Amalgam - Amys iron

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

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Nancy Cox. Karin Dannehl, 'Amalgam - Amys iron', Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities 1550-1820, (Wolverhampton, 2007), British History Online [accessed 16 June 2024].

Nancy Cox. Karin Dannehl. "Amalgam - Amys iron", in Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities 1550-1820, (Wolverhampton, 2007) . British History Online, accessed June 16, 2024,

Cox, Nancy. Dannehl, Karin. "Amalgam - Amys iron", Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities 1550-1820, (Wolverhampton, 2007). . British History Online. Web. 16 June 2024,

In this section


A soft mass formed by chemical manipulation of GOLD or SILVER combined with MERCURY. The term was later extended to apply to any mixture of another metal with mercury.

OED earliest date of use: 1471

Sources: Patents.



Amber was the name originally given to AMBERGRIS, literally 'GREY amber'. To reduce the confusion, amber proper was called LAMBER, though that label was later transferred to a COUNTERFEIT amber.

OED earliest date of use in this sense: 1398 under Amber

Amber proper is a yellowish translucent fossil RESIN, found chiefly on the southern shores of the Baltic Sea. It burns with an agreeable odour, often entombs insects etc., and when rubbed becomes notably electric. It was used in JEWELLERY such as BEADs and NECKLACEs, but also for many other luxury artefacts; one London retailer, for example, was offering knives hafted with amber, as well as amber SPOONS and amber necklaces [Inventories (1671)]. Amber was for Customs purposes included among DRUGS, and when used medicinally, it may be in the Latin form of SUCCINUM [OED].

OED earliest date of use in this sense: c1400 under Amber

Amber has also been noted, once, as a TEXTILE, as 'One yard quarter of Amber Medley at xjs' [Inventories (1619)]. This could have been an abbreviated form of 'Ambertee', a form of CALICO exported from India to London, particularly during the early-seventeenth centry [Montgomery (1984)], but the context suggests a WOOLLEN CLOTH of mixed fibres. It was probably therefore used simply to describe the colour of a MEDLEY cloth.

As AMBERGRIS: Found described as GREY
Found rated by the MAST of 2½ LB, POUND As amber BEADs found rated by the POUND

Sources: Acts, Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Rates, Recipes, Tradecards.
References: Montgomery (1985).

Amber water

[water of musk and ambergreese]

It is unlikely that the RESIN called AMBER was used to make a water. More probable is AMBERGRIS, which was often called amber for short. Ambergris was used in PERFUMED WATERS, and could easily have been employed in its own right for that purpose [Tradecards (18c.)]. Ambergris was also used in cooking, and to a lesser extent in medicine; hence 'water of ... Ambergreese' was an ingredient in one version of Aqua Vitae Regia [Recipes (Nott)].

Not found in the OED

Found described as DISTILLED
Found listed under PERFUMED WATERS

Sources: Recipes, Tradecards.


[ambergrise; amber-greese; ambergreese; amber-greece; ambergreece; ambergrease; ambergreace; amber greece; amber greace]

Literally GREY - AMBER, which at the beginning of the period was sometimes known simply as AMBER. Ambergris is an opaque, wax-like inflammable substance, variegated like marble and ash coloured. When heated it has a fragrant odour. In the early modern period it was found floating in tropical seas, and as a morbid secretion in the intestines of the sperm-whale.

Ambergris was mostly used in PERFUMERY to make PERFUME, WASHBALLs, and WATERS. Nicholas Monardes, for example, described it as 'so necessarie ... used for the health of the body, and so necessarie ... to cure and to heale ... so many and divers infirmities'. He claimed it was used 'in the Poticaries Shoppes, as well Lectuaries, as Confections, Pouders, and Pilles, Preparatives, Ointmentes, Plaisters ... and ... a confection called Dia Ambar' [Monardes (1577, new ed. 1967)]. Despite his praise, ambergris had disappeared from the Materia Medica by the mid-eighteenth century [Pemberton (1746)], though it remained popular in toiletries.

