Glossary of Terms Used in the Medieval Fur Trade

The English Fur Trade in the Later Middle Ages. Originally published by London Record Society, London, 2003.

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'Glossary of Terms Used in the Medieval Fur Trade', in The English Fur Trade in the Later Middle Ages, (London, 2003) pp. 215-229. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/london-record-soc/vol38/pp215-229 [accessed 24 April 2024]

In this section

GLOSSARY OF TERMS USED IN THE MEDIEVAL FUR TRADE

No serious attempt has hitherto been made in English to explain the many technical terms used in the medieval fur trade. A few were dealt with by J. Hodgkin, 'Grise: Grey: Badger', Notes and Queries, Series xi, v (1912), pp. 170–2, and several by E. Poland, included by J. J. Lambert in Records of the Skinners of London, p. 15. The first thorough studies were carried out by German scholars working on Hanseatic records:

W. Stieda (ed.) Revaler Zollbücher und -Quittungen, Hansische Geschichtsquellen, v (1887), pp. cxxvii–cxxxviii.

L. Stieda, 'Über die Namen der Pelzthiere und die Bezeichnungen der Pelzwerksorten zur Hansa-Zeit', Altpreussische Monatsschrift (Königsberg), xxiv (1887), pp. 617–36.

K. Koppmann, 'Schevenissen und Troinissen', Hansische Geschichtsblätter, vii (1893), pp. 63–75.

L. K. Goetz, Deutsch-Russische Handelsgeschichte des Mittelalters, Lübeck, 1922, pp. 249–50.

Their severely linguistic approach, however, makes some of their views unacceptable. The most recent work on some of the terms used in the Baltic trade has been done by M. P. Lesnikov. His conclusions, to be found in 'Ganzeiskaya torgovlya pushninoi v nachale xv veka' (The Hanseatic Trade of furs at the beginning of the fifteenth century) in the Proceedings of the Moscow State Pedagogical Institute, 1, vol. xiii (1948), pp. 61–93, are summarized by A. L. Khoroschkevich, Torgovlya Velikogo Novgoroda s Pribaltikoi i zapadnoi Evropy v xiv–xv vekakh (The Trade of Great Novgorod with the Baltic and Western Europe in the XIV–XV centuries), Moscow, 1963, pp. 72–87, through which they have become available to me. Working independently we have reached similar conclusions about most of the names used by Baltic traders for squirrel skins, although he attributes some of the distinctions drawn to technical differences such as methods of presentation of skins, i.e. whether flat or round.

No sources are given below for those terms the meaning of which may easily be discovered from contemporary sources or from modern dictionaries. The following compilations are particularly useful:

Wright, T. (ed.), A Volume of Vocabularies, London, 1857. This includes:

The Colloquy of Aelfric.

The Vocabulary of Aelfric.

The Treatise de Utensilibus of Alexander Neckham.

The Dictionarius of John de Garlande.

Three Fifteenth-Century Vocabularies.

Promptorium Parvulorum, ed. A. Way, Camden Society, xxv, liv, lxxxix. London, 1843, 1851, 1865.

Gessler, J. (ed.), Le Livre des mestiers de Bruges et ses dérivés, Bruges, 1931.

Hall, H., Nicholas, F. J. (eds.), 'Select Tracts and Table Books relating to English Weights and Measures, 1100–1742', Camden Miscellany, xv, Camden Third Series, xli, Royal Historical Society, 1929.

Du Cange, C. Dufresne, Glossarium Mediae et Infimae Latinitas, ed. P. Carpentier, Paris, 1840.

Detailed explanations and references have been given only where differences of opinion or changes in meaning require them. Fuller discussions and references will be found in my thesis, 'The London Fur Trade in the Later Middle Ages, with particular reference to the Skinners' Company', Ph.D., 1953 (University of London Library, typescript).

SECTION A. GENERAL

All names and terms, with some Latin, German, French, and Italian variants, are included here. For names applied to Baltic squirrel skins (BS) references are given to the appropriate sub-section in Section B.

Abesshere, abeser, opus abevum: BS 2.

Agnus, pellis agninis: lamb.

Ames, amys: BS 6.

Annye, annys, annyghe, onige: BS 2.

Asperiolus: squirrel.

Avortons: skins of very young lambs? certainly more valuable than the black lamb with which they were sometimes matched.

Beaver, befer, bevre, byberis, bevis, biavvas.

Becuna, becunnes, bechinus: goatskin.

Bis, bisshe, besshey: BS 6.

Blackwerk: BS 1.

Boge, bogey: see budge.

