Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities, 1550-1820. Originally published by University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, 2007.
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The edible part of any GRAIN, GROUND to a powder, but in some case less fine than FLOUR. In this period the generic 'meal' probably including WHEATMEAL, though nowadays this is usually termed FLOUR. Sometimes meal was distinguished from FLOUR as in '2 bushells Corne meale & flower' [Inventories (1602)].
See also BARLEY MEAL, BEAN MEAL, BIGG MEAL, INDIAN MEAL, MEAL TUB, OATMEAL, RYE MEAL, WHEATMEAL.
Sources: Acts, Diaries, Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Patents, Rates.
A TUB for storing MEAL, similar to a FLOUR TUB. The entry '3 old male tubs & sives' suggests, on the other hand, that it may have been used for processing meal - hence the SIEVEs [Inventories (1666)].
A method of measuring either length, like the TAPE MEASURE, or capacity. The latter was more common. Typically the measure was a container or vessel of standard capacity, used for separating and dealing out fixed quantities of substances such as GRAIN, liquids, some VEGETABLEs, or COAL. The vessel was sometimes striked, that is levelled off, and sometimes heaped, and its capacity varied from place to place and from commodity to commodity. In some, but only some, places it seems to have been interchangeable with the BUSHEL. Some measures were standardized or authorized by Parliament, for example, the Linlithgow BARLEY measure was set for use with LINSEED and HEMPSEED in Scotland in 1751 [Acts (1751)]. Increasingly for dry goods WINCHESTER MEASURE became the standard over the whole country.
Many of those who needed measures of capacity had a set. For example, one London tradesman had 'Vinegar Measures from a Gallon to a Quarter of a pinte and Oyle measures ffrom a Gallon to a quarter of A pinte' [Inventories (1692)]. The well to do sometimes had their own measures for doling out, say, wine. One such gentleman had his 'Silver Pint Ale Measure' stolen [Newspapers (1770)].
Found described as ALE, BEER, BIG, BRANDY, BUSHEL, CORN, GILL, HALF - BUSHEL, HALF PINT, LITTLE, OIL, OLD, OUNCE, PECK, PINT, POTTLE, POWDER, QUART, SALT, SAND, SMALL, STRONG WATER Found made of BRASS, PEWTER, SILVER, TIN, WOOD Found used to measure BARLEY, BEAN, CORN, FRENCH WHEAT, MALT, OATS
Found in units of SET
See also AQUA VITAE MEASURE, COMMON MEASURE, LONDON MEASURE, NEWCASTLE MEASURE, TAPE MEASURE, VINEGAR MEASURE, WATER MEASURE, WINCHESTER MEASURE, WINE MEASURE.
Sources: Acts, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Rates.
The meat screen had two uses. It was either similar to a DUTCH OVEN, being designed to reflect the heat back onto the side of the meat away from the fire, or to protect the central portion of a whole pig or the like while the thicker haunch and shoulder cooked. It is not possible in some entries to tell which was intended; for example, 'a skreene to sett before meate' [Inventories (1630)], or 'One Skreen for roasting Meat' [Inventories (1735)]. Probably both were for protection rather than reflection. Others were more likely designed to reflect heat as the 'portable fire-stove and meat-screen, to be used in the field' patented in 1770 [Patents (1770)], and the 'Meat Screens & Salisbury Kitchens' appearing in one advertisement [Tradecards (1792)].
A variant of 'meat fickle' found elsewhere; a CUPBOARD or the like for storing MEAT (in the sense of food generally) [Yaxley (2003)]. The only example in the Dictionary Archive fits with this definition, since it listed there together with a FIRKIN in the buttery [Inventories (1589)].
A TEXTILE in the form of a GLAZED - WORSTED dress fabric manufactured largely in NORWICH during the eighteenth century. The only example in the Dictionary Archive is for 'Flowerd Mecklingbourgs' among the stock of a London mercer selling a 'Variety of Silks and Stuffs' [Tradecards (18c.)]. Patterns such as flowers seems to have been popular and Florence Montgomery cites several examples [Montgomery (1984)].
The name common to several kinds of gourds, especially the musk melon, Cucumis melo, and the water melon or CITRUL, Citrullus vulgaris. Melons could be, and were grown in this country, but the plants are not hardy and need to be grown in hot beds and/or under GLASS to protect them. Several varieties were already available by the eighteenth century if not before. Much SEED was apparently imported from HOLLAND. Melon was used to make PICKLE, and John Houghton claims that they, like green WALNUT and CUCUMBER, were used to make imitation MANGO by having their insides removed before being filled with GARLIC and GINGER [Houghton]. Melons were one of the four greater COLD SEEDs of medicine.
A pan usually of IRON with a handle, to hold molten METAL for pouring. Also in Glass-making a similar instrument used to convey molten GLASS from the pot to the cuvette. Melting ladles were also found in the domestic environment. For example in [Inventories (1594)] there was one in the kitchen.
