Abc - Acorus

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

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Nancy Cox. Karin Dannehl, 'Abc - Acorus', Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities 1550-1820, (Wolverhampton, 2007), British History Online [accessed 12 June 2024].

Nancy Cox. Karin Dannehl. "Abc - Acorus", in Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities 1550-1820, (Wolverhampton, 2007) . British History Online, accessed June 12, 2024,

Cox, Nancy. Dannehl, Karin. "Abc - Acorus", Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities 1550-1820, (Wolverhampton, 2007). . British History Online. Web. 12 June 2024,

In this section


[abses; abcs; abcies; abces]

A spelling book or single sheet to teach the alphabet and the first elements of reading. Having completed the ABC, it would appear that children then proceeded onto the more advanced PRIMER and then the ACCIDENCE. ABCs appear to have been fragile, being printed either on PAPER or on PARCHMENT, which would be rather more robust. One record, 'abc engleshe ij dos iiijd' [Inventories (1545)], suggests that they were available in different languages, or possibly that English was the exception to the more common Latin, though such ABCs have not been noted in the Dictionary Archive. They were very cheap, being valued usually at only 2d or 3d DOZEN.

OED earliest date of use: 1297 under ABC

Found described as ENGLISH, PAPER, PARCHMENT
Found in units of DOZEN Found rated by the GROSS of 12 DOZEN, M

See also HORN BOOK.
Sources: Acts, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Rates.

Abortive vellum

VELLUM made from the SKINs of aborted calves or other animals. It provided a soft skin with a fine grain suitable for art work.

Not found in the OED online as such, though 1664 for Abortive parchment under Abortive

Found described as for drawing

Sources: Tradecards.


[creme d'absinthe]

In the early-modern period, absinthe was an alternative name for WORMSWOOD, the botanical name for which is Artemisia absinthium. The OED shows that by the 1840s the term also referred to an alcoholic LIQUOR made from wormwood and WINE, but for the pre-1800 period none of sources offer firm evidence of this use of the term.

OED earliest date of use: 1612 for the plant Wormswood; 1842 for the drink

Simone Clarke

Found describing OIL

Sources: Inventories (early), Inventories (late).


[axidences; axedencs; accydens; accxdences; accidents; accidens; accidencs; accidences; accidenceis; accedents; accedences; accedances]

The term refers to the part of grammar that treats of the 'accidents' or inflections of words and stood for a book or pamphlet that taught the rudiments of grammar. In the early modern period this probably meant Latin grammar. It appears to have followed on from the ABC and the PRIMER, and was learnt by rote. For the average child this probably began when it was about six years old [Diaries (Josselin)]. Like the other books for teaching the rudiments of reading, accidences were quite commonly for sale.

OED online earliest date of use: 1509

Found described as SINGLE Found in units of DOZEN

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

Account book

[books of account; account-book]

A BOOK prepared for recording accounts. Although there is plenty of evidence in the Dictionary Archive that accounts were kept, for example 'Wee fonde by the books bills and otheer accompts in debtes sparet and desparett' [Inventories (1624)], the books themselves were rarely, if ever, listed unless they were for sale. By the second-half of the eighteenth century, however, they were available in variety as one advertisement shows: 'Banker's & Merchants Account Books in the Completest Manner [Tradecards (1796)].

Daniel Defoe believed that these books were so essential to a trader that an apprentice coming 'out of his time without a perfect knowledge of the method of book-keeping' was 'like a bride undrest, is not fit to be married' [Defoe (1987)]. However, stricures on good accounting all too often fell on deaf ears. Typical accounting practice by small traders is probably exemplified by the probate inventory of Roger Hayward, a blacksmith of Watford, Herts, who died in 1592 with business debts 'by divers p'sons as appeareth by his dett book, Taylis [tallies] and scores upon the walles' [Inventories (1592)]. Even when a book was kept, all was often not well. The administrators of Thomas Ruffe, a saddler from Oswestry who died in 1720 recorded rather hopelessly that 'There are some small debts appear to be due to him by his Shop book which are so obscure to read and Imperfect not giving acc't where the parties Live, thus the Adm'rators cannot assertain or particularize the same' [Inventories (1720)]. Instruction on how to keep accounts was plentiful by the eighteenth century [Cox (2000b)], although only one example - very late - has been noted in the Dictionary Archive [Inventories (1809)].

