Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities, 1550-1820. Originally published by University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, 2007.
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A concreted resinous GUM, with a strong onion-like smell, procured in central Asia from Narthex asafoetida and other allied umbelliferous plants. It was used in medicine as an antispasmodic and as a flavouring. It was included in the Materia Medica, which offers no English alternative to the Latin name.
The plant ASARUM europaeum, sometimes called 'hazelwort' or 'wild nard' [Wren (1941)], belongs to the same family as ARISTOLOCHA. Its leaves were formerly used as a purgative and emetic and are still used as an ingredient of cephalic SNUFF. The Materia Medica gave as an alternative the first part of its botanic name, in which form it may be found in APOTHECARY shops [Pemberton (1746)]. John Houghton remarked of it that he knew 'no use for this except in physick' [Houghton].
The Latin name for ASARABACCA, and the preferred name for apothecaries. Although the mid-eighteenth century Materia Medica claimed that it was the leaves that were used [Pemberton (1746)], only the roots have been noted in the Dictionary Archive, both imported and rated, and in the shops, for example as 'Rad. Asari oz ij' [Inventories (1665)].
Although in common parlance 'Ash' was used to label the residues left after a fire, in trade, the singular form has been noted almost exclusively applying to the TREE called Ash in the Dictionary Archive, while the plural was used for what is made by burning. The distinction is retained here although it was never absolute.
The common ash, Fraxinus excelsior, is a very tough close-grained WOOD, valued by wheelwrights and other wood workers [Gloag (1991), 85-6. It has the advantage over other HARDWOOD, such as OAK, that it was relatively fast growing, so that 'Ash, at thirty or forty Years, is worth as much as an oak at seventy' [Houghton]. It was defined as a TIMBER TREE [Acts (1773)]. The seed of four species of ash were offered for sale by one tradesman [Tradecards (n.d.)], while standing trees were frequently advertised - usually when they were growing near to navigable water as in 'a Parcel of Oak and Ash Timber fit for Building ... standing ... not more than four, miles from Landing Places on the River Severn below the New Key' [Newspapers (1760)].
Like OAK, ash had a wide-range of applications. According to John Houghton, the WOOD was used to make implements of all sorts, such as HARROW, BULL, PLOUGH, AXLE TREE, ASH POLE, SPAR, HANDLE, SPADE TREE, WHEEL RING. 'In sum, the husbandman cannot be without the ash for his carts, ladders, and other tackling from the pike to the plough, spear and bow; for of ash were they formerly made' [Houghton], though this implies that it was less often used in his day than formerly. It was less acceptable for making BOWs in place of YEW; as a 'Complaint from Bowyers of London' made clear in 1565 [Acts (1565)]. The wood was used for FURNITURE, and as FIREWOOD, being 'harder, longer-lasting, better heating, and chearfully burning' and being the 'sweetest of our forest fuelling, and the fittest for ladies chambers'. Furthermore, it will burn when green, and makes a good CHARCOAL [Houghton].
Ash provides a good hard, non-staining material, important when the container could contaminate the contents with off tastes and colours. Thus one cooper had in stock 'A parsell of Ash Hoops' and 'A parsell of Ash Cloven & Rownd' [Inventories (1749)], while another had 'A parcel of Oak and Ash Stafs long and short' [Inventories (1752)]. Other parts of the tree were also useful. The leaves were sometimes dyed and used (illegally) to adulterate TEA [Acts (1777)]; and when dried were used as CATTLE fodder [Houghton]. The keys or seeds when still green and immature were boiled to reduce the bitterness, then potted [Recipes (Evelyn)]or pickled, to be 'sprinkl'd among the sallets, or eaten for themselves' [Evelyn (1699, new ed. 1996)].
Modern herbalists find some use for the bark and leaves of ash, despite their bitterness, as a laxative and purgative [Wren (1941)]. John Houghton claimed the seed as a remedy for stone, and an OIL extracted from ash to help ear ache and tooth ache and 'pains in the kidneys and spleen' [Houghton]. MANNA of Calabria exudes from the bark of a different ash, Fraxinus ornus.
See also ASHES, ASH POLE, CLEFT WOOD.
Sources: Acts, Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Recipes, Tradecards.
References: Evelyn (1699, new ed. 1996), Gloag (1991), Wren (1941).
A ball composed of WOOD ASH or FERN ASH damped with water and then dried in the sun. Dissolved in hot water the balls made an alkaline solution effective as a simple SOAP. They are found occasionally for sale and were apparently still to be found in Shrewsbury market as late as 1811 [Wright (1898-1905)].
