Splice the Mainbrace!


Splice the Mainbrace!

A Rum Business in our April 20th & 21st Antiques & Modern Design Sale

Some fun facts and maritime history in our next Antiques Sale, taking place at our Penzance saleroom on April 20th & 21st.




 rum flagons

One of the most wonderful aspects of buying at auctions is the opportunity it presents to learn something new. Particularly in an antiques saleroom like Lay's Auctioneers in Penzance, where there is such a myriad of weird and wonderful things to see and buy, it would be pretty remarkable if the average person knew the whys and wherefores of everything on view.

Amongst the many fascinating lots in Lay's next Antiques & Modern Design Sale on April 20th & 21st, are three gallons of Royal Navy rum. Each gallon is contained within a wax sealed stoneware jar or flagon, protected by a wicker basket. These flagons, lots 127, 128 and 129, were bought from a bonded warehouse in Gibraltar in the 1970s, so are over 50 years old and fantastic examples of distilling and naval history.

Rum originated in the sugar plantations of the West Indies, planters fermented molasses and distilled them into a spirit, initially called ‘kill-devil’ and later ‘rum’, from ‘rumbullion’ a drink made from boiling sugar cane stalks and ‘rumbustion’ which was a slang word for ‘uproar.’

Did you know that right up until 1970 British sailors were afforded a daily ration, known as a 'tot' of rum?


sailors daily tot


The daily ration of alcohol is a British naval tradition that dates back to 1655, but on the 31st of July 1970 - henceforth known as Black Tot Day - the tradition was consigned to the history books and the ration suspended. Admiral Peter Hill-Norton abolished the rum ration as he felt it could have led to sailors failing a breathalyser test and being less able to manage machinery.

What an old spoil-sport!


lot 129


However, in all seriousness, rum was seen as incompatible with the complex technology that was now in operation onboard naval vessels. Some crews who were still receiving a daily rum ration were also operating nuclear submarines.

What shall we do with the drunken sailor?  Perhaps not put him in charge of advanced weaponry.

Unsurprisingly, sailors were unhappy about the loss of the rum ration and on the day, there were reports of sailors throwing tots into the sea and the staging of a mock funeral.


 god bless the king


Although the rum ration was abolished, the order to 'Splice the Mainbrace' (awarding sailors an extra tot of rum) has remained. This is a command which can only be given by the Monarch and is used to recognise good service or is given on special occasions such as a royal wedding or investiture. With the impending coronation of King Charles in May, there never was a better time to buy a slice of true Naval History in order to Splice the Mainbrace and celebrate!


The entire auction of 800 lots can be viewed at our Penzance saleroom on

Saturday 15th April, 9am to 1pm, Monday 17th, Tuesday 18th and Wednesday 19th April, 9am to 5pm


Antiques & Modern Design








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