Bollard, bolard, bellard, polard: BS 5.

Bot, bate, boet: a bundle of ten skins: H.D.O., p. 173.

Browngrey: BS 6.

Budge, boge, bogee, bogy, bugeye: imported lambskins. The name, common in English records from the late thirteenth century but rarely found elsewhere, is derived from the place-name, Bougie. The small Moorish kingdom of Bougie in North Africa, a flourishing trading centre from the eleventh to the early fourteenth centuries, was exporting peleterie d'aigniaux to Bruges in the thirteenth century. (fn. 1) A Genoese merchant sent bales agninarum de Buzea to the Champagne fairs in 1262, and tolls had to be paid on peaulx de Bougie which were transported along the Seine in 1315. (fn. 2) Pegolotti distinguished between several different varieties of lambskins by using place-names—agnelline barberesche, Sardesche, di Maiolica, ciciliane, and provenzalesche—and occasionally a place-name alone was used: '3 pennes d'aigniaux blans et 3 chapperons d'Arragon blans'. (fn. 3) In 1317 a Bristol skinner included Marrok among the supplies he bought, (fn. 4) and there can be no doubt that Bougie was used in the same way to indicate lambskins originally exported from there. During the fourteenth century the term was extended to include lambskins from other Mediterranean lands, in particular the fine Spanish lambskins, and lambskins from Lombardy were known in the early sixteenth century as Rommenie or Rumney Budge. Similarly the name Pampelion, a fur popular in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, was used of lambskins presumably from Pampeluna, the capital of Navarre. They were black and apparently more valuable than other black budge. (fn. 5) The most interesting extension of meaning at this time is the description of what were presumably lambskins from the Orkney Islands as orkynnay budge. (fn. 6)

Shanks: furs made of skins from legs of budge, sometimes more fully described as panes de tibiis Bog' nigr'. (fn. 7)

Tavelon, tavillion: frequently used to indicate a bundle of four skins of legs of black budge, but sometimes used alone to indicate the individual skins. From these, powderyngs for furs of ermine were often made. 'xxvij tavelons de shanks pro le eg eiusdem toge, pretium le pec' iij.d. summa vj.s.ix.d.' (fn. 8)

Buntmaker: a skinner; or one who makes up squirrel skins.

Buntwerk: BS 1.

Calabre, calaber, Kaleber: squirrel skins, originally from Calabria, S. Italy. Several references show conclusively that the skins took their name from the place-name. In Paris in 1296 tolls were to be paid on escureux de Calabre and in 1323 on sherioli di Calavria coming into Pisa. (fn. 9) In 1354 payment was made for a fourrure de dos d'escureux de Calabre, and peaux de Calabre were being bought in Bruges in 1378–80. (fn. 10) Yet calabre reached London in the late fourteenth century not through Italian but through Hanseatic and Flemish merchants. It is probable that by then the calabre which was sent to Bruges had either been dispatched from Italy on overland rather than sea-routes or had originated elsewhere. As the skins of sciurus vulgaris fuscoater, the variety of squirrel found in the forests and mountains of Central Europe, are very similar to those of squirrels found in Italy, the name may then have included squirrel skins from Central Europe. This assumption is supported by what we know of calabre: the skins had a white belly, grey or black backs, were considered less valuable than Baltic squirrel skins, and were an inch or an inch and a half longer. (fn. 11) At this time, however, the name does not appear in records of the Baltic trade, where these skins were known as red or black werk, or were linked with a place-name, and the name may therefore have been applied to skins which reached Bruges via the overland routes through South Germany. By the late fifteenth century the name was being used of squirrel skins in Danzig shipments, and by the late sixteenth century, as today, it was applied to Russian squirrel skins. (fn. 12)

Calyndwerk: squirrel?

Cargo: Spanish beaver skins were measured in rolls, four rolls making one cargo.

Case: to case, sware or square a fur, as used in Raine, York Civic Records, iii, p. 190, means to stitch skins together in a rectangular shape, the equivalent of the modern 'plate'.

Castor, castorina pelles: beaver.

Cat, cattus, cattinae pelles, murilegus, murelagium: skins of the large wild mountain cat, the smaller wild cat, or the domestic cat. A duty of 1d. per dozen skins of catti silvestres was levied at Ipswich in 1303, compared with 4d. per thousand skins of catti igni: Gras, op. cit., p. 162.

Cirogrillus, sirogrillus: squirrel.

Cisimus, cisinus: vair and gris: BS 6.

Clawerk, Klavertz (clockwerk?): BS 5.

Clesmes, clesmewerk, clysmes, klesem: BS 5.

