Gear - Genoway buttons


University of Wolverhampton



Nancy Cox and Karin Dannehl

Year published


Supporting documents

Citation Show another format:

'Gear - Genoway buttons', Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities, 1550-1820 (2007). URL: Date accessed: 20 April 2014. Add to my bookshelf


(Min 3 characters)


[gere; geer; gearing; geare]

The term has a variety of meanings, many of which appear in the Dictionary Archive. The OED considers these meanings under three main headings: equipment, apparatus and stuff. Examples of all three are found in the Dictionary Archive.

Under equipment, gear is noted in in the Dictionary Archive associated with APPAREL as in 'his apparrell Linnen and woollen wth his rideing geare and one litle gray nagg' [Inventories (1662)]. It is clear in this example and in others that, the gear is firmly associated with a HORSE although it is also regarded in some ways as personal like articles of clothing. It is dealt with more fully under RIDING GEAR.

OED earliest date of use in this specific sense: a1400-50, though there are examples in a more general sense of apparel going back to the beginning of the thirteenth century

Whereas Gear in the sense of riding gear was associated at least as much with the owner as with the horse, it is not so with gear as HARNESS for draught animals. In the many cases of this type of gear in the Dictionary Archive, the association is usually with the vehicle to be pulled; hence CART GEAR and PLOUGH GEAR, although HORSE GEAR is the exception in this respect, while HUSBANDRY GEAR may apply generally to all IMPLEMENTS OF HUSBANDRY and not just to harness.

OED online earliest date of use: a1300

Under the general heading of Apparatus, which are generally first found in the OED rather later, the principal meaning in the Dictionary Archive is for an essential part of the WEAVERS LOOM. Here, gear was the collective term for the HEDDLE - HARNESS, pulleys and TREADLEs, as in such entries as '2 paire of loomes to work in for weaving wth geares' [Inventories (1626)], and 'Two Loomes w'th Gears & other matearialls belonging to a Weaver' [Inventories (1688)]. In this sense, the gear was sometimes known as a LEAF. Different types of weaving gears were usually differentiated by a descriptor, indicating the sort of loom involved, hence COVERLET GEAR, JERSEY GEAR, LINEN GEAR, NAPKIN GEAR, WOOLLEN GEAR, etc.

OED online earliest date of use: 1500

Included also under this general heading of apparatus are various mechanisms designed control or enhance the application of power. Early and simple examples in the Dictionary Archive include 'An old paire of bellowes, a Stithy, & certaine Smithy geare' [Inventories (1631)], and 'the horsse myll ... w'th all going gear to the same horsse myll belonging' [Inventories (1602)]. Similar in meaning is the nautical application of the term to Rigging in general, particularly the rigging of a SPAR or SAIL, as in 'the shippe w'th all it geare and furniture' [Inventories (1623)].

By the eighteenth century the term was used increasingly in the modern sense, as 'Wheels working one upon another, by means of teeth'. This type of gear grew in importance during the period, although it does not appear very often in the Dictionary Archive. This is because such gears would have been incorporated as an essential component into a machine, which in turn would often have been a fixture. It appears therefore in this sense only in the patents, as in 'Wire-cylinders worked by a gear, and used in wind or water-mills' [Patents (1770)], and 'Cog-wheel, crab, or capstan, with gear to work ships' pumps' [Patents (1797)].

OED online earliest date of use: 1523 in the general sense; 1829 in the modern sense

The third major meaning given in the OED for Gear is 'stuff' in the sense of goods, movable property, household necessaries and utensils. The distinction made by the OED between the second and the third group is an interesting example of differentiation between industrial and domestic apparatus, though in many cases domestic gear could be classified as 'apparatus' more easily than as 'stuff'. The distinction is retained here nevertheless. In this sense of household necessaries and utensils, gear can rarely be defined precisely. For example, the entry 'the ffire geer angarns toungus cotterells bellews' may have been intended to distinguish the 'ffire geer' from the utensils specifically named or it may be itemising those merely as examples [Inventories (1687)]. In other cases the meaning is more specific though no more precise. For example in 'Brass Candlesticke & other brass Geare' [Inventories (1690)], 'brass geare' appears to have been synonymous with BRASS WARE, but excluding the BRASS CANDLESTICK, while in 'Beames Scales weights measures & other Shopp geares' [Inventories (1674)], 'Shopp geares' was probably synonymous with SHOP TOOLS.