Ash ball tub
Although an ASH BALL tub has only been noted once in the Dictionary Archive [Inventories (1684)] among the equipment of a glover, tubs with ashballs in them have also appeared; for example '2 old Tubbs with a few ashballs therein' [Inventories (1705)], and 'One Tubb of Ashballs' [Inventories (1714)]. Each of these three examples appeared among the stock of people working with LEATHER, who needed to make up alkali solutions in the preparation of skins. An open TUB would have been a practical way to store ash balls, as they would have been easily accessible and ash balls were not too prone to contamination and vermin.
[ashe cullor; ashe coller; ashcullered; ashculerd; ash-coloured; ash cul'red; ash culler; ash coul'r; ash couloured; ash coulor; ash coulered; ash coloured; ash colour'd; ash colored; ash colloured; ash collor; ash collerd'; ash coller'; ash collar; ash coll'; ash col]
Found describing BAYS, BUTTON, CALICO, COTTON, COTTONS, FERRET, FLANNEL, FUSTIAN, GLOVES, HOSE, JACKET, KERSEY, PARAGON, PENISTONE, pointing, RIBBON, SACK CLOTH, SHAG, SILK, TABBY, tammet, TAMMY, THREAD
A Midlands term found only after 1700. The label seems to have been applied to the GRATE that covered the ash pit or 'Purgatory', so also known as a PURGATORY GRATE. It invariably appeared along with the other equipment found round the fire, and with another undefined grate, which could more properly be called a FIRE GRATE., as in 'Ash grate 2 spits Racks & fireshovel & tongs' [Inventories (1701)].
A POLE made of ASH - WOOD, a good white, non-staining material. Ash poles were used as HOP POLEs. According to a quotation dated 1637-8 ash poles were also used for 'levers and hookepinnes' [OED, Hook]. The latter are used in house construction.
Although in common parlance 'ash' was used to label the residues left after a fire, in trade, the singular form has been noted almost exclusively applying to the TREE called ash, while the plural was used for what is made by burning. The distinction is retained here although it was never absolute.
Furthermore, 'ashes' was applied in trade almost exclusively to those of vegetable origin, and in particular to POTASHES or, less frequently, to WOOD ASH. Some sources distinguish one type of ashes from the other, particularly the Books of Rates. Here the entries almost invariably started with 'Ashes called' [Rates (1582)], or 'Ashes voc.' [Rates (1660)] before listing the rates charged for 'Pot-ashes' and 'Wood or Soap-ashes'. PEARL ASH may well have been included in unspecified 'Ashes' as it is nothing but a more refined version of POTASHES. Other ashes, like KELP ASH and WEED ASH were mainly of a different type being rich in the ALKALI soda rather than in POTASH. They only appear in the eighteenth century and were probably listed separately, as was BONE ASH, also used differently, and LEAD ASH and PEWTER ASH, which were not ashes at all despite the name. SEA COAL ASHES, the product of a COAL fire, were acidic and were rarely mentioned.
The desperate shortage of good sources of alkali inevitably attracted the attention of innovators, some of whom patented the uses of a whole range of vegetable matter to burn down into a useful ash, such as the 'straw of beans and peas, also kelp, fern, and other vegetables' [Patents (1624)], 'tobacco-stalks, broom-stalks' [Patents (1665)] and even 'straw, turf, lime, dung, dirt of the street, and other waste' [Patents (1783)]. Ashes only became largely redundant with the widespread use of the Leblanc process in the nineteenth century.
What mattered in early-modern trade far more than the vegetable origin of the ashes was their quality and their capacity to make good SOAP or GLASS, since the manufacture of these each required an alkali. Much came from abroad and there was an extensive trade in imported ashes of all kinds, particularly from Russia and from around the Baltic Sea. For example, one London merchant had RUSSIAN ashes, POLAND ashes, QUEENSBOROUGH ashes and ENGLISH ashes in descending order of value, as well as what was probably FECHIA BRUGIATA [Inventories (1722)]. Typically EAST COUNTRY ashes (that is those from the Baltic generally) were valued at twice that of the English [Inventories (1670)]. London merchants had ashes in quantity, presumably to sell on; one had over 10 TON [Inventories (1668)].
Asp was a popular name given to a variety of the POPLAR. It was defined as a TIMBER TREE in the 1770s [Acts (1773)]. The only other example in the Dictionary Archive is concerned with setting out cuttings of asps and other trees and shrubs on a big scale [Diaries (Blundell)].