Coney, coninae pelles, conils, cuniculus: rabbit skins.

Corenelina, corneline: see Rot. Litt. Claus. i, p. 103b; Pipe Roll, 13 John, p. 108. A fur more valuable than lamb and coney, but less valuable than vair or gris; possibly a cheaper variety of squirrel?

Cristigrey, crissum, crestigrey: BS 6.

Croppes, croupes: furs made of skins from heads of animals. Where no name of an animal is given, squirrel is probably to be understood.

Dosso, dossus (Ital.):

1. squirrel: Magnus, Historia, p. 369.

2. backs of vair: Pegolotti, op. cit., p. 38.

Ekhorn, eichhörnchen: squirrel.

Elk: skins imported to London in the early sixteenth century. Henry VIII possessed a 'cloke of elkes skinnes lined with blacke satten': Harleian MS. 1419 B, f. 107.

Ermine, hermellen, hermellina.

Escureus, escurellus, escureuil, esquirolus, esperiolus: squirrel.

Fellmonger: one who deals in skins and fells.

Fesse, foisse, foshes: used in the same sense as tiers to mean skins stitched in rows: 'v penulis de bissis . . . unde iiij erat de x fessis, et una erat de xj fessis', Rot. Litt. Claus. i, p. 101b.

Fitch, ficheux, fecheux, focche: skins of polecat.

Foins, foynes, fayne, foowne, funes: skins of stone marten.

Fox, gupil, gulonus, vulpes, vossiten werk.

Fripperie, ferperie: second-hand goods, including furs.

Furrurare: verb, to fur; nearly always used to mean 'to line' or make a lining, which may or may not be of fur.

Furrure, furrura, furratura, foliatura, furringe, furre: a number of skins sewn together to make a fur lining.

Genette, jonette, jehanettes, gianetta: skins of civet cat; black ones were more valuable than grey, and both more valuable than other cat skins.

Goat and Kid: occasionally used as furs.

Greytawyer: one who dresses squirrel skins.

Greywerk, grauwerk: BS 1.

Gris, griseum, gryce, grece, grey: BS 6.

Gristey Grey, grey grisey: BS 6.

Grosvair, grover: BS 6.

Haarwerk, herewerk, harewerk, harding: BS 4 (not hare skins: both harwerk and pelles leporum were listed in the same document in H.U.B. iii, no. 63, and received different valuations in Kunze, Hanseakten, no. 361).

Hare, hasenfelle, pelles leporum: both English, and less frequently, imported skins were used, and skins from the legs were often made up separately.

Hugrewerk, ungarisches werk: BS 2.

Konynghe: meaning obscure, but presumably some connexion with squirrel: 'j tymmer operis albi dicti vulgariter koninghe', Kunze, Hanseakten, no. 326, c. 42. Possibly the flying-squirrel?

Lamb: white, black, and occasionally reddish-brown, skins were used.

Lasten, lasteken: weasel.

Lecorse: see Cal. Inquis. Misc., 1348–77, no. 745; a corruption of lucewerk?

Lederwerk, letherwerk: BS 4.

Leopard, libarde, leberde: a popular fur in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.

Leron, laero, lirons, loirres, glis, ghiro: dormouse. Skins used more often on the Continent than in England.

Letowerk, lettoweswerk, littowesches werk: BS 2.

Letuse, lettice, lettews, laitice: skins of the snow-weasel. A more valuable fur than minever, less expensive than ermine, for which it was often used as a substitute.

Lucerne, luzarne, loesse, loosch vellen, pelles linxia: lynx skins. One of the most expensive furs in use in the early sixteenth century.

Lucewerk, lustewerk, luesschiswerk, luskwerk, luciscum opus: BS 5.

Lutrius, luter, lutricius, loutre: otter.

Lyndesey, pelles de, pellis de agninis de Lyndesey: skins from lambs of the Lindsey flocks.

Mantle: a number of skins sewn together to form a fur lining, usually, by the fifteenth century, of an accepted size.

Mappinges, mapkins: rabbit.

Marrok: lambskins from Morocco? See budge.

Marten, martryon, martrine, mardurina pelles, martrikis.

Masewerk: a corruption of melius opus? BS 3.

Meniver, menuvair, minutus varius, minever gros, minever puratus, minever dimidium puratus: BS 6 (not ermine: e.g. in 1419 ermine cost 15s. to 18s. a timber, minever, 3s. 4d. to 4s. 6d. a timber: K.R.A.V. 407/1).

Mink, minx, menkvel: little used in England before the late fifteenth century.

