Anker, anchor

For the Russian unit, see ancre.


In Germany and the Netherlands, a unit of capacity, about 38.8 liters (about 10.3 U.S. gallons).

In Hamburg, Germany, 1820: chart symbol In Prussia by the law of May 1816: chart symbol



L'Ancker est pris quelquefois pour un vingt-quatriéme d'un Tonneau de 4 Bariques, sur lequel pié la Barique de Bourdeaux doit contenir à Amsterdam, lors que la futaille est faite suivant la véritable Jauge, 12½ Stekans ou 200 Mingles Vin & lie, ou 12 Steckans, où 192 Mingles Vin hors la lie, ainsi le Tonneau de Vin de Bourdeaux contient 50 Stekans ou 800 Mingles Vin & lie, & 48 Steckans ou 768 Mingles Vin hors la lie.

The anker is sometimes taken for a 24th of the tonneau of 4 barriques, following which the barrique of Bordeaux must contain at Amsterdam, assuming the cask is made to a true measure, 12½ stekans or 200 mingles of wine plus lees, or 12 steckens, or 192 mingles of wine without the lees, so the tonneau of wine of Bordeaux contains 50 stekans or 800 mingles of wine including lees, or 48 steckans or 768 mingels of wine without lees.

Samuel Ricard.
Traité Générale du Commerce… 5th ed.
Amsterdam: Depens de la Compagnie, 1732.
Page 36.

So if the anker is 1/24th of a tonneau, excluding lees it is 2 steckans, and including lees 2 1/25th steckan. Taking the steckan at 19.4 liters makes the anker 38.8 or 40.4 liters respectively.


In Denmark, a unit of liquid capacity, with different values for wine and beer, and varying with time.

A decree of 1698 ostensibly changed the capacity of the anker from 40 potter to 39 potter. But observers as far back as Bauer, and as recent as Friss and Glamann, have reported that throughout the 18th century in practice there were 40 potter in an anker.

The anker of wine
Period Equivalents Liters
before 1683 40 potter 38.0
1683-1698 ¼ amme, 38.75 potter 37.51
after 1698 39 potter  37.8


The anker of beer and ale
Period Equivalents Liters
before 1683
the old anker
¼ øltønde, 30 potter 28.5
before 1683 ¼ øltønde, 35 potter 33.3
after 1683 ¼ ny øltønde, 34 potter 32.9

R. W. Bauer.
Haandbog i Mønt-, Maal og Vægtforhold udarbejdet efter de nyeste og bedste Kilder.
Copenhagen: 1882.


In Norway, a unit of liquid capacity, = 40 potter = 20 kanner, about 38.60 liters.


In England, its North American colonies and the United States, a unit of liquid capacity for brandy, = 10 wine gallons, about 37.854 liters. To give a sense of its size, the usual bottle of water delivered for coolers in the United States is half an anker.

Thanks to their Dutch neighbors, the English speakers in the colonies of New York and New Jersey apparently were more familiar with the term than those in England. The anker survived the British acquisition of New Amsterdam. In colonial New York it was often called an “anchor”.¹

The OED suggests the anker may have once been a measure of dry capacity. This is very doubtful. It gives a single citation, from Thomas Middleton ( 1597): “I feare me, that the acres of my fielde passe the anchers of my seed.” Isn't this a literary stylist reaching for effect by alliteration, and stretching the meaning of anker? Of course, his audience would have associated the “ancher” with a certain volume.

1. Richard M. Lederer, Jr.
Colonial American English. A Glossary.
Essex, Connecticut: A Verbatim Book, 1985.



We, Sospanninck and Wicknaminck, the naturall inhabitants of this Province of New-Jersey, &c., doe declare to have Sold for ourselves and our heirs unto Mr. Edmund Cantwell & Mr. Johanes Dehaes, our Creeke or Kill, called Meg-kerk-eipods,… for which we doe Acknowledge to have rec[eive]d one-halfe Ankor of Drinke, two Match.coates, two Axes, two barrs of Lead, four hand-fulls of powder, two knives, some painte; and therefore we doe hereby dissist off the same land, and doe declare that we have no further or future pretence on the same. Signed by us this 8th of February, 1673.

Samuel Hazard.
Pennsylvania Archives, selected and arranged from original documents in the office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth. Vol. I.
Philadelphia: Printed by Joseph Severns & Co., 1852.
Page 32.


Selections mostly from arithmetic textbooks, illustrating survival in the early 18th century.

Note.— 231 solid inches make a gallon, and 10 gallons make an anchor.

Samuel Webber.
Boston: Thomas and Andrews, 1801.
Page 39.

Webber was the Hollis Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at Harvard College.

10 gallons make 1 anchor

Joshua Montefiore.
The Trader's and Manufacturer's Compendium … vol. 1.
London: Printed for the author, 1804.
Page 679.

10 gallons make 1 Anchor of Brandy  anc.

Nicholas Pike. Abridged by Nathaniel Lord.
A New and Complete System of Arithmetick
New York: Evert Duyckinck, 1816.
Page 27.

5 gallons make 1 half anchor. hf. an.

10 gallons make 1 anchor. an.

George Alfred
The American Student's Guide.
Winchester (VA): Printed at The Republican office, 1834.
Page 54.


Anker, ten wine gallons.
Scotland: twenty Scotch pints.

Second Report. Page 6.


Anker, a small cask or runlet containing 8 1/3 gallons, which in this country is now obsolete. The anker is still, however, a common liquid measure in many of the Continental states, varying from 7½ to 9¼ gallons.

Simmonds (1892). Page 12.

Bear in mind that Simmonds is writing of imperial gallons. Eight and a third imperial gallons is 10 wine gallons.


Crawford's Handbook for the Grocery and Kindred Trades.
Edinburgh, Wm. Crawford & Sons, Ltd. 1922.
Page 150.


Anker (1597), first found in the sense of a dry measure of capacity; the more common sense of a measure of wine or spirits used in Holland, north Germany, and the Baltic occurs first in the Pennsyl. Arch. (1673), and not till c. 1750 in England; the measure varied in different countries, that of Rotterdam, formerly also used in England, contained 10 old wine gallons or 8 and a third imperial gallons; ad[aptation of] Du[tch] anker.

E[van] C[lifford] Llewellyn.
The Influence of Low Dutch on the English Vocabulary.
Publications of the Philological Society, 12.
London: Oxford University Press, 1936.
Page 56.


In Scotland, = 20 Scotch pints.

Second Report. Page 6.

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