Gilt ginger - Ginseng

Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities 1550-1820. Originally published by University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, 2007.

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Gilt ginger

[guilt nutmeges and ginger; guilt ginger]

Probably GINGERBREAD or GINGER COMFITS made into fancy shapes and covered with GILT - PAPER.

Sources: Inventories (early).


[gyn; ginn]

There are two distinct and related meaning for this term, the first being connected with, or an abbreviation of, ENGINE, and the second of GENEVA.

With regard to the first meaning, most examples in the Dictionary Archive relate to the working of mines; hence entries like 'Stock of Coales and Gin' valued at £100 [Inventories (1730)], and 'Wheels for Coal Waggons, Gins and Barrows' [Newspapers (1782)]. Other uses are indicated by the 'Gyns ropes & other Utensills' in the possession of a London carpenter [Inventories (1672)]. However, the 'vj p'e of Ginns' valued in all at 9d, probably among the shop equipment rather than the stock of a Cornish retailer, remain unexplained [Inventories (1619)].

Most people would associate the term much more closely with the cheap alcoholic distillation from GRAIN that became the rage during the eighteenth century. It was similar to the continental version of the same spirituous liquor called GENEVA. This was usually flavoured with JUNIPER BERRIES, but ANISEED seems to have been preferable to British tastes [Dillon (2002, pb 2003)]. However, the two terms were sometimes used interchangeably [Recipes (Bradley, R.)].

Although known on the continent, distillation as a means of making alcoholic drinks was little used in England before the end of the seventeenth century. However, when the French government took action to curb the consumption of BRANDY in France, imports flooded this country, followed by production at home. The accession of the Dutch William as King William III in 1688 did much to popularize new drinks. His continuing war with France resulted in a ban on French imports. The effects of this were enhanced by the act of 1690 'for the encouraging the Distilling of Brandy and Spirits from Corn ...' [Acts (1690)], whereby distillers were placed in a privileged position compared with brewers and gave a huge advantage to LOW WINE distilled from British grain [Dillon (2002, pb 2003)]. Furthermore, the monopoly of the Distillers' Company was abolished so that, while the production and sale of BEER and WINE remained severely regulated, anyone was free to make and sell SPIRITS. These measures were intended to encourage British agriculture by providing a steady market even for damaged and low-quality grain that the brewers could not use, so that gin, its production and consumption, came to be seen as patriotic [Dillon (2002, pb 2003)]. The gin lobby remained a powerful force even after anxieties about the social effects of the drink rose to fever pitch in the eighteenth century.

There were anxieties from the start. Distillation long retained overtones of alchemy and the black arts, and the freedom for anyone to sell afforded women the chance to acquire the drink that the old alehouse and tavern did not [Dillon (2002, pb 2003)]. Polemic pamphlets and prints like Hogarth's 'Gin Lane' of 1751, in which the central figure was a woman in an advanced stage of drunkenness and squalor, vividly depicted the evils of drinking gin. In the 1720s, these anxieties bubbled to the surface fuelled by the collapse of the South Sea Company and the news that the Plague, ever seen as judgment from God, had arrived in Marseilles. In 1726 London magistrates attempted to enumerate all properties where gin was sold in the capital as the first step towards control. They came up with the figure of 6,187, but their report admitted this was 'very short of the true number' [Dillon (2002, pb 2003)]. Although the furore died down for a time, it did not go away. By 1729, the reformers found new support in Robert Walpole, the prime minister, who needed cash. Gin was seen a a fruitful source, and so a system of licensing was introduced for the sellers, and a raised excise for the distillers. In all it was hoped the new measures would raise £400,000 p.a. for the Treasury [Acts (1729)]. The big malt distillers of London, who produced the essential first distillation fought back, united with the farming lobby to persuade Parliament to remove much of the offensive legislation in 1732 [Dillon (2002, pb 2003)]. But not for long; in 1736, a virtual prohibition was placed on the retail sale of spirits [Acts (1736)], and this was followed by further acts in 1743, 1751 and 1760, which strengthened control and ratcheted up the price, so that by the late 1760s the worst of the gin craze was over. 'In return, Madam Geneva', as the drink was sometimes called, 'got to move out of the back-streets into smart new accommodation' [Dillon (2002, pb 2003)]. Gin became big, and respectable, business. For example, William Currie and his two partners started in 1749 with a joint stock of £17,000, and outgoings of over £18,000. Other distillers of what have now become familiar branded names started in this period, like John Booth, brewing in the 1740s, but distilling by the 1750s, and Alexander Gordon established in 1769. By the end of the century each of these two firms were sending out over half a million gallons of gin annually [Dillon (2002, pb 2003)].

