Dutch Wine Gauging in the Seventeenth Century
Many European cities imposed taxes on wine and beer. Wine gaugers measured the contents of the barrels in order to calculate the appropriate tax. This was not an easy task because a barrel is not a simple cylinder. The two ends of the barrel may be of different diameters, the length varied, and the amount of the bulge varied. In addition the barrel might be partially filled. Barrel shapes varied depending upon the wine region it came from. With the Dutch importing and trading wine from all over the world they had to become proficient at gauging.
The tax on wine and beer was introduced in the 14th century. There was a tax for the transportation of wine and the selling of wine in cities. No barrel could be sold within a city without the mark from the tax collector. By the 16th century wine and beer taxes were generating significant revenue. In Antwerp they accounted for one-half to three-quarters of all revenue.
A wine gauger was always assisted by a writer. The first step was to taste the contents to determine if it were filled with wine or water. The barrel was then measured. The measurements were entered into an excise book and signed by the gauger and writer. The wine gauger would then brand the barrel with his mark. At that point the barrel could be sold or transported. The wine gauger was also responsible for visiting inns. Wine for consumption at an inn was taxed at a higher rate than that for private consumption. The wine gauger visited innkeepers on a quarterly basis to measure the contents of the barrels so that he could calculate the amount of wine consumed.
The volume of the barrel was calculated by using a wine gauging rod. There were several different styles of rod and methods for calculating the volume. In general the rod was inserted through the bung hole to measure the diameter of the bulge. Then the diameters of the ends were measure and the length of barrel. These numbers were used to approximate an equivalent cylinder then the volume was calculated. To simplify calculation some rods had depth points engraved with the quadratic results next to them. Another simplification involved pre-calculated tables of length times depth on a so-called change rod. Finally, a set of engraved calipers called sectors could be used. Sectors were introduced to wine gauging during the first half of the 17th century and may have military origins from measuring the contents of gunpowder barrels.
Wine gaugings was an important position that provided a small income. A wine-gauger was appointed for life. It is possible they were paid per barrel measured. Meindert Hobbema (1638-1709) was a Dutch painter of primarily wooded landscapes. In 1668 he married Eeltje Vinck and became a wine-gauger in Amsterdam. He held the position for 40 years during which he virtually ceased painting. Several works exist from this period but oddly do not include wine as a subject. The couple was buried as paupers.
Antoni van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723) began his working career in 1654 as a shopkeeper. In 1660 he became a civil servant and eventually a wine gauger for the city of Delft. In 1671 he left civil service to start his scientific career assembling microscopes and magnifying glasses. He eventually discovered “animacules.”
The verse in the image of Vincent Jacobsz reads, “With self-searching, most people find the reason and cause for disputes about what is theirs or yours. Yet reason and the law (where disputes are concerned) bound by measurement and justice aim to suit everyone”