Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities, 1550-1820. Originally published by University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, 2007.
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Note that the term was often used elliptically for goods made of SHEEPSKIN, particularly GLOVES, as in '16 p'r mens Cull'rd Sheepe' [Inventories (1679)]. The sheep is a domesticated ruminant animal descended from the species Ovis aries, of which there were already several varieties in the early modern period, such as the Romneys bred on Romney Marsh in Kent, and the Southdowns of the Sussex downs. One of the most important sheep-rearing areas was Norfolk, home to breeds suitable for producing wool for weaving WORSTED. As an act of 1541 stated, 'Norfolk, hath been always ... the making and weaving of Worsteds and other Cloths which hath been made and woven of the Yarn called Worsted Yarn, spun of the Wooll growing and coming of the Sheep bred only in Norfolk' [Acts (1541)]. Other breeds were found in different parts of the country producing wools with particular characteristics. According to Worlidge, for example, the Hereford sheep from about Leominster gave the 'fairest fleeces', but the DUTCH were more prolific, often bearing twins or even triplets. He also referred to the quality of fleece from SPANISH sheep [Worlidge (1669)].
Sheep were also valued for their flesh (called MUTTON or LAMB), HORN, and SKIN, and to a lesser extent in Britain, for their milk. In the early-modern period those kept primarily for their meat were often shorn of wool in the summer of their birth and sold as store lambs to be finished by arable farmers, graziers and butchers. They were slaughtered for meat either as hoggets (over a year old), or kept for another year, by which time they became very fat. [Mason and Brown (1999)]. Like most farm animals, sheep were known under various names depending on their sex, age, condition and the locality. The entire male was usually called a RAM, although TUP and WETHER were more common in some areas, the mature female was called a EWE, her offspring a LAMB. At the intermediate stages the animal had several names, mostly regional, including HOG.
Probate inventories provide some detail about sheep-keeping, though the selection in the Dictionary Archive selected primarily for their information on internal trade, gives most information about those for whom keeping livestock was only of secondary importance. As a result, especially in the early part of the period, flocks of sheep were quite small, rarely numbering as many as two dozen, though there were a few large flocks such as the 'xiij score & xv shepe' valued at £21 [Inventories (1541)], and the 'one C and iiij shepe' at £11 2s [Inventories (1544)]. One entry shows something of the complexity of rearing sheep, recording a payment 'ffor wintring of 84 sheepe till the 13th of ffebruary' [Inventories (1631)]. The breeding stock was only sometimes differentiated; on farmer had 'thirty Ews & lambs' valued at 90s, and nineteene other sheep at 38s [Inventories (1684)]. Less clear in meaning is the entry for 'xxxj Shepe and vij of the' Cupples' in all worth £9 10s [Inventories (1577)]; presumably the 'cupples' were those with lamb.
Veterinary medicine was as prone to quackery as that for humans, and there were plenty of QUACK MEDICINE available to the shepherd, including 'Ewbank's Composition for preventing the Fly striking sheep 4s per pot' [Newspapers (1780)], and 'Chatteris's Remedy for the Halt in Sheep' [Newspapers (1790)].
It has been noted only among the stock of an eighteenth-century knife-sheath maker and presumably is a label for the SHEEPSKIN he was preparing for the sheathes he was making [Inventories (1714)]. Whereas his sheep stuff was measured by weight, his wet sheep stuff was measured by the STRIKE in the sense of a BUNDLE. This interpretation is supported by the inventory of a near contemporary OIL - LEATHER dresser, who had among other SKINs 150 STRIKE of WET - PIECEs [Inventories (1741)].
