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Diminutive Costrels

A recent comment on Destructive Testing of Black Dye finished with the remark:

Love to know your thoughts on that wee little costrel at the MOL sometime….why is it so wee?! why is it such an odd flat oval shape?

The costrel in question is this one, although others are known to exist.

Small costrel in the Museum of London.

Oliver Baker mentions it on p56 of his magnum opus of 1921, Blackjacks and Leather Bottels. I’ll quote the section in full.

One dimuntive but charmingly designed bottle is in the London Museum at Lancaster House, and has, between three vertical raised bands, lines of foliate decoration of Gothic character. It was found in the Town Ditch at the Old Bailey in 1913, and is of great interest as giving a rich example of the bottle of the Middle Ages. It measures nearly four inches [100mm] in length and three and three-quarters [95mm] in height.

Figure 22 from Baker

Baker’s drawing shows it sitting on it’s base rather than lying on it’s back as in the photo at the top, and the base appears flat and much the same shape as my Mary Rose one. It is unclear if Mr Baker was drawing what he saw, or what he thought it should be, however his detail on the decoration is very good. The larger costrel in the same cabinet at the MoL also appears to be ovoid, however looking at the ends, I think I can see that it was originally flatter on the bottom and has slumped in the conditions in the museum.

The leather is thinner than on the larger costrels, so moulding would be easier. From evidence from other sites, the decoration may have been painted.

As for use, we’re getting into Making Things Up ™ territory. Baker’s measurements give it an approximate volume of 300ml, or half a pint, roughly the same as a glass of  drink. That also translates to 2 gills, so two standard measured of gin in the 16th century.

I would love for it to have been for the 15-16th century version of high octane moonshine, but that would disolve the pitch lining. It may have been for a particular drink, or medicine or may have been a scale model to test a new design without using too much expensive leather. They could, like me have an order on the books to make a bottel for a small teenager…


Baker, O., Black Jacks and Leather Bottells, privately printed for W.J. Fieldhouse, Cheltenham 1921

8 thoughts on “Diminutive Costrels

    • In the paras above the one I quoted, Baker says they are universally plain on the underside and the back, although some of the Mary Rose ones do have decoration of sorts on the back. I expect if this was different from the other ones he’d mention it.

      • eeee, being the horrible skeptic I am, my teeth are set on edge anytime I read “always” “universally” or any such other sweeping statement. Some academics seem to like to make assumptions/statements – expecially when it comes to how something was constructed – that don’t always make sense if one actually puts them into practical use. When I right stuff up, I like to say “all the examples reviewed” or it would “appear based on the few surviving examples”…That they were left plain on the underside. Let’s face it, a very few have survived – we will never be able to say with any certainty that anything was “always” so. But then, who the heck am I to have an opinion 🙂

        I don’t know much (ok anything) about Mr. Baker. I see the the local ref. library has a copy…I know where I’ll be in the next week 🙂

        Have a look at my photos: http://sevenstarwheel.wordpress.com/2009/11/22/leather-costrel-museum-of-london/

  1. And….
    Did you get a sense of whether any conservation has been done?

    I noticed on both examples in the MOL – they seem to have only two layers (if that makes sense) no third layer between the end and body – or where the body joins at the top. That third layer seems to be the prefered method for most reenactors.

    • I’ve updated the original costrel article with an end and base view of the same costrel. If you zoom in on the image of the end, https://leatherworkingreverend.files.wordpress.com/2009/10/dsc07915.jpg, you can clearly see three layers in the top right part of the photo. I agree the welt is missing from the top seam but suspect it was lost rather than never present.
      The display appears to be more or less as-dug with none of the dary waxiness showing on the Mary Rose ones that have been conserverd with PEG.

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