Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities 1550-1820. Originally published by University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, 2007.
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A hard black WOOD obtained from various species, but especially Dyospyros ebenus, a native of the East Indies and Ceylon, the original ebony of commerce. The true ebony tree is often only 50 ft in height with boles 15 to 20 FOOT long, and trunk diameters of one to two foot. The heartwood varies with species, being either uniformly black, or variously patterned; with light coloured streaks, pale to medium brown zones, or with marked contrast between almost white and black wood. Its grain is straight and sometimes irregular, its texture fine and even, and it is without distinctive odour or taste [Windsor Plywood (online)]. Later, and possibly not in the period, Dyospyros reticulata of Mauritius was imported, the heartwood of which is said to give the finest black ebony [Webster (online)]. For all its decorative qualities, ebony was seen to have one disadvantage, apart from its high value and relative rarity; although harder than OAK, it was deemed more fragile [Houghton].
It was sometimes included among NAVAL STORES, but it can hardly have been important in this respect. It was mostly used either for such pieces of FURNITURE that needed little wood, like the frame of a LOOKING GLASS [Houghton], or as a decorative inlay. Contrasted with IVORY, it was ideal for a CHESS TABLE or PLAYING TABLE [Inventories (1671)]. John Houghton referred to several ways of treating home-grown woods to provide cheap imitations of ebony. For example, the roots of OAK 'after long burying and soaking' could be 'taken for a coarse ebony' [Houghton].
In early use, any IMPLEMENT with a sharp cutting edge, as a KNIFE or SWORD, but now more often restricted to industrial tools, and technically denoting chiefly a CHISEL, gouge, PLANE, etc. or an AXE or HATCHET. In fact the term probably included a much wider range of implements in the early-modern period, including an ADZE, AXE, SCYTHE, SICKLE, etc. It does not and did not include those tools with a toothed edge that cut by sawing.
Given that CAST IRON, though hard, is brittle, edge tools were made of the more resilient, but softer WROUGHT IRON. The edge then had to be case hardened through the applicatin of heat, in effect turn the edge into STEEL. Various patents, and no doubt much experimentation not so protected, explored ways of improving the quality of edge tools, or making simpler their manufacture [Patents (1670)]; [Patents (1671)]; [Patents (1795)]. The making of good edge tools was work for a specialist, hence a reference to an 'Auger and Edge Tool-maker in Edgbaston' near Birmingham [Newspapers (1770)], though many blacksmiths perforce had to make and repair such tools as best they could.
In 'Lloyds Encyclopædic Dictionary' the modern use of the term is extended to include, not only those tools that are defined by their own edge, but also others whose function is to modify the edge of some material, such as the specialist tool used for removing the angular edge from a LEATHER shape [Lloyd (1895)]. Possibly the entry '7 Glovers shears 3s 6d planes & edge tools' [Inventories (1704)] denotes edge tools of this type, but they were recorded among the stock of an Ironmonger, which makes the identification uncertain.
Found described as BLACK, BLONDE, for CAP, COLOURED, GOLD, HOLLAND, NARROW, ORDINARY, scallop, SILK, SILVER, SILVER and GOLD Found in units of BOX, DOZEN, GROSS, OZ, PIECE, YARD Found imported from Holland Found imported and rated by the DOZEN
This is the name of a genus (Anguilla) of soft-finned bony FISH, strongly resembling snakes in external appearance. Unlike most fish, eels can breath to some extent in air and so can move overland. The true Eels are fresh water fish that migrate to the sea to spawn.
The ones caught in running water may be recognised by the colour of their skin, light brown with shades of green on the back and silver on the belly. In cookery books these were probably those labelled 'silver eels' or 'fresh water eels' [For example, May (1685, facs.1994), 353, 356]. Some recipe writers on domestic economy were more specific. For example, J.H. Walsh believed the 'silver eel' was 'peculiar to some rivers' [Walsh (1858)], while Duncan Macdonald implied the 'true' ones were caught only in the Thames [Macdonald (fl. 1800)]. All seem to have been agreed that those caught in running water were preferable to those caught in still, which are slimier and dark brown on the back and yellow underneath. This could be remedied by keeping them in clear water for about a week [Bradley (1736, facs. 1980)]. Eels can be large; ACTS 1761/C015, which regulated the size of lots at Billingsgate Market, referred to eels weighing more than 10 LB apiece, but in 1738 one was caught in the Thames at Hackney that weighed 62 LB and was 26 INCH in circumference [Historical Chronicle 13 September 1738].
