoria. Working out Australian beer glass sizes is a total nightmare, as state-to-state the same name can be transposed between two sizes or used for two very different size glasses.

Ron Pattinson said...

I was in Melbourne 1990-1991. I'm trying to remember if the glass i'm thinking of really was called a schooner. Like you say, Australian beer glass sizes are a nightmare.