Properly, mercery was SILK WARE, but this was a meaning most commonly found only in LONDON and in customs records like the Gloucester Coastal Port Books. In the shops of much of provincial England, the term was applied much more generally to almost any goods not obtainable locally, but with a bias towards DRAPERY and GROCERY. For example, under the heading 'Mercery ware' the appraisers of one Worcester retailer listed a long list of fabrics, only some of which may have been made of or contained SILK [Inventories (1643)]. However, many slightly up-market shopkeepers (who had normally served an apprenticeship) called themselves mercers and sold a huge range of goods; GROCERY, WOOLLEN DRAPERY and LINEN DRAPERY, HABERDASHERY, SALTERY and much else besides. Usually they sold very little SILK. There was some awareness of the different sections of their trade, and so entries like 'mercery wares Grocery wares & Drapery wares of sev'all sorts in the shopp' are not uncommon [Inventories (1665)]. A contemporary divided his stock into 'Mercery and Linen wares', 'Habberdashery & Silke Ware' (possibly reflecting the fact that much RIBBON was made of silk), and 'Grocery' [Inventories (1665)]. Although in the eighteenth century, there was a greater degree of specialisation, with LINEN DRAPERY becoming more and more distinct, and MILLINERY adding another layer of complexity, a shop in the West Midland town of Bilston could still be advertised as having 'Two good Furnaces and other Utensils, with some Tallow for the Chandler's Trade. Likewise two good Counters, Drawers and Shelves, fit for the Mercery and Grocery Business' [Newspapers (1750)].
The Latin and apothecarial name for mercurous chloride, commonly known today as CALOMEL or sweet PRECIPITATE. It is a comparatively mild and slow-acting form of mercurial without the corrosive effects of the perchloride, MERCURY SUBLIMATE. Even so, according to John Henry Clarke, [Clarke (online)] it has all the toxic power of the metal in it and was probably responsible for a large amount of the mercurialisation of the past and for some of the present.
Mercury was the name of the Roman god identified with the Greek god Hermes. He was the divine messenger, usually represented as a young man with wings on his hat and on his sandals, holding a wand around which twisted serpents (the caduceus). Connotations with the messenger from heaven and god-like fleetness prompted the use of the name for newspapers, for example, the seventeenth-century Mercurius Politicus or the later Manchester Mercury. He was also the god of eloquence and of feats of skill, and the protector of thieves and traders. Despite this ambiguity and the link with thievery, the positive associations with his name must have outweighed the negative, and his image was used by retailers in their shop signs and promotional literature, for example [Tradecards (18c.)] and [Tradecards (1782)].
Mercury was selected as a name for the smallest of the major planets and the one nearest the sun, and the alchemists used the same sign to represent both the planet and the metal. Metallic mercury was called by some classical writers either 'liquid silver' or 'silver water'. Pliny called it 'hydrargyrum' (the origin of the modern symbol for mercury, 'Hg'), or 'argentum vivum', which in English is rendered ARGENT VIVE or QUICKSILVER [Partington (1953)]. Rolt's description of mercury conveys the deficiencies of scientific language, even in the mid-eighteenth century. 'Mercury', he wrote' 'denotes a fluid mineral matter, perfectly resembling silver in fusion' [Rolt (1761)]. His description is accurate as far as it goes, however. Mercury is indeed a silvery-white liquid metal (hence the label WHITE MERCURY) and the only metal that is not solid at room temperature. It evaporates very slowly in this state, but since it is highly toxic, this is sufficient to do damage. Mercury can be mixed readily with other metals, particularly GOLD and SILVER to form AMALGAM.
Metallic mercury is occasionally found 'pure', entrapped in the ore and in this form it was called VIRGIN MERCURY. However, most mercury was mined as ore and the metal then extracted. The most important ore was, and is, NATIVE CINNABAR, from which VERMILION is also derived. Agricola gave a description of one method for extracting the metal from the ore in the mid-sixteenth century. The ores was packed in pots and the mouth stuffed with moss. Each pot was then turned upside down and placed in a second pot that was well sealed. The double pots were placed close together, with the lower half buried whilst the upper was packed round with earth and charcoal that was burnt until all the metal had run into the lower pot. Agricola warned of the dangers of this method, saying that workers knew at the first sign of escaping fumes to 'turn their backs to the wind' lest exposure loosened their teeth. Other methods described by him involved forms of sublimation, but he claimed the first was 'the most expeditious and practical' [Agricola (1556, modern ed. 1950)]. The chief mines were in Spain and at Friuli in Italy. The mines there belonged to the Emperor but were mortgaged in the mid-eighteenth century to the Dutch. This may explain why most mercury arrived in England having gone through the Dutch ports. Rolt wrote that it was sold at AMSTERDAM at 34s STERLING the pound. It was 'weighed with the bags which hold it, without any allowance or reduction' [Rolt (1761)]. It seems to have been either processed or repacked once it had arrived, since it has not been noted as being still in the bag when found in the shops. Mercury was at this stage sometimes still contaminated with LEAD (and other metals), giving according to Rolt, small globules of a 'brown and leady' colour, which stuck to the hands. The frequent instructions to use 'pure' or 'refined' mercury, and the inclusion of a method of purification in Pemberton's Dispensatory [Pemberton (1746)] all suggest that contaminated mercury was common.
