Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities, 1550-1820. Originally published by University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, 2007.
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Amber proper is a yellowish translucent fossil RESIN, found chiefly on the southern shores of the Baltic Sea. It burns with an agreeable odour, often entombs insects etc., and when rubbed becomes notably electric. It was used in JEWELLERY such as BEADs and NECKLACEs, but also for many other luxury artefacts; one London retailer, for example, was offering knives hafted with amber, as well as amber SPOONS and amber necklaces [Inventories (1671)]. Amber was for Customs purposes included among DRUGS, and when used medicinally, it may be in the Latin form of SUCCINUM [OED].
Amber has also been noted, once, as a TEXTILE, as 'One yard quarter of Amber Medley at xjs' [Inventories (1619)]. This could have been an abbreviated form of 'Ambertee', a form of CALICO exported from India to London, particularly during the early-seventeenth centry [Montgomery (1984)], but the context suggests a WOOLLEN CLOTH of mixed fibres. It was probably therefore used simply to describe the colour of a MEDLEY cloth.
As AMBERGRIS: Found described as GREY
As the RESIN: Found used to make BEAD, EGG, HAFT, NECKLACESPOON Found described as COUNTERFEIT, FINE, ROUGH, YELLOW
Found rated by the MAST of 2½ LB, POUND As amber BEADs found rated by the POUND
See also BLACK AMBER, BURNT AMBER, LAMBER, OIL OF AMBER, WHITE AMBER.
Sources: Acts, Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Rates, Recipes, Tradecards.
References: Montgomery (1985).
It is unlikely that the RESIN called AMBER was used to make a water. More probable is AMBERGRIS, which was often called amber for short. Ambergris was used in PERFUMED WATERS, and could easily have been employed in its own right for that purpose [Tradecards (18c.)]. Ambergris was also used in cooking, and to a lesser extent in medicine; hence 'water of ... Ambergreese' was an ingredient in one version of Aqua Vitae Regia [Recipes (Nott)].
Literally GREY - AMBER, which at the beginning of the period was sometimes known simply as AMBER. Ambergris is an opaque, wax-like inflammable substance, variegated like marble and ash coloured. When heated it has a fragrant odour. In the early modern period it was found floating in tropical seas, and as a morbid secretion in the intestines of the sperm-whale.
Ambergris was mostly used in PERFUMERY to make PERFUME, WASHBALLs, and WATERS. Nicholas Monardes, for example, described it as 'so necessarie ... used for the health of the body, and so necessarie ... to cure and to heale ... so many and divers infirmities'. He claimed it was used 'in the Poticaries Shoppes, as well Lectuaries, as Confections, Pouders, and Pilles, Preparatives, Ointmentes, Plaisters ... and ... a confection called Dia Ambar' [Monardes (1577, new ed. 1967)]. Despite his praise, ambergris had disappeared from the Materia Medica by the mid-eighteenth century [Pemberton (1746)], though it remained popular in toiletries.
The odiferous quality of ambergris has cast some doubt over the extent of its use in early modern cooking and apothecary. Karen Hess, the editor of 'Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery', suggests it may have continued to appear in recipes long after it was actually used [Washington (1749-99, 1981 ed.)]. This doubt about its acceptability is confirmed in some of the recipes; for example, in one for a CORDIAL WATER the author's suggestion 'if you like not the tast of the Amber greace & Scevit' was to leave them out [Recipes (Berington)], while another commented 'some put in Sack, and Musk and Amber pre-par'd, but you may do as you please for that' [Recipes (Carter)]. All the same, John Houghton gave it as an ingredient of CHOCOLATE [Houghton].
Originally the name for the food or the drink of the gods, or an especially enticing scent, as in 'Fragrance of ambrosial trees' [Tradecards (1794)]. The term was later applied to various plants by early herbalists, particularly to OAK OF CAPADOCIA.
It has also been noted once as 'xij yeards in 4 Remnants at 2s of Ambrosies' [Inventories (1613)]. The context suggests a TEXTILE, probably one made of SILK. In this sense it has not been found in the OED.
