Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities, 1550-1820. Originally published by University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, 2007.
This free content was born digital. All rights reserved.
Black was perhaps the most used colour, whether it was produced in the form of a DYESTUFF or as a PIGMENT. As a pigment, there were no problems. Graphite, called in the early-modern period BLACK LEAD, gave good results with minimal processing. In the form of BLACKING it was used, for example, to polish and to colour articles like BOOTs and FIRE GRATEs and as the colouring agent in the BLACK LEAD PENCIL. Soot was another raw material that was readily available, although its attributes varied depending on what was burnt and how it was produced, LAMP BLACK and IVORY BLACK being the two most common forms.
On TEXTILEs black was a difficult colour to achieve to a good, fast standard in dyeing. The traditional way of producing a good black involved the use of WOAD or INDIGO with an overlay of MADDER, hence MADDER BLACK. The discovery in the sixteenth century of LOGWOOD, a DYEWOOD from the New World, created a furore and the use of this 'deceitful Stuff' was prohibited in 1581 [Acts (1581)]. The ban was only lifted in 1662 when it was acknowledged that 'the ingenious Industry of these Times hath taught the Dyers of England the Art of fixing the Colours made of Logwood alias Blockwood, so as that by Experience they are found as lasting and serviceable as the Colours made with any other sort of Dying-wood whatsoever' [Acts (1662)]. Prejudice against logwood was not entirely assuaged. As late as 1726, dyers were still required to identify cloths coloured with 'a true dyed Mather Black' with a mark to distinguish them from those dyed in 'false and deceitful Ways' [Acts (1726)]. Given the uncertainties in producing a good black, wool that was naturally black, as in BLACK WOOL, was desirable, as were the skin of animals with naturally black FUR like BLACK LAMB or black CONY.
Black carried important connotations. As the darkest available colouring, it signified death and MOURNING. In consequence there was a large market for funerary textiles and HABERDASHERY of a black hue; hence BLACK RIBBON, BLACK STUFF and many others. ALAMODE was so often black that the colour descriptor was hardly necessary, and the same was true, though to a lesser extent of CRAPE. More positively, black was a signifier of status. Professional people like physicians, lawyers and clergymen were expected to wear black and fabrics appropriate for them were widely available in black, such as BLACK CLOTH. The widespread recognition of the appropriately coloured garb for professionals to wear may be found in several terms not found in the Dictionary Archive such as 'black apronry' (for any professional) and 'black coat' (for a clergyman). What messages the colour black conveyed about the status of widows may have been more subtle and is certainly more contentious. All mourners conventionally wore black for a period of time, widows especially. It may be that the black 'widow's weeds' conveyed a message of unavailability in the marriage market. Although it was generally accepted that the period of mourning was for one year only, some widows continued to wear black for the rest of their lives.
The importance for the market of black goods is reflected, not only in the listings of shop stock, but also in diaries and newspapers announcements. For instance, when the Duke of Gloucester died in 1660, Pepys felt obliged to buy 'a pair of short black stockings', while two of his acquaintances that he met were 'buying of things to go into mourning too, _ which is now the mode of all the ladies in town' [Diaries (Pepys)]. !n 1751 Aris's Birmingham Gazette, and no doubt other provincial papers too, published Orders from the Lord Chamberlains office concerning mourning for the Prince of Wales. Ladies were to wear black BOMBAZINE with HOODs made of CRAPE and crape FANs, while a gentleman's wear was to be made of black cloth with a crape HATBAND and black SWORD and BUCKLEs. Such announcements of royal deaths, particularly if unexpected, could spell both peril and profit for retailers. Disaster might befall those unfortunates who had just filled their shops with the new season's fashionable textiles that might well be out of date before the period of mourning was over. Conversely, some retailers made a steady profit on stocking black goods to supply the needs of their customers when death struck near home [Diaries (Turner)]; [Newspapers (1760)].
In some contexts black was used not so much as a colour descriptor but as a means of distinguishing two similar commodities with contrasting characteristics; BLACK HELLEBORE as opposed to WHITE HELLEBORE, for example. In quite a broad range of goods 'black' denoted a less processed commodity; BLACK GINGER as opposed to WHITE GINGER and BLACK PLATE as opposed to WHITE PLATE. Commodities incorporating black in their name are numerous; among them BLACK JACK, BLACK SOAP, BLACK TEA and BLACK TIN.
