In Britain, 19th century, a unit of capacity in the pharmaceutical trade = ½ Winchester quart, about 40 imperial fluid ounces, but often as much as 10 ounces more.

The name probably comes from that of a highly successful firm of wholesale and retail druggists, the creation of Thomas Corbyn (1711 – 1791). Before his death he took as partners three apprentices, and the firm continued for decades, managed by four generations of Messers and Staceys, but trading as Corbyn, Stacey and Company.

Roy Porter and Dorothy Porter.
The Rise of the English Drugs Industry: The Role of Thomas Corbyn.
Medical History, vol. 33, pages 277-295 (1989).

Richard Palmer.
Illustrations from the Wellcome Institute Library. Thomas Corbyn, Quaker Merchant.
Medical History, vol. 33, pages 371-376 (1989).



“Winchester Quart” and “Corbyn.”

—These are the names of two glass bottles in which fluids are sent out by wholesale druggists. They have round shoulders and short necks, and are of the same diameter; the “quart” is tall, and holds about 82 fluid ounces, more than half a gallon; the corbyn is squat, and holds half that quantity. The ‘N.E.D.’ makes no mention of “corbyn,” nor does it, under ‘Quart,’ mention the larger bottle. As it will be some time before it gets to W, information as to the origin of these names seems desirable.

The Winchester quart, or “Winchester,” does not appear to have any relation to the Winchester bushel, which was merely a variant of the old corn-bushel, about one per cent larger—a difference probably due to the difficulty of casting a bronze pan of exactly the right capacity.

The ‘N.E.D.’ has under ‘Chopin’: “‘A French liquid measure containing nearly a pint of Winchester’ (J. [Samuel Johnson]), i.e. half an old French pinte.” It would thus appear that in Johnson’s time there was a Winchester fluid measure of approximately French standard, in which the pint was about an old wine-quart, and the quart presumably about two wine-quarts. But both “Winchester quart” and “corbyn” correspond, not to this old wine-standard, but to that of the old ale-gallon, equal to about 163 fluid ounces, the imperial gallon being 160 ounces. Did they become increased from the standard of the old wine-gallon, 133 ounces (or the French galon or half-velte, 139 ounces) to that of the ale-gallon?

There does not seem any probability of their having come from the Channel Islands (in the diocese of Winchester). Guernsey has a “quinte,” one-fifth of the standard “denerel,” equal, for corn, to our old bushel; but it has no quart, at least no local quart. Jersey has a gallon equal to 143 fluid ounces.

As to the name “corbyn,” it may have been originally a proper name attached to this peculiar shape of bottle, half the Winchester quart.

Edward Nicholson.

Notes and Queries, 2nd series, vol. 2, pages 405-6, (19 November 1910).


A “WINCHESTER QUART.”-Dr. George Suttie, of Detroit, writes the BULLETIN and quotes a passage from the letter of an Edinburgh pharmacist on this subject: “A Winchester quart bottle is one which holds nominally eighty ounces, but in reality such bottles hold ninety ounces fluid, and wholesale druggists often have them made to hold five imperial pints, or a hundred ounces, when they wish to make their accounts as large as possible. There is another bottle, called a Corbyn quart, which holds forty to forty-five ounces, but really these terms are now obsolete, or should be.”

Bulletin of Pharmacy, vol. 9 no. 3, page 139, (March 1895).


Some 6-oz. marked dispensing bottles held from 4 to 6 drachms too much when made by another firm, whilst 4-oz. of the same make were perfectly accurate; 90-oz. Winchesters more frequently hold 100 oz. Corbyn quarts in one case are accurate, but in another case are 8 to 10 oz. in excess.

The Chemist and Druggist, vol. 29,  page 473 (October 2, 1886).

home | units index | search |  contact drawing of envelope |  contributors | 
help | privacy | terms of use