Mercury was extensively used in both in orthodox and in QUACK MEDICINEs, particularly against venereal disease. However, its toxicity engendered anxieties, addressed by some opportunists who advertised preparations for the same purpose that were specifically said to contain no mercury. They often used the term 'vegetable' in the title as a coded message to this effect as in 'Velnos's Vegetable Syrup' [Newspapers (1770)]. In a late eighteenth-century list of 'simples, and of such medicinal preparations, as ought to be kept in readiness for private Practice', no less than five types or preparations of mercury were given in addition to 'crude mercury', all of which appear here under their own headings: AEthiop's Mercury (more commonly called Aethiops mineral], calomel, corrosive sublimate, red precipitate and white precipitate. The existence of so many distinct terms indicates how important mercury was in medicine, despite its toxicity [Americanrevolution (online)].
Mercury had many other uses beyond medicinal ones. Being sensitive to temperature and to atmospheric pressure, it was used in THERMOMETERs and BAROMETERs, for applying TIN FOIL to the back of LOOKING GLASSes, in gilding, and in extracting GOLD and SILVER from their ores. It was also used by hatters in preparing the fur used in making HATs. In consequence, workers in this trade suffered from mercury poisoning, the effects of which gave rise to the phrase 'mad as a hatter'.
See also AETHIOPS MINERAL, AMALGAM, CINNABAR, MERCURY PRECIPITATE, MERCURY SUBLIMATE, QUICKSILVER, RED MERCURY, VIRGIN MERCURY, WHITE MERCURY.
Sources: Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Newspapers, Patents, Rates, Recipes.
References: Agricola (1556, new ed. 1950), Americanrevolution (online), Partington (1953), Pemberton (1746), Rolt (1761).
Sometimes known simply as PRECIPITATE or 'precipitate per se'. The Doctor of Physic, John French, gave a simple recipe for making (red) mercury precipitate by placing an OUNCE of impure QUICKSILVER in a sealed glass and setting it 'over a strong fire in sand for the space of two months'. The result of this lengthy process would be a 'red sparkling precipitate' [French (1651), Book III]. This seems to be identical with the material called by Pemberton 'Mercurius Calcinatus', or Calcined QUICKSILVER' [Pemberton (1746)]. The white precipitate, for which French did not give a recipe, involved dissolving the corrosive SUBLIMATE and SAL AMONIAC in water, the mixture being then filtered and precipitated by the addition of 'some alcaline fixt salt' [Pemberton (1746)]. It was apparently less valued than the red [Inventories (1690)].
This is MERCURY chloride, a white corrosive, crystalline powder, that acts as a violent poison. Sometimes referred to simply as SUBLIMATE, and also as 'Mercurius Corrosivus Sublimatus' [Pemberton (1746)].
This term appears only once in the Dictionary Archive in a patent concerned with 'Manufacturing needles, bodkins, knitting-pins, fish-hooks, netting-needles, mesh-pins and sail-needles' [Patents (1795)]. 'Mashes' as found in one catalogue may be a variant: 'Netting and Knitting Needles, Pins and Mashes, in Tortoishell, Ivory, Steel, Bone and Box Wood' [Tradecards (1794)]. The two together suggest a small item used to make NETTING, possibly using a PILLOW as in PILLOW LACE. The OED online gives 'Mesh stick' an IMPLEMENT used in EMBROIDERY consisting of a flat slat with rounded ends, used to form the mesh of netting, which may well be an alternative name.
Also found in the form 'cards for messages', this is a small CARD or a piece of PASTE BOARD on which to write messages. It was presumably used in the same way as post cards have been since the nineteenth century. According to the OED, message cards were particularly used for invitations. They could be carried on the person in a CARD CASE to be left at a house when only a formal visit was being made. The recipient, or more probably one of the servants, would leave the card on the CARD PAN or in the CARD RACK for the family to see later.
A TEXTILE made in Marsham in Norfolk at least by 1763. It had a secondary WARP of Messina SILK that enabled the weaver to form patterns of figures or flowers over a plain weave of WORSTED or JERSEY [Kerridge (1985)]. They were advertised across the Atlantic by 1767 [Montgomery (1984)].
From two Welsh terms meaning 'healing liquor', metheglin was an alcoholic LIQUOR of which the base was HONEY; it was possibly a spiced or medicated variety of MEAD, though the recipes for both drinks usually include flavourings. Originally it was peculiar to Wales, but by the sixteenth century at least it was found in England. Kenelme Digby (1669) included around 50 recipes for metheglin [Recipes (Digby)]. Evidence in the Dictionary Archive agree with contemporary opinion that it was generally stronger than mead, probably because it was sometimes distilled. In the Books of Rates metheglin was associated with mead in the same manner that CIDER was associated with PERRY and ALE with BEER; that is they were grouped according to their main ingredients.