Found describing ALAMODE, ALDER, ALEPINE, alterine, AMBER, AMBERGRIS, AMEN, APRON, ARDASS, ARMOUR, ARMOZEEN, BAND, BARLEY CORN, BASIN, BASKET, BAYS, BEAM, BIRCH, BOMBAZINE, BONE, BONNET, BOOTS, BOTTLE, BOTTOM, BRASS WIRE, BREECHES, BUCKLE, BUCKRAM, BUDGE, BUFFIN, BUGLE, BUTTON, CABINET, CALAMANCO, CAMLET, CANDLESTICK, CANE, CANE CHAIR, CAP, CAPUCHIN, CARDINAL, CHAIR, CHEYNEY, CLOAK, CLOAK BAG, CLOCK CASE, CLOG, COAT, coffin cloth, COIF, COMB, CONY, CONY SKIN, COTTON, CRAPE, CREWEL, CURRY COMB, CRUPPER, CURRY COMB, CYPRESS, DAGGER, DAMASK, dinnel TEXTILE), DOG [fire dog], DOUBLET, DRUGGET, ducape, durance, EDGING, ESTRIDGE FEATHER, EVERLASTING, FARANDINE, FAVOUR, FEATHER, FERRET, FLANNEL, FLAX, FOX SKIN, FRIEZE, FRINGE, FRIZADO, FUSTIAN, GARTERING, GAUZE, GELDING, gimp lace, GLASS CASE, GLOVES, GOWN, GRATE, GROGRAM, HAIR, HAMBURG.HANDKERCHIEF, HAT, HINGE, HOOD, HOOK AND EYE, INDIA INK, INK POT, INKLE, ITALIANO, JACKET, JAR, JENNET, JERSEY, JUSTAUCORPS, KETTLE, KNIFE, LACE, LARCH, LASTING, LATCH, LEATHER, LOOKING GLASS, LUSTRING, MANTUA, MARKING IRON, MOCCADO, MODE, MOHAIR, MOIRE, MUSTARD, OILLET, PADUA, PADUASOY, PARAGON, PATCH, PENISTONE, PERSIAN, PIN, PITCHER, PLUM, PLUSH, POCKET BOOK, pointing, POPLIN, PUMPILLIA (both TEXTILE and object), PUMP, PEROPUS var pyropus, RADISH, RAPIER, RASH, RATTAN, renforsez, RIB, RUG, RUSSEL, RUSSET, RUTHERINE, SACK, SARSNET, SATIN, SAY, SEALING WAX, SERGE, set, SHAG, SHAGREEN, SHALLOON, SILK, SILK HOSE, SILK TOW, SLAVE, SLEEVE, SLIPPER, SMYRNA RAISINS, SNAIL, SPECTACLES, SPRUCE, SPUR, STEAN, STICKING PLASTER, STOCKINGS, STOOL, STOVE, SUIT, TABBY, TAFFETY, TAMARINE, TAMMET, TAMMY, TEA KETTLE, TEA POT, TEN HUNDRED, THICKSET, TIFFANY, TOY, TRAIN OIL, VELVET, VEST (TEXTILE), WAISTCOAT, WALNUT, WESTERN (westorn), WIG, WOOL, WORSTED, WRITING INK(blackest), YARN Found described by mathered, woaded
AMBERGRIS in its raw state. It was thus often described as GREY, but an OED quotation dated 1670 makes it clear that some was at least sometimes nearly black in colour, as confirmed by Nicholas Monardes [Monardes (1577, new ed. 1967)].
Black and blue
A fairly popular combination of colours found in the earlier part of the period and used for TEXTILEs and HABERDASHERY. Presumably the risk of the black dye running into the blue was less damaging than in other colour combinations.
Black and brown thread
[threeds coloured black & browne; blacke and browne thrid; blacke & browne thrid; blacke & browne threed; blacke & browne dutch thrid; black and browne thrid; black and browne threed; black and browne; black and brown thrid; black & browne thryd; black & browne threid; black & browne threed; black & browne & coloured thred; black & brown thrid; black & brown thread; black & bn thrid; bl' & browne thred; b'k & bro thred]
The term referred to an item of HABERDASHERY and a distinctive type of THREAD and not two products listed together, as in 'black thread and brown thread'. It was more commonly used in the shops in the early part of the period, and not one of the labels attached to THREAD that were used much by officials. It was valued in the shops in a wide range from 18d to 5s the LB, and in the DOZEN (of POUNDs) from 20s to 23s.