Also found as 'Aumbry', the term denotes a piece of FURNITURE; one of the earliest types of CUPBOARD with doors. It was commonly a place for safe keeping and so sometimes known as an ARMOURY. With perforated doors it was used to keep food and was the forerunner of the LIVERY CUPBOARD [Gloag (1952, revised 1991)]. Ambries have not been noted after 1700.
The term is usually understood to be an alternative name for ENAMEL. Its use in fabricating GOLDSMITH WARE or SILVERWARE was prohibited by an act passed in the 1570s by which the craftsman was allowed to 'use no Sother, Amell or other Stuffings ... more than is necessary for finishing' [Acts (1576)]. This suggests that there may have been an alternative meaning to the term as a filler or solder in GOLD and SILVER working.
Also known as Ammi and BISHOPS WEED. A genus of umbelliferous plants, with aromatic leaves. The best seed was supposedly imported from Egypt. It gave one of the classic HOT SEEDs of medicine, and so was in the Materia Medica (as Ammi) [Pemberton (1746)]. It has been noted, albeit infrequently in the shops.
A term applied to two quite different products, SAL AMMONIAC and GUM AMMONIAC, both originally obtained from the Libyan region of Ammonia near the ancient temple of Jupiter Ammon. A third, BOLE ARMENIAC, which was correctly named after its supposed place of origin, became mistakenly confused with these two, and the term was frequently spelt as if the product also came from the region around the Libyan temple, as the variant spellings of the term show.
Although the context may sometimes indicate differently, the term ammoniac on its own almost certainly referred to gum ammoniac, as in 'Emp. ex Amoniaco oz 3 3d' [Inventories (1690)]. This was presumably the 'Emplastrum ex Ammoniaco' listed in the eighteenth-century Pharmocopoeia, but without the addition of Mercury given there [Pemberton (1746)].
See also BOLE ARMENIAC, GUM AMMONIAC, SAL AMMONIAC, SAL VOLATILE, SPIRIT OF SAL AMMONIAC, .
Sources: Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Rates, Recipes.
References: Columbia Encyclopedia (2003), Pemberton (1746), Rolt (1761).
Also called MILITARY STORES or supplies, it formerly included all kinds but is now limited to articles used in charging GUNS and ordnance, such as GUNPOWDER, SHOT, shell, and by extension, offensive missiles generally. What was distinctive about the 'new Ammunition Shirt' worn by a runaway is not known [Newspapers (1790)].
The amomum of the ancients has not been certainly identified. John Houghton quoted a Dr Stubbs, who believed it might have been CARPOBALSAM [Houghton], while others thought it was JAMAICA PEPPER [Houghton]. There seems still to have been some uncertainty in the mid-eighteenth century, since in the Materia Medica, it was (unusually for that work) explained at some length as 'Amomum racemosum, vel Sison, quod amomum officinis; the seed either of the true amomum, or of bastard stone parsley' [Pemberton (1746)]. The name is now appropriated to a genus of aromatic plants in the family Zingeribaceae (relatives of GINGER) including the species that yield CARDAMOM, TURMERIC and GRAINS OF PARADISE. The SEED was used in various medicinal preparations, including the classic VENICE TREACLE. It is not now esteemed as a botanical drug and is not included in 'Potter's Cyclopædia' [Wren (1941)].
An important port in the DUTCH United Provinces facing the Zuider Zee. William Aglionby wrote 'Tis commonly said that this city is very like Venice. For my part I believe Amsterdam to be much superior in riches [Schama (1987, pb 1988)]. It was a major entrepôt between the rest of the world and Britain, so from time to time financial dealings relating to merchants resident there appear in probate inventories, in entries like 'In the hands of Grace Butler of Amsterdam v'dz money in hand and debts oweing by her accompt 1740 gild 7 st' [Inventories (1646)], and among 'Debts voyages and Adventures owing ... by Nichlas Wagmans att Amsterdam 07 02 00' [Inventories (1678)].