Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities, 1550-1820. Originally published by University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, 2007.
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The terms leaf or leaves were quite commonly used elliptically in the early modern period; for example in place of CARD LEAF as in 'xxiijti payre of cards & xviij leaves' [Inventories (1569)], or in place of HORN LEAVES as in '32000 of ordinary leaves & 9000 of square leaves' [Inventories (1673)]. It is also common among lists of TOBACCO [for example, INVEARLY SN1612CLRW].
There were other meanings that are found in trade for any product that resembles a leaf. For example, it was a common alternative to 'Petal', hence ROSE LEAVES [OED]. It was used for a very thin sheet of metal as in GOLD LEAF and SILVER LEAF, and in various industrial products like HORN LEAVES and CARD LEAF, as well as in forms of TEA as SPECKLED LEAF, and TOBACCO as TOBACCO LEAF and BLACK LEAF TOBACCO.
In weaving (in this context also known as a 'leash'), a leaf of HEDDLEs in the WEAVERS LOOM consists of a set of parallel cords of the width of the webs stretched vertically between two horizontal shafts of wood, and forming in their centre loops or eyes through which the WARP threads pass. In this sense it forms the main part of a weaver's GEAR.
Based on a late reference, the OED suggests that leaf tobacco was 'the raw material, as imported with the stalk on it.' In the Dictionary Archive, the term appears much earlier, however, and seems most often to be used to distinguish leaf from CUT TOBACCO, or one of the many other forms in which tobacco was marketed; in other words, that it was in a relatively unprocessed state, but may or may not have had the stalks removed.
This form of GINGER appears only once in the Dictionary Archive when it was listed immediately before BARBADOES GINGER. This would suggest it was a form of GINGER characterised by its place of origin, but no such place as 'Leamon' has been identified. Based on the valuation give in the example, it was only very marginally more expensive than that from Barbadoes [Inventories (1673)].
SKIN and HIDE prepared by tanning (see TANNED), or some other process like tawing (see TAWED and ALUM LEATHER) so that the leather has a similar strength and suppleness to a FRESH - SKIN and will not easily putrefie. The changes produced by these processes, particularly tanning, alter the nature of the skin permanently and cannot be reversed. Because of the huge variety of skins and hides used in the industry, leather can be produced with an equally large range of properties from BUFF to RAT SKIN. Leather in its many forms was used more widely than today. It was used to make footware like BOOT and SHOE and other garments like BREECHES, BODIES and BODICE, GLOVES, and MASK. Second in importance was its use in SADDLERY and HORSE HARNESS; as well as a host of different sorts of strap. It provided a useful outer casing like BAG, JACK, MAIL, TOUCH BOX as well as a PACK CLOTH. In FURNITURE it was used as a HANGING, in UPHOLSTERY to cover a CHAIR or a CUSHION. In the BOOK trade it was used to bind BOOKs, for example [Inventories (1615)], and there are indications that LEATHER SHREDS were used for PAPER making in the sixteenth century [Tawney and Power (1924-8)].
Although leather is usually taken to be the label for skins after processing, some evidence from the Dictionary Archive suggests that the same label was used for skins while they were being processed, with phrases like 'leather in the pits' and 'leather in the lime' being found occasionally, where skin would have been a more accurate term.
Because the condition and the appearance of leather depended on careful maintenance, much time had to be spent on these tasks. The reputation of a gentleman's valet depended to some extent on his capacity to keep a good polish on his master's boots. For those unable to afford such service, there were plenty of proprietary products like 'Scheffer's Cakes for 'making shining Liquid Blacking for Shoes or Boots 6d each' [Newspapers (1780)] that claimed to do the job for him. Another tradesperson promised that 'Foul Leather Breeches are clean'd and narrow Breeches are stretched in a new invented Machine' [Newspapers (1750)]. In the stable, grooms and ostlers likewise spent much time in keeping harness in good condition.
