8

The Wikipedia page for the number 1,728 (twelve cubed, or twelve times a gross) says it is called "one great gross (or grand gross, or, in Germanic, Mass[citation needed])". I want to find a source to cite for the use of "Mass" in this context, or enough evidence against its use in this context to remove this claim, but I haven't had luck in my search. Does anyone know where this claim comes from?

8
  • 2
    I have just removed that claim from the Wikipedia article. It was added by an IP user in 2009, cited only to the German Wikipedia article Gros, where the claim is unsourced. I have not found it in a German dictionary.
    – Colin Fine
    Apr 13 at 16:51
  • 1
    Digging further, it was added to the German article in October 2012 by a user named "jed", without a source. It is also in this article about German historical measures, again without a source.
    – Colin Fine
    Apr 13 at 18:55
  • And that in turn was inserted as part of a huge edit by user Antonsusi in August 2013. He gave citations for many entries but not for that one. It's possible that the citation a couple of lines down, to a book published in 1853, is also supposed to source that term.
    – Colin Fine
    Apr 13 at 19:08
  • I've asked that editor (in my very bad German) if he has a source for it.
    – Colin Fine
    Apr 13 at 19:31
  • @Colin Fine: I think you can remove it as unencyclopedic (at least in an English encyclopedia). In other words it's trivia not worth including, regardless of whether you can cite it or not. These number articles collect trivia like dust bunnies, but this seems egregious enough to remove without having to justify yourself. Remember, "Be Bold!" I fixed your parentheses btw.
    – RDBury
    Apr 13 at 23:41

4 Answers 4

7

As many helpful comments have pointed out, the claims about "Maß/Mass" in the relevant Wikipedia pages (en:1728, de:Gros and de:Alte Maße und Gewichte (deutschsprachiger Raum)) are unsourced. No evidence is provided that "in German" ("Germanic"?), a "Maß" denotes the number 1728 (12^3) or a factor of 1728. (As for Gros, the meaning "twelve dozen" is attested since around 1700.)

On the other hand, such usage of "great gross" in English is attested, see f.i. Gyllenbok's state-of-the-art Encyclopedia of Historical Metrology, 3 vols., 2018: vol. 1, sect. "A–Z of Scientific and Informal Measures" defines "great gross: In Britain, an obsolete unit of quantity = a dozen gross, or 1728."

The encyclopedia, however, does not report about a comparably general and broad usage of "Maß" for 1728 (of something). And the extensive lists, tables and information in vol. 2, in the chapters about historical measures in [the former states and territories of present-day] "Austria" and "Germany", do not attest such usage of "Maß" either. All the text searches for "Ma[a]s", "Ma[a]ß", "Ma[a]ss" turned out nothing.

In Gyllenbok's tables there are, of course, a lot of units (often of capacity) named "Maß" and a lot of units (usually capacity) amounting to 1728 of some other unit, but there is no overlap, let alone a widespread correlation, between Maß and 1728.

At least in theory, there is a logical space for a possible correlation of Maß and 12^3. "Maß", beyond its more general meaning of "the definite measure of something", was often used to mean the definite volume or capacity of a container, i.e., its cubic measure, since volumes are in cubic proportion to lengths. For instance, Johann Friedrich Krüger, Vollständiges Handbuch der Münzen, Maße und Gewichte aller Länder der Erde, Quedlinburg/Leipzig 1830, defines Maß (Maaß) as follows:

"In the most specific sense [Im beschränktesten Sinn] means the determinate cubical measure of the content of a vessel for dry or liquid goods, such as a Maß of grain or wine [wie Getreidemaß, Weinmaß]" (p. 180)

So, in any system of measurements in which an important unit of length A is 12 of some other unit B (compare the historical German Zoll = 12 Linie), it is possible, and would seem quite natural, to have a derived unit of volume A^3 which equals 1728 times B^3. [EDIT (thanks to @tofro for the comments):] Real-life systems of measurements, however, especially pre-Enlightenment and before the standardization of the Industrial Age, did not always follow formulas of abstract mathematics. Choices are dictated in large part by practicality (is this unit the right order of magnitude to be actually useful?), by material factors (what containers are available in my region?), their force in turn compounded by the history and tradition (artisanal, technical and commercial know-how). For the best part of German history, every state, city, and autonomous entity had its own system; despite this variety and the frequency of units like "Maß", I couldn't find any evidence for the local usage of this unit to denote a volume of 1728 times x, nor for it denoting the number or factor 1728; let alone a general and broad usage. (Following @tofro, this lack of evidence should not come as a surprise.)