OED earliest date of use: 1699 under Account

See also SHOP BOOK.
Sources: Inventories (late), Tradecards.
References: Defoe (1987).

Acetosi diarrhodon

[acetosi diarodo]

A medicinal preparation made of a compound of ROSEs and some acid addition. This was most likely to have been VINEGAR. However, wood SORREL, called by Gerard in Latin Trifolium acetosum (now Trifolia acetosella), may have been the second major ingredient [Gerard (1597, 1985 ed.)].

OED earliest date of use: 1533 for acetose and 1789 for diarhodon

Sources: Inventories (early).
References: Gerard (1597, 1985 ed.).


Achiote or Achiotl was the Amerindian name for the seeds of the Arnotto or Arnatto, and the red colouring matter obtained from their pulp. John Houghton suggested that it was used to give CHOCOLATE 'an astringency' and to 'strengthen a weak stomach' [Houghton]. SANTAL could be used as an alternative in this country [Houghton]. Achiote is unlikely to be noted under this name in trade in Britain.

OED earliest date of use: 1796 under Achiote

Sources: Houghton.


A genus, all species of which are highly poisonous, belonging to the same family as the buttercup and delphinium. The common European species, Aconitum napellusis, is found rarely in this country, but it is distributed widely elsewhere in the Old World. It is mentioned in many English vocabularies of plants from the tenth century downwards, usually as Monkshood or Wolf's Bane, neither of which is found in the Dictionary Archive.

It was not included in the mid-eighteenth century Materia Medica [Pemberton (1746)], so it is perhaps not too surprising to find that it was not widely stocked in the shops. As a poison in all its parts, though the roots are especially so, it is more powerful than prussic acid, 1/50 GRAIN killing a sparrow within a few seconds [Grieve (online)]. Gerard claimed that a certain fly that fed on the leaves of aconite could be used as an antidote [Gerard (1597, 1985 ed.)]. However, despite its toxicity, it has been used in modern medicine as an anodyne, diuretic and diaphoretic and for external applications to reduce local inflammation [Grieve (online)]; [Stedman (online)].

OED earliest date of use: 1578

References: Gerard (1597, new ed. 1985), Grieve (online), Pemberton (1746), Stedman (online).


[acorne; achorn]

The fruit or seed of the OAK tree in the form of an oval NUT encased in shallow woody cup, used principally for animal fodder as they are rich in all of the main food groups of carbohydrates, proteins and especially fats. The seventeenth-century agricultural writer, John Houghton, noted that an acorn and BRAN mixture for fattening a HOG or an OX, especially when macerated and soaked in water 'to extract their malignity, lest the cattle perish'. He noted that because of their small size they could be used to fatten PIGEON, PEACOCK, PHEASANT, POULTRY and TURKEY [Houghton]. In addition, 'in case of great Scarcity or famine', acorns were used for human consumption as an alternative source of carbohydrate to BREAD, though it was thought necessary to boil them three times in fresh water to remove the toxicity [Anon (1695)].

The acorn was also one of the many decorative side-pieces found on a BIT [Houghton], and it was used decoratively elsewhere, as in 'A dosen of spons cuopid w't Achorns [Inventories (1543)].

OED earliest date of use: c1000

Simone Clarke

Found rated by the BUSHEL, POUND

See also OAK.
Sources: Houghton, Inventories (early), Rates.
References: Anon (1695), Grieve (online).


This is Acorus calamus, formerly known as CALAMUS AROMATICUS, a member of the family of Araceae. Two of its common names are sweet sedge and SWEET FLAG, which gives some clue to its virtue. It was introduced into Britain only in the mid-sixteenth century, and was used chiefly to strew on floors with other similar plants as a temporary, and sweet-smelling, carpet. In a letter written in 1668 Sir Thomas Browne noted that it 'groweth plentifully ... by the banks of the Norwich river, ... [and] hath been transplanted and set on the sides of the Marish ponds in severall places of the county'. Today it is only common around the Norfolk Broads, but it persists elsewhere in shallow water [Mabey (1996)].

Pemberton included it in his Materia Medica, giving as its Latin name CALAMUS AROMATICUS, and the thick creeping rootstock with a pungent aromatic flavour as the useful portion [Pemberton (1746)]. In this form it was mainly imported.

OED earliest date of use: 1657

Simone Clarke

Found among the DRUGS, rated by the POUND

Sources: Rates.
References: Mabey (1996), Pemberton (1746).