What is a Ewer?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A ewer is a type of pitcher with a flared base, a stout handle, and a decorative spout. Ewers have been manufactured around the world for thousands of years, and many fine examples can be seen on display in museums. In the modern world, ewers are primarily used for ornamental purposes, although in some regions of the world, they are still used to hold and transport water. Many home supply stores stock ewers in an assortment of shapes, sizes, and configurations.

Ewers were often used for washing hands.
Ewers were often used for washing hands.

The word “ewer” entered English in around 1325, and it is believed to come from an Anglo-French word, ewiera. This word in turn comes from the Old French eviere, which is derived from the Latin aqua, which means “water.” Of course, people have been making ewers since long before 1325, and many cultures have their own names to describe this most basic of vessels.

All sorts of materials can be used to make a ewer. Metals are common, ranging from copper and brass to gold and silver. When metal is used, it is frequently engraved or chased with complex patterns and ornate designs, making the ewer a work of art as well as a functional object. It is also possible to use porcelain or glass, and some ewers are even made from stone and wood, specially treated to make them watertight.

The design of a ewer is designed to facilitate the transport of water and other liquids with minimal spilling. Some ewers can also be sealed, a trait which was used historically during long journeys to transport liquids like olive oil, wine, and water. Many historical ewers got quite large, holding a high volume of liquid; it is also possible to find smaller ewers designed for use at the table or in the bedroom.

If you have ever stayed in an older house without indoor plumbing or with minimal plumbing, you may have seen a ewer paired with a basin for the purpose of washing hands and shaving. Some people continue to keep ewers and basins on stands in their bedrooms so that they can have quick access to water when it is needed; this can be especially useful in the winter, when the trip to a bathroom can seem quite unpleasant when one just wants to wash hands before bed.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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The America's Cup trophy is a type of ewer.

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