Tuesday, 18 February 2020

A Brief (and Incomplete) History of Irish Glassware Verification Marks...

Glassware collecting is not for those who want to appear sound of mind...

At this point I've lost count of the number of people who shoot me sideways glances, elbow the person beside them and take a side step on hearing me mutter, "Oh, a rolled foot, that makes it pre 1740s..." or discussing pontil marks, knops and crizzling with myself. I'm often heard whispering about random dates in a creepy voice as I squint at a glass tankard or tulip glass, murmuring things like "Well-well a 1967, that's very interesting..." or "Huh, I would have thought they'd have stopped production by '71", this is normally accompanied by a smug grin of self-satisfaction that I've found something new and of interest ... to me.

But every now and again someone plucks up the courage to engage, driven perhaps by a fair degree of pity or concern, and asks me how I can be so sure about a date on the particular piece I'm looking at, at which point I just point to the verification mark and show them the date....

"Interesting," they say, "so, what's the other number about then?"

"Ah, well that's more complicated..."


So, verification marks - the marks on glassware that show they have been verified to be a particular volume of liquid by a government body -  existed before Irish independence but that's a topic for another time, although I'll drag it into this post briefly later. I'm not sure exactly when our own post independence verification marks came in to use in this country and although I would like to think that it wasn't long after the establishment of the Free State in 1922, the earliest marked glasses I currently possess date from 1939 and 1942 (The earliest example of a mark I've seen elsewhere is from 1925) and are interesting in that the still carry the SE mark for Saorstát Éireann - meaning Irish Free State - which ended in 1937 when we became just Ireland - or Éire in Irish - by name.

The general format on all of the marks I have found so far show the last two digits of year of verification (so presumably not necessarily the exact date of manufacture of the glass) on the bottom of the mark and a number on top that in theory relates to the area or district where the inspector was based. From what I've read the SE marks seems to have continued until 1958 when the quasi-yin and yang symbol that we are more familiar with on older glassware came into use. This seemingly was briefly changed into a circle with a wavy line at some point (2005/2006? 2002? [Edit: I need to dig deeper into this style, here's an example via a reply to this post on Twitter. It appears to have been in use at the same time as the 2004 version shown below...]) on some glassware I've seen, which in turn was used until the newer CE standard I mention below began.

So the dates are alway very clear providing the mark itself is clearly etched, which it often isn't in examples from the sixties and seventies, and especially not on dimpled tankards. The example above is one of the clearer ones and was probably sand blasted. The one below appears to be machine (laser?) etched.

An interesting point is that although it appears all pint glasses needed to be verified, only half pints glasses used to sell beer sold from a larger source like a cask or keg needed to be verified as far as I can tell. Those used for bottle pub sales did not need verification, as the bottles they beer was served in would already have been verified to be a particular volume. This is why it's very hard to date many half pint glasses without assessing the age of the logo or consulting advertisement from a certain period.


Finding out the area of the country in which the glass was verified seems to be much more difficult although that number is of course much less interesting and less important than the date but for those of us with a need to see the complete picture it is a missing piece of the puzzle, and needs to be solved ... and unfortunately I've had only limited success in solving it.

My first contact in cracking the code was with NSAI (National Standards Authority of Ireland) who after a little prompting came back with a document confirming roughly what I knew already and the record they sent me applied only to bottles as far as I could figure out. Subsequent enquiries as to what/who/where the verification marks applied to by tweets and emails appear to have fell on deaf ears - or perhaps they wisely muted me - so I ended up at a dead end there.

References online seems to be quite scarce - hence my wanting to do this post of course - so when I came across 'Marks and Marking of Weights and Measures of the British Isles [Hmmm...]' by Carl Ricketts it was somewhat helpful on filling in more information although it does seem to cause more confusion in one way. It deals mostly with pre independence verification but it does have some paragraphs on post 1922 verification. Ricketts managed to get some information in 1994 from the then National Office of Weights and Measures (which became the above mentioned NSAI) and he states that the older pre Free State numbering system for areas and districts was continued with some modification after 1922 "as inspection districts were altered or merged together." So, according to Ricketts it seems that a format from 1879 was also carried through into the recent past, where Uniform Verification Numbers based on policing divisions within counties, which had numbers based on a prefix and suffix, combined to create a unique code that covered up to ten districts within a county...

Confused? Welcome to my world...

(And this has nothing to do with Carl Ricketts' description it's more to do with the complexities of the system and my understanding of it.)

There is a chart in the book which shows the numbers used in 1879, 1922 and 1995, although this doesn't seem to help with certain verification numbers on certain glasses. For example the 181 at the top of this post corresponds to nothing on the chart unless this means its an 8 (Dublin) with lines either side or 18 plus a 1 for a district of Cork; 45 could be Longford but could also be a district in Dublin; 71  doesn't appear on the chart at all so perhaps it too means a Dublin district - which used 4 to 11 - with a district suffix. I have Guinness tankards marked as 73 that make perfect sense for Waterford but I also have similar-ish Time tankards that are marked 72 for Tyrone pre 1925, which wasn't used afterwards according to the chart. I could go on, but I won't.

I really need to get more clarification from someone within the NSAI, or find more documentation, as I feel it's much simpler than it appears.


The new CE mark guidelines were published in 2004 and applied from 2006 when we changed to the European standard M mark where the number after the M is the year of manufacture and the four digits after correspond to the notified body number. It also shows the manufacturer and volume, and increments of volume if required. Ireland's number is 0709 while other countries appear to have numerous ones, see here for a list. (There was a transition period of ten years from that 2006 date which might explain the use of the wavy line mark I mentioned above.)

So next time you find an old glass in the back of the press (or cupboard for my non-Irish readers) please feel free to bore your family with its vague history.

And feel free to blame me too...

(I was going to hold off on this article until I found out more but instead I've decided to put up what I know so far, with a promise to edit it at a later date when I peel away a few more layers of confusion...)


(There is a copy of Carl Rickett's book available as a PDF online from what appears to be a reputable source but as I'm unsure of copyright issues I'll leave it up to your search engine to find it...)

(All written content and the research involved in publishing it here is my own unless otherwise stated and can not be reproduced elsewhere without full credit to its source and a link back to this post.)