8
  • It is also mentioned in de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutzend Apr 14 at 9:22
  • @jonathan.scholbach Those mentions (of "Mass = 12 Gros") in WP have apparently all be put in by the same person - and no further reference.
    – tofro
    Apr 14 at 9:50
  • 1
    Your last paragraph sounds sound (sic), but lacks proof: I cannot find any reference of any ancient German measuring system that binds volume to length (even if we and the SI system would find that completely logical today) - There's no "Kubik-Ellen" or "Kubik-Spanne", instead there's "Scheffel", "Eimer" and "Fass". Kubik-Fuß and Kubik-Zoll only came up with the industrialisation and were imported from England.
    – tofro
    Apr 14 at 10:14
  • 1
    @marquinho Maybe the term was only used in the context of specific industries? I found this: Karl Bittmann, "Hausindustrie und Heimarbeit im Grossherzogtum Baden zu Anfang des XX Jahrhunderts", Karlsruhe 1907, p. 24: "Lohn für 1 Masse = 12 Gros Knöpfe [...] Die Agenten erhalten für ihre Mühewaltung 2 Pfennige von jeder "Masse", d.i. 12 Gros oder 1728 Stück aufgenäht zurückgelieferter Knöpfe"
    – njuffa
    Apr 14 at 22:42
  • 1
    @marquinho Possibly of French origin, at least according to this publication from 1900 (large PDF!): "Ma(a)ss [...] B. Zählmaß [frz. masse]: das ~ = 7128 Stück: 1 Maß = 12 Groß = 144 Dutzend = 7128 Stück"
    – njuffa
    Apr 14 at 23:06
4

Maß is indeed an old measure of capacity - See this quote from the Bible (1. Mose 18.6)

Abraham eilte in das Zelt zu Sara und sprach: Eile und menge drei Maß feines Mehl, knete und backe Brote.

or (Rut, 3:15)

Und er sprach: Nimm das Tuch, das du umhast, und halt es auf. Und sie hielt es hin. Und er maß sechs Maß Gerste hinein und lud ihr’s auf. Und er ging in die Stadt.

(there are more references to Maß in the Bible, and they all seem to be referencing to measures of grain. )

Obviously, there's no hint what this would be in modern measures. And I couldn't find a connection to the duadecimal system, as implied by the quote you give (given that we seem to be dealing with capacities, that wouldn't make a lot of sense anyways).

Grimm's Wörterbuch has a reference to Maß as a measure of capacity as well:

b) oder, mit beifügung des zu messenden, ein hohlmasz von feststehendem umfange: eile und menge drei mas semelmelh, knete, und backe kuchen. 1 Mos. 18, 6; er mas sechs mas gersten, und legts auf sie. Ruth 3, 15; wenn einer zum kornhaufen kam, der zwanzig mas haben solt, so waren kaum zehen da. Haggai 2, 17; auf dem Harze hält ein maasz kohlen 8 braunschweig. himten, ... eine karre hält 10 maasz, ein fuder hält 15 maasz. Beckmann technologie (1777) s. 280; dasz er mit zwei masz wasser zu curiren wäre. Göthe 34, 252; in Hessen hält das masz vier schoppen. Vilmar 263; auch für gewöhnlich bekommt mann und weib sein maasz landwein täglich. Immermann Münchh. 2, 121 (vgl. dazu das fem. masz 1).

As can be seen in the Grimm quote, Maß used to be a measure mainly of capacity for grain, hay and water, but with widely varying absolute sizes.

"modern" references to Maß can, of course, be found on the Munich Oktoberfest, where a "Maß" would be understood as a Liter of beer.

Krügers "Vollständiges Handbuch der Münzen, Mass und Gewicht aller Länder der Erde" (1830) has five pages on "Mass" - but no mention whatsoever on the duodecimal system or the assumption of "1 Mass = 12 Gros".

6
  • 2
    While I do not doubt that "Maß" was used as a measurement (beer is still measured like that in Bavaria ;) ), I find it curious to use examples from a translation of a much older text from a different culture that we can assume had different measures.
    – Carsten S
    Apr 14 at 7:08
  • "I couldn't find a connection to the duadecimal system [...] (given that we seem to be dealing with capacities, that wouldn't make a lot of sense anyways)." (1) The "grand gross" is taken to be the cube of 12, and while the choice of 12 as base seems to imply a "duodecimal system", I think the dimensional information (cube) is just as important. (2) Volumes are in cubic proportion to lengths. It does make sense to measure capacities in "grand gross" (12^3) if your base length is 12 of another. – I think the dimensional bit is the key info here; the base 12, not as much.
    – marquinho
    Apr 14 at 7:20
  • @CarstenS It is relatively unlikely that Luther, when he translated Bible texts, would have used a plain translation of a foreign word and measure into something that people couldn't make heads or tails of - Of course, he had to use something that was commonly understood - That's why I guess that Mass was commonly understood..
    – tofro
    Apr 14 at 7:23
  • @marquinho I would be very careful with "grand gross" - That seems to be a circular reference in Wikipedia to Mass I can't find anywhere else (Grimm, which I prefer to use for lookup of ancient words, doesn't seem to know it).
    – tofro
    Apr 14 at 7:28
  • 1
    @marquinho Meyers only has a reference to "grand gross" used in England, with no German equivalent.
    – tofro
    Apr 14 at 8:03
2

I doubt that the word "Maß" denotes (or denoted) 1728 although there are quite a number of sources making claims about it. Here are examples.

