Wednesday 30 December 2015

Tinkling clay and tinkling glass

In 2013 I wrote on a curious 15th century French clay beaker with rings that made a tinkling sound. Supposedly this was to draw the attention of a barmaid to refill the beaker with whatever beverage that was in it. Some weeks ago I discovered some glass equivalents of the clay beaker. They date from the 17th century and now reside in the collection of the Corning Museum of Glass. Apparently this type of drinking vessel kept some popularity over the centuries.

An octagonal beaker made of colourless soda-lime glass with a thin trail wrapped around entire bowl; three loops are applied to alternating facets of the cup, from which movable rings are suspended. Origin Germany. Height: 8.8 cm, Width: 9.3 cm, Diameter: 8.5 cm.

(Left) A goblet made from heavily crizzled clear glass, producing a pale pink tinge. There are six loops applied around bowl of which three hold crimped rings. Height: 12.8 cm; Rim Diameter: 5.9 cm; Foot Diameter: 7.8 cm. (Right)  A goblet probably originating from the Netherlands dating between 1650 and 1700. The goblet is  made from colourless non-lead glass with six applied loop handles, four of them holding loose milled glass rings. Height: 17.6 cm; Diameter (rim): 8.4 cm, Diameter (foot): 9.1 cm.

Goblet made of clear glass with many minute bubbles with applied and tooled decoration. Three small loop handles arching over the rigaree band, three more loop handles holding rigaree rings applied to the top of the glass. Height: 16.7 cm; Diameter (rim): 7.9 cm, Diameter (foot): 8.9 cm.

Sunday 27 December 2015


 Two medieval woodworkers having a meal with bread and (perhaps a spiced) wine in the Tacuinum sanitatis (ca. 1390, Codex Vindobonen­sis Series Nova 2644, folio 64r, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna, Austria).

During this time of year the modern spiced wine - Glühwine or bishopswine - can be ubiquitously found at Christmas markets. I personally do not like these mulled wines. That was also the case with the medieval version of it: Hypocras (the red wine version, named after the Greek Hippocrates) and Claré (for white wine). However, since our visit to Castle Loevestein in late November were we did some cooking demonstration this has changed. I decided to make some hypocras because it is an interesting process to show to the visitors and tell something on the spices in the wine. I used the recipe from the book 'Herrenspeis und Bauernspeis' by Peter Lutz. In his commentary he mentioned that everyone [visitors and re-enactors] was very enthusiastic about the taste. So perhaps his was a better recipe, and indeed it was...

Galangal (Alpinia officinarum) in the Tacuinum sanitatis (ca. 1390, Codex Vindobonen­sis Series Nova 2644, folio 32v, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna, Austria).


There is a great variation in spices used for hypocras, some (e.g. the one in the Forme of Cury) use cloves, mace, nutmeg, caraway seed and/or white pepper. Most of them contain sugar, cinnamon and ginger. The recipe from Peter Lutz, which is likely the same as the one given in 'the medieval kitchen - recipes from France and Italy' which originates from Le Ménagier de Paris (1393):

To make a lot of good hypocras, take an once of cinnamonde, known as long tube cinnamon, a knob of ginger, and an equal amount of galangal, pounded well together, and then take a livre of good sugar; pound this all together and moisten it with the best Beaune wine you can get, and let it steep for an hour or two. Then strain it through a cloth bag several times so it will be very clear.

(Left) A cinnamon merchant from the Tractatus de Herbis by Dioscorides (Ms Lat 993 L.9.28, Folio 36v  15th century,  Biblioteca Estense, Modena, Italy). (Right) Red wine merchant in the Tacuinum sanitatis. Note the alternative manner of wearing the hood of the man on the right (14th century, Codex 4182, Biblioteca Casanatense, Rome, Italy).

The German recipe uses a lot of wine, so you should adjust the amounts accordingly to what you want to make (and drink).
  • 6 litre good red wine (cheap wine makes cheap tasting hypocras)
  • 900 gram sugar
  • 2 tablespoons powdered cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons powdered ginger
  • 1 tablespoon powdered galangal

Grind the spices with a mortar and pestle (when using unpowdered spices). Chop bits of sugar from the sugar cone (see below) and hammer and grind it to powder (or use commercial crystallised sugar). Mix the sugar and the spices well in a bowl (large enough for the wine as well). Add the red wine and stir well. The spices will first float on top of the wine but after more careful stirring, they will mix with fully the wine. Peter Lutz recommends leaving the wine stay for a day, but we left it for a few hours as in the recipe of Le Ménagier de Paris. Filter the wine several times though a filtering (cheese) cloth until it is clear. Also here Peter Lutz deviates from the recipe by storing the hypocras in bottles for another 2 weeks before drinking; he also mentions that the hypocras can be stored for half a year in wine bottles. We did consume the hypocras directly after filtering, but also (like the glühwine) after heating (not boiling) the wine. The difference was remarkable: while the filtered hypocras tasted good, however, the warm hypocras was very much better as it intensified the harmonious taste of the spice mixture with that of the wine.