The odiferous quality of ambergris has cast some doubt over the extent of its use in early modern cooking and apothecary. Karen Hess, the editor of 'Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery', suggests it may have continued to appear in recipes long after it was actually used [Washington (1749-99, 1981 ed.)]. This doubt about its acceptability is confirmed in some of the recipes; for example, in one for a CORDIAL WATER the author's suggestion 'if you like not the tast of the Amber greace & Scevit' was to leave them out [Recipes (Berington)], while another commented 'some put in Sack, and Musk and Amber pre-par'd, but you may do as you please for that' [Recipes (Carter)]. All the same, John Houghton gave it as an ingredient of CHOCOLATE [Houghton].

OED earliest date of use: 1481-90

Simone Clarke

Found described as BLACK, GREY Found as ESSENCE of ambergris
Found in units of DRACHM Found rated by the OUNCE, TROY - OUNCE

Sources: Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Rates, Recipes, Tradecards.
References: Monardes (1571), Pemberton (1746), Washington (1981).


Originally the name for the food or the drink of the gods, or an especially enticing scent, as in 'Fragrance of ambrosial trees' [Tradecards (1794)]. The term was later applied to various plants by early herbalists, particularly to OAK OF CAPADOCIA.

OED earliest date of use: 1265

It has also been noted once as 'xij yeards in 4 Remnants at 2s of Ambrosies' [Inventories (1613)]. The context suggests a TEXTILE, probably one made of SILK. In this sense it has not been found in the OED.

Sources: Inventories (early), Recipes, Tradecards.


[ombrie; aumbre; ammery; ammerry; ammerie; ambrye; ambrie; ambrey; ambre; ambery]

Also found as 'Aumbry', the term denotes a piece of FURNITURE; one of the earliest types of CUPBOARD with doors. It was commonly a place for safe keeping and so sometimes known as an ARMOURY. With perforated doors it was used to keep food and was the forerunner of the LIVERY CUPBOARD [Gloag (1952, revised 1991)]. Ambries have not been noted after 1700.

OED earliest date of use: 1393

Found described as LITTLE, OLD

Sources: Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period).
References: Gloag (1952, revised 1991).



The term is usually understood to be an alternative name for ENAMEL. Its use in fabricating GOLDSMITH WARE or SILVERWARE was prohibited by an act passed in the 1570s by which the craftsman was allowed to 'use no Sother, Amell or other Stuffings ... more than is necessary for finishing' [Acts (1576)]. This suggests that there may have been an alternative meaning to the term as a filler or solder in GOLD and SILVER working.

OED earliest date of use: c1340

Sources: Acts.



A TEXTILE, probably signifying 'after the fashion of Amiens', similar to EVERLASTING, but figured with patterns of bold flowers [Kerridge (1985)]; [Montgomery (1984)].

Not found in the OED

Found described as BLACK
Found in units of YARD

Sources: Inventories (late).
References: Kerridge (1984), Montgomery (1985).


[ameos; ambos]

Also known as Ammi and BISHOPS WEED. A genus of umbelliferous plants, with aromatic leaves. The best seed was supposedly imported from Egypt. It gave one of the classic HOT SEEDs of medicine, and so was in the Materia Medica (as Ammi) [Pemberton (1746)]. It has been noted, albeit infrequently in the shops.

OED earliest date of use: c1000

Found in units of OZ
As a seed: Found among the DRUGS, rated by the POUND

Sources: Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Rates.
References: Pemberton (1746).


[armoniacus; armoniacum; armoniack; amoniacum; amoniacu'; amoniac; amon'; ammoniacum; ammoniacu']

A term applied to two quite different products, SAL AMMONIAC and GUM AMMONIAC, both originally obtained from the Libyan region of Ammonia near the ancient temple of Jupiter Ammon. A third, BOLE ARMENIAC, which was correctly named after its supposed place of origin, became mistakenly confused with these two, and the term was frequently spelt as if the product also came from the region around the Libyan temple, as the variant spellings of the term show.