The SKIN of a SHEEP, used especially to make APPAREL or PARCHMENT, was commonly dressed with ALUM or with OIL rather than being TANNED. When RAW and UNDRESSED such a skin was technically a SHEEP PELT, although names of skins were not always used with precision. At least from [Acts (1606)] onwards sheepskins were neither searched nor sealed so that production was relatively unregulated and merchants and processors were freer to use their own terms. However, some sources like the Gloucester Coastal Port Books did use a relatively consistent vocabulary and can therefore be used in conjunction with the Dictionary Archive to indicate the stages a skin went through from the moment it was taken from the sheep's carcass to the final SHEEP LEATHER. Many skins were transported IN THE WOOL or IN THE HAIR, the latter probably from WALES where the sheep's wool was noticeably hairy. These pelts would have been unprocessed except for an initial drying (hence DRY SHEEP PELT), or packed wet in salt (hence WET SHEEP PELT) for transportation. Once at the yard of the tanner or dresser, the skins were cleansed and then soaked in LIME (hence IN THE LIME) to facilitate the removal of the wool or hair and the fatty tissue. Only then was the skin ready for the chosen method of tanning or dressing. Although the 'Sheep skins blue of France' were rated at over 3s apiece, suggesting a high value overall, and one sheepskin defined as LARGE was deemed to be worth 10d, most sheepskins were worth very little, often being valued at 6d or less. Tanners and dressers must, therefore, have looked for innovative methods of preservation to make the skins to look like those of higher value. With this in mind, SUMACH was used as a tanning agent to make an imitation SPANISH LEATHER, while at least one operator processed his skins intended for making GLOVEs in a secret way to make them as good as KIDSKIN, thereby making a large profit [Acts (1800)]; [Diaries (Pepys)].
The rise of certain TEXTILEs for BREECHES instead of LEATHER and the replacement of parchment by PAPER for many purposes, may have caused sheepskins to lose some of their traditional uses. Although noted in a wide range of sources, sheepskins do not appear in either NEWSPAPERS or TRADECARDS, two essentially eighteenth-century sources, a possible indication of waning importance.
Found described as BEST, BLUE of France, COLOURED, DRESSED, DRESSED in OIL, DRIED, DRY, ENGLISH, frise, IN THE WOOL, LARGE, ORDINARY, PELT, in the ROUGH, TANNED, TAWED, UNDRESSED, WASH LEATHER, without wool Found used to make BELLOWS, BREECHES Found intended for BASSEL, GLOVES
Found in units of DOZEN, PIECE, SCORE Found rated by the DOZEN, HUNDRED (TAWED - IN THE WOOL: 120; PELTs: 100), HUNDREDWEIGHT, SKIN
Sheffield in southern Yorkshire is situated at the conjunction of the River Sheaf and the River Don. It was well sited for manufacture, having nearby sources of IRON and streams for water power. After 1751 the River Don was made navigable - a further boost to the town. In 1761 the first stagecoach left for London, and the following year a theatre and a public assembly room were built by subscription. Sheffield's first bank was opened in 1786, and a fine infirmary in 1793. Abraham Rees claimed that he mentioned these in some detail as they were 'calculated to display the progressive benefits resulting from successful industry and ingenuity, the contemplation of which can scarcely fail to excite pleasurable emotions in every breast' [Rees (1819-20, 1972 ed.)]. However, the amenities of the town and its architectural qualities never excited the attention of travellers like BIRMINGHAM or MANCHESTER did, though they remained fascinated by the iron works [Cox and Dannehl (2007 forthcoming)].
Sheffield had long been a centre of the manufacture of IRON, becoming a STAPLE for IRON WARE in the thirteenth century. For several centuries, however, this was confined almost entirely to making EDGE TOOLs, and in particular SHEATH knives, SCISSORS, SICKLEs and SCYTHEs. In the sixteenth century, production was assisted by the arrival of Flemish immigrants [Simpson (online)]. In the early seventeenth century the JEWS HARP and 'an ordinary kind of tobacco box of iron' were added to the range. In 1625 the master cutlers were incorporated as the 'Company of Cutlers of Hallamshire' [Rees (1819-20, 1972 ed.)].
In the 1740s Benjamin Huntsman (1704-1776), a Sheffield man born to German parents, made huge improvements to the then current methods of making STEEL. As so often happens with innovations generally, this new product was rejected by the Cutlers of Sheffield who claimed the steel was too hard to work. As a result, the Sheffield cutlers lost out for a time to manufacturers in France, who had adopted the methods and began to export knives to England. However, by the 1750s, the Sheffield cutlers themselves had apparently mastered the new steel [Simpson (online)].
