Home > History of Wine, Image > Dutch Wine Gauging in the Seventeenth Century

Dutch Wine Gauging in the Seventeenth Century

De Kuiper, Jan Luyken, "Het menselyk bedryf", 1694, Collectie Amsterdams Historisch Museum


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.

De Dam, Lambert Doomer, 1645, Collectie van Eeghen

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 gauger with rod

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”

Vincent Jacobsz, Gauger-Merchant Amsterdam, Jacob Matham,New South Whales

  1. January 23, 2016 at 2:19 pm


    A fascinating insight, thanks. In case of interest, an extensive article ‘Leeuwenhoek as surveyor and wine-gauger’ with many notes and refs can be found at the back of Volume 6 of ‘Alle de Brieven …’ or the ‘Collected Letters of Anthoni van Leeuwenhoek’ pub. 1961 written by A Schierbeek. In English and Dutch.

    These volumes are now legitimately free in the public domain on the DBNL website, the relative part can be read online at link below (Dutch and English translation pages alternate):


    The entire volume 6 can be downloaded as a pdf at link below where it is easier to select pages to print. Also Plate XXXII shows a 17thC Dutch gauging rod.



  2. Erico
    January 25, 2016 at 11:07 pm

    It seems there is long tradition of the Dutch really enjoying their French wine. The Dutch were much earlier than the English.

  3. Marcus
    January 29, 2016 at 1:17 pm

    Hi, Aaron!
    I stumbled onto this post looking for answers to a question.
    I have come across Wine Gauge-symbols from 1400-1500, and I am trying to figure out how to read them.

    My email is:
    if you’d like to see the pictures, and perhaps help me solve this mystery.

    All of the very best,

  1. December 27, 2015 at 6:03 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: