Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities, 1550-1820. Originally published by University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, 2007.
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Like most terms of colour, 'blue' has a multiplicity of meanings, many of them inter-connected. It is the colour of the sky and the sea, one of the colours of the spectrum, and for painters one of those primary colours from which all others may be made. It has often been taken as the colour of constancy, hence 'true blue', and of quality, hence 'blue blood'. On the other hand it also had connotations of evil omen and of plagues and all things hurtful. Like other colours it was a useful descriptor of chemicals and minerals at a time when chemistry was in its infancy, hence BLUE BICE, BLUE CLAY, BLUE COPPERAS, BLUE SLATE, BLUE VERDITER and BLUE VITRIOL. Blue was formerly the distinctive colour for paupers, charity schools and almsmen, hence BLUECOAT BOYS. By extension it typified the dress of tradesmen, etc. so that 'To put on a blue APRON' meant to take up a trade, in one case in the Dictionary Archive, the trade of a grocer [Diaries (Josselin)].
It was possible to obtain an excellent blue in dyeing TEXTILEs that was fast under most conditions, particularly in WOOL, LINEN and COTTON, by the use of WOAD or INDIGO, and by the eighteenth century of LOGWOOD. PIGMENTS were more problematic; some of the best like LAPIS LAZULI were too expensive for ordinary use. Cheaper were the manufactured pigments like PRUSSIAN BLUE, SMALT and ZAFFRE and the copper derivatives like BLUE VERDITER. Blue pigments were not only important ingredients of WATER COLOURs and OIL PAINTs, but of BLUE GLASS and several types of CERAMICS including DELF WARE.
As so often in the early modern period, the descriptor became a substantive. 'Blue', more often in the plural as 'BLUES' came to be used for a BLUE CLOTH, while BLUEING was a term used in laundry work for countless agents like POWDER BLUE and STONE BLUE used to improve the whiteness of LINEN that had a tendency to yellow with age.
In TEXTILEs or textile products, found describing APRONING, BARLEY CORN, BAYS, BEAVER, BED, BREECHES, BROADCLOTH, BUFFIN, CADDOW, CALAMANCO, CALICO, CAMLET, CARPET, CHECKER, CHEYNEY, CLOAK, COAT, COIF, CORDUROY, COTTON, COUNTERPANE, COVERLID, CRANKY, CURTAIN, CUSHION, DAMASK, DORNICK, DOWLAS, DUFFLE, DUNJARS, DURANCE, DUTTY, FERRET, FILLET, FILLETING, FLANNEL, FRIEZE, FROCK, FURNITURE, FUSTIAN, GIRTH WEB, GOWN, GROGRAM, HANGINGS, HARRATEEN, HOLLAND, HOSE, IMPERLING, INKLE, JACKET, JERSEY, KENDAL, KENTISH CLOTH, KERSEY, KIDDERMINSTER, LACE, LINSEY, LINSEY WOOLSEY, LONG CLOTH, LUTESTRING, MANTLE, MANTUA, MOHAIR, MOREEN, NIGHT GOWN, OZENBRIDGE, PADUA, PARAGON, PENISTONE, PETTICOAT, PLAIN, PLUSH, POINT, PRINT, PURSE, QUILT, RASH, RIB, RIBBON, RIDING COAT, ROQUELAURE, ROMAL, RUG, RUSSEL, SACK, SATIN, SATINISCO, SAY, SCOTCH CLOTH, SERGE, SERGE DENIMES, SEWING SILK, SHAG, SHAGREEN, SHALLOON, SHIRT, SILK, SILK STOCKINGS, SPRIG, STOCKINGS, STUFF, SUIT, SULTANE, TABBY, TAFFETA, TAMMY, TAPE, THREAD, VALANCE, VELVET, WADMAL, WAISTCOAT, WASHING LACE, WATCHET, WILDBORE, WINDOW CURTAIN, WOOL, WOOLLEN CLOTH, YARN
In CERAMICS and GLASS found describing CREAM BOAT, CUP, BAKING DISH, BASIN, BOTTLE, CAN, COFFEE CUP, DISH, JUG, MUG, NECKLACE, PIPE, PITCHER, SUGAR BOWL, TABLE WARE, TEA POT
Miscellaneous, found describing BONE, BUTTON, CHAIR, CHAMBER, CHEST, DISTEMPER, INDIAN INK, MARBLE, NEST, PASTEBOARD, PIECE, room, SOAP, TURKEY LEATHER, WAFER Found described by BLACK, dark, deep, FINE, LIGHT, mallard, ORDINARY, saxon, sky, SMALL, THIN Found in units of BOX, LB, OZ, POUND, YARD
Blue and white
Blue and white was a popular combination of colours both in TEXTILEs and in CERAMICS. Being a very fast dye, BLUE was particularly appropriate used combined with white in fabrics, in which a colour-run would spoil the effect.
Blue and white ceramics were produced by the use, on a white surface, of blue derived from cobalt oxide (In the early modern period probably the impure oxide called ZAFFRE), the most powerful of the colouring oxides in terms of tinting strength. Depending on its concentration, colours ranging from a pale blue to a near blue-black could be achieved. Cobalt produces good colours on all ceramic bodies, from low-fired EARTHENWARE to high-fired PORCELAIN [Turner (ed.) (1996)]. The Chinese had brought the creation of blue and white porcelain to a high level. In Europe, particularly at DELF, production in the Chinese manner was inspired by the Chinese dishes that ships of the Dutch East India Company brought to the seaports of the Low Countries. The result was the distinctive DELF WARE, soon made not only in that town but at several other centres, including some in England [Oldandsold (online)]; [Nilsson (online)].
As textiles and textile-related objects: Found describing BARBERS APRON, CRAPE, ESTAMINE, FRINGE, FUSTIAN, HANDKERCHIEF, HOSE, INKLE, LACE, LINEN, NANKEEN, SACKING, SPRIG, STOCKINGS, STRIPE, SWANSKIN, TICKING, WAISTCOAT Found described as diced, MINGLED, PRINTED, STRIPED Found in units of YARD
As ceramic objects: Found describing BAKER, BASIN, BREAKFAST SET, BUTTER BOAT, CHINA, COFFEE CAN, COFFEE CUP, COFFEE SERVICE, CUP AND SAUCER, DELF, DISH, JAR, PITCHER, PLATE, PUNCH BOWL, TABLE CHINA, TEA CUP, TEA SERVICE, TEA SET
An APRON dyed BLUE was worn as one of the identifying mark of a tradesperson. Joselyn recorded in 1659 as a defining moment the day when his son 'putt on his blew apron. ... my son is to serve 8. yeares.' [to a grocer] [Diaries (Josselin)]. Samuel Pepys recording a riot in London in 1664, recorded that 'At first, the butchers knocked down all for weavers that had green or blue aprons' [Diaries (Pepys)]. A GREEN APRON had similar connotations. However, not all blue aprons were worn by tradespeople; for instance Sarah Fell and her family also wore them [Diaries (Fell)].
A PIGMENT prepared from azurite, otherwise known as LAPIS ARMENIUS. It was prepared by grinding, followed by extensive rinsing during which the heavier BICE fell to the bottom so allowing the dross to be washed away. In common with some other colours, blue bice should not be ground too finely as this gave a poor, pale colour. The pigment can have a greenish tinge, for which reason NUT OIL was used for mixing it to make an OIL PAINT as it yellows less than LINSEED OIL. Blue bice fell into disuse during the latter part of the seventeenth century, though the name was revived in the nineteenth century and applied to a pigment prepared from SMALT [Harley (1970)].
A PIGMENT made by burning wood in close heat to produce a form of CHARCOAL. Harley suggests, following the instructions of Henry Gyles (1645-1709) that vine wood was best for the purpose [Harley (1970)]. [Newspapers (1760)] suggests it was used in similar ways to IVORY BLACK.
A WOOLLEN - TEXTILE generally dyed BLUE in the WOOL, although sometimes dyed again in the piece, made in many parts of the country. In some parts, apparently sometimes referred to in the plural as BLUES as in [Acts (1533)]. The manufacture of blue cloth was highly regulated. For example, [Acts (1533)] attempted to confine production in Worcestershire to the five towns of Worcester, Evesham, Droitwich, Kidderminster and Bromsgrove, and the act 5 & 6 EDW6 c6 had set the length of each cloth at 25-28 yard, the width at 7/4 (seven quarters of a yard or 81 inch) and a weight when 'well scoured, thicked, milled and fully dried' of 68 lb. However, [Acts (1593)] repealed the width regulation as it had proved impossible to maintain.
Blue cloth was also a COTTON CLOTH imported from Bengal in India and included by Milburn among INDIAN - PIECE GOODS [Milburn (1813)]; [Yule and Burnell (1886, pb 1996)]. Calicoes dyed all blue were specifically exempted in [Acts (1720)] from the ban on the use of CALICO for apparel and furnishings, presumably because there was no satisfactory alternative manufactured in this country that needed protection. An alternative explanation is that blue cloths had always been imported primarily for re-export. This is confirmed to some extent by the Book of Rates of 1784 in which 'blue long cloths' were listed among those Indian textiles that could be imported only for re-export to Africa.
A quotation in the OED suggests there was a distinctive variety of flax known as 'Blue, blow or lead-coloured flax - provincially blea line' [Marshal (1788, new ed. 1796)]. It was probably identical with BLAE FLAX.
According to Tomlinson, blue or black GALLS owed their name to their bluish tint. They were gathered before the gall fly made its exit, and were deemed the best grade. Attempts to mislead the buyer by dyeing the inferior WHITE GALLS from which the gall fly had gone were probably common but relatively easily detected. The best galls were the ALEPPO GALLS, that is that those came from the district round Aleppo and Smyrna [Tomlinson (1854)]. These could of course be either blue or white, which explains why the Aleppo galls were valued more highly than the ordinary blue in [Inventories (1668)].
By analogy to BROWN GEORGE, a coarse EARTHENWARE, the colour of which comes from the CLAY used rather than from the glaze [Inventories (1710)]. Most GORGEs, a term that seems only to have been a variant of George, were made either of STONEWARE or of WHITE - EARTHENWARE.
In much COLOURED GLASS the colour did not penetrate beyond the surface, and it is possible that a form of superficial staining was the process used to make domestic items. Blue glass can be achieved by using a variety of metal oxides including IRON and Manganese [Tomlinson (1854)], but in the early modern period much blue glass was made with COBALT in the form of ZAFFRE. Most of this, if not all was ground to make SMALT, but some may have been used in other ways.
HARDEN was a coarse TEXTILE made of HEMP. The only example of blue hardens noted in the Dictionary Archive immediately followed BLUE HEMP and was succeeded by hemp LAWN. It was probably no more than a piece of harden dyed blue [Inventories (1691)]. It was not therefore analogous with BLUE FLAX, which was a distinct variety.
Only one example of blue HEMP has been noted in the Dictionary Archive, where it was followed by BLUE HARDEN and hemp LAWN. It was almost certainly a piece of HEMPEN CLOTH dyed blue [Inventories (1691)], and was not therefore analogous with BLUE FLAX, which was a distinct variety.
[blue lynnen; blue linnen; blue linne; blue linn; blue lining; blue leynen; blue and chect linnen; blue & cullired linnen; blue & coll'd lynnen; blu linen; blewe lynnen clothe; blewe ell brode lynen; blewe; blew stript linen; blew lynnen; blew lynn; blew lynen; blew lyinne; blew linon; blew linnen; blew linne; blew lining; blew lin; blew lenen; blew cairo linnen; blew & stript linnen]
BLUE was a colour much used on LINEN, since it was a good, fast dye under almost all conditions. It was therefore a common item stocked by retailers selling TEXTILEs. It was sometimes being abbreviated to BLUE. Valuations varied from 7d to 14d the YARD.
Willan suggests that 'blew lince' was probably a coarse LINEN CLOTH [Willan (1962)], but the context of the 1582 Book of Rates suggests differently [Rates (1582)]. There they were listed by the DOZEN, and not among the linen cloths placed immediately after. Apart from the entries in the Books of Rates, the only other example noted in the Dictionary Archive, appears in the stock of a substantial Coventry tradesman who specialized in UPHOLSTERY. Here they were listed along with 'Flanders lyns', among various bed coverings and linen cloths [Inventories (1544)]. It would seem most likely that a linne (the correct spelling is uncertain) was an imported bed COVERING of some sort, probably made of LINEN. However, it seems to have been exclusively a trading term, whereas in the domestic environment other names were used like COVERLET.
Blue melting pot
Probably the same as the BLUE POT defined in the OED as a POT made of a mixture of CLAY and BLACK LEAD (i.e. graphite), and otherwise known as a black lead crucible, with the earliest citation dated 1827. The only example found in the Dictionary Archive was among a list of 'Irongmongers' Wares' advertised in [Tradecards (1760)]. It was probably used for the same purposes as the BLACK LEAD MELTING POT, which may have been the same.
Wrapping PAPER, traditionally used for SUGAR, but also for STARCH, probably because blue was extremely fast and unlikely to spoil the contents even when affected by damp. It was sufficiently important for methods of manufacture to be patented [Patents (1666)]; [Patents (1691)]. Instructions for giving paper a blue colour were given by Houghton and involved INDIGO and WHITE LEAD [Houghton]. BLUE was sometimes used elliptically for blue paper.
A variety of FIELD PEAS distinguished by colour from other varieties. It does not seem to have been popular, but when grown it appears to have been used mostly as FODDER [Young (1813, reprint 1969b)].
According to the OED, it was the name given to a POT made of a mixture of CLAY and BLACK LEAD (i.e. graphite), and otherwise known as a black lead crucible, for which the earliest citation is dated 1827. It seems unlikely this is what has been noted several times in the Dictionary Archive before 1700, which with one exception were among the stock of general dealers, usually among the GLASS BOTTLEs and the EARTHENWARE. The term, blue pot, is clearly applied to something distinctive, as pots of other colours have not been noted. Blue pots were worth little, being valued from as low as 1½d each to 14d. Probably they were intended for containing semi-liquids like OINTMENT.
Although it may be confused with SLATE BLUE, one example in the Dictionary Archive suggests that it was more often a type of SLATE suitable for roofing [Inventories (1737)]. This inventory was for a man living in Penrith, so it is probable his slate was the 'pale blue' variety quarried at Ambleside in Westmoreland [Rees (1819-20, 1972 ed.)]. Most slate must have been obtained locally before the canal network was developed later in the eighteenth century.
Noted in the same inventory as POWDER BLUE and STONE BLUE [Inventories (1614)], though the entry 'powder blew starch' suggests that the former was probably the usual blueing agent [Inventories (1634)]. Blue starch has been noted with a BAG, which presumably contained it [Inventories (1631)]. To make a STARCH already containing the blueing agent needed to counteract the yellowing effect of ageing, was an obviously convenient way of combining two operation in the laundry. The frequency with which blue starch was listed suggests it was popular. Blue starch was valued more highly than WHITE STARCH.
Partington gives it, along with BLUE VITRIOL, as an alternative name for cupric sulphate, generally known as COPPER sulphate [Partington (1953)]. However, [Patents (1780)] seems to have considered blue stone some sort of raw material from which ALUM, SULPHUR, GREEN VITRIOL and WHITE VITRIOL could be extracted, whereas blue vitriol could be got direct from COPPER ORE.
The best known blue THREAD was COVENTRY BLUE, but whether all were necessarily of that particular type is not clear. The use of a blue dye for thread intended for EMBROIDERY was sound, since it is a very fast dye and therefore will not spoil objects on which it was used, like for example the HANDKERCHIEF or NAPKIN.
Blue VERDITER was the manufactured equivalent of azurite, known in the early modern period as LAPIS ARMENIUS, the raw material of BLUE BICE. There are a variety of seventeenth-century recipes for blue verditer, many of which gave some source of COPPER such as VERDIGRIS, BRASS or SILVER, the last relevant only because it was often contaminated with copper. Other suggestions like QUICKSILVER are unlikely to have succeeded. All the workable recipes depended upon SAL AMMONIAC and most on some form of LIME such as crushed EGG shell. Thus the blue PIGMENT produced by these methods would have been a cuprammonium compound containing lime. Probably most was actually made as a by-product of refining silver. Blue verditer was more difficult to make than GREEN VERDITER and was therefore less commonly available. With valuations between 2s and 3s the LB, the blue was at least twice as pricey as the green [Harley (1970)].
According to Partington, blue vitriol is crystalline cupric sulphate, commonly known as COPPER sulphate and formerly as ROMAN VITRIOL. It is also a synonym for BLUE STONE [Partington (1953)]. Today it is made by dissolving the cuprous oxide or carbonate in dilute sulphuric acid, known formerly as OIL OF VITRIOL or SPIRIT OF VITRIOL. There was much interest in the eighteenth century in extracting the various sulphates from their ores. For example, a patent of 1780 proposed a method of extracting 'blue-vitriol from copper ores' [Patents (1780)].
A blue COAT was formerly the dress of the lower orders and of servants, which was adopted as the uniform of almoners and charity children. More particularly, the blue coat boys belonged to one of the many charity schools set up in England, especially to Christ's Hospital in London, whose uniform was a long blue coat and YELLOW - STOCKINGS. It is interesting to note that items of the uniform were available in the shops, for example [Tradecards (1735)].
In [Acts (1533)] blues was the name given to a type of BROADCLOTH woven in the WORCESTER region, but the same term was used elsewhere for broadcloth woven in the counties of Wiltshire, Gloucestershire or Somerset. [Acts (1593)] continued previous regulations about the size and weight of these well-established cloths, but relaxed the requirements regarding width.
According to the OED, blues were a kind of clothing or dress, specifically a kind of STUFF. In fact not a stuff in the technical sense but BLUE CLOTH. In Suffolk blues were the darkest shade, darker than AZURE, Huling, PLUNKET and Watchet [Kerridge (1985)].