OED online earliest date of use: a1300

Sources: Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Patents.



The term has the broad meaning of 'common' and may be found in any period and in any source, and the Dictionary Archive contains numerous examples of its use in this sense. However, it would seem that the term acquired some different and indeed more positive connotations in the course of the eighteenth century. For example, it was used in the name of one quack medicine 'Godfrey's General Cordial' [Newspapers (1790)], presumably to imply its efficacy in treating a great number of conditions. It was used in ways similar to other terms like 'universal' and 'unrivalled' as in Burgess' advertisement for ANCHOVY ESSENCE that he claimed 'has given such universal satisfaction for Eighteen Years and for the excellency of which he stands unrivalled [Tradecards (18c.)] or Skill's LAVENDER WATER 'certain to give universal Satisfaction' [Tradecards (1800)].

The term was also used by some trades people in the eighteenth century to indicate their occupation in a favourable light as in 'Purveyor General & Oilman' [Tradecards (1800)], 'General Ironmongers and Manufacturers' [Tradecards (18c.)], 'General TOY Manufacturers' [Tradecards (18c.)] and 'GENERAL PRINTERS & STATIONERS' [Tradecards (18c.)]. This use seems to be unlike the later attachment of the term to small business like village and corner shop, but rather to denote a broad range goods made and/or sold by a high-class establishment.

A different use of the term, though the OED suggests it comes from the same Latin root, was as a PIGMENT, common in the middle ages but falling into disfavour during the seventeenth century because it lacked brilliancy. It was apparently a synonym for 'massicot', a mixed oxide of LEAD and TIN giving YELLOW [Harley (1970)].

OED earliest date of use: 1340 or earlier but 1466 as a pigment

Found listed among the DRUGS, rated by the HUNDRED of 100 LB, HUNDREDWEIGHT, POUND

Sources: Inventories (early), Newspapers, Rates, Tradecards.
References: Harley (1970).


[jennet; jenet]

A kind of civet cat, a native of southern Europe, western Asia and Africa. It provided a FUR coloured either BLACK or GREY.

OED online earliest date of use: 1418 as the FUR

Found described by BLACK, GREY, RAW, seasoned
Found rated by the PIECE, SKIN, TIMBER

Sources: Rates.


[jeneve; cologn's-geneva]

A town in Switzerland that had little importance in terms of trade with England. However, 'geneva' is also a term derived from the French for Juniper. In this sense it was a type of SPIRITS usually, but not necessarily, distilled from GRAIN, flavoured with the juice of JUNIPER BERRIES. Although spirits made from grain may not have originated in Holland, it was there that this type of the drink became established. For this reason, it was sometimes called HOLLANDS or Hollands geneva, for example [Newspapers (1780)]. Despite the fact that he did not introduce the drink to England, Prince William and the Glorious Revolution, as his accession came to be known, became strongly linked in the minds of the British people with the consumption of geneva. A good example is Alexander Blunt's poem of 1729, which contained the lines 'Martial WILLIAM drank GENEVA, yet no age could ever boast a braver prince than he' [Dillon (2002, pb 2003)].

The reign of William III and Mary saw a great rise in the consumption of spirits. In 1690 Parliament passed an act 'for encouraging the Distilling of Brandy and Spirits from Corn' [Acts (1690)]. This gave British distillers an advantage by lowering the duties on LOW WINE (the product of the first stage in making geneva or any other spirits based on grain) made from British corn. The resulting surge in the drinking of spirits later caused Parliament huge anxiety and some largely useless regulations to restrict the importation of geneva, like the act of 1765 that stipulated no geneva was to be imported in vessels containing less than 60 GALLON [Acts (1765)].

