Bears ears - Beer vinegar

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

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

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

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

In this section

Bears ears

A vernacular name for the AURICULA due to the shape of their leaves.

OED earliest date of use: 1597

Sources: Newspapers.


[beares skinne; beares skin; bear skin]

The SKIN of the BEAR, mainly the brown, but also the polar bear. The Books of Rates specified red, black and white skins. They have not been noted for sale in the shops, appearing only in official documents like the Books of Rates and in Houghton.

OED earliest date of use: 1823

As a TEXTILE, bearskin was a COARSE, thick, durable WOOLLEN CLOTH with a shaggy nap used to make APPAREL such as OVERCOATs. Montgomery, quoting Arthur Young's Tour of the Southern Counties (1768), gave Witney as the place of manufacture. Valuations varied considerably, ranging from 8d to 2s 8d the YARD.

OED gives a definition but no earliest date of use

As a Skin: Found described as BLACK, RED, UNDRESSED, WHITE Found in units of SKIN Found rated by the PIECE
As a TEXTILE: Found described as DRAB Found in units of YARD

Sources: Diaries, Houghton, Inventories (late), Rates.
References: Montgomery (1984).


The one entry found in the Dictionary Archive consists of the purchase of 'one beasil or Holland tyke or bolster' by an educated GENTLEMAN of Sussex [Diaries (Moore)]. It is therefore relatively unlikely that 'beasil' is a dialect term. It has not been located in the dictionaries. His entry is obscure unless one assumes that by 'bolster' he was using a shortened form of 'BOLSTER case', a use that the OED does not cite. Most likely the diarist bought a TICK made of HOLLAND, but whether for a BED or a BOLSTER is not clear.

Not found in the OED

Sources: Diaries.

Beaten ginger

[beatten ginger; beat ginger]

DRIED GINGER beaten to make it more usable. Dried ginger was an intractable material and was difficult to prepare. Although some was grated into RAZED GINGER, and some ground into GROUND GINGER, some was merely crushed to allow the flavour to escape. It was valued very low, sometimes as as little as 2d LB.

Found in units of C, LB, POUND

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


[bever; bavie]

An amphibious rodent, noted in trade for the BEAVER SKIN used as a FUR, and for the soft under fur known as BEAVER WOOL. CASTOREUM was another product obtained from the beaver. The native beaver was hunted so extensively in the Middle Ages, that it became extinct during the early-modern period. During this time, therefore, a new field of exploitation was opened in northen America, whence most products came.

Beaver, or Beaver cloth, was the name given in the eighteenth century to a stout WOOLLEN CLOTH with a raised finish resembling beaver fur [Montgomery (1984)]. As such it is found among similar fabrics in advertisements as in the one for 'Beavers, Hunters, Corduroys, Thicksets, Velvets, Velveret' [Newspapers (1780)