A genus of African leguminous shrubs or the fragrant wood of some of its species. It is uncertain however whether it is always one of these that was intended in the Dictionary Archive, since some early sources suggest it as an alternative name for GALINGALE. The 'Aspatum' found in the 1582 Book of Rates [Rates (1582)]; [Willan (1962)], and the 'Aspamitum' in an early APOTHECARY's stock [Inventories (1573)] are both probably attempts at this term, and were almost certainly Galingale.
Also known as sparrow grass, the term denotes a VEGETABLE, native to Britain. Asparagus officinalis was cultivated by planting seeds or roots in deep beds of earth, at least from the sixteenth century, though not seriously until the later seventeenth. It was eaten fresh, with accompaniments such as CREAM or BUTTER, preserved by pickling, or as a principal ingredient in a 'torte', a fashionable dish in the eighteenth century [Recipes (Carter)]. As well as being a culinery delicacy, it was also used occasionally in MEDICINE. John Evelyn described it as a 'cordial, diuretic, easie of digestion, and next to flesh, nothing more nourishing' [Evelyn (1699, new ed. 1996)], while the seeds have been noted (once) for sale among APOTHECARY [Inventories (1573)]. A modern herbal recommends a tablespoon of freshly expressed juice for the treatment of dropsy and 'enlargement of the heart', and suggests it is made more palatable if given in syrup [Wren (1941)].
One Italian horticultural writer lamented in 1614 of the poor state of asparagus in Britain compared to that in his homeland: 'I see the weedy specimens of this noble plant for sale in London I never cease to wonder why no one has yet taken the trouble to improve its cultivation.' [Mason and Brown (1999)]. But by the time Pepys was writing his diary, asparagus was being cultivated in large enough quantities to be available from a choice of retailers. He wrote of going 'over to the 'sparagus garden' in 1668 [Diaries (Pepys)], and of buying the year previous 'a hundred of sparrowgrass, cost 1s. 8d', which he and his wife ate with 'a little bit of salmon' [Diaries (Pepys)].
Its popularity increased and consumers became more discerning in their taste for asparagus. Cookery writers, such as Martha Bradley (1756) were to comment on the new fashion for thin green spears instead of the pale fleshy ones favoured by other Europeans [Mason and Brown (1999)]. Presumably this was what was meant by 'Battersea' asparagus, as opposed to 'Dutch' [Tradecards (n.d.)]. To the degree that areas outside of London, such as the Vale of Evesham, began cultivating asparagus for commercial profit, so did SEED and plants begin to appear in the stock of nurserymen [Galpine (1983)]; [Newspapers (1790)].
The term denotes the SKIN of an ASS. Asses skins were processed to provide a type of robust PARCHMENT employed, according to Charles Tomlinson, in the construction of DRUM heads and BATTLEDOREs [Tomlinson (1854)]. Ass skin may also have been used for other purposes. Towards the end of the eighteenth century one retailer of fashionable and luxury nick-nacks advertised 'Handy Books, which have within Ivory Leaves, or Asses Skin' [Tradecards (1794)]. The context suggests personal use, possibly for art work [Tradecards (1794)].
Methods of assaying ores and metals containing GOLD or SILVER had been developed over the centuries and have changed surprisingly little since then. Assaying base metals, on the other hand, was seen as relatively unimportant in economic terms and was therefore poorly developed.
For assaying metals, a FURNACE is essential, and there was a variety of types available. Randle Holme included a rather crude drawing in his section on 'Refinery' [Holme (2000)]; more explicit drawings taken from continental sources like Agricola [Agricola (1556, modern ed. 1950)] are given in the History of Technology [Singer et al. (1957)].
A GLASS vessel suitable for testing liquids. The only example in the Dictionary Archive is for an 'assay-glass for trying the lee' in the manufacture of SOAP [Patents (1624)]. This suggests it may have been what was later called a hydrometer, a devise known since the fourth century, and much studied during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Britain [Singer et al. (1957)], though the first reference in the OED is for 1675. The hydrometer was used for testing the specific gravity of liquids and the capacity to do so would have been important in making soap of a regular standard.
A contract or convention made between the King of Spain and other powers for furnishing the Spanish dominions in America with Negro slaves; more specifically that made between Great Britain and Spain at the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Although it was not what had been intended by Spain, this concession opened up South America to British trade so that the ships of the South Sea Company were able, according to one foreign observer, to 'carry merchandise from Europe, and in return bring money, woods for dyeing, leather, and various drugs from America, this commerce also bringing great gain to the company' [Diaries (Saussure)].