Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities, 1550-1820. Originally published by University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, 2007.
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The prime meaning of nail as it appears in the Dictionary Archive is a small spike of metal of varying in length and thickness, and generally furnished with a point and broadened head so as to be easily driven in with a HAMMER. As now, it was used to fix one thing firmly to another or as a peg, from which to suspend something. Nails were mostly made with WROUGHT IRON, first hammered or rolled in sheet or 'Nail plate' and then slit into ROD IRON. It was this that the blacksmith or nail make worked up into nails. For a full description of the method and tools see [Tomlinson (1854)].Nail making was often seen as something metal workers could take up when trade was poor. The skill involved was considerable; practice increasing the number that could be made in the day from 800-1000 by a man who made nails as a side occupation, up to 2300 by one 'who never exercised any other trade'. Although it involved several operations, nailmaking did not become a trade employing different operators for each stage, unlike the making of PINs (Smith (1776),I/chapter 1]. The proposal to establish a Bridewell in London in 1552 included nail making among those occupations deemed suitable for its inhabitants that 'are the stubborn and fouler sort' [Tawney and Power (1924-8)]. Nails were also made by casting, hence CAST NAIL, with an improved method patented in the 1770s [Patents (1771)]. Inevitably there were also attempts to mechanise the proces [Patents (1790)], but nail making at the forge remained an important industry employing many thousands until the mid-nineteenth century.
There was an early system of sizing nails, but as Charles Tomlinson wrote, 'The retail terms, fourpenny, sixpenny, tenpenny, etc., are not only indefinite in themselves, but vary in different localities' [Tomlinson (1854)]. In the Dictionary Archive, entries like 'ij thowsande 1 hundred and a halfe of xijd naylles xxjs vjd' [Inventories (1587)] are commonplace. Many tradespeople had nails in several sizes by this method; one had them ranging from the 2d to the 10d [Inventories (1544)], the highest denomination was the 20d nails among the stock of a Londoner with '9 M & a halfe of 20d nailes at 6s & 6d [Inventories (1667)].
Many Nails had names like SPARROWBILL, TACK; many more contained 'nail' in their label. A list of those appearing in the Dictionary Archive is given below. Those in capital letters have their own entry. Those in lower case occur at least once in the Dictionary Archive, and are here given under the date when they appeared, usually for the first time.
Randle Holme mentioned nails that have not identified in the Dictionary Archive; those with heads included 'ship nail', those without heads included 'twitchings', and those 'named for their shape or use' included ball nail, glass nail, and pumping nail [Holme (2000)].
Nail was also the name of two measures. The first was as a measure of length for CLOTH and stood for 2¼ INCH or the sixteenth part of a YARD. The second was a measure of weight for WOOL, BEEF, BUTTER, HEMP etc. and equal to 8 LB. This was not a common unit of measure and even in the early-modern period it seems to have been largely confined to the South-east.
As a Spike: Found described as BIG, Burnished, DOUBLE, GREAT, HOME MADE, LARGE, OLD, SMALLWHITE, YELLOW Found being prepared for sale in 'papers'
Found in units of BAG, C, HUNDRED, HUNDREDWEIGHT, LB, OZ, POUND Found rated by the BARREL, HALF BARREL, HUNDREDWEIGHT of 112 LB, TON
As a measurement of length: Found used to measure BROADCLOTH, HOLLAND, MUSLIN, PARAGON, SARSENET, SATIN, TICKING, VELVET, but this list is probably not significant, and almost any TEXTILE could have been measured in nails
As a measurement of weight: Found used to measure BUTTER, HEMP
See also NAIL BRUSH, NAIL NIPPERS, NAIL PASSER, NAIL TOOL, CLUB HEAD, ROUND HEAD, SPARROWBILL, SPIKE, SPRIG, TACK, THICK HEAD.
Sources: Acts, Diaries, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Patents, Rates, Tradecards.
References: Holme (2000), Smith (1776), Tawney and Power (1924-8), Tomlinson (1854).
A strip or rod of WROUGHT IRON in the form of a ROD for making NAILs. Although the term does not appear in the Dictionary Archive, it was not uncommon in other sources, for example, several consignments were recorded coming up the river Severn between 1700 and 1730, most often in units of the TON [Gloucester Coastal Port Books (1988)].
Although 'NAIL tools' appears at times to have been used as a generic term for the tools used in making nails, as in 'naile tooles' [Inventories (1667)], it seems that the term could also have a more specific meaning. For example, one workman had 'one Anvile, one naile toole; 2 naile boares, and a toole to turne clouts in' [Inventories (1638)], while a blacksmith had 'iij nayling hamers; a gaginge nayle toole & iiij other nayle tooles ijs vjd; a lampas iron and a cast nayle toole iiijs iiijd; ij stakes to poynte nayles on with a blocke; xvj nayle boxes' [Inventories (1592)]. This second entry suggests some were for assessing the size or weight of nails, but it also indicates an alternative meaning that can be described no further than a TOOL used in making nails along with a nailing HAMMER. Valuations do not suggest that it was of complex structure.