This seems sometimes to have been an object distinguished from an ordinary BAG by more than just its colour. It has been noted among the stock of a cordwainer and may have been used by such a craftsman in his trade.
This term has been found twice in the disorganised and inconsistently spelled inventory of a Carlisle merchant in which the disorderly listing renders context almost valueless. Black bear was found both in a 'bolle' (as was VINEGAR) and in a BOTTLE. The latter could be BEER, though 'black beer' is not a term noted anywhere else and neither a BOWL nor BOLL are appropriate means of storing or measuring it. The other possibility is the grain, BEAR, otherwise known as BIGG, but that was hardly likely to be stored in a bottle [Inventories (1703)]. Like many other terms the meaning of this must remain unresolved until further examples are found.
A WEAPON found quite commonly among HOUSEHOLD GOODS before the Restoration and sometimes distinguished from the HALBERD, which was similar. It was used for slashing and was, according to Randle Holme, only the HEDGING BILL, with a final spike as well as the hooked blade [Holme (2000)]. The black bill disappeared after the Civil War in the 1640s, partly because it was replaced by FIRE ARMs, and partly because the public was less often called upon for military service.
Black BOXes have been found only occasionally in the Dictionary Archive, once in a NEST, but elsewhere defined as for 'writings'. This suggests that black boxes may have been distinctively different from boxes that were merely painted or stained black, rather like the 'red box' displayed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the day of the budget is distinctively different from a box that is painted red.
A 'black boy' was a popular image in the early-modern period. Retailers of APOTHECARY used it as their SHOP SIGN, sometimes as an actual object, for example [Inventories (1699)], and sometimes as an address. Retailers who entered new premises often retained the sign of an old occupant in their address as in 'the house of Mr Tompson, known by the sign of the Black Boy, in New-Street, Walsall' [Newspapers (1780)]. As a consequence of this linkage between the sign and the site, after 1700 the sign ceased to have many apothecarial associations.
A COARSE form of RYE - BREAD. Cesar de Saussure, a foreign visitor in the 1720s, when commenting on rural life claimed it was not known in this country. He wrote, 'They are all well fed and well dressed, and the coarse black bread our peasants eat is unknown to them.' [Diaries (Saussure)]. Although this may well have been true by the eighteenth century, rye had been a common crop in the sixteenth, and was only gradually replaced by WHEAT, as agricultural methods improved.
An important distinction in HARNESS was made by saddlers between the BLACK and the BROWN. This is not reflected very much in the Dictionary Archive, a rare exception being the inventory of John Pattison, a saddler of Carlisle, which listed '18 black and brown bridles' [Inventories (1718)]. Elsewhere it was more common to list the black bridles separately, while the others were given no descriptor. Today there are conventions applied to the metal objects connected with harness such as BUCKLEs; the black harness is fitted with STEEL accoutrements and the brown with BRASS. The Dictionary Archive provides no clue as to whether or not this was true in the past.
In the recent past, a judge donned the 'Black Cap' when pronouncing the death sentence, but in the early-modern period a black cap had other significances. Caps designated as black appear not infrequently in the shops or among the APPAREL of the deceased, whereas appraisers seem to have attached other colours to caps more rarely. The obvious use for black caps must have been for mourning, but the evidence suggests there were made for other reasons too. The most informative evidence lies in the detailed inventory of Julius Billers of COVENTRY, whose estate was appraised in 1676 [Inventories (1676)]. Among his caps he had TAFFETA caps at 8s DOZEN, but black taffeta caps at nearly twice as much. He also had NEW black SATIN caps at 30s DOZEN and old at a mere 12d DOZEN, suggesting that black caps suffered from the dictates of fashion more than most. A further clue to their popularity comes from the inventory of a Worcester mercer [Inventories (1643)], who had black caps among his ST MARTINS WARE along with MASKs, an association that is also found elsewhere. This suggests some black caps were used for social occasions like dancing and masked balls. In all, the rather slight evidence suggests that at least some of the black caps noted were fashion garments with a different function from the WOOLLEN CAPs that all ordinary people were obliged to wear on Sundays [Acts (1570)], some of which may have been black. As is so often the case a colour descriptor added meaning beyond the obvious.