GIN was a similar, but not identical, drink to geneva though the two terms were not always accurately used. Generally speaking, the label 'geneva' was reserved for the foreign imported product, and 'gin' for the British, but this distinction was not invariably made. Since the imported was deemed superior, probably those English who wished to add status to their drink, labelled it as 'geneva'. Richard Bradley, for example, gave a recipe for what he called 'Cologn's geneva' by adding crushed juniper berries to BRANDY [Recipes (Bradley, R.)], while George Bishop called his, admittedly superior product MAIDSTONE GENEVA[Acts (1788)]. Advertisers were keen to extol the quality of their foreign geneva using phrases like the 'very finest over-proof Rotterdam Geneva, in which Oil will sink' [Newspapers (1780)], and 'The real Hollands geneva, warranted genuine' [Newspapers (1780)]. However, others advertised the foreign and the British, although the latter was invariably much cheaper [Inventories (1764)].

Although one entry recording 'Geneva paper' has been noted, [Inventories (1676)], it is probable that GENOA PAPER was intended - Genova is a recognized variant of Genoa and the town was a centre of paper-making.

OED earliest date of use: 1706

Found in units of CASK, GALLON, JUG, PIECE, QUART Found rated by the GALLON

Sources: Acts, Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Rates, Recipes.
References: Dillon (2002, pb 2003).

Geneva Bible

A version of the BIBLE in English based on the translation by William Tyndale, though with some additions from the work of Robert Estienne [Peake and Parsons (eds) (n.d.)]. It was first printed in GENEVA in 1560. Although it does not appear in the Dictionary Archive as such, the entry in a probate inventory of 'a boste bybell w'th ye Jeneve printe' valued at 10s clearly recorded a copy of it [Inventories (1602)].

OED online earliest date of use: c1570

Sources: Inventories (early).
References: Peake and Parsons (eds) (n.d.).



Any plant of the genus Genista, but particularly Genista tinctoria, known in the vernacular as dyer's broom or greenwood. A version of the PIGMENT called PINK was made from the leaves and stems, though this was never common [Harley (1970)]. As its name suggests, it could also be used as a DYESTUFF to produce a YELLOW. It was probably never very much used as it competed with WELD, which had the advantage that it could be picked and stored for a year without losing its tinctorial power, whereas Genista could not [Ponting (1980, pb 1981)].

Genista was also used in medicine, but the common broom, Cytisus scoparius, also known as Genista scoparia or Spartium scoparium, is probably the plant chiefly used in the early-modern period under this label. The tops were the officinal part. They have a disagreeable bitter taste, and have diuretic properties if taken in small quantities; large doses can have more serious effects. The flowers contain a VOLATILE OIL, yellow fat and a WAX [Felter and Lloyd (1898)], and it is probably from these that OLEUM GENISTAE and UNGUENTUM GENISTAE were derived.

OED earliest date of use: 1578

See also BROOM SEED.
Sources: Inventories (early).
References: Felter and Lloyd (1898), Harley (1970), Ponting (1980, pb 1981).


[jeane; genova; genona; gennua]

Also Genova or Genoway, it is the name of the city in Italy which gave its name to a number of goods originally produced there. It was particularly noted as a centre for the manufacture of high quality TEXTILE products, largely or whole made of SILK, such as SARSENET of GENOA, DAMASK OF GENOA, GENOA SATIN, GENOA TABBY, GENOA VELVET and articles of HABERDASHERY based on SILK, such as GENOWAY BUTTONS and GOLD OF GENOA. The name of Genoa also became associated with a number of other commodities. Some are typically ITALIAN like GENOA OIL and Genoa MACARONI, but others are less so. It is not always clear why these goods came to be given the descriptor of Genoa or how they differed from others, but it may be that using the name of an ITALIAN city was seen to give commercial advantage, denoting fashionability and quality.