The catching and marketing of eels were strictly regulated. Dedicated eel catchers used line, eel traps and nets to catch them, as well as an implement called an eel spear or fork with which they could be pinned down. According to some early-modern writers eels had an unofficial close season from December to the end of February when it 'was not accounted wholesome ... nor fit for eating [Bradley (1736, facs. 1980)]. By contrast John Farley, the principal cook at the London Tavern, declared them in season throughout the year, 'except during the hot summer months'. He also believed the 'Thames silver eel' was the best, while the worst were those brought over by the Dutch and sold at Billingsgate Market [Farley (1792)].
Eels need to be freshly killed immediately prior to cooking and Eliza Acton even started her recipe for frying eels with the words 'First kill' [Acton (35th ed. not dated), 108]. Perhaps because of this eels were often POTTED or SMOKED, which gave opportunities for the unscrupulous to market an inferior product. To guard against this [Acts (1482)] regulated the size of cask permitted and ordered the packer not to 'mingle any Gallebetten [i.e. gall-bitten or scarred from bites], starved, or pulled Eels with the good Eels' nor mingle any '... Red Eels'. Two centuries later Parliament prohibited the importation of any eels except QUICK EELs 'For the better Encouragement of the Fishery of this Kingdom', ordering that any imported by foreigners may be seized, half given to the poor of the parish and half kept by him 'which shall so seize the same' [Acts (1666)].
Most cookery books of the day included a number of recipes for eels. They were seasoned and baked in SALT, PEPPER, SHALLOT, SAGE and MARJORAM, boiled, POTTED and used as an ingredient in PIEs and POTTAGEs. Robert May had no less than 26 [May (1685, facs. 1994)] and Richard Bradley included three, including one 'to Collar Eels, from Mr. John Hughs, a famous Cook in London' [Bradley (1736, facs. 1980)]. It was in this form that they were served in the Bush Tavern at Christmas 1789 [Newspapers (1790)]. Other recipes included 'Eels a la daube', whereby the eels were minced, seasoned, moulded into a loaf shape and then sliced, and dressed in 'The English Way' by making a FARCE with HERBS, SPICES and WHITE WINE [Nott (1726, facs. 1980)]. Manufacturers of proprietary sauces like BURGESS and SKILL made named varieties for dressing eels; the former advertised his 'NEW INVENTED SAUCE ROYAL' [Tradecards (18c.)], while the latter proclaimed his SAUCE A L'IMPERIALE [Tradecards (1800)].
The vocabulary relating to eels, and their marketing, processing and use, is obscure. Terms used in regulation, like the statutes and the Books of Rates do not correspond with that used in the home. In neither case has the vocabulary found its way into the dictionaries so that the meaning of many of the terms is uncertain.
See also DOLE EEL, KINE EEL, LAMPERN, LAMPREY, PIMPER EEL, QUICK EEL, RED EEL, SHAFT EEL, SPRUCE EEL, STUB EEL.
Sources: Acts, Newspapers, Rates, Recipes, Tradecards.
References: Acton (35th ed. not dated), Anon (2003), Bradley (1736, facs. 1980), Macdonald (fl. 1800), May (1685, facs.1994), Nott (1726, facs.1980), Walsh (1858).
EELs may be caught in a variety of ways, including netting, trapping and by hook and line. It is presumably with the last method that the eel hook was used. How it differed from other FISH HOOKs is not known. The only record of eel hooks in the Dictionary Archive was for 500 of them combined with an unspecified number of needles. Together they were valued at only 1s 4d, so they can not have been very complicated objects [Inventories (1618)].