It is not clear what this was and whether it is the same substance as referred to in the 1481-90 quotation in the OED. It is even questionable whether the two instances found in the Dictionary Archive were the same. In the first, black chalk was listed among the miscellaneous stock of a grocer [Inventories (1666)]. It does not seem likely that it was intended for artwork. In the second, on the other hand, black chalk was associated with INDIAN INK and other coloured chalk and seems to have been intended for drawing or colouring. In this context it was probably drawing slate, which is softer than common SLATE, is easily cut with a knife and leaves a mark if rubbed on paper or other receptive material. Rees calls this FRENCH CHALK, which nowadays is usually white but was formerly found in other colours [Rees (1819-20, 1972 ed.)].
Black cloth has been noted more often than might be expected if it were merely a colour descriptor. It has been noted, for example in the Gloucester Coastal Port Books in entries dating from 1666 to 1710, although colour descriptors were rare in this source. In the Dictionary Archive black cloth was sometimes given the further descriptor of 'broad' and therefore referred to black BROADCLOTH. Probably the cheaper values found were for NARROW CLOTH and some were so defined. Probably black cloth was mostly used for making up MEN's mourning APPAREL and HANGINGS. Valuations noted range from 3s to 12s the YARD.
A term found only once in the Dictionary Archive among the stock of a so-called Merchant Tailor, who was in fact a merchant importing on a big scale [Inventories (1716)]. His stock contained over 13 C of black coffee, valued at £16 the C, compared with COFFEE at £27.
It is uncertain what the commodity was, but it could have been the same as the black coffee displayed at the Universal Exhibition of 1855. This exhibit was of the seeds of CASSIA occidentalis, an annual leguminous plant producing a crop of pods containing several seeds or 'nuts' [Synge (1951, new ed.1956)]. Its common name now is Coffee cassia or Fedegoso. According to Dr Desbonne at the Exhibition, these 'answer admirably as a coffee substitute, being far preferable to COFFEE and CHICORY'. The only hindrance to widespread adoption was its price [Simmonds (1906)].
A type of HORSE COMB or CURRY COMB for dressing the hair of a HORSE, apparently distinctive for more than its colour. Possibly made of IRON as opposed to the WHITE COMB, which was sometimes at least made of HORN.
The term is not found in the OED but probably denotes an artefact similar to the 'black bowl' found in a quotation dating from 1509 [OED online, Black]. The context suggests a DRINKING VESSEL or a DRINKING POT. Other terms in the Dictionary Archive, which are probably synonymous, are BLACK MUG and BLACK POT. The descriptor BLACK may have been used to indicate an EARTHEN vessel covered with a black glaze.
The small dark seedy fruit of the shrub, Ribes nigrum, which grows wild across northern Europe and Asia [Masefield et al (1969)]. It appears they were first introduced into Britain as a garden plant by John Tradescant in 1611, and were probably so called because it was believed by some to be the fruit from which CURRANTs were made. At first the black currant was largely spurned, in favour of the white or or the red because the leaves and berries had such a strong smell, though as early as 1643 they were being grown as a dessert crop in Herefordshire, and were exported to London, packed in ice, carried by boat down the River Wye and thence round the coast [Mason and Brown (1999)]. During the eighteenth century black currants became more popular and were esteemed for making JELLY and WINE, and as a cure for 'sore throats, coughs, and hoarseness' [Patents (1773)]. According to the 'Complete English Dispensary' black currants, particularly the young leaves, were used to flavour ENGLISH SPIRITS and counterfeit FRENCH BRANDY [Quincy (1718)].
Possibly FLAX that has undergone the process of retting or rotting, which would have turned the stalks a blackish-brown colour. Several patents were designed to protect the apparatus or the processes for whitening HEMP and FLAX, prior to weaving or ROPE making, for example [Patents (1678)]; [Patents (1789)]. On the other hand, the root of the term 'black' is the same as that for 'bleach', so it may mean precisely the opposite of what one would expect, although the phrase 'black and white drest flax' militates against this interpretation. The phrase 'black flax for grinders' could mean that the fibres were intended for PAPER making.
A FRAME for LOOKING GLASS or the like either made of a black wood like EBONY or of one stained to produce a similar effect. Black frames seem to have become popular after the Restoration and have been noted in the Dictionary Archive with a picture etc. already mounted, being described by appraisers in such phrases as 'black framed Lookeinge Glasses', 'print in a black frame', and '2 old Maps in black Frames'. Frames were also sold in the shops ready for purchasers to do their own mounting.