A gaming table, somewhere in 18th-century southern England...
John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, sits with a few choice companions – all movers and shakers (either that or just rich and idle). He is holding a handful of playing cards... a shrewd move on his part, as his associates are doing the same, and he does not wish to appear different – or indifferent. There is the aroma of tobacco and of port, walnuts and bandaged gouty feet; a heady mix at any hour. The hour is late, but it is not yet pyjama time or the wytching houre. All eyes are on Sandwich, save for those on the fine bosom of a serving wench, or those searching for a glimpse of a neighbour's cards.
Characteristically, the Earl of Berkshire spoke first: "Come on, Sandwich! You have been sitting there like a haunch of mutton for fully five minutes now. Either play or resign."
Sandwich, being the Noble Fellow that he was – not to mention the holder of such illustrious offices as First Lord of the Admiralty and Postmaster General – dismissed this discourteous interjection with barely a twitch. He moved only let go a silent one and to take a pinch of snuff. After further deliberation and scrutiny of his options, he played a card, sat back in his chair, and gestured for his valet. "Higginbottom," he said, for no other reason than the man's name was Effingham, "I am hungry. Kindly prepare me a plate. I rather fancy the mutton, or roast beef if perchance there is no mutton. Wait though – my hands will be greasy upon the cards, and I cannot bear that, so be creative. Chop chop! I won't have that scoundrel Buckingham winning because I am weak from lack of sustenance."
The play continued, with the Good Earls doing their best to acquire a considerable pot that was there for the taking, gods willing. Presently, Higginbottom/Effingham returned with a large plate, piled high with what appeared to be a compôte of sliced bread and meat.
"What the Devil is this?" demanded Sandwich.
"My Lord," fawned Higgingham, "it is the mutton, as you requested, but I have taken the liberty of enclosing it in some fresh bread, that you may keep the grease enclosed and under control."
"Capital! First rate! You hear that, Buckingham, you old fool? A manservant who can think for himself. I should think you green with envy, if you weren't already green with a bilious attack." Effingbottom relaxed almost imperceptibly, stiffening with pride at the same time. "What do you call this... creation, Effingsworth?"
"My Lord, if I may make so bold, and given that my family name is–"
"Excellent, splendid! 'Sandwich' it is. There you go, Buckers, how are your pork scratchings now, eh? Not only can the man think for himself, but he is also modest and loyal. Har, har. I say, Higginsworth, my goblet appears to be void... as does the bottle, since the Earl of Idiocy here just knocked it over."
"Certainly, My Lord."
Sandwich selected a 'sandwich' from the top of the pile, studied it briefly and then took a hearty bite. "Mmmf... it'f goob; weawy goob!
"I say, you fellows," he declared, once the Noble Mouth was empty, "I think this 'sandwich' thing could be quite something. Possibilities for a business here, don't you think? Damn fine idea."
Moments later, Bottomsworth reappeared with a large boxy-looking affair in his hand.
"What on Earth have you brought me now, Hilary?"
"My Lord, I have been thinking for some time about this, and felt the time was ripe to try it out, if you will pardon the pun."
"Yes, yes, of course, but what is it?"
"My Lord, I have devised a container that can serve in place of a bottle, so when the Earl of – I mean, so that in the event of any mishap at the table, the wine will not be spilled."
"Extraordinary! How does it function?"
"In brief, My Lord, I have contained a fresh – but not too fresh – pig's bladder full of wine inside a case made of stiffened parchment, and fashioned a kind of valve at the base, to allow the wine to be released only when required." Effingham demonstrated for the Good Lords, to quiet muttering and comment. After a few seconds, Sandwich piped up.
"Bottomsworth, I fear you are on a genuine flight of fancy here. Kindly take that contraption from my table and bring me a proper bottle of wine, as God intended. If He had meant us to serve wine from such an abomination, He would have called this land Aus– ... Austral–... oh, something else! It's England, man, England, dammit! Now be off with you, and spare us all your fanciful notions."
In due course Effingham, now a humiliated and dispirited shadow of the servile man he once was, fell foul of the law and was transported to the colonies; one of the very last to suffer that fate. Once there though, he applied himself diligently, kept his nose (and many other parts) clean, was granted his freedom in due course, and went on to start a chain of wine dispensaries. Several generations later, a great, great nephew had a brilliant idea based upon an old hot water bottle, a cornflake packet and a bottle of cheap shiraz...