By the second half of the eighteenth century, the manufacture of SHEFFIELD WARE was roughly divided into two divisions; the making of SHEFFIELD PLATE, the manufacture of which was more or less confined to the town, and that of CUTLERY and other edge tools, which was more widespread, with workers scattered throughout the surrounding country [Rees (1819-20, 1972 ed.)].
See also SHEFFIELD KNIFE.
Sources: Acts, Inventories (early), Houghton, Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Rates, Tradecards.
References: Cox and Dannehl (2007 forthcoming), Rees (1819-20, abridged 1972), Simpson (online).
A KNIFE manufactured in SHEFFIELD, which was famous for its CUTLERY. Sheffield knives were clearly identifiable, and before 1700 were listed as such by appraisers, for example [Inventories (1577)]. After that date, knives have not been noted as from Sheffield in probate inventories, though they were still seen as worth listing to promote the quality of a retailer's wares, as in the advertisement for 'Sheffield Cutlery, consisting of Table and Carving Knives and Forks, Desert Knives and Forks, Pen and Pocket-Knives, Scissors and Razors' [Newspapers (1782)].
In 1742, Thomas Bolsover of Sheffield (1704-1788) pioneered the making of Sheffield Plate. This was done by fusing SILVER and COPPER ingots and rolling them together. A thin sheet of silver was placed above and below the copper to make a sandwich and the whole was then heated and rolled. It was at first used to make BUTTONs but was soon adopted for a wide variety of goods. Sheffield Plate was known and used throughout the world, but was ultimately superseded by the electroplating process developed in 1840 [Simpson (online)]. Unlike the manufacture of CUTLERY and EDGE TOOLs, for which Sheffield was also famous, that of Sheffield plate was confined to the town [Rees (1819-20, 1972 ed.)]. The rapid expansion of the manufacture led to inevitable skill shortages, and the equally inevitable advertisements for skilled workers from other centres of expertise, as the one in a Birmingham newspapers for a 'Dye Cutter, for the Plated Business' who was 'Wanted immediately' [Newspapers (1780)]. The importance of these plated goods is reflected in an act of 1773 'for appointing Wardens and Assay Masters for assaying Wrought Plate ... in Sheffield and Birmingham' [Acts (1773)].
Advertisement show the range of goods available in Sheffield plate. One for example claimed to sell 'at reduced Prices, all Sorts of Sheffield Plated Goods of the best Quality, Variety of Table and Desert Knives and Forks in Silver, Plated, Ivory, Buck, Stag and Wood Hafts, Penknives, Scissars, and Razors, by the best Makers' [Newspapers (1790)].
Also known as Sheffield goods, the two terms seem to have been interchangeable. They denoted CUTLERY, EDGE TOOLs, SHEFFIELD PLATE and other similar goods made in SHEFFIELD, or possibly in the style or fashion of articles made there. Sheffield ware was roughly divided into two; those goods long produced in the town and the surrounding countryside that made Sheffield famous for its TOOLs and cutlery, and the luxury goods, that is Sheffield plate, made in the town.
In trade the term was often associated with BIRMINGHAM WARE in phrases such as 'Sheffield & Birmingham goods', to the extent that they almost appear to have been regarded as synonymous. Whatever the subtle distinctions between the two, the quality of the goods subsumed under the two terms denoted quality. The connotation was even used by one London cutler, who saw fit to add to his advertisement, which lauded the goods he himself made and sold, that he also stocked 'all Sorts of Birmingham & Sheffield Ware' [Tradecards (18c.)]. Another London advertisement gives some indication of some of the 'Sheffield & Birmingham Goods' available, though the list was by no means complete: 'VIZ. Knives, Sizers, Buckles, Buttons, Combs & Snuff Boxes' [Tradecards (18c.)]. Even in the spa town Bath there was a 'London, Sheffield & Birmingham Repository' in the 1780s [Tradecards (1789)].
A DUCK found frequenting sandy coasts in Europe and elsewhere, it is remarkable for its bright and varied colouring. It was also edible, hence the 'six larg young shell Ducks', bought by Nicholas Blundell for 1s apiece [Diaries (Blundell)].