Spring water - Spur leather

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

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Spring water


Water issuing or obtained from a spring or fountain and therefore probably purer than that from other sources like rivers, particularly those that ran through settlements. The term may also have been used for SPA WATER, though it has not been noted used in that way in the Dictionary Archive. Frederick Accum, who was writing well before the possible bacterial contamination of water was appreciated, characterised that taken from springs as being of a relatively uniform temperature and usually hard. He considered it less pure than river water, which was 'generally soft, and more free from earthy salts' [Accum (1820)]. Despite this rather disparaging assessment of spring water, writers of cookery books seem to have preferred it, and it was frequently specified, for example [Diaries (Blundell)]; [Recipes (Eales)].

OED earliest date of use: c1440

Sources: Diaries, Houghton, Recipes.
References: Accum (1820).



Spruce was a common corruption of 'Prussian', a term that was hardly if ever used in early-modern trade except in the commodity PRUSSIAN BLUE.

More specifically, spruce was a label used for various useful and decorative FIRs giving a SOFT WOOD that was valued at the time. Because the resources of northern Europe had been little exploited, mature trees with long straight trunks were available that were suitable for MASTs; hence John Houghton's comment that 'for masts, &c. those of Prussia, call'd Spruce, and Norway, (especially from Gottenberg) are the best; except those of New-England, which are preferable to any of them' [Houghton]. As the supplies from Europe thinned, and because war sometimes threatened trade from the Baltic, similar supplies were sought from America, and the name of 'spruce' was given to trees like the HEMLOCK that had similar characteristics [Houghton]. The SEED of several varieties was available for sale, and they were found in advertisements like the one for 'Newfoundland black spruce Newfoundland white spruce Newfoundland red spruce Hemlock spruce' [Tradecards (n.d.)].

OED earliest date of use: 1497 as a corruption of Prussia; 1670 as the tree


Sources: Acts, Houghton, Inventories (early), Rates, Tradecards.

Spruce beer

[beer spruce]

A medicinal drink believed to have antiscorbutic properties and to have an effect on the kidneys. It could be made from a normal MALT wort or, according to Sambrook, more usually from an unhopped TREACLE or SUGAR wort. In either case an ESSENCE OF SPRUCE was then added [Sambrook (1996)]. Skill claimed that it required 'so little Trouble to make this Beer, that a Person may make a Hogshead in ten Minutes, and it will be fit to drink in a few Days' [Tradecards (1800)]. The essence was available in the shops for home brewing, but so was spruce beer. No recipe for making it has been noted. Its presence in the Books of Rates suggest that some at least was imported. The use of the descriptor DANTZIG [Tradecards (19c.)] suggests that it may have originated in the region of SPRUCE, but the label could equally well have come from the spruce fir.

OED earliest date of use: c1500

Found described as DANTZIG
Found imported by BARREL Found rated by the BARREL of 32 GALLON

Sources: Houghton, Inventories (late), Newspapers, Rates, Tradecards.
References: Sambrook (1996).

Spruce canvas

[spruse canvas; spruce-canvas; spruce elbing or queensborough canvas]

A TEXTILE in the form of a CANVAS made in or pertaining to Prussia. John Houghton noted that in the 1690s very large quantities of canvas were imported from DANTZIG, the main exporting outlet from Prussia [Houghton]. In the 1784 Book of Rates 'spruce canvas' was listed under PACKING CANVAS [Rates (1784)], presumably because that was its main use.

OED earliest date of use: 1640

Found imported by the ELL
Found rated by the BOLT of 28 ELL, C containing 120 ELL

Sources: Acts, Houghton, Inventories (early), Rates.

Spruce chest

[spruse cheste; sprues hest; chests of spruce]

An article of FURNITURE, probably a synonym for DANSK CHEST. Its name suggests either they came from Prussia, otherwise known as SPRUCE, and the surrounding area, or that they were made of the wood from the Spruce fir. Both possibilites are likely and would have equally applied. The phrasing in the Books of Rates is interesting, for, typically, spruce chests were entered as 'Chests of spruce or dansk the nest contayning three' [Rates (1582)]. This suggests they came in a NEST of three, but whether this always applied is not clear. Probably similar were the Spruce COFFER [Inventories (1538)], and the 'spruce Counter the middlest of the nest' [Inventories (1544)]. The name, but not necessarily the object, became uncommon in the second half of the seventeenth century.

There are a few domestic examples in the Dictionary Archive not in fact designated as in nests, though the turn of phrase in one case is suggestive [Inventories (1626)]. They could be surprisingly valuable; in one instance a spruce chest was appraised at 20s, and another at 10s [Inventories (1581)]; [Inventories (1616)].

OED earliest date of use: 1461

Found described as SMALL
Found in units of NEST

Sources: Inventories (early), Rates.

Spruce deal

[spruce-deal; spruce deale]

DEAL either imported from SPRUCE, that is Prussia; or made from the wood of the SPRUCE fir. It is likley that originally both would have applied, but by the eighteenth century much came also from America where other related species of spruce grow.