Mole, talpa, wauppe, warppe: skins used for furs on the Continent but rarely in England. A 'moldwarppe hat' bequeathed in 1570 is an early English use: Raine, Richmond Wills, p. 229.

Mus, misefur: mice skins were very occasionally used for furs, but mus was used with peregrinus or Ponticus for ermine.

Ocharpnorth Werk: BS 2.

Onige: BS 2.

Opus: werk. Occasionally used generally to indicate peltry, but more often to indicate Baltic squirrel and combined with an adjective. BS 1, etc.

Pakkyng, pakkure, pakkata: applied to both skins and furs.

1. Skins were falsely pakked if only the top two or three skins in the bundle corresponded in quality to the sample shown to the purchaser: E.C.P. 342/32.

2. Furs were falsely pakked if the skins stitched together were not all of the same kind or quality: Cal. Letter Bk. K, pp. 89, 171.

3. Occasionally used as a noun, presumably to indicate scraps.

Palestryng: Raine, York Civic Records, iii, p. 190. Stitching in tiers or vertical strips?

Pampelion, pampilion, pampyon, pawmpelion: see budge.

Pane, panys, penne, penula: a number of skins sewn together to form a fur lining. In the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries penna, the length measured in tiers and the width in numbers of beasts, were usually bigger than the furrures to which they were similar. Later when the English word pane was more frequently used there was little difference in meaning between it and mantle.

Pelleterie, pelleteria, peltry, pelliparia: skins; or the room where skins were prepared.

Pellicium, pellicio, pellisson, pliçon, pilche: a garment of skins, fur side outwards.

Pelliparius, pelliciarius, pellifex, pelerius, peletier, peleter, pelter: a skinner, someone who dresses, works in, and sells skins and furs. The precise meaning depends on the degree of specialization to be found in a particular locality.

Pellis: skin or fell; used of both leather and fur skins.

Pellura, peluse, pelure: furs; also used in a more limited sense to indicate lamb and sheepskins.

Phelipar, philipparius, pheliper, feliper: a dealer in second-hand clothing and bedding. The medieval English equivalent was upholder, not fripperer (Fr. frippier) which was more generally used from the sixteenth century onwards.

Polane, poleyn, polanewerk, polangris, red polaynwerk, poulanne: BS 2.

Polles: skins of the heads of animals.

Popel, pople, poppes, porpres: BS 6.

Potes, poots, puttes, powtes, poughtes, putys: furs made of the paws, or mains, of an animal. Where no animal is named, squirrel is probably to be understood.

Poudratus, powdered, powderyngs: literally means 'sprinkled' and was applied to ermine skins ornamented with tails. Pieces of black budge shanks were often used in preference to ermine tails, and these were called powderyngs.

Puratus, pured, pure, purr: applied to minever and equivalent to trimmed: BS 6.

Purfile, purfyll, purfilare: a trimming or edging; to trim.

Pylche: see pellicium.

Pynk: to slit; specifically, to prepare ermine skins for powderyngs.

Rabbit, rabet: a young coney. The name was not applied to the adult animal until the sixteenth century.

Ragoun, pelles de Ragoun: skins from Ragusa?

Redletowerk, red poleynwerk, etc.: BS 1 and 2.

Redwerk, rotwerk: BS 1.

Revers: used as a noun very early in connexion with furs, presumably in its modern sense.

Reyze, resis: a measure of skins, used in connexion with schevenisse to indicate 18 skins: Kunze, Hanseakten, no. 326, c. 24.

Rigges: 1. the backs of skins: Raine, York Civic Records, iii, p. 190; 2. ten skins: Extents on Debts, 49/1.

Roll: beaver skins were packed in rolls, four rolls making one cargo.

Roo, pelles de Roo: skins of roedeer, occasionally used as a fur.

Roserella, rosereau, rosereul: weasel. A name rare in English records, more common in French ones.

Rovair, rouzveir: BS 6.

Ruskyn, rossekin: BS 6.

Ruswerk, russewerk, Ruthenicale opus: BS 2.

Sabelinae, pelles, sebelina, sobolus, zobel: sable.

Scharpenorde: BS 2.

Schevenissen, skevyns: BS 5.

Schonwerk, sconewerk: BS 3.

Scirra, sciurus, scurell, skereux, scherivoli: squirrel.

Scisimus, sisimus: gris: BS 6.

Scrimpyns: scraps?

Seal, sel, selynis, selishude: used occasionally.

Season, seson, seisionabilis, seisonata: skins from animals taken in the season, that is during the winter.

Shanks: see budge.