An inclusive term mainly referring to HENs eggs, but could also include those of other domestic fowl such as DUCK and GOOSE. Eggs were normally sold in local markets and, like other perishable goods, were not normally recorded in the Gloucester Coastal Port Books or in probate inventories. Surprisingly, they were imported, though not in particularly large numbers. For example, John Houghton noted that in one winter month (when home production may have been low) 24200 eggs were imported into London [Houghton]. A late alternative to cover the winter shortage was the invention of a 'Composition for keeping and preserving, for the space of at least two years, the eggs of hens, turkeys, geese, and ducks' [Patents (1791)].
Apart from their value as a foodstuff, eggs, particularly the white, was a good source of animal protein useful as FININGS, especially in the domestic sphere. Hens eggs were part of the eighteenth-century Materia Medica, in Latin as Ova gallinacea [Pemberton (1746)].
Until the seventeenth century eggs were whisked using bunches of BIRCH or WILLOW twigs. Thereafter tools designed for the purpose are occasionally found. At about this time COPPER - BOWLs also became more plentiful and it was realized that whisking egg whites in such a vessel held over a source of heat gave much a stiffer result [Seymour (1987, new ed. 1995)].
The attractive shape was used in the production of ornaments such as the stolen 'Enamell'd Egg, all fasten'd to a black Silk Ribbon' [Newspapers (1760)], or those made of AMBER or IVORY in the stock on TOY maker [Inventories (1733)]. The shape was also employed in the SCENT EGG.
Presumably a form of what later became known as DRIED egg. One retailer claimed it was patented, as 'Patent Egg Flour for Sallads at 1s 6d per paper' [Newspapers (1790)], though it does not appear among the patents. A London tradesman advertised it as 'For Sallads and for Egg Sauce', and claimed 'If kept dry [it] will keep for ever' [Tradecards (1800)].
Although the shell or calcareous covering of an EGG was ground and used medicinally, this is not the meaning found in the Dictionary Archive. In the only example found there, 'a Globe Egg shell' was listed in the Parlour of a London GLASS seller [Inventories (1721)]. It was presumably a decorative globe with a translucent surface similar to egg shell, possibly made of thin PORCELAIN.
A kitchen UTENSIL for removing an omlette or fried EGG from the pan. It seems to have been one of the many small objects that only appear in the eighteenth century, reflecting the increased number of utensils and implements with specialist functions of all sorts that people had started to use by then. Notice the two adjacent entries for '6 Long egg Slicers' and '12 Short Do' [Inventories (1790)]. These may be a version of the same utensil, or different ones, for slicing eggs.
The OED suggests a SPOON for eating an EGG; that is one of small size suitable for extracting and eating the contents of a boiled egg. This is not a definition that matches the egg spoons found in the Dictionary Archive. These appear singly, and in the kitchen with the other cooking utensils. An egg spoon in this context was probably a long-handled large spoon with a perforated bowl for taking an egg still in its shell out of boiling water. 'Six table, one egg-spoons' were listed in an advertisement in the 1780s for a 'complete set' of kitchen ware [Newspapers (1788)].
Egret is an alternative name for the Lesser White Heron. In the 1582 Book of Rates there is a reference to 'Egrits the dosen foules' [Rates (1582)]. Although it is possible that the entry was concerned with the importation of live birds, it is more probable that the imports in question were the decorative feathers the bird carries as a crest, which were much used in the manufacture of AIGRETTEs ( also called egrets), under which name the ornaments for the hair are discussed.
FLAX imported from Egypt. Although most hot countries produce inferior flax, which prefers a cooler climate in which the growing period is longer, Egypt flax is an exception, and was of a desirable quality [Tomlinson (1854)]. Richard Rolt wrote that Egypt exported 'flax of several sorts', but does not go into further detail [Rolt (1761)].
HEMP imported from Egypt. Valuations varied from 8d, 11½d the LB and £4 4s the CWT, which suggests it was sometimes cheaper and sometimes dearer than STEEL HEMP, which was consistently valued at 9d-10d the LB. In [Inventories (1694)] Egypt hemp and GREEN HEMP were coupled together, both valued at 11½d LB.
In the single entry noted, Egypt tow was positioned among the FLAX, though it could have been the poorest grade of EGYPT HEMP, which has also been noted. Whether it merely came from that country or had characteristics that made it distinctive is not now known.