Tierce (unit)

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The tierce (also terse) is both an archaic volume unit of measure of goods and the name of the cask of that size. [1] The most common definitions are either one-third of a pipe or forty-two gallons. In the petroleum industry - a barrel of oil is defined as 42 US gallons.

Barrel Hollow cylindrical container

A barrel or cask is a hollow cylindrical container with a bulging center, longer than it is wide. They are traditionally made of wooden staves and bound by wood or metal hoops.

Petroleum industry activities linked to handling oil and gas products

The petroleum industry, also known as the oil industry or the oil patch, includes the global processes of exploration, extraction, refining, transporting, and marketing of petroleum products. The largest volume products of the industry are fuel oil and gasoline (petrol). Petroleum (oil) is also the raw material for many chemical products, including pharmaceuticals, solvents, fertilizers, pesticides, synthetic fragrances, and plastics. The extreme monetary value of oil and its products has led to it being known as "black gold". The industry is usually divided into three major components: upstream, midstream, and downstream.



The casks were roughly 20.5 inches across and were built to hold either liquids (wet cooperage) or dry goods (dry cooperage). [2] Contents ranged from sugar to rum to salted beef and fish.


The Oxford English Dictionary lists the first use of the term in this sense as occurring in 1531. In 1630, Ben Jonson, the current Poet Laureate of England, petitioned that the salary of the position be raised. His wish was granted, and in addition he and his successors received a tierce of wine from the Canary Islands, a tradition that continued until Henry James Pye became Laureate in 1790. [3] As opposed to several other units of measure such as the pipe, cark and frail, the definition of the tierce remained stable with similar entries found in dictionaries from 1658 through 1780. [4] By 1847, the introduction of steam technology allowed a 25-person manufacturing plant to make 15,000 tierce casks per year. [5]

<i>Oxford English Dictionary</i> Premier historical dictionary of the English language

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is the principal historical dictionary of the English language, published by Oxford University Press (OUP). It traces the historical development of the English language, providing a comprehensive resource to scholars and academic researchers, as well as describing usage in its many variations throughout the world. The second edition, comprising 21,728 pages in 20 volumes, was published in 1989.

Ben Jonson Seventeenth Century English playwright, poet, and actor

Benjamin Jonson was an English playwright and poet, whose artistry exerted a lasting impact upon English poetry and stage comedy. He popularised the comedy of humours. He is best known for the satirical plays Every Man in His Humour (1598), Volpone, or The Fox, The Alchemist (1610) and Bartholomew Fair (1614) and for his lyric and epigrammatic poetry. "He is generally regarded as the second most important English dramatist, after William Shakespeare, during the reign of James I."

Henry James Pye English Poet Laureate

Henry James Pye was an English poet, and Poet Laureate from 1790 until his death. He was the first poet laureate to receive a fixed salary of £270 instead of the historic tierce of Canary wine.


By 1899, proponents of the metric system could say that the tierce was one of many "marked curiosities and barbarisms" in America, [6] and by 1917 even opponents of the metric system were calling this and similar measures obsolete: "Nobody hears nowadays of the coomb, the pottle, the chaldron, the palm or the barleycorn. The perch, the puncheon, the span, the tierce and the toise are all but forgotten. Even the furlong, the gill and the rod are disappearing." [7]

Metric system Decimal system of units of measurement

The metric system is an internationally recognised decimalised system of measurement. It is in widespread use, and where it is adopted, it is the only or most common system of weights and measures. It is now known as the International System of Units (SI). It is used to measure everyday things such as the mass of a sack of flour, the height of a person, the speed of a car, and the volume of fuel in its tank. It is also used in science, industry and trade.

Recent Research

Robert E. Hardwicke asked the question in his The Oilman's Barrel: [8] why is oil measured in 42-gallon barrels? One hypothesis was that early oil drilling in Pennsylvania used tierce whiskey barrels for storage, and the standard developed from there. Ultimately, he was unable to find adequate support for the hypothesis. [9]

Museum curator Mark Staniforth participated in the salvage operation of the 250-ton brig William Salthouse that was wrecked in 1841 near Queenscliff, Victoria, Australia. He made a detailed study of the recovered casks, noting that many of them did not meet legal standards for quality. His work provided empirical evidence of how tierce casks were actually constructed. [2]

See also

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  1. Murray, James A. H. Murray; Bradley, Henry; Craigie, W. A.; et al., eds. (1991). The Compact Oxford English Dictionary (Second ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 2061.
  2. 1 2 Staniforth, Mark (1987). "The Casks from the Wreck of the "William Salthouse"". Australian Journal of Historical Archeology. 5: 21–28. JSTOR   29543180.
  3. Gray, William Forbes (1914). The Poets Laureate of England: Their History and their Odes. Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons. p. 29.
  4. "Eighteenth-Century English Dictionaries and the Enlightenment". The Yearbook of English Studies. Eighteenth-Century Lexis and Lexicography. 28: 8–9. 1998. JSTOR   3508753.
  5. Eisterhold, John A. (Winter 1973). "Savannah: Lumber Center of the South Atlantic". The Georgia Historical Quarterly. 57 (4): 531. JSTOR   40579943.
  6. "A New System of Weights and Measures". Biloxi Daily Herald. May 6, 1899. p. 6.
  7. Ingalls, Walter Renton (July 20, 1917). "Shall Great Britain and America Adopt the Metric System?". Journal of the Royal Society of Arts. 65 (3374): 609. JSTOR   41347389.
  8. Hardwicke, Robert E. (2012). The Oilman's Barrel. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN   0806143843.
  9. Editor (Summer 1981). "[Letters in response to] Over a Barrel". The Wilson Quarterly. 5 (3): 189–190. JSTOR   40256164.