Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities, 1550-1820. Originally published by University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, 2007.
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In Latin Ficus and FICUM, its various types are members of the same family as the MULBERRY and the various species of Ficus, especially Ficus carica, give an important food crop. It was probably introduced into this country by Cardinal Pole in the sixteenth century, but virtually all figs consumed in England in this period were imported when dried.
Figs will grow everywhere in warmer, temperate regions and the sub-tropics and they will even fruit in southern England, particularly with the protection of a wall. The main cultivated type, called the Smyrna or TURKEY fig, only produces female flowers and has to be pollinated by the Fig wasp. This is not a problem with other types. Fig trees bear at least two crops a year, though it is the one ripening in the autumn that provides the best fruit for drying but in England the spring or lenten crop is unlikely to ripen. Because of their high sugar content, figs dry readily in the sun. However, for a fruit so readily produced and so easily preserved, they do not travel well and even the dried ones are prone to damage in transit and in store. Hence the number of descriptors indicating quality in the Dictionary Archive. For example, in [Inventories (1606)] 2 barrels of figs were listed as 'the one good thother bad'. Dried figs were frequently stocked in the shops but Houghton also wrote that may were, and even more should have been, sold by street hawkers as the best way of getting 'damaged goods ... to the mob' [Houghton].
During the seventeenth century, it became fashionable to grow figs, and fig TREEs were offered for sale. As well as being used in cooking and desert, figs featured in medicine for their perceived curative qualities. Houghton claimed, for instance, that figs were beneficial in the treatment of colds and sore throats, and in 'pultises and plaisters.' In addition figs were distilled.
Because of the many units in which figs were offered for sale, it is almost impossible to give guidance on prices and valuations, though 2d or 2½ the LB seem to have been fairly typical valuations throughout the period, as does 20s the BARREL or CWT.
'Fig' was a popular name for the RAISIN, hence 'Figgy Pudding' as an alternative name for the Christmas pudding. 'Fig' also seems to have had different meaning not given in the OED, standing for POWDERED, dusty or inferior; hence FIG BLUE, FIG DUST, FIG INDIGO.
Found described as of Algary, BAD, BEST, lent, NEW, OLD, rotten, TURKEY
Found in units of BARREL, BASKET, C.CWT, LB, OZ, PARCEL, PIECE, QUARTER, SORT, STONE, TAPNET Found rated by the HUNDREDWEIGHT, PIECE, POUND, SORT
See also FIG DODE, TAPNET.
Sources: Acts, Diaries, Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Newspapers, Rates, Tradecards.
References: Masefield et al. (1969), 94, Simmonds (1906) II, 131-2, Synge (1951, new ed.1956) under FICUS and FIG, Toussaint-Samat (1987), 670.
A soluble BLUE, probably in the form of small cakes, the main ingredient being INDIGO, used mainly in laundry to give a good colour to white LINEN [Wright (1898-1905)]. It was usually listed in probate inventories and similar documents along with other laundry products such as POLAND STARCH. FIG INDIGO and POWDER BLUE were similar products used for the same purpose, but possibly in a powdered form. Fig blue has been noted in the price range 5d-16d LB, similar to POWDER BLUE, but the two have been noted in the same document, which suggests that they were not identical.
Also rendered 'Figs dodes', the term refers to an inferior type of FIG. The type is not noted in the shops under this name, but it was probably there and differentiated from other figs by price or by an unfavourable descriptor.
Nothing to do with the FIG, it was finely ground OATMEAL, presumably of inferior quality, used as a food for caged birds. Despite the long gap between the definition given in the OED and the occurrences found in the Dictionary Archive, it seems probable that the meaning had not changed in essentials. Where noted, fig dust was listed alongside OATMEAL and other similar products, for example [Inventories (1675)].
A term that has not been located in the OED or any other dictionary. It may have been an alternative name for FIG BLUE or POWDER BLUE, or more probably a similar product. Valuations from 9d to16d LB are within the range found for FLAT INDIGO, but it was not the same product as both appear in same document contiguously, where fig was valued more highly than flat [Inventories (1690)].
Adorned or ornamented with patterns or designs. In the Dictionary Archive it was commonly applied to TEXTILES, with HABERDASHERY most common in the early part of the period, and fabrics later. The use of terms like OLD FASHIONED and 'of the newest Patterns' show that fashion played a part in marketing figured goods, while the patents show the importance of applying new technology to an old practice; like the one published in 1760 for 'Weaving figured and flowered silk-ribbons and other sorts of figured and flowered goods' [Patents (1760)], and the one twenty years later for a 'Machine for making figured lace and net work' [Patents (1784)].
In connection with TEXTILES and HABERDASHERY: Found described as OLD FASHIONED Found describing BARCELONA, BROGLIO, CRAPE, DIAPER - TABLECLOTH, DIMITY, DONJARS, GAUZE, LACE, LAWN, LENO, LUTESTRING, MODE, MUSLIN, PADUASOY, RIBBON, SATIN, SILK, STUFF, Work
Found in units of DOZEN, GROSS, PIECE, YARD Found rated by the YARD
In connection with other goods: Found describing BUTTON, PAPER, TILE, WHIRLIGIG
A TOOL, usually held in the hand, for smoothing or sharpening other implements. The metal face of a file was cut to make a rasping surface and this had to be renewed at relatively frequent intervals, hence entries referring to NEW and OLD files, or uncut ones. For example, a file maker had 'ffive doz & nine files uncutt', 'Two doz of 1/2 Round not Ground', 'One doz of files forged' and 'Three doz of files at the mill' [Inventories (1719)]. In the 1750s a patent was granted for a 'Machine for cutting files' [Patents (1752)], presumably in an attempt to replace the laborious task of hand cutting the face.
Little shavings or FILINGS produced by filing metal or by other similar processes. File dust has been noted only occasionally in the Dictionary Archive, and then among the stock of metal workers such as a founder [Inventories (1733)] and a BUTTON maker [Inventories (1764)]. Like all the detritus of metal working, file dust had value; for example, additions of OLD BRASS in some form were customarily used for making new BRASS.
OED gives it only as a colour, being a corruption of the French 'feuillemorte', that is in English 'the colour of dead leaves'. It is not been noted in the Dictionary Archive in this sense. The context of the only example here, '6 yds & ½ Philamet' valued at 3s 9½d suggests it was also the name of a RIBBON [Inventories (1682)].
A KILT ; the term being formed from two Gaelic words meaning 'fold' and 'little'. This is the kilt in modern fashion to be distinguished from the out moded 'large' kilt. Its wearing was banned, except by the military, after the 1745 rebellion [Acts (1748)].
The particles of metal rubbed off by the action of a file, probably synonymous with FILE DUST. Almost any metal remnants had value, however small. BRASS could be melted down to make new, while IRON or STEEL filings were used medicinally.