The making of the Asante ewer

There are only three of these great medieval English metal jugs known today. This one is in the British Museum collection, while the other two are in the collections of Luton Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

All three were brought together for study in the British Museum Department of Conservation and Scientific Research to try to find out if there are any connections between them.

Although the British Museum jug is different in colour and detail to the other jugs, and the three differ in size, they have obvious similarities in shape and other details. Each has a different inscription but with very similar lettering, in English rather than Latin. All bear crown motifs and the Royal arms as used between 1340-1405. While the British Museum jug has a lid, the other two have the remains of hinges where lids were once attached.

The results of scientific examination do show close similarities in materials and construction. X-ray fluorescence analysis established that all three are made of leaded bronze, an alloy of copper, tin and lead. This is not uncommon, but significantly the impurities in the metal are similar in all three.

They were all cast by pouring molten bronze into a two-part mould with a core. Again this is not unusual in the production of large Medieval pots and cauldrons, but X-radiography revealed features that link the jugs together more closely. There are at least 14 distinctive dark, square patches visible in the X-radiographs of each jug. These are the metal spacers which were placed inside the mould to keep a gap open for metal to flow between the outer casing of the mould and the inner wall (core).

These spacers were preserved in the metal walls of each jug where the molten bronze solidified around them. Thicker areas of metal, such as the lettering and the coats of arms appear pale in the X-radiograph. The spacers appear dark because they are full of bubbles, so they are less dense than the bronze of the jug. This unusual feature is the same for all three jugs.

The similarities between the three jugs clearly go beyond the more obvious links between lettering, coats of arms and shape, suggesting that they may even have been made in the same foundry, though not necessarily at the same time.

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