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.
An abbreviation of either GENTLEMAN or GENTLEWOMAN used as a designation of status, generally higher than YEOMAN but lower than ESQ. In most cases those who aspired to this level of society would have been addressed as MR or MRS.
Its primary meaning was that of belonging to the GENTRY, or appropriate to persons of quality. However, during the eighteenth century the term was hijacked and applied in trade in a great variety of circumstances to suggest a quality, fashionablity or desirability that the gentry might well not have wished to acknowledge. For example, one tradesman looking for an apprentice advertised for 'A Youth of genteel Parents' [Newspapers (1780)], though it is unlikely he wanted, or would get, a young GENTLEMAN. Another in the MILLINERY trade was advertising for an apprentice to serve 'in one of the genteelest houses of the business' for which a 'genteel premium' was asked [Newspapers (1722)]. In this case, although not belonging to the gentry him/herself, the apprentice would probably be expected to serve 'genteel' customers in the true sense of the word. The 'Business of Children's Coat-making' was claimed to be 'an exceeding good and genteel Business for Women' [Newspapers (1743)], though it would certainly not have been accepted as such by a GENTLEWOMAN except in reduced and desperate circumstances.
Goods too were often advertised as genteel though the term can have added no real meaning to the offer, only a vague sense of desirability to those who had money to spare but were not of the height of fashion themselves. One retailer had 'a genteel and fashionable assortment of hats' [Newspapers (1778)], another (a bookseller) 'a genteel Assortment of Bibles, Testaments, Prayers, modern Books and Pamphlets' with much else besides [Newspapers (1780)], and a third 'Summer Silks ... of the genteelest Patterns fancied in the most elegant Taste' [Newspapers (1770)]. Even further removed from its original meaning was in the advertisement offering 'Strong, Fresh, Genteel, Sporting and Road North Country Horses' [Newspapers (1750)]. In all, 'genteel' became one of the buzzwords of advertising used by almost anyone who wanted to add fashionability and desirability to their products.
Any plant belonging to the genus Gentiana, but especially the tall, yellow-flowered Gentiana lutea, the officinal Gentian that yielded the GENTIAN ROOT of the Pharmacopoeia. Other native species were smaller and with blue or purplish flowers. These were variously known as FELWORT, though this label was particularly applied to Gentiana amarella. Like CENTAURY, another member of the same family, gentians were characterised by their bitter taste, which would explain why John Houghton had sometimes sold it to brew with instead of hops [Houghton].
Gentian root was the part of GENTIAN plants that was used officinally. Although Gentiana lutea from which the root came, may be grown in this country, it appears from both John Houghton and Nicholas Culpeper that most gentian root was imported, though some may have been made from the native species that Culpeper claimed were just as good [Houghton]; [Culpeper (1653, new ed. n.d.) under Gentian].
Gentian roots are characterised by their bitter taste. Although little used today, in the early modern period they were held to be effective against a wide range of conditions, particularly those relating to the stomach. According to John Houghton, some thought that it equalled JESUITS BARK for the cure of agues [Houghton].
It was an ingredient in two of the classic preparations, MITHRIDATE and VENICE TREACLE [Pemberton (1746)], and the main active component of EXTRACTUM GENTIANAE, GENTIAN WATER and GENTIAN WINE. If recipes for imitations may be relied on as sources for the original preparation, then the roots were also an ingredient of STOUGHTONS ELIXIR [Smith (1758, facs. 1994)]; [Recipes (Ketilby)].
A distilled liquor that in one recipe consisted of WHITE WINE to which GENTIAN and CENTUARY had been added before distillation. It was claimed that it 'preserves the Body from all manner of Diseases', including the plague [Recipes (Recusant)]. Berington included a recipe for a 'Bitter drink' that could well have been called 'gentian water', involving slices GENTIAN ROOT as a main ingredient. The further instructions were to 'put all the ingredients into a tea pott and pour the water on them' [Recipes (Berington)]. The recipe is interesting and unusual in that it gives instructions to make a drink in the same fashion as TEA and, presumably, to drink it in the same way.
Possibly identical with GENTIAN WATER, but more probably a WINE that had been rendered bitter by steeping minced or macerated GENTIAN ROOT in it. The OED citation of 1700 indicates it was used as an apéritif. According to John Houghton, gentian wine was sold by the vintners, so was apparently fairly readily available [Houghton].
A term, often shortened to GENT, used to describe a man in whom gentle birth was accompanied by appropriate qualities and behaviour, or one merely of gentle birth or having the same heraldic status as one. It is in these senses, that some trades people categorised their customers in advertisements in such terms as 'Noblemen, Gentlemen, Tradesmen &c' [Newspapers (1770)], or 'Gentlemen, Merchants, and Shopkeepers, in Town or Country' [Tradecards (18c.)]. In such cases it becomes clear that the status of 'gentleman' was below that of the nobility, but above those denoting trade, and certainly above that of the lower orders, which were usually not mentioned at all. Much was made of the status, but through use in trade, like GENTEEL, the term was down-graded and became no more than a term of politeness attached to almost any commodity that men might use.
In most context it was applied to a woman of good birth and breeding, the female equivalent of GENTLEMAN. Like that term, though less often, it was abbreviated to GENT. The term is rare in the Dictionary Archive but it has been noted in the act enforcing the wearing of CAPs on Sundays, where it is contrasted with 'maidens' and 'ladies' [Acts (1570)]. It was almost never used to describe commodities in the way 'gentleman' was. In all, the term was rarely used in trade, though GENTEEL was much in evidence in relation to women as in the advertisement concerning 'Children's Coat-making' which was designated 'an exceeding good and genteel Business for Women' [Newspapers (1743)].
The term goes back to the fourteenth century and was used as a collective term for those of gentle birth, though more often than not it seems to have applied only to the GENTLEMAN and not to the GENTLEWOMAN. The same is true when trades people addressed their customers. In phrases like 'our Nobility, Gentry and Merchants' [Newspapers (1770)], or 'Nobility, Gentry, and the Public in general' [Newspapers (1790)], there is no explicit exclusion of women but the contexts suggest they were not in fact included.
Although it is not the primary meaning of the term, in the Dictionary Archive it is used in the sense of something that proceeds from its reputed source or author, in other words something that is authentic and not spurious. In trade, 'genuine' was particularly attached to items that were patented or had something approximating to branded names like Dr Anderson's SCOTS PILLs or BRITISH OIL. For these and many similar items there existed counterfeits, which either were of inferior quality, or were denounced as being of poor quality by those who wished to be indentified as the true source. Phrases like 'Genuine Tincture of Valerian '[Newspapers (1760)], and 'genuine Pearl Powder for the Face' [Newspapers (1786)] are common. Imitation was a recognised problem. Indeed, recipes for both DAFFYS ELIXIR and STOUGHTONS ELIXIR, and probably for many other patented or 'branded' commodities were given in published recipe books, for example [Recipes (Smith)], [Smith (1758, facs. 1994)] and [Recipes (Ketilby)].
'Genuine' was also included in the names of some retail outlets, presumably to imply that all their products were authentic as in the 'Genuine Jamaica Rum Warehouse' [Newspapers (1780)], and 'Swinfen and Sons Genuine Drug and Medicine Warehouse, Leicester [Newspapers (1790)].