Almost every mammal, or indeed reptile, furnished a skin that was useful. Each had its own characteristics and therefore a best method of preparation. When converted into leather, each had its own use. Much of this knowledge is now lost, but below is a list of all the leathers noted in the Dictionary Archive, with any information known. Those in capitals are dealt with under separate headwords:
Found described as BLACK, BLUE, Broken, COLOURED, GREEN, IRISH, KID, on the last, in the LIME, OLD, ORDINARYin the pits, of all sorts, TANNED, TAWED, Thin, UNDRESSED, WROUGHT
Found used to make APRON, BACKGAMMON TABLE, BAG, BAND BOX, BELT, BLACK JACK, BODIES, BOTTLE, BOX, BREECHES, BUCKET, BUSKINS, BUTTON, CAN, CAP, CARPET, CASE, CLOAK BAG, CLOG, COLLAR, Comb case, CUSHION, DOG COLLAR, DOUBLET, DRAWERS, FAN, GIRDLE, GIRTH, GLOVES, HANGINGs, HOOD, HOOPING, INK HORN, Ink pot, JACK, JACKET, JUMP, KEYBAND, LACE, MASK, Mitts, PACK CLOTH, PAD, PIPE, POINT, PORTMANTEAU, POUCH, POWDER BAG, Powder box, Pumps, PURSE, SADDLE, SCREEN, SHOE, SHOE BUCKLE, SLEEVE, SPATTERDASH, SPECTACLE CASE, Squab, STOCKING, Strap, Surcingle, VALISE, VENICE PURSE, WAISTCOAT, WATCH string, WHIP Found used to cover BOTTLE, CHEST, COUCH, FLASK, Flasket, TOUCH BOX, TRUNK
Found in units of BEND, DICKER, DOZEN, HIDE, PIECE, SKIN Found rated by the HUNDREDWEIGHT
See also TANNED, TAWED, LEATHER SHREDS, LEATHER WARE, LEATHERS, HIDE, PELT, SKIN.
Sources: Acts, Diaries, Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Patents, Rates, Tradecards.
References: Tawney and Power (1924-8).
BREECHES made of LEATHER, the most common material used for this purpose until the eighteenth century when fabrics gradually became more acceptable. Most types of leather of the lighter sort were used. For example, one advertised 'all sorts of Leather Breeches, viz Buck, Doe, Ram, Goat and Ground Lamb skin Breeches, either natural or stained in black or other colours, so as not to be distinguished from the finest Cloths' [Newspapers (1750)], while another seller had in stock when he died 'A pair Beaver & a pair of Calf Skin breches, 2 Duz of white Leather 6 pair of mens & boys buckskin breaches' and '27 pair of mens Shipskin breaches' [Inventories (1707)].
Leather breeches were hard wearing, but difficult to keep clean, hence there were frequent mentions in descriptions of clothing of them being dirty, old or greasy, as in 'a dirty Pair of Leather Breeches, with a French Flap, and the Straps cut off at the Knee' [Newspapers (1751)], and 'greasy leather Breeches' [Newspapers (1760)]. Breeches-makers and other tradespeople offered a service of cleaning and repair, like the one who advertised 'Foul Leather Breeches are clean'd and narrow Breeches are stretched in a new invented Machine' [Newspapers (1750)]. The sevice could be quite expensive; Nicholas Blundell paid 4s 6d in 1714 for 'washing and mending', though he was pleased with the result [Diaries (Blundell)]; [Diaries (Blundell)]. Indeed, a patent was taken out for a 'Composition made in balls for cleaning leather-breeches ... [Patents (1782)].
HANGINGS made of LEATHER, used against a wall in place of TAPESTRY or the like, or across a doorway. Leather hangings were apparently imported, and they were rated. For example in the 1657 Book of Rates 'Leather hangings guilt' were rated at £4 the piece [Rates (1657)]. Perhaps as a result, the possibility of improving home-produced leather hangings attracted the attention of innovators, and hence the patent for 'Embroidering or huffling gilded leather on several grounds, for hangings' [Patents (1638)].