Careful mixing of the spices with the wine in the bowl. At the start the spices float on top of the wine.

Medieval sugar cones

Sugar, made from sugar-cane, was an available sweetener in the middle ages. In the 14th century sugar-cane plantations and factories existed in Sicily and later they also appeared elsewhere in the Mediterranean. Sugar syrup from the sugar cane was refined and crystallized into sugar loafs, which could easily be transported across Europe. Although the method to make sugar has changed since then, similar looking sugar cones can still be bought today. In Germany, small ones are known as Zuckerhut and used for a traditional (mulled wine!) drink; in Moroccan shops larger ones can be found which are used as a present during a visit and the sugar chunks are used to sweeten the mint tea. 


(Left)  A 14th century sugar funnel found in Kouklia, Cyprus. (Right) Cana melle (sugarcane) in the Tacuinum sanitatis (ca. 1390, Codex Vindobonen­sis Series Nova 2644, folio 92v, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna, Austria).

It is also possible to make these sugar cones yourself. A very instructive film by Richard Signell can be found on YouTube. This prompted me to try it as well. I found that just water was not enough to stick the sugar crystals together and a some fine powdered sugar was needed as an extra 'glue'. 

The large white Moroccan sugar cone (the top already used for the hypocras) 
and two smaller homemade sugar cane cones.

(Left) Sugar cones from the Tractatus de Herbis by Dioscorides (Ms Lat 993 L.9.28, 15th century,  Biblioteca Estense, Modena, Italy). and (right) A merchant selling a sugar cone (Gilles de Rome, Livre du gouvernement des princes, early 16th century. Bibliotheque National de France, Paris, France, Arsenal, Ms. 5062, detail from fol. 149v.)
Having a medieval dinner (with hypocras) together with the archaeological team of castle Loevestein.

Monday 30 November 2015

Double screw vise

A double screw vise where the screws look to be fixed to the rear jaw. Also, the legs are attached to the vise, making it a medieval version of the 'workmate' as we know it today. Blockbuch Eysenhuts, 1471. Herzogliche Bibliothek, Xyl III no. 8. Gotha, Germany.

The double screw vise is a piece of equipment for the workbench which saw its first appearance in the late 15th century. At least, that is the date of a woodcut that shows such a device. The double screw vise also appears in 'later' woodworkers books from Randle Holme (1688), Felibien (1667) and Moxon (1678). But apparently there is another medieval image showing what looks like giant double vises - or a mixture of a single screw vise with a parallel guide. I just found this image on Christopher Schwartz blog, and he found it in a book on planes. It seems to be an northern Italian drawing of around 1300. The Italian relation is confirmed by the two-handed plane in use on the first workbench. The screw vise is similarly constructed to that of the vise shown above.

Noah constructing the ark. Northern Italy. Six workbenches with screw vises are shown. In the middle is a stack of lumber with stickers drying, on the right wooden beams are being squared. On the workbenches other carpentry work is done: planing, sawing, using a chalk line, using axes.

 A bench and a closer look at the two planes. The large foreplane also has an Italian style grip at one end.

This detail shows clearly the difference between the two sides: 
a screw vise on the right, a square stick with pinholes on the left.

 The double screw vises of Holme, Moxon, Felibien (E. Crochet ou sergent. F. Estraignoirs. G. Presses de bois [wood press]) and Roubo, respectively. The Estraignoirs superficially look like the screw vise but are used differently as shown in the plate by Roubo below.

The estraignoirs are used with at wedge as clamps for gluing large boards. 
Detail of a plate from Roubo. L'art du menuisier (published around 1770).

I liked to make a (Moxon) double screw vise as an addition to my medieval workbench. Good discussions (these and these) on how to make these double vises can be found on Peter Follansbee's blog (and in his book 'How to make a stool from a tree'). Furthermore, Roy Underhill has a video show on the subject ("Two screws for you" with Christopher Schwartz) which shows the creation and the versatility of use of the double screw vise. Finally, Christopher Schwartz has a (free) article on how to make such a vise in the popular woodworking magazine. Although the construction is excellently described in the above mentioned sources, there are some details useful to add.

The first issue are the holes to be drilled in the jaws. The centre of the holes of the front and rear jaw have to be at the exact place - this is obvious and can easily be achieved using a jig with fences on the drill press. Less obvious is that the diameter of the holes of the front and rear jaw are different. The rear jaw hole has to be smaller, as the internal thread has to be tapped here (the front jaw is a clean hole and does not have a thread). As the wood threading kits are sold in non metric sizes, I had to work with a 1 inch set. This meant converting the holes to cm drills: 22 mm for the small hole and 25 mm for the large one. 

The set-up on the drill press. An mdf board with a long fence is clamped directly to the drill press, as is a short block acting as a second fence. The beech vise jaw is placed against the fence and clamped as well. The Forstner bit can be changed for a smaller or larger bit, while keeping the set-up and centre point at the same place.

The second issue is the bolt/dowel. As they recommend hardwood for the dowels, I used hornbeam. I first made the eight-sided handle and then turned the dowel on an electric lathe to 25 mm thickness. I used a jig to check to exact thickness, made of a drilled 25 mm hole in a piece of wood that was partially cut open. As the dowel needs to go smoothly through a 25 mm hole, but not too smoothly, a bit of sandpaper was held against the turning dowel. The end of the dowel was slightly chamfered.

A jig was used to check the dowel thickness to exact 25 mm.

The third issue is the threadbox (I use a Taiwanese one). It is made up of three parts: the smooth entry hole, the cutter, and the threaded exit hole. This construction means that you cannot go to the end of the handle. This is also not necessary as will be explained later. [But if you wish so, you need to dismantle the threadbox and remove the entry hole (do so after you already have made a start on the thread). The exit hole is then to only way to stabilise the cutting.] The dowel needs to be (good) lubricated with (linseed) oil to ensure a good cutting.

Having cut two handles I found out that they fitted too snug in the threaded hole of the vise jaw. It squeaked on every turn, and oil or wax did not help. Also much force was needed to make the handles turn. I had to redo the threading and set the cutter a bit deeper. This is best done when the threadbox is dismantled. Rethreading the handles did solve the too tight fit and they are working smoothly now.

The dismantled threadbox and the adjustment of the V-cutter.

The handle is held in a workbench vise. At start a slight downward pressure is needed, but later the threading tool guides itself. Once you have started cutting, always use a forward motion. If the cutter binds, back up no more than a quarter of a turn to clear any chips, then continue cutting new threads.

The final issue is where you stop making the tread on the dowel. The front jaw of the double screw vise has an unthreaded hole. This means that the dowel also does not need to be threaded here. I.e. the last 4.5 cm are just blank dowel.

The dowel at the front jaw of the vise does not need to be threaded.

My double screw vise has a length of 66 cm and a height of 10 cm. Each jaw is 4.5 cm thick and made of beech. The centre of the drilled holes are at 13 cm of each end, but placed off-centre at 5.5 cm. The handles of the hornbeam bolt are 10 cm long, the remainder of the dowel 19 cm (so in total a length of 29 cm) of which 14 cm is threaded. My double screw vise can be conveniently attached to my medieval workbench with two holdfasts. The vise works very good and is a really handy tool to have. In fact, I use it more often on my normal (non-medieval) workbench! 

 The double screw vise in use at castle Hernen.

The double screw vise on top of the bench without any holdfast. Two bench-stop hold the vise in place for planing.
The double screw vise fixed at the edge of the workbench with two holdfasts. Long wooden planks can now be held in place, for instance for sawing or dovetailing.

Thursday 12 November 2015

More cool things to do with your hood

The hood is a common piece of clothing for the mid and late medieval period. It is also very comfortable to wear, especially when it gets chilly outside, like at the moment in the Netherlands...
The hood has a 'standard' way of wearing, but in the late medieval period people started experimenting wearing the hood differently, resulting in 'foppish' styles. These styles are nicely illustrated in one of the blogposts of 'Tacuinum medievale'. Personally, I like (and sometimes wear)  'style 6'.

But there are more things you can do with a hood than wearing it. Some examples are shown in  the margins of manuscript Bodleian MS 264 (Oxford University, Oxford, UK).

1. Playing blind-man.

The hood is put on backwards, so it covers the eyes and creates a blindfold. The liripipe is hanging like an elephants trunk in front.
In Blind Man's Buff, the blinded man has to try to tag one of the other players, while the other players try to avoid him. The other players have to make sounds to indicate the direction the blindfolded player in which has to move in order to tag another player. The player who is tagged becomes the next 'blind' man.
Another variant is where the blinded player is guided along a difficult track by the other players.
Bodleian MS 264 folio 70 verso. A blinded 'elephant' man on the left. 

