tun

1

In England, a measure of capacity for wine and ale, with the introduction of imperial measure in 1824, = 210 imperial gallons. See barrel.

The tun is widely believed to have originally been 256 gallons. (A bushel is 8 gallons; a quarter is 8 bushels; 4 quarters is 256 gallons. For centuries the ale barrel was exactly 1/8th of 256 gallons.) 

The case for a primeval 256-wine gallon tun is not so clear; please see English wine cask sizes. At least from the 14th century the tun for wine has clearly been 252 gallons, a value given in 2 Henry VI c 14 (1423), 18 Henry VI c 17 (1439), 1 Richard III c 13 (1483) and 28 Henry VIII c 4 (1536). See wine barrel for a chart showing the tun's subdivisions (for wine) and its changes.

2

The above is the standard definition of the tun, but it is apparently not the only tun that existed in England. In a manuscript of 1507 we read:

He that ys a gawner [gauger-ed.] owght to understonde there ys in a tunne lx systerns and every systern ys iiii galons be yt wyne or oylle.

From a 1702 copy (British Museum Add. Roll, 16577) of a manuscript by T. Forgon, internally dated 15 July 1507, consisting of a list of customs duties on various articles. Reproduced as Appendix C in
Norman Scott Brien Gras,
The Early English Customs System.
Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press, 1918.
Page 706.

Sixty sesters each of 4 gallons make a 240-gallon tun. In Pegolotti (Evan's edition), written about 1350, we read

E lo <tinello> di vino o d'olio o di mele alla misura di Bruggia, ch'è 360 lotti in Bruggia, … [Page 244]

And the tinello of wine or oil or honey, by Bruges measure, which is 360 lotti in Bruges, …

Gallone 1 di vino alla misura di Londra fa in Bruggia lotti 1½. [Page 245]

One gallon of wine, London measure, makes 1½ lotti in Bruges.

So 360 lotti in Bruges makes 240 wine gallons in London, a likely source for the 240 wine gallon tun, since in the 14th century olive oil was exported to England through Bruges.

Later there was a “Civil Gauge” tun of 236 gallons, used for sweet oil (such as olive oil). It is interesting that this loss of 4 gallons from the 240 gallon tun (if that is in fact what happened) is the same size as the loss from the putative 256 gallon tun.

sources

1

However the Custom of London in many Commodities is found to disagree in their measures from Statute; as in Oyl it is observ'd, that 236 Gallons, by Merchants called the Civil Gauge, is ordinarily sold for a Tun, and not 252 Gallons, as above mentioned.

Hayes, 1740, page 211.

2

Note. That sweet oil hath only 236 gallons to the tun. All liquids are measured by wine measure, except beer and ale.

Thomas Hodson.
The Accomplished Tutor. 3rd ed. vol. 1, page 137.
London: H. D. Symonds and Vernon, Hood and Sharpe, 1806.

3

In the United States, a unit of liquid capacity, = 252 U.S. gallons, approximately 953.9 liters.

4

In Malaysia1 and Singapore2, ? – 20th century , a unit of capacity, = 252 imperial gallons (about 1145.6 liters or 302.6 U.S. gallons).

1. United Nations, 1966.

2. Technical Conversion Factors…, 1972, page 301.

5

In England, 17th century, 43 cubic feet of wood.

TIMBER-MEASURE. Forty three foot Solid, make a Tun of Timber, and fifty foot a Load.

Worlidge, 1702.

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