OED earliest date of use: 1615


Sources: Acts, Inventories (late), Newspapers, Rates, Tradecards.

Genoa oil

[oyles viz genoa; genona oyle; genoa oyle; genoa and lamp oils]

An identifiable and good form of OLIVE OIL, comparable with FLORENCE OIL and LUCCA OIL. One association suggests it may have been used primarily as a LAMP OIL [Newspapers (1790)].

Not found in the OED online

Found in units of CASK, JAR

Sources: Inventories (mid-period), Newspapers, Tradecards.

Genoa paper

[geneva paper]

An apparently recognizable quality of PAPER, found occasionally in the shops, but otherwise only in the long list of rateable paper in the 1784 Book of Rates [Rates (1784)]. All the papers listed there and using the descriptor of GENOA were of reasonable quality and suitable for WRITING PAPER, DRAWING PAPER or PRINTING PAPER, and it may be assumed that the manufacture of paper at Genoa was well established. In a probate inventory '2 Reames 14 qu Geneva paper' were found [Inventories (1676)]. In this case the descriptor has been taken to be a variant of Genoway or Genova, both accepted variants of Genoa.

Found in units of QUIRE, REAM

Sources: Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Rates.

Genoa satin

[sattins plain and wrought, of genoa]

A SATIN manufactured in GENOA, a noted TEXTILE centre of excellence in the production of fine made wholly or largely of SILK.

Found described by PLAIN, WROUGHT

Sources: Rates.

Genoa tabby

[tabbies broad of genoa; gennua tabby]

The ITALIAN city of GENOA was a centre for the production of TEXTILEs made of SILK and the TABBY produced there was of a high quality, commanding a correspondingly high price. In one document, for example, Genoa tabby has been noted valued at 5s ELL and (broad) at 8s YARD, while 'Stript & waterd Scoth Tabby' was valued at a mere 1s YARD [Inventories (1668)].

Found described by BROAD, SKY coloured
Found in units of ELL, YARD

Sources: Inventories (mid-period), Rates.

Genoa treacle

[trecle gene; jene triacill]

A form of TREACLE, presumably emanating from GENOA, or associated with that city. How it differed from other treacles like LONDON TREACLE and VENICE TREACLE is not clear, although like them it probably contained a great many ingredients. Although it had been rated in 1545, it had disappeared from the Books of Rates by 1582 and does not appear in the eighteenth century pharmacopoeias. However, it has been note in seventeenth-century shops and was apparently still available in the eighteenth century as is suggested by the OED's citation from J. Bartlet's Gentleman's Farriery of 1753.

OED earliest date of use: 1479 under Treacle as 'tryacle of Jenne'

Sources: Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period).

Genoa velvet

[genoa, dutch & english velvets; genoa & dutch velvets]

Genoese VELVET was considered by Caulfeild and Saward as 'very superior, and ... perhaps, the best quality produced'. Both the pile and the web were of SILK. They quote a story by De Quincey concerning the coronation of Charles I that indicates that the quality of this TEXTILE had long been appreciated. Apparently the demand for purple velvet was insufficient so, it being too late to send to GENOA for further supplies, the king was incorrectly attired in white velvet. This unfortunate occurrence was subsequently seen to fulfil the prophecy of the great magician Merlin regarding the 'White King' [Caulfeild and Saward (1885, facs.1989)].

In the 1780s a dyer claimed that he could produce 'the right Genoa Velvet Black equal in colour to new' [Newspapers (1780)], suggesting that Genoa velvet retained its desirability into the eighteenth century.

OED earliest date of use: 1839

Sources: Tradecards.
References: Caulfeild and Saward (1885, facs.1989).

Genoway buttons

[genevey threed buttons; genevay silke buttons]

BUTTONS, probably always largely or entirely of SILK, manufactured at GENOA, for which 'Genoway' is a recognized variant.

Not found in the OED

Found described by COLOURED, SILK, SMALL, THREAD
Found in units of GROSS

Sources: Inventories (early).