2. Throwing games.

A knot is made in the hood, approximately at the point where the liripipe is attached to the hood. This creates a heavier point, making the hood easier to throw. The liripipe is used to swing the hood for the throw. This game is played by both males and females.

Bodleian MS 264 folio 130 recto. Males playing the throwing game.

The illustrations suggest that the hoods should be thrown towards another, or at a blinded person. We have tried several versions of this game: throwing and catching (catching scores points); throwing and hitting each other (hitting another scores points) and just throwing (the one farthest throwing scores points). Throwing and hitting each other resulted in chaos, while throwing and catching was a bit more playful. Just throwing and throwing and hitting were boring, but the latter became better when one person was coaching the blind man when to duck to avoid being hit by a hood.

Bodleian MS 264 folio 130 verso. Females playing the throwing game. 

A variant of this game was developed by us (i.e. we can not relate it directly to an illumination), in which the players wore a felt hat, which needed to be thrown of the head with the hood. Each successful hit to the hat was rewarded with one point, while the game was played for a certain amount of points. We thought this was a better variant, as each player has equal opportunities to hit and being hit, and the game allowed a lot of interplay. 


3. Catching Butterflies.

We have not tried this yet, as the butterfly season is over at the moment. The hood is held closed at one end, and open at the other end to trap the butterflies. Although some woman look like trying to hit rather than catch the butterflies. This seems to be a more feminine type of game.

Bodleian MS 264 folio 135 recto (more examples a shown in the margins of MS 264)

Thursday 29 October 2015

Norwegian medieval furniture: chests and other storage furniture

This post will show the other Norwegian medieval furniture found on the UNIMUS photoportal of the Norwegian University Museums (It seems that there are now 33 more 'Middelalder' photos since the last blogpost). It concerns mainly kinds of storage furniture like armoires, boxes and chests, but also some beds. My previous post on Norwegian medieval furniture concerned chairs and benches. Not all medieval furniture showed up with the search term 'middelalder'; other search terms used were skap (cupboard), seng (bed), kiste (chest) and skrin (casket, box or shrine) in combination with tre (wood). Information on the furniture pieces itself was sometimes found on the other university databases.


Armoire with iron hasps and hinges from Ukjent Fylke dating from the late Middle Ages.
The front posts are attached to the sides with eight iron fittings, of wich four extend to the two doors (39 by 30 cm). The doors are opened by spade shaped iron rings. Height 96 cm, width 53 cm, depth 35 cm. On the outside are traces of white and blue paint.

An German type 'Giebelschrank' armoire from Ardal stave church and exhibited in Bergen museum. Dated from the beginning of 13th century. The colour photo is found on Flickr and made by Arild Finne Nybø.

A wall aumbry from Borgund Stavkirke. 
The linenfold panels indicate that this is a 15th-16th century piece of furniture


An ark made of pine from the farm Sauar in Heddal, Telemark.The legs of the chest stand approximately 35 cm high. The lid is roof-shaped has sloping sides and is flat in the middle. The various parts are fastened together with wooden nails, iron is only used for the hinges and hasps. The front and both end sides are decorated with rank and geometric patterns. Length 135 cm, width 83 cm, height, including the legs, 124 cm.

 Another, undecorated ark from Oppland. One of the planks of the lid is missing.

A decorated chest from Oppland. Hutch type chest, where the original - roof type - lid is missing and newer, flat lid put on. At the same time the old slots for the lid were substantially sawn away. The four square corner posts were originally about 7 cm from the floor. The planks of the chest are held in place by a groove end dowel pins in the corner posts. The chest is decorated on the three leading faces. On the front, five warriors with a long, pointed chin beard are wandering in a same rhythmic motion. Over his right shoulder a spear is held. The decoration is a Viking-medieval transition. The right post frontside is decorated with a coiled snake pattern in style and iconography from late Urnes.  Left post frontside has a wood-like plant with roots and side shoots that ending in leaves. The two short sides of the chest are similarly decorated with pillars and vines and foliage. Likely first half of the 1100s. Height 69.5 cm, length 139 cm, depth 71.5 cm.

A chest from from Ullensaker church, Akerhus. The chest rests on four flat corner posts in which the front and side boards are rebated and fastened with wooden dowels. The chests interior has changed in recent times and has trace of two old internal boxes. On the lid near the lock is a trace of one runic inscription. The construction was originally without any iron nails or hasps; the reinforcements on the edges were made around 15 to 1600. The coffin length is 195 cm, width 69 and 69.5 cm, heights 91.5 cm. The front is richly decorated in the fields. In the middle it is divided by a branched tree with  foliage, and each half of the front is cut into 12 small squares, and these fields have carved symbolic animal figures.