Smolyng, smoleynswerk: BS 2.

Stache, stage: skins from animals taken out of season, that is during the summer: Cal. Letter Bk. K, p. 89. Stache squirrel skins no doubt account for the gown furred 'de starche' bequeathed in a Salisbury will: Domesday Book, lib. quart., f. 89d.

Strandling, stranling, strenling, stralling: BS 6. Rarely found except in English records of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

Strips, stripes: scraps of skins sewn together in strips: e.g. strips of potes, strips of gills of sable. Possibly the same as purfels de potes: L.T.R., Ward., 6, m. 53; K.R.C.A. 149/27.

Swedeschwerk, swethwerk, swethiswerk, swetscheswerk, opus suevicum: BS 2.

Tavelon, tavillon:

1. the boards between which four skins were packed;

2. bundles of four skins: 'v timbre xix tavelon de tibiis Bogy nigr'; 'xiiij tavalyns of ermyng, ilk pece ijs iijd, summa vj. li. x.s', L.T.R., Ward., 6, m. 53; Accts. Lord H. T. Scot. iii, p. 42;

3. possibly strips of squirrel scraps? 'a furre of purde maid owt of tavillions of iiij yerdes wyde and j yerd depe', Raine, York Civic Records, iii, p. 190;

4. see budge.

Taw, tew, tawiare, mollio, tawyer: to dress or one who dresses skins.

Tendeling: a packet of 10 skins: H.D.O., p. 173.

Tiers, tires: skins stitched together in a row.

Timber, tymber, czymmer: originally applied to the boards between which skins were packed, but later the term was used to indicate a bundle of 40 skins.

Trunes, trones, troynes, troyenisse, trogenitzen, threugenitzen: BS 5.

Upholder: a dealer in second-hand clothing and bedding; a dealer in 'small thyngs'.

Vair, veyr, vaio: BS 6.

Vairrier, grauwerker: one who made up squirrel skins.

Varolina: squirrel.

Wanyng and Braying: processes in the preparation of squirrel skins, probably after tawing: beating? Raine, York Civic Records, iii, p. 190.

Werk: BS., p. 224.

Whitewerk: BS 1.

Wildwerk: skins of wild animals such as fox, otter, etc.

Wolf: skins more commonly used in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

SECTION B. NAMES APPLIED TO BALTIC SQUIRREL SKINS (BS)

The quality and colour of the fur of the red squirrel varies according to its age, the time of year, the climate, the vegetation in which it lives, and the food on which it feeds. Thus while in the height of winter, when the animal's protective covering is at its richest, its back is grey and its belly white, later in the year the fur is thinner and streaked with red, and there is even more red in the skins of young ones. In more northerly climates the colour of the back is paler than in the thicker forests to the south, where in the winter its coat is a darker grey ranging almost to black, and at other times a warm chestnut red. Such wide variations have led naturalists to list innumerable varieties of the species, sciurus vulgaris. (fn. 13)

The broadest distinction drawn by medieval furriers was between ekervel, escureuil, scurell, and other variants of the latin sciurus, names applied to both the animal and its skin, and those skins known as greywerk, bontwerk, varium opus, or vair. Pegolotti, for instance, listed separately tolls to be paid on scherivoli d'ogni ragione and vai d'ogni ragione. (fn. 14) The first group of names were applied to squirrel skins from parts of Southern and Central Europe, usually of little value to the skinner. Greywerk and vair, however, were names for the finest squirrel skins, those which came from the coldest parts of Northern and Central Europe. While most of them came from Scandinavia and Russia, other good-quality skins from, for instance, Poland and Bulgaria were also known as vairs. (fn. 15) For convenience all these are described as Baltic squirrel skins, as the bulk of them reached western Europe via the Baltic Sea.

The link between squirrel skins and the names greywerk or varium opus and the many technical terms associated with them may be conclusively proved. A clerk copying a decree about the London skinners into the Liber Horn, c. 1311, added a marginal note to explain the terms used: (fn. 16) 'Memorandum qe Gris et bis est le dos en yver desquirel et la ventre en yver est menever. Popel est de squirel en contre este. Roskyn est de squirel bien en este. Polane est esquireux neirs. Strandling est squirel entre le feste seint michel.' The same group of names appears again in the London Skinners' charter of 1438, all of skins which were to be worked to a length of 5½ or 6 inches. (fn. 17) Other references link these terms, familiar in English records, with the more specialized vocabulary used by the German traders in the Baltic. In 1419, for instance, furs of bys and menever gross were made in the Great Wardrobe from skins of gris called luskwerk. (fn. 18) It was, however, the great Swiss naturalist, Conrad Gesner, himself the son of a skinner, who, in the Historia Animalium which he wrote in the mid sixteenth century, noted that the German traders used the name werck for squirrel skins. (fn. 19) The records of the Baltic trade show that occasionally the term was used in a general sense of all skins, but far oftener in the more limited sense stated by Gesner. Thus the factor of Hildebrand Veckinchusen listed the market price of goods in Venice in 1409 as follows: (fn. 20)

