I love puzzle jugs! They are tricky and silly and funny…just what was needed to give a wet welcome to a travel weary guest.
The jug - which is dotted with holes and channels - is filled with ale and offered to an unassuming customer. When the drinker attempts to tilt the jug towards their lips, beer pours out from the holes that surround the neck of the pot and, much to the delight of other customers, all over the victim of the Puzzle Jug.
You see, the jug has a hidden tube. The tube runs from the spout, around the rim and then down the handle, with its other opening inside the bottom of the jug. So, to solve the puzzle, the drinker must never tip the jug. They should suck from the spout, covering the additional holes around the rim. The ale will then flow from the bottom of the jug, up the secret channel and into the mouth.
Something I really love (I must have a cruel sense of humour), is that some jugs have a hidden hole in the handle. So a clever customer, who thinks they have solved the puzzle, will get covered in beer anyway.
Puzzle jugs were once a frequent sight in homes and taverns. In Britain they were perhaps most popular during the 18th and 19th centuries and so this was when some of the best pieces were made. However, the earliest known example in England is the Exeter puzzle jug - one of the finest examples of medieval pottery in Britain - which dates from about 1300 and was originally made in Saintonge, Western France.
Rachel - museums collections officer