A tankard is a form of drinkware consisting of a large, roughly cylindrical, drinking cup with a single handle. Tankards are usually made of silver, pewter, or glass, but can be made of other materials, for example wood, ceramic or leather. A tankard may have a hinged lid, and tankards featuring glass bottoms are also fairly common. Tankards are shaped and used similarly to beer steins.
The word "tankard" originally meant any wooden vessel (13th century) and later came to mean a drinking vessel. The earliest tankards were made of wooden staves, similar to a barrel, and did not have lids. A 2000 year old wooden tankard of approximately four pint capacity has been unearthed in Wales.
Metal tankards often come with a glass bottom. The legend is that the glass bottomed tankard was developed as a way of refusing the King's shilling, i.e. conscription into the British army or navy. The drinker could see the coin in the bottom of the glass and refuse the drink, thereby avoiding conscription.
In a bar fight, the first punch was thrown while the recipient had the tankard raised to his mouth; another legend has it that the glass bottom was implemented so as to see the attack coming.
A further story is that the glass bottom merely allowed the drinker to judge the clarity of their drink while forgoing the expense of a fragile pint glass.
Glass bottoms are sometimes retrofitted to antique tankards, reducing their value and authenticity.
Metal and ceramic tankards are still manufactured, but are regarded as speciality or novelty items. Modern metal tankards are often engraved to commemorate some occasion. Glass tankards — that is, straight-sided or inward-sloping glass vessels with strap handles — are still in everyday use.
Lead leaching from pewter
In previous centuries, the pewter used to make tankards often contained lead, which exposed the drinker to medical effects ranging from heavy metal poisoning to gout. This effect was exacerbated in cider drinking areas such as Somerset, UK, as the acid qualities of the cider leached out the lead content from the pewter more quickly. Clay tankards became prevalent in this area. Pewter is now widely lead-free.