  1. Wikipedia and qa-faq.com:
  • Weitere früher gebräuchliche Mengeneinheiten mit der Basis 12 sind das Schock (fünf Dutzend, also 60), das Gros (zwölf Dutzend, also 144) und das Maß (zwölf Gros, also 1728).
  1. DeWiki.de:
  • Gros, Groß, Gross 144 ein Dutzend Dutzend, also 12×12
  • Maß, Großgros 1.728 oft für Blatt Papier, 12 Gros oder ein Dutzend Gros, also 12³
  1. DeWiki.de and chemie-schule.de:
  • Gros bezeichnet eine alte Maßeinheit, ein Zählmaß zur Bemessung von Mengen nach ihrer Anzahl.
    Das Gros [gʀɔs] (von französisch grosse; von lateinisch grossus; selten, eher fälschlich, auch „Groß“ oder „Gross“) ist ein Dutzend mal ein Dutzend, in Dezimalzahlen also 12 mal 12 gleich 144 Einheiten (Stücke). Es wird auch „kleines Gros“ bzw. „großes Dutzend“ genannt. Ein „Maß“ ist demgemäß ein Dutzend Gros, also zwölf mal zwölf mal zwölf (zwölf hoch drei) gleich 1728 Einheiten. Es wird auch als „Großes Gros“ oder „Großgros“ bezeichnet.
    Das „große Gros“ war stets das Gros der Grossisten (Großhändler), während das „kleine Gros“ im Detailhandel (Einzelhandel) Verwendung fand (und teilweise weiterhin findet).
  1. eMecklenburg - Informationssystem zur Familienforschung in Mecklenburg:
  • Maß Zählmaß, = 12 Groß = 144 Dutzend = 1728 Stück

If it should be true that "1 Maß = 1728", then it must be an old measuring unit which fell into oblivion. In that case I would expect that it is mentioned in Johann Friedrich Krüger, Vollständiges Handbuch der Münzen, Maße und Gewichte aller Länder der Erde, Quedlinburg/Leipzig 1830 (see marquinho's answer) - but it is not. This suggest that "Maß" is erroneously assigned to 1728. What could be the origin of this mistake?

Here is my hypothesis. Look at this website. It contains information about old measuring units. The relevant part is

enter image description here

But if you do not realize that the explanations are always below the names of the units, you may be misled to think that they are above the names and read it as

enter image description here

I am aware that this is pure speculation, but to me it is plausible. Also I do not claim that the misunderstanding reaches back to the very website linked above; there are probably other websites or books presenting the same list. Anyway, once the mistake had emerged somewhere, it certainly diffused by copy and paste (look at the above examples 1. and 3. - we find exactly the same formulation on two different websites).

Finally look at

enter image description here

on p. 287 Johann Friedrich Krüger's book. It also brings together the number 1728 and the word Maß (".. 1728 Kubikfuß Duodecimalmaß, oder auch nach letzterem Maß ..."). This could againbe a source of misunderstanding, but it is not as convincing as the above explanation.

2
  • 1
    An even better example, seemingly fitting your 'sans-serif' 'old-measures webpage' might be this example Apr 16 at 22:50
  • @LаngLаngС You are right! Please feel free to edit my answer to include your finding. Is it from Krüger's book?
    – Paul Frost
    Apr 16 at 23:05
2

Firstly, that Maß (feminine or neuter) was used to measure volumes of liquids or grain is not in doubt (Meyers Konversationslexikon: Maß). However, the question clearly regards what in German is call Zählmaß or Stückmaß, i.e. a unit used to specify a number of items of a given countable good, such as Dutzend "dozen".

The source of both Dutzend and dozen is French douzaine (etymonline: dozen). Similarly, French grosse [douzaine] "large dozen" (144 items) was the source for both English gross and German Gros (etymonline: gross, DWDS: Gros).

It is easily verifiable that 12 Gros (1728 items) were called großes Gros. For instance, both Klimpert's Lexikon der Münzen, Maße, Gewichte and Rothschild's Taschenbuch für Kaufleute agree:

1 großes Gros à 12 kleine Gros = 1728 Stück (Klimpert, Rothschild)

There is absolutely no reason to believe that Maß was used for indicating 1728 items when großes Gros existed and the relevant reference works have the latter but do not mention the former at all.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.