Although the context may sometimes indicate differently, the term ammoniac on its own almost certainly referred to gum ammoniac, as in 'Emp. ex Amoniaco oz 3 3d' [Inventories (1690)]. This was presumably the 'Emplastrum ex Ammoniaco' listed in the eighteenth-century Pharmocopoeia, but without the addition of Mercury given there [Pemberton (1746)].

OED earliest date of use: 1386

Found listed under GUM Found used to make PLASTER
Found in units of DRAM, LB, OZ Found rated by the LB, OZ

Sources: Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Rates, Recipes.
References: Columbia Encyclopedia (2003), Pemberton (1746), Rolt (1761).


Also called MILITARY STORES or supplies, it formerly included all kinds but is now limited to articles used in charging GUNS and ordnance, such as GUNPOWDER, SHOT, shell, and by extension, offensive missiles generally. What was distinctive about the 'new Ammunition Shirt' worn by a runaway is not known [Newspapers (1790)].

OED earliest date of use: 1626

Sources: Acts, Rates.


[amonium; amomi]

The amomum of the ancients has not been certainly identified. John Houghton quoted a Dr Stubbs, who believed it might have been CARPOBALSAM [Houghton], while others thought it was JAMAICA PEPPER [Houghton]. There seems still to have been some uncertainty in the mid-eighteenth century, since in the Materia Medica, it was (unusually for that work) explained at some length as 'Amomum racemosum, vel Sison, quod amomum officinis; the seed either of the true amomum, or of bastard stone parsley' [Pemberton (1746)]. The name is now appropriated to a genus of aromatic plants in the family Zingeribaceae (relatives of GINGER) including the species that yield CARDAMOM, TURMERIC and GRAINS OF PARADISE. The SEED was used in various medicinal preparations, including the classic VENICE TREACLE. It is not now esteemed as a botanical drug and is not included in 'Potter's Cyclopædia' [Wren (1941)].

OED earliest date of use: 1398

Found as an ingredient in VENICE TREACLE
As SEED: Found among the DRUGS, rated by the POUND

Sources: Rates, Recipes.
References: Pemberton (1746), Wren (1941).


An important port in the DUTCH United Provinces facing the Zuider Zee. William Aglionby wrote 'Tis commonly said that this city is very like Venice. For my part I believe Amsterdam to be much superior in riches [Schama (1987, pb 1988)]. It was a major entrepôt between the rest of the world and Britain, so from time to time financial dealings relating to merchants resident there appear in probate inventories, in entries like 'In the hands of Grace Butler of Amsterdam v'dz money in hand and debts oweing by her accompt 1740 gild 7 st' [Inventories (1646)], and among 'Debts voyages and Adventures owing ... by Nichlas Wagmans att Amsterdam 07 02 00' [Inventories (1678)].

Amsterdam also gave its name to various products, including a form of FUSTIAN [Rates (1657)] and of PAPER [Inventories (1671)].

Not found in the OED

Found describing FUSTIAN, PAPER

Sources: Acts, Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period).
References: Schama (1987, pb 1988).



The Latin term for the ALMOND. It was used largely in APOTHECARY shops, where medicinal ingredients were given in their Latin form, and often heavily abbreviated.

Found listed as AMYGDALA DULCIA

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

Amygdala dulcia

[amigalaru' dulcia]

The Latin term for the SWEET ALMOND. It was used largely in APOTHECARY shops, where medicinal ingredients were given in their Latin form, and frequently heavily abbreviated.

Found used to define OIL

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

Amys iron

[iron armys; iron amys; amys spanish spruse and swethish iron; amys; amens iron]

Some form of imported IRON. It was differentiated in the 1643 and 1660 Books of Rates from SPANISH IRON, SPRUCE iron and SWEDISH IRON.

Not found in the OED online

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

Sources: Rates.