The term may derive from the Hindi 'nainsukh', meaning pleasure of the eye. It was a COTTON - TEXTILE, which could be deemed either a fine WHITE - CALICO or a thick MUSLIN [Yule and Burnell (1886, pb 1996)]. Milburn included nainsooks among INDIAN -PIECE GOODS imported from Bengal [Yule and Burnell (1886, pb 1996)]. It has not been noted in the Dictionary Archive, but it may be that it would have come under the general ban on the use of Indian calicoes in England, or that it was not imported until the early nineteenth century. Most of the examples cited by Florence Montgomery are from the 1800s [Montgomery (1984)].
Nanking was a major town in China, and the name was used to define two types of Chinese products, possibly ones that were distinctive to that region rather than to China as a whole. The first was a kind of TEXTILE, supposedly originally made at Nanking from a naturally YELLOW variety of COTTON. It was hard-wearing and capable of standing repeated washing, though it gradually faded. Later nankeens were extensively manufactured in England from ordinary cotton dyed yellow. The dyes used seem to have been invented towards the end of the eighteenth century, and were supposedly patented, though there is no record of this in the 'Index of Patentees'. One of the inventors, Bott, was also responsible for at least one of the so-called 'patent' medicines and his dye was sold by the same methods, that is, through the news vendors. The language used by Bott and one of his competitors, Francis Berkenhout, was much in the same style as the makers of quack medicines. Despite this attempt to open up a market for the domestic user of nankeen dyes, dyeing with nankeen remained largely the province of the specialist; [Newspapers (1790)] was an advertisement for a 'good Dyer, thoroughly acquainted with the Management of Nankeen and light colours'. Nankeen was used especially for BREECHES (so much so that the term came to mean breeches) and WAISTCOATs.
Nankeen was also used to define items of CHINA brought from the region, often defined as blue and white. The term was particularly associated with the new, fashionable CHINA WARE such as TEA CUPs and COFFEE CUPs.
Nankeen is one of the few terms for which the newspapers are most informative. Many goods defined as 'nankeen' were advertised for sale by auction, being in consignments imported by members of the East India Company.
A square piece of LINEN, used at table to wipe the fingers or lips, or to protect one's garments, or to serve food on. Napkins were an essential element in the household LINEN or NAPERY and are often found in considerable numbers. Their importance diminished to some extent as the use of FORKS became more common. They were probably often homemade or made up by the local tailor. They are only rarely found in trade, though the fact that the Books of Rates included rates for those of FRENCH and HOLLAND making indicates that they were traded.
Found described as BLUE, BOARD, CHILD, COARSE, CORK (i.e. from IRELAND), Drinking, FINE, FRENCH, FRINGED, of HOLLAND making, HOME MADE, HOUSEHOLD, Laidwork, LITTLE, LONG, NARROW, NEW, OLD, ORDINARY, PLAIN, Round, STRIPED, Thin, Torn, WROUGHT, YARD long Found describing CLOTH Found made of CANVAS, DAMASK, DIAPER, FLAXEN, HEMP, HOLLAND, HUCKABACK, HURDEN, LINEN, LOCKRAM, SCOTCH CLOTH, TOWEN
Found in unit of DOZEN Found rated by the DOZEN
A form of GEAR in the WEAVERS LOOM, presumably intended for weaving a NAPKIN or NAPKINING. Its precise distinctiveness is uncertain, but it was probably for weaving either DIAPER or DAMASK (most likely the former), both of which were commonly used to make napkins. However, the context of the only example in the Dictionary Archive suggests something fairly simple. The only example of napkin gears belonged to a weaver who had a variety of gears, though only one LOOM. His two 'napkin geares' valued at only 1s each were considerably less valuable than his '12 Linin geares' at 3s each or his '3 woolin geares' at 4s [Inventories (1684)].
A device used for pressing articles made of LINEN such as the NAPKIN. It consisted of two flat boards that could be pressed together by the application of a spiral screw [Gloag (1952, revised 1991)]. Usually they had a stand or stood on a table as in '1 napkin presse & 1 old table' [Inventories (1674)]. Although known since the sixteenth century, they appear in the Dictionary Archive only after 1660. They seem to have been one of those 'new' items that became popular for furnishing the houses of the middling sort. They were quite expensive; one noted was valued at 12s [Inventories (1711)].
A PERFUMED WATER, known only because it was included among a list of TOILETRY items in a newspaper advertisement [Newspapers (1770)]. Nothing is known about its ingredients. 'Dew' was a word use alliteratively to denote refreshment and youth.
A PIGMENT prepared from ANTIMONY and LEAD in the form of a fine powder, presumably first made in Naples and in use by the 1730s. It was first mentioned by English writers on painting at the beginning of the eighteenth century, but they relied heavily on continental sources. There was much speculation about its composition, until the middle of the century when it was established to be a manufactured rather than a natural product. It was never popular in this country, because it was hard to grind and to prepare [Harley (1970)].