werck fyn: 1,000 vor 70 ducaten

sabelen: 100 vor 82

marteren: 100 vor 30

hermelyn: 100 vor 12

The Stettin Zoll roll for 1270, lists, after lambskins, pelles castorina, luterina, marterina, vulpina, and one timber werkes. Similarly the factor of the Teutonic Order totalled separately the quantities of the werck he had bought. A payment for the tawing of bestis integri vocati bestis de werks provides an English parallel. (fn. 21) Thus we may assume that the name werk, qualified by different adjectives, was the basis of the classification of Baltic squirrel skins in the Middle Ages. Only those terms which appear in English as well as German sources are included in the lists below.

1. CLASSIFICATION BY COLOUR

Greywerk, varium opus, bontwerk, griseum opus: winter squirrel skins, with the grey back.

Blackwerk, opus nigrum, swartwerk: winter squirrel skins from Central Europe, where the back is dark grey, almost black.

Redwerk, opus ruffum, rotwerk, red grey, gris rub': reddish-brown squirrel skins from Central Europe.

Whitewerk, opus album. This name occurs very rarely, and twice as much in tolls had to be paid as on vair and redwerk: H.U.B. i, no. 402.

2. CLASSIFICATION ACCORDING TO PLACE OF ORIGIN

Abeser, opus abevum: from Abo, in Finland?

Calabrewerk, calabre: originally from Calabria.

Clesmes, klesem: from the region of Klyaz'ma, in Central Russia.

Hugrewerk, Ungarischeswerk: from Hungary.

Letowerk, letteweswerk, Littowescheswerk: from Lithuania.

Onige, annyghe, onywark: from the district of Lake Onega.

Polanewerk, polangris, poleyngrey, polane red: from Poland; usually either red or black.

Russewerk, ruswerk, Ruthenicale opus: from Russia, probably Central Russia.

Smolyng, smoleynswerk, smolenskischeswerk: from the district of Smolensk.

Swedeschwerk, Swethewerk, Swethiswerk, opus suevicum: from Sweden.

[Ocharpnorthwerk is probably based on a place name, and may be connected with the Scharpenordes referred to by Hildebrand Veckinchusen (no. 177). It appears in K.R.C.A. 71/16.]

3. CLASSIFICATION BY QUALITY

Schönwerk, sconewerk, opus pulchrum: certainly the finest and most highly priced squirrel skins. L. Stieda considered that the name applied simply to fine skins, and not specifically squirrel skins, but the adjective is frequently applied to bontwerk, and had this been so there would have been greater price variations. Presumably they were squirrel skins from the Far North taken at the height of the winter.

Bonum Opus, godewerk: probably skins of similar quality; the names, with melius opus, may be interchangeable. This name does not appear in H.D.O., where the best quality skins are described as schonwerk, but appears more frequently in K.R.C.A., where schonwerk is rarely used. Opus mediocre and opus commune are also to be found: Kunze, Hanseakten, no. 326, c. 87.

4. CLASSIFICATION ACCORDING TO PACKING

Ledderwerk, letherwerk: packed with the skin side outside, that is untawed, raw. 'Schonwerk, anniige, klesem, luszwerk unde allerleye ledderwerck': H.R. II, vii, no. 360.

Harwerk, herewerk, harding: packed 'in the hair', that is dressed skins. A reference to operis in crinibus vulgariter harwerk, and the similarity in price between harwerk and work in dem hare, leave little doubt of the general meaning, but its exact significance is not so certain. (fn. 22) The Germans were not supposed to buy 'harwerk, dat van Ruscen gemaket si eder ut anderen werke getoghen si'. (fn. 23) This, and other references, suggest that the word referred to prepared skins. Prices of harwerk sold in Bruges confirm this, as it was sold at a high price and received a similarly high customs valuation in England. (fn. 24) Koppman, however, thought that it was only the damaged skins which were dressed, and it is doubtful if these would have brought such a good price. Another difficulty is raised by the fact that London skinners in 1365 paid tawyers 6s. 8d. for tawing 1,000 herewerke, in comparison with 6s. for any other manner of werk. (fn. 25) It is not unusual today for skins roughly dressed in their place of origin to be re-dressed, and presumably this also happened in the fourteenth century.