A HAT made from LEATHER, probably stiffened and with a high gloss. The example noted in the Dictionary Archive were for servants and were JAPANNED: 'Servants japann'd Leather Hats'. They were priced quite highly at 10s each [Tradecards (1795)]. Other 'Plain & Trimm'd Japan'd Hats' have been noted that may also have been of leather [Tradecards (18c.)]. A similar phrase, 'Leather or Japanned Hats', is used in an act of roughly the same date [Acts (1784)].
A LEATHER thong for lacing, such laces were usually made of THREAD or SILK. Leather laces were one of several products whose importation was forbidden in the 1560s 'by Reason of the Abundance of foreign Wares brought into this Realm from the Parts beyond the Seas, which competition is damaging trade' [Acts (1562)]. Leather laces became less common as the period progressed, and they are found in the shops in lower quantities. This was at least in part caused by the introduction of other forms of fastening in APPAREL such as the BUTTON and the BUTTON HOLE, and the SHOE BUCKLE [Riello (2006)].
LEATHER for MASKs have only been noted in the Dictionary Archive in terms of imports. 'Leather for Masks' was rated by the pound [Rates (1660)] and 'Leather mask' was imported into London during the 1680s [Houghton]. What especial characteristic this leather had is not known, nor is the type of MASK for which it was designed.
Probably not a POT in the usual sense of the word, but a hard LEATHER CAP without crest used by the military instead of one made of metal. The leather pot was specifically listed in one act as made with TANNED LEATHER [Acts (1552)], supporting the idea that it was intended to give protection from more than the weather. In this sense, though different in form, it served the same purpose as a HEAD PIECE or MORION.
Off cuts of LEATHER, in trade probably on their way to the GLUE makers, though there are indications that they were also used for PAPER making in the sixteenth century [Tawney and Power (1924-8)]. The term has not been located in the Dictionary Archive, but leather shreds were carried in large consignments down the River Severn between 1689 and 1755 [Gloucester Coastal Port Books (1988)].
The term denotes goods made of LEATHER. So many articles were made of leather that it is almost impossible to list them all. Context sometimes indicates what was meant in specific examples as in 'Leathern ware bridles Collars' [Inventories (1731)], and 'Males, Bougets, Leather Pots, Tankards, Barhides or any other Wares of Leather' [Acts (1552)].
Also known as leatherjackets, the Elizabethan term denotes any rough-skinned, RUSSET coloured APPLE, but most probably a particular variety [Paston-Williams (1993)]. The latter meaning is plausible given Shakespeare's reference (1596) to 'a dish of Lether-coats' [OED, Leather], and Parkinson's (1626) distinction between russets and 'The Leather coate apple', which he describes as 'a good winter apple, of no great bignesse, but of a very good and sharp taste' [Prospect Books Glossary (online)]. However, a later OED quotation from Worlidge's Cyder is a little more ambiguous. He wrote that 'The Leather-Coat or Golden-Russeting, as some call it, is a very good Winter-Fruit' [OED, Leather]. Moving forward in time to an advertisement placed in a Birmingham newspaper of 1760 [Newspapers (1760)], leatherjackets were there given merely as a type of apple and available as a tree.
The contexts of the examples in the Dictionary Archive suggests that the term was most often used as an abbreviation for STIRRUP LEATHERS, but there are one or two exception were it was applied to other pieces of HARNESS, as '20 Leathers for Buckbands' [Inventories (1720)], and 'fourteen Collar Leathers' [Inventories (1724)]. Other examples are more ambiguous, like 'One dossin & halfe of leath'rs at 8s p' doz [Inventories (1665)].
The OED suggests that leathers could mean articles of APPAREL made of leather, but there is no evidence of this use in the Dictionary Archive, except for an entry in Samuel Pepys' diary dated 1660, which may be relevant; 'Resolving to ride to Sir W. Batten's, I sat up late, and was fain to cut an old pair of boots to make leathers for those I was to wear' [Diaries (Pepys)].