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Antiques

What on earth is a Puzzle Jug?

I asked that question last October, to which the interim Chairman of TEFAF, and 5th generation dealer at Aronson Antiquaires, Robert Aronson, replied via twitter, with an invitation to come visit PAN Amsterdam and find out. So, I took him up on his invitation.

Arguably the world’s leading dealer in Dutch Delft, Robert had certainly gone to every effort to present a stunning collection of these mysterious vessels, on his stand at PAN Amsterdam; a splendid Art, Antiques and Design Fair, that regularly boasts attendance upwards of 50,000 visitors, and which is staged in the RAI halls, annually, at the end of November.

I wondered how these Puzzle Jugs worked exactly. When you look closely at the pierced openwork on the neck of a Puzzle Jug, you realize that the intention could not have been to pour or drink from it like a normal jug or tankard. There seemed to be no feasible solution as to how one could pour from one of these jugs. It was time for a one-to-one with Robert, which I hoped would solve my perplexity.

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When did Puzzle Jugs first start being produced?

Currently, the oldest known puzzle jug is the so-called ‘Exeter Puzzle Jug,’ (pictured left) which was produced in Saintonge, Western France, around 1300 and found during an excavation at Exeter in Devon, England, in 1899. After restoration it was given to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) in Exeter, where it can still be seen.

Where were these jugs produced?

Through the centuries puzzle jugs have appeared in Italian, German, French and English ceramics and occasionally in other mediums, but it wasn’t until the second half of the 17th century that they developed a certain popularity, and examples began appearing more frequently at that time.

What do you consider to be the rarest examples?

Although models from other countries are very uncommon, Dutch puzzle jugs are particularly rare. Dutch Delft examples can be found dating from the 1650s onward through the 18th century, which was their most popular period, and during which they even inspired ?the Chinese potters to produce examples in porcelain.

They look very complicated to make, was that the case?

Marion van Aken-Fehmers, writes ?that these jugs were difficult to produce, and based on the fact that they are often dated, they probably were produced on special order. This hypothesis is entirely plausible since the inventory lists of the factories and of the potters’ shops hardly ever refer to these jugs. Occasionally there is the mention of a so-called ‘suijgkan’, which translates to ‘suction-jug’ and which probably refers to these vessels.

r3Pair of Chinese Puzzle Jugs, Qing Dynasty, Kangxi Period, circa 1710 Collection Vanderven Oriental Art

So how do they work?

The name suijgkan, in fact, hints at the secret of solving? the puzzle. The answer is in the trick of the construction.? Generally the hollow tubular rim has one functioning nozzle?and two or more “dummy” nozzles, and it is connected to ?the hollow handle, which forms a siphon from the lower?body.

The suction, however, is broken by a small hole ?beneath the top of the handle, and the solution to the?“puzzle” is for the drinker to place his thumb over the hole in order to create the vacuum that allows him to suck the liquid from the jug up through the handle, around the rim and out through the one functioning nozzle.

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Why would anybody have wanted to buy a puzzle Jug in centuries gone by?

You never know if a dinner party will be a success. Will the guests enjoy? the food; will they like my house; will they have a good time? It is a worry ?that seems to have descended through the ages, and to ensure that the guests depart with a positive feeling of mirth and merriment – and even a spotted shirt – an entertainment and conversation-piece has always been a useful prop. With the secret revealed, inevitably cheers and applause ensue, and the party is a success.

So there we have it, these remarkable Puzzle Jugs explained, and if you’d like to see the current collection of Aronson Antiquaires, be sure to visit the Winter Antiques Show in New York, which opens today, and runs through to the 2nd of February.

For more information on Puzzle Jugs, visit www.aronson.com

To visit the Winter Antiques Show, where Aronson Antiquaires is currently exhibiting, please see the website below:

www.winterantiquesshow.com

With thanks to Robert Aronson for making time during a busy Show for this interview.

About the Author

Elliot Lee

Elliot Lee

Elliot Lee founded his antique business in 1994. Having bought his first Antique piece at the tender age of eleven, it has since then been his passion for Antiques, Fine Art, and aesthetically beautif...