A iron reinforced 6-boarded chest with three locks (of which two padlocks) from Torpo Stavkirke, Al, Buskerud. 

A 6-boarded chest from Gran kirke, Hadeland

A long chest from the Lågdalsmuseet,  Kongsberg , Buskerud.
A similar long chest, but without the lock from Lesja church, Lesja, Oppland.


A lectern from Hopperstad Stavkirke.

Caskets and small boxes

A box from oak and iron from Vinje church, Rauland.
Note that the two planks from the lid are nailed together.

A similar casket made from oak and iron from Ukjent. The iron straps are of late medieval style.

Two small wooden boxes turning on a pin. Top three photos: medieval document boxes made of birch. The pivotable lid runs into a human face; the eyes are formed by iron nails. Both the lid and the long sides are decorated with carved coiled loops. the box is 39.8 cm long, 8.7 to 9 cm wide at the top and about 8 cm at the bottom, height 10.3 cm. Bottom two photos: similar document box. Apart from the lid is the box made of one piece of wood. Both long sides are carved with coiled loops. A raised edge continues horizontally along the center of the lid. Length 39 cm, width at the top approximately 9 cm, height 9 cm.

A casket from Gudbrandsdalen, Ukjent. 

A wooden box with rounded lid from Ukjent. Looking at the four-pass, and architectural style of the carvings it can probably be dated to the late 14th century.

An iron and leather reinforced box from Ukjent. 

A carved box from Gransherad, Ukjent. 

A carved  box from Teljord.The inside is divided in two compartments.


A shrine from buskerud. Buskerud, Sigdal, Vatnås Kirke, now in the National Historic museum in Copenhagen, Denmark. Nice to see is the underside of the shrine with a small wooden door.

A wooden shrine carrier from Hedal Stavkirke.

A shrine box from the farm Jukam in Southern Aurdals, Oppland. The wooden box measures 17 inch long, 2.31 inch wide, almost 6 inch tall at the middle and 3 inch at the ends. The two long sides and the bottom are made of a piece of wood, hollowed out; the two smaller end pieces fitted with iron nails. The lid is fastened with iron hinges, and has an iron ring fitted an the top. The box could be chained to a place (according to the legend in a mountain chasm). The box could be closed with a padlock, but the bottom staple is gone. Both long sides and lid have a heavily carved exterior, with coiled lines and dragon figurines on the lid, all of a very antique stamp. Contrary, the end plates are smooth; on one of the inner sides 1350 is carved and on the other 1Z21, but these carvings are suspicious and likely much younger than the remainder of the box

Wool box

A box used to store wool from Telemark.


A bed from Telemark.

Oseberg grave finds: beds

The three beds from the Oseberg grave finds were completely broken in pieces. Therefore the photos show reproductions and drawings of these beds.

 The slats underneath the mattress in small pieces of Oseberg bed 2 or 3.
Oseberg bed 1 reproduction and drawing.

Oseberg bed 2 reproduction and drawing.

Oseberg bed 3 reproduction and drawing.

Oseberg grave finds: chests

Oseberg chest O1904-178.

Oseberg chest O1904-132.

Oseberg chest O1904-156

Oseberg chest O1904-149. The heavily nailed chest consists of side planks, banding, long sides, cap locks and lock fittings. Its construction is similar to the other 'viking' chests, notably it rests, or rather stands on the side planks.  Length in excess of 1.08 m, the floor (between the outer edge of side boards) 1.13 m. The width beneath the side boards 32, at the top 29 cm. Height 38 cm. Feet height above floor 16 cm. The width of the long board of 21 cm. Side planks are 2.3 cm thick. At a height of ca. 16 cm above the floor a square hole has been cut into the center of each side piece of ca. 13 cm. In this hole the end pin of the floor board is fitted.  Each board is nailed to the corner plank and floor board. The lid is one piece oak, curved at the upper sideand 4 cm thick in the middle. The chest is adorned with broad iron fittings, all adorned with tinned rivet heads. Rivet heads are nailed in three parallel vertical rows, but do not go through the boards. However, on the edges and side planks are  three horizontal iron fittings, which runs 7 cm on the corners. Locks are completely preserved, but rather missing the key. The lid is fastened with three iron hinges leaning. Every hasp has in the end the form of a simple animal head, and underneath which is an eye.