These are the various measurements I’ve come across in my books. I’ve divided them into categories. By “common” and “uncommon”, I’m referring to their use in modern kitchens.

Dependable Common Measurements

These are measurements that were exact (most were regulated), and are the same as they are today.

  • Gallon
  • Quart
  • Pint
  • Gill (4oz liquid), unless before 1625, it was larger before then. Pronounced with a soft G (jill)
  • Ounce (liquid)
  • Tablespoon (1/2 oz liquid) Mostly dependable.
  • Pound
  • Ounce (weight)
  • Peck (8 quarts)
  • Bushel (4 Pecks, 8 Gallons)
  • Barrel (10 Pecks, 20 Gallons)

Relatively Dependable Uncommon Measurements

Common then, uncommon today, but relatively dependable.

  • Butter the size of an egg (2oz liquid)
  • Butter the size of a Walnut (2 Tbsp, or 1oz liquid) also seen, size of Butternut, Hickory nut.
  • Saltspoon (1/4 tsp)

Measurements You Thought Were Dependable

  • Cup – Today, this is 8oz. But at various times and places in the 19th century, it could be anywhere from 4oz to 8oz. If you’re really lucky, the book you are reading the recipe from will have a table of measurements that will specify. You’re usually not that lucky. Basically, until recently the “cup” was just not an official unit of measurement. This is why it’s quite common to see recipes specify 1/2 pint.
  • Teaspoon – Today, there are 3 teaspoons to the Tablespoon. Prior to the 1730, there were four teaspoons to the Tablespoon.

Uncommon and Undependable Measurements

  • Coffee cup – 8oz or 6oz, depending
  • Tea cup – 6oz or 4oz, depending
  • Wine glass – could be 2 oz (most often), could be 4oz
  • Brandy glass – 1oz to 1.5oz
  • Tumbler – 8oz, up to 16 oz
  • Dessert Spoon – 1-1/2 tsp or 2 tsp
  • Pepperspoon – 1/8 teaspoon (1/2 saltspoon)
  • Coffeespoon – 1/2 teaspoon

Weird Measurements

  • Mustard ladle – Saw this once, it’s around 1/3 tsp
  • A Suspicion – As in “a suspicion of cayenne” or “a suspicion of onion” I’ve seen this a few times, and it cracks me up every time.
  • “as much nutmeg as will lie on a sixpence.”

Table of Measurements from “The Pennsylvania Memorial Home Cook Book”[1] In this book, a cup is 4oz.

Page of Measurements

Woman’s Relief Corps, The Pennsylvania Memorial Home Cook Book. 1891.