5. MISCELLANEOUS NAMES

These names, listed as 'opus dictum vulgariter bollard, luschwerk etc.' (Kunze, Hanseakten, nos. 326, 361), are presumably of Russian derivation. Their meaning may be deduced, chiefly from valuations such as those listed below.

Bollard, bellard, polard, bollertz.

Clawerk, Klavertz, clockwerk.

Lucewerk, luscheswerk, luskwerk, luciscum opus.

Poppelen: early summer skins: Lib. Horn.

Schevenisse, schebenitczen: this name, with what were presumably its French and English equivalents, esquevinesses, esquinesses, skevenesses, skevyns, was widely used. None of the explanations so far advanced seems particularly satisfactory. Schevenissen were certainly squirrel skins, as the ordinances of the Arras and Ypres skinners regulated the numbers of these skins to be used in a fur, but they formed a category on their own. (fn. 26) They were the only skins to be measured in reyse, were a source of frequent complaints between German and Russian merchants, and were sometimes described as operis levissimi or levioris. (fn. 27) Tolls paid on them were always small, and when the finest squirrel skins were valued at Bruges at £10 per thousand, schevenissen were valued at only £1. 16s. (fn. 28) Such evidence suggests that the name was applied to the poorest-quality Baltic squirrel skins, stage or full summer skins. In England, where the name skevyns was very rarely used, these skins were called ruskyn, Lib. Horn, a name not found elsewhere, and a comparison of the use of both terms suggests that they were identical in meaning. Lesnikov prefers to define schevenissen as rejects, incomplete pelts.

Troynes, trones, trunes, troinissen, trogenissen, threugenitzen: although used in English records as a noun the word was generally used in German sources as an adjective, apparently to indicate faulty or damaged skins of different varieties, dressed before export. This would explain the unpopularity of these skins in the trade, the wide range in value shown, and such references as '3 tendelinge troynissen geliick luswerk', and 'de vorscreven tronissen de stan lik schonwerke, mer ze sin nicht so guet'. See Koppman, op. cit., pp. 64–71; K.R.C.A. 71/13, 71/16, passim; Kunze, op. cit., no. 361; H.U.B. xi, no. 1253; H.D.O., p. 406.

Valuations

Contemporary valuations of Baltic squirrel skins suggest the following three categories:

1. Good-quality skins, with grey back and white belly

In sterling (fn. 29) In Flemish pounds (fn. 30) In Flemish pounds (fn. 31)
Schönwerk .. 10 10½
Bonum opus 12 .. ..
Annyge 11–12
Clesmes 9 9–9½
Lucewerk 8 8

2. Good-quality skins, probably from Central Russia and Europe, which had backs of reddish-brown or very dark grey, and white bellies

In sterling (fn. 29) In Flemish pounds (fn. 30) In Flemish pounds (fn. 31)
Bollard 6 .. 7
Clawerk
Werk from Smolensk, Lithuania, Poland, and Hungary 5–6 6–7 ..
Redwerk 6 6

3. Summer or stage skins

In sterling (fn. 29) In Flemish pounds (fn. 30) In Flemish pounds (fn. 31)
Poppel 4–5 4
Ruskyn 2 .. ..
Schevenissen .. (19 pennynge)

In the late fifteenth century, greywerk is more briefly classified in English Customs Accounts (e.g. 79/12) into fine, middle, and coarse, a classification which probably corresponds to that given above.

6. DRESSED SQUIRREL SKINS AND FURS

These names appear chiefly in descriptions of clothes, and in inventories of wardrobes, and were, therefore, in lay hands subject to changes of meaning and careless use. Explanations from non-English sources should be regarded with some caution in this connexion.

BIS: according to Lib. Horn, the back of the squirrel in winter. But later references are to 'beasts' rather than 'backs': e.g. backs of gris, 2½d. beasts of bissh, 4d. Presumably, therefore, furs of bis, or livery furs as they were sometimes known, were made of the whole squirrel skin. See K.R.A.V. 402/13, Lambert, p. 72.

Gris, grey: the grey back of winter skins: Lib. Horn. Different qualities were sometimes distinguished:

Gris Fyn, or optimum gris.

Amys Grey.