Despite the scale of production by the end of the eighteenth century concentrated in the hands of a few large London operators, contamination remained a huge problem judging by the space that Frederick Accum gave to it in his book on the adulteration of foodstuffs. Strength could fairly easily be established, though it seems to have remained accepted practice to dilute gin for retail sale. According to him, 120 GALLON of gin was usually made up 'by fraudulent retailers into a saleable commodity, with fourteen gallons of water and twenty six pounds of sugar'. The resulting turbidness was cleared using a number of harmful substances, including ALUM and LEAD, while other ingredients to add flavour were suggested including OIL of VITRIOL and OIL OF TURPENTINE [Accum (1820)].

Despite the scale of its production and sale, gin has only rarely been noted in the provincial shops; for the whole of the eighteenth century, there are only three examples in the Dictionary Archive [Inventories (1751)]; [Inventories (1737)]; [Newspapers (1780)]. This is in the face of the huge anxieties expressed at the time about the availability of gin and the dire effects of its consumption in London. It would seem that the excesses of gin consumption were probably confined to the capital.

OED earliest date of use: 1714 as a drink

Found described as BRITISH
Found in units of CASK, GALLON

Sources: Diaries, Inventories (early), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Patents, Recipes.
References: Accum (1820), Dillon (2002, pb 2003).


[gyng'r; gyngere; gynger; gyng'; ginn'; ging'r; genger]

The rhizome of the tropical plant Zingiber officinale has been so long in cultivation that its place of origin is obscured. It is not known to grow in the wild. Whilst it is now cultivated in most parts of the world with a tropical climate, in the early-modern period all ginger came from the East Indies until the plant was transferred to the West Indies, particularly BARBADOES and JAMAICA. Here the rhizomes are planted in March or April and harvested the following January, or earlier when required as GREEN GINGER rather than as DRIED GINGER [Simmonds (1906)]. If marketed unprocessed it was known as BLACK GINGER, but if the skin was scraped, it was known as WHITE GINGER. Although it is impossible to grow ginger out of doors in England, it will flourish in artificial heat. Instruction for growing ginger in pots in a heated greenhouse were given by Richard Bradley [Recipes (Bradley, R.)].

Ginger is remarkable for its hot spicy taste, and it was probably the most popular SPICE after PEPPER, perhaps in part because it was also relatively cheap. Although used mainly in cooking, it has medicinal virtues, particularly for treating digestive problems. It was therefore included in the Materia Medica and found its way into most of the classic medicinal formulations like MITHRIDATE and VENICE TREACLE and in the medicinal SYRUP OF GINGER [Pemberton (1746)].

Most ginger was probably bought in the form of GROUND GINGER, but by the eighteenth century retailers were offering a choice: 'Whole and ground ginger' in one shop [Tradecards (18c.)], 'Ginger in rece or ground' in another [Tradecards (19c.)]. One Lincoln retailer had 'beat at 6d the poun', white at 8d and black at 4d [Inventories (1708)]. Consumers may most commonly have used ground ginger, but not all. For example Timothy Burrell in 1701 made MEAD using 'a race of ginger, bruised and boiled' [Diaries (Burrell)], while Thomas Turner added 'ground pepper or pounded ginger' to his charitable 'cheap soup' [Diaries (Turner)].

Even a relatively poor yeoman like Richard Latham bought ginger, admittedly in small quantities, in most years between 1724 and 1750 [Latham (1990)], and a list drawn up in the 1670s of what a group of emigrants should take with them to America included both ginger, presumably as ground ginger, and green ginger [Diaries (Josselyn)]. The well-to-do bought on a majestic scale. For example, Elizabeth Purefoy ordered no less than two pounds from a London supplier in December 1746 [Eland (1931)]. After PEPPER it was probably the most commonly used SPICE.

OED earliest date of use: c1000

Found described by of the British Plantations, not of the British Plantations, COARSE, of the East Indies, of the West Indies, minced, OLD, ORDINARY
Found in units of BAG, C, LB, OUNCE, QUARTER, RACE, SCRUPLE Found rated by the BAG, C of 100LB, CWT of 112 LB, HUNDREDWEIGHT, POUND, STONE

Sources: Acts, Diaries, Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Rates, Recipes, Tradecards.
References: Latham (1990), Pemberton (1746), Simmonds (1906), .