OED earliest date of use: 1627

Found rated by the HUNDRED of 120, PIECE

Sources: Rates.

Spruce eel

[spruce elle; spruce eele]

Presumably a type of EEL imported from Germany and one that the Customs officials wanted to include in the Rates, in which they were rated along with STUB EEL above that for other types of eel [Rates (1582)]; [Rates (1660)]. They were not rated in 1784, perhaps because the importation of all but QUICK EEL had been prohibited in 1666 [Acts (1666)]. This suggests that spruce eels were already processed to some extent on importation, perhaps DRIED or SMOKED or packed in BRINE.

OED earliest date of use: 1524 but no definition

Found rated by the BARREL

See also SHAFT EEL.
Sources: Rates.

Spruce flax

[spruce muscovie, and all flax; spruce muscovie and all flax undrest]

FLAX from PRUSSIA, probably identical with or similar to DANTZIG FLAX. From the occasional references to it in official documents of the Dictionary Archive, it was imported as UNDRESSED FLAX [Rates (1657)]; [Rates (1660)].

Not found in the OED

Found rated by the HUNDREDWEIGHT OF 112 LB

Sources: Houghton, Rates.

Spruce hemp

[spruce moscovia and all other rough hemp]

Spruce hemp is a term found only once in the Dictionary Archive. It was applied to HEMP imported from SPRUCE (i.e. Prussia). According to the entry in the 1660 Book of Rates it was imported unprocessed as ROUGH HEMP [Rates (1660)]. Other hemps from the same sort of area, but perhaps of better quality were called RIGA HEMP and PETERBOROUGH HEMP.

Not found in the OED

Found rated by the HUNDREDWEIGHT of 112 POUND

Sources: Rates.

Spruce iron

[spruse and swethish iron; iron armys spanish spruce]

Spruce iron was the term used to describe SWEDISH IRON that had been processed in Danzig and other ports of the southern Baltic before being re-exported through the Sound to west European markets. Spruce is most likely a corruption of 'Prussian'.

In the sixteenth century the iron smelted and fined by peasant-miners in central Sweden was exported to Danzig and there drawn out into long, thin bars - the conventional form in which malleable iron was traded internationally. In the second quarter of the seventeenth century, however, the Swedish state undertook a thorough re-organisation of the nation's iron industry. Henceforth bars were to be manufactured in Sweden itself and exported direct to foreign markets. From the 1630s Danzig's forge hammers fell silent and the term Spruce iron became an anachronism; thus the curious anomaly, as reported in the early eighteenth century, 'that you find Prussia but no Swedish Iron in the English Book of Rates' [TNA: PRO, CO 390/12, fo. 93r]. [Hildebrand (1992)]. Spruce iron was listed in the 1582 Book of Rates [Rates (1582)] and again in 1660 [Rates (1660)], but thereafter it had indeed disappeared.

OED earliest date of use: 1550-1600

Chris Evans

Found rated by the C of 112 LB, HUNDREDWEIGHT, TON of 20 CWT

Sources: Rates.
References: Hildebrand (1992).

Spruce leather

[spruce lether]

Either LEATHER imported from Prussia, or SPRUCE SKINs processed in this country. This leather was apparently often or always TAWED rather than TANNED, and the soft pliable result would have been particularly suitable for some APPAREL like HOSE, hence the entry in the 1582 Book of Rates of 'Spruce skinnes for hose' [Rates (1582)]. It has also been noted to make a JERKIN, which may have required a rather tougher leather [Inventories (1555)].

Not found in the OED

Sources: Inventories (early).

Spruce skin

[spruce skinne]

SKINs imported from Prussia intended for processing into LEATHER rather than for use as a FUR [Rates (1582)]. In the sixteenth century at least the skins were most often TAWED and the soft pliable result used to make HOSE; hence 'Spruce skinnes for hose' listed in the 1582 Book of Rates [Rates (1582)].

OED earliest date of use: 1570

Found described as for HOSE, TAWED
Found rated by the DOZEN

Sources: Rates.

Spruce yarn

[spruce-yarn; spruce yarne; spruce raw linen yarn; spruce or muscovia yarn]

A type of LINEN YARN identified with SPRUCE, an earlier form of the name for Prussia. Although it may originally have been made in that area, by the late-seventeenth century it was imported out of DANTZIG, the main port serving Prussia, as well as from Sweden and HOLLAND [Houghton]. Various texts suggest that by the mid-eighteenth century the term had become synonymous with imported RAW LINEN YARN or BROWN linen yarn [Acts (1751)]; [Acts (1756)].

OED earliest date of use: 1656

Found imported by the C, LB, TON Found rated by C of 112 LB, HUNDREDWEIGHT of 112 LB

Sources: Acts, Houghton, Rates.

Spur leather


A STRAP made of LEATHER to secure a SPUR to the BOOT

OED earliest date of use: 1598

Sources: Acts.