Cristigrey cost 4s. a timber compared with 10s. a timber for amys grey, and backs of cristigris cost 2d. each when backs of gris cost 2½d. each. The name may therefore have been applied to early or late winter skins, and was possibly equivalent to browngrey. Although a variety of suggestions have been made to explain the derivation of the name none are satisfactory. See: K.R.A.V. 409/2, 402/13, 405/14; Accts. Lord H.T. Scot., i, p. 35; L.T.R. Ward. 6, m. 7d.

Popel, poupees, poppes: squirrel skins of early summer: Lib. Horn.

Ruskyn: summer skins: Lib. Horn.

Strandling, strelling: autumn skins: Lib. Horn.

Vair: the group of names based on the word vair seems to have undergone changes in meaning during the period. In general, vair or vair œuvre (from varium opus) was used, particularly in France, to indicate furs made from whole squirrel skins. The name was derived from the varied effect of grey backs and white bellies.

Grosvair, grover: used, in contrast to menuvair, of the whole squirrel skin and therefore in effect equivalent to vair and bis.

Menuvair, minever, minutus varius: furs made of bellies only, white with a little grey surrounding it: Lib. Horn.

Menuvair Puratus, pured: the name given to the white belly skins with all the grey trimmed off. Thus hoods of minever required 24 bellies, of half pured or dimid' purat' 32 bellies, and of minever pured 40 bellies. This white fur was very frequently used and this gave rise to some curious versions of the name: pure deveire, demy pure, and purray.

Minever Gross, minever non purat', great minever, brode minever: presumably the belly skins with the grey left on, in other words simply minever, the qualifying adjectives being used to point the contrast with minever pured.

Rovair, rouzveyr: furs made from autumn or spring skins in which streaks of red appeared in the grey back.

Footnotes

  • 1. H.U.B. iii, no. 624, note.
  • 2. R. Doehaerd, Les Relations commerciales entre Gênes, la Belgique et l'Outremont, Brussels, 1941, iii, no. 1169; Fagniez, Documents, ii, no. 16.
  • 3. Pegolotti, La Pratica della Mercatura, pp. 124, 181, 208; Douët d'Arcq, Comptes de l'Argenterie, p. 167.
  • 4. Exch. Plea Roll, 13 Ed. II, Easter, m. 16.
  • 5. Nicholas, Expenses of Elizabeth of York, pp. 88–89.
  • 6. Accts. Lord H.T. Scot. i, p. 203.
  • 7. L.T.R. Ward., 6, m. 53.
  • 8. Ibid.; K.R.A.V. 415/10, f. 28.
  • 9. Douët d'Arcq, 'Tarif des marchandises', Revue archéologique, ix (1852), p. 222; Pegolotti, op. cit., p. 208.
  • 10. Labarte, Mobilier de Charles V, p. 388, note; Laborde, Les Ducs de Burgoyne, 11. i, p. xlix.
  • 11. Lambert, pp. 40, 72.
  • 12. K.R.C.A. 73/41, 78/9, 80/2; Hakluyt, The Principal Navigations, iii, p. 369.
  • 13. J. R. Ellerman and T. C. Morrison-Scott, Check List of Palaearctic and Indian Mammals, London, 1951, p. 472.
  • 14. Pegolotti, op. cit., pp. 38, 215, 225.
  • 15. H.U.B. iii, no. 624, note; Pegolotti, op. cit., p. 298.
  • 16. f. 249d.
  • 17. Lambert, p. 72.
  • 18. K.R.A.V. 407/1.
  • 19. Larisch, Die Kürschner und ihre Zeichen, p. 117; Topsell's translation, 1607, p. 657.
  • 20. Gilliodts-van Severen, L'Estaple de Bruges, i, pp. 320–1.
  • 21. H.U.B. i, no. 687; H.D.O., pp. 353, 398; K.R.A.V. 405/14.
  • 22. Kunze, Hanseakten, no. 326, c. 23; H.D.O., pp. 416, 418.
  • 23. H.U.B. iii, no. 593.
  • 24. H.D.O., pp. 418, 431; K.R.C.A. 71/13; Kunze, op. cit., no. 361.
  • 25. Lambert, p. 43.
  • 26. Fagniez, Documents, no. 120; Prat, p. 90.
  • 27. Kunze, op. cit., nos. 326, c. 24; 361; H.U.B. ii, no. 569.
  • 28. Douët d'Arcq, 'Tarif des marchandises', Revue archéologique, xi (1852), p. 221; Kunze, op. cit., no. 361.
  • 29. From K.R.C.A., in particular 71/13 and 71/16 (1390–1).
  • 30. Selling prices in Bruges, c. 1398, taken from H.D.O.
  • 31. Valuations made in Bruges, 1406: Kunze, op. cit., no. 361.