Ginger comfit

[ginger comfett]

Possibly similar to, or the same as, GINGER SEEDS. A nineteenth-century industrial recipe mixed GROUND GINGER with 'gum paste' and rolled it into balls the size of CORIANDER seeds or peas'. These were then dried and finished with a sugary coating [Haldane (1883)].

Sources: Inventories (early).
References: Haldane (1883).

Ginger dust

[dust of cloves of ginger]

In the 1660 Book of Rates, it was allowed for dust of ginger to be exported free [Rates (1660)]. This dust may have been what remained at the bottom of containers of ginger as imported, but more probably referred to GROUND GINGER that had been processed in this country for re-export.

Sources: Rates.

Ginger grate

Palsgrave defined a GINGER grate as a 'ratisseur a gingembre', that is a ginger rake. Presumably by this he meant a ginger GRATER [Palsgrave (1530)]. Halliwell was probably mistaken in interpeting Palsgrave to mean 'grated ginger' [Halliwell (1850, facs. 1989)]. The only example found in the Dictionary Archive is in the form of '6 ginger graets' [Inventories (1661)], rather than measured by a unit of weight, although RAZED GINGER has been noted. Since whole dried ginger is both hard and tough, one method would be to grate it.

OED earliest date of use: 1530

Sources: Inventories (mid-period).
References: Halliwell (1850, facs. 1989), Palsgrave (1530).

Ginger lozenges

GINGER lozenges have been noted offered for sale only once in circumstances that leave it unclear whether they were intended for medicinal purposes or merely as a SWEETMEAT. Possibly this was intentional, for although ginger was known to help the digestion, it also has a pleasant taste [Tradecards (1800)].

According to Frederick Accum, ginger lozenges, and a similar product called 'Ginger pearls' were frequently adulterated with PIPE CLAY, which replaced some of the SUGAR. He recounted a tale of one 'respectable chemist's shop in the city' where it was freely acknowledged the lozenges were sold in two grades; the one adulterated at 3d OUNCE and the other pure ones 'usually distinguished by the epithet Verum' at 6d [Accum (1820)].

Not found in the OED online

Found in units of small BOX

See also LOZENGE.
Sources: Tradecards.
References: Accum (1820).

Ginger seed

Ginger was recognized as having medicinal properties, hence its name Zingiber officinale. Ginger seeds were intended to relieve 'Wind in the Stomach, Indigestion' and flatulence, for example [Tradecards (1800)]. Ginger seeds may just have been another name for GINGER COMFITS, but equally, it may be that the seeds of the plant were candied in the same way as, for example, CORIANDER or CARAWAY, though seed is apparently only rarely formed [Masefield et al (1969)]. If this were the case they were probably processed where they were grown and harvested as no British recipe for preparing them has been noted.

Not found in the OED online

Sources: Tradecards.
References: Masefield et al. (1969).


[ginger-bread; ginger bread]

Gingerbread came in several forms in the early-modern period. The one least like that found nowadays was what was referred to as 'fine gingerbread'. It was made using GROUND ALMOND as a main ingredient, so that the result was an enriched MARCHPANE or MARZIPAN heavily flavoured with GINGER rather than the typical confection of today [Murrell (online). Probably the 'gingerbread made in cakes, like chocolate' recorded by Samuel Pepys was of this type [Diaries (Pepys)].

A different kind is indicated by the ingredients that a Banbury gingerbread maker had in store. These included FLOUR, TREACLE and SUGAR, and crystallized fruits such as 'Plumbs Oranges & Lemons' [Inventories (1727)]. More often early-modern gingerbread seems to have been less luxurious and more akin to parkin or ginger biscuits. One recipe recommended to 'Make a stiff paste, _ mix it very thick _ bake it dry' [Recipes (Crossman)], another to use 'as much flower as will make it stiff as brown bread' [Recipes (Crossman)]. Both used treacle as the main binding agent, and a much larger amount of ginger than would be acceptable to modern taste.

Once made, the mixture was quite often moulded or cut into fancy shapes, hence the 'Printes, & mouldes for ginger breadde' valued at 12d among the possessions of one gingerbread maker [Inventories (1634)], or the 'Two Dozen of Ginger bread prints' to make imprints on the surface of his breads, and the 'Two dozen of Tin fframes' to bake them in belonging to another [Inventories (1730)]. Once made, some were wrapped in GILT - PAPER, like the GILT GINGER found in one shop [Inventories (1611)].

The demand for gingerbread made commercially far outweighed its importance as a product of domestic cooking. Gingerbread makers were commonplace throughout the period, and they sold their wares on to retailers of all sorts. Some bakers even appear to have developed a national market for their products so that gingerbread is recorded in the Gloucester Coastal Port Books as being carried both up and down the river, sometimes in quantities measured by the TON. Other makers acquired a more than local reputation. According to Mason and Brown, 'Ormskirk in Lancashire was already a noted centre, and travellers there described how vendors descended upon arriving stage coaches [Mason and Brown (1999)].

There are many examples of retail sellers of gingerbread. Thomas Turner, the Sussex shopkeeper, recorded one purchase for his shop of '14 lb. of thick [gingerbread], 2s. 3d., 1 gross of sweethearts 1s., thin bread 5s. 6d.' [Diaries (Turner)]. A contemporary chapman, probably working the east of England had nearly two CWT in his stock in the form of 'Cakes', 'Rowls & sweethearts' and 'Buttons' [Inventories (1735)]. Gingerbread was an important component of FAIRINGs, see for example [Latham (1990)]. They would have appeared at fairs and markets in the fancy shapes already referred to and wrapped in a gilt covering. It is not surprising, at a time when children were given few treats, that gingerbreads were a favoured reward to those who had mastered their letters or passed some other educational milestone, hence the citation of 1769 in the OED of teaching 'little Misses to read Gingerbread Letters'. The term and the commodity have found a place in both the English language (hence sayings like 'To take the gilt off the gingerbread' and 'gingerbread work') and in traditional stories like 'The Little Gingerbread Man'.

OED earliest date of use: 1299

Found described by GOOD, THICK Found made into the form of CAKE, NUT, ROLL, SWEETHEART

Sources: Acts, Diaries, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Recipes, Tradecards.
References: Gloucester Coastal Port Books (1998), Latham (1990), Mason and Brown (1999), Murrell (16--).


A TEXTILE. In India, whence it originated, it was probably first made of a COTTON and SILK, but known in the West as a cloth of pure cotton noted for its toughness of texture [Montgomery (1984)]. It was woven of DYED - YARN, often in stripes, checks, and other patterns. According to Milburn, ginghams were imported from 'Madras and the Coast' and listed by him among INDIAN - PIECE GOODS [Yule and Burnell (1886, pb 1996)], but they were manufactured in MANCHESTER at least by the 1760s [OED]. They were not common in the shops. The term came to be used as a descriptor for other fabrics, presumably ones that had been given some of the characteristics of gingham, as in GINGHAM CALLICO and GINGHAM HOLLAND.

OED earliest date of use: 1615

Found in units of GOWN -PIECE, PIECE

Sources: Inventories (mid-period), Newspapers, Tradecards.
References: Milburn (1813), Montgomery (1984), Yule and Burnell (1886, pb 1996).

Gingham callico

Probably CALLICO made in the same style as GINGHAM; that is in stripes or other patterns woven into the fabric using already DYED - YARN.

Found in units of YARD

Sources: Inventories (late).

Gingham holland

Probably HOLLAND made in the same style as GINGHAM; that is in stripes or other patterns woven into the fabric using previously DYED - YARN.

Found in units of PIECE

Sources: Inventories (mid-period).

Gingham umbrella

An UMBRELLA covered with GINGHAM. It became sufficiently distinctive to be called simply a 'Gingham', although the OED does not record this use before the mid-nineteenth century, and it has not been noted in the Dictionary Archive.

Sources: Tradecards.


[jennet; jenet]

A carpenters ADZE

OED earliest date of use: 1562 under Jennet; 1688 under Ginnet

Found described by hollowing

Sources: Inventories (late).



A plant of either of two species of the genus Aralia or Panax, found in Northern China and Nepal, also in Canada and the eastern United States. The root of the plant was much used medicinally in China, but not in Britain, where it was not included in the Materia Medica.

OED earliest date of use: 1654

Found among the DRUGS, rated by the POUND

Sources: Rates.