There are thousands of idioms spoken and we here at Paso Wine Barrels use many of them. From ‘a dime a dozen’ to ‘you can’t take it with you’, there are thousands with meanings for each of them. However, since we use the term here – literally as well as figuratively – the unique phrase we’re talking about is: “Cash on the barrelhead”.
In its simplest form, which you may know, the most straightforward meaning of ‘cash on the barrelhead’ is paying for something with cash at purchase. But what would be the fun with ending it there?
Up until maybe the last century, products often were transported long distance using barrels, especially shipping waterways and overseas. Certainly liquids such as wine and beer are obvious but also honey, spices and many types of foods were also contained in wooden barrels.
As the ancient cultures learned long ago, it’s easier to roll products from point to point rather than lifting boxes or any other odd shaped item. So the barrel became a simpler and standard way of transporting goods.
Credit wasn’t widely used until banking became a way of paying for services or merchandise. So when something was shipped into port and a barrel of product was for sale, unless there was credit, you paid for the goods right then and there with cash laid down on the ‘barrel head’.
To maybe pinpoint the definition a little more, although history is murky here, the most common thought is that in the American West, barrels were commonly used as tables – when they were not able to contain products effectively. When services or merchandise were offered, the transaction would commonly be for cash only placed on the table, i.e. barrel or barrelhead.
There’s a similar term that’s more international: ‘cash on the nail’. A nail, in long ago times, was a small table in front of an exchange outlet. Without going into another big explanation, to pay ones debt promptly or on the spot, they paid cash on the nail.
There you go. A little bit of knowledge on a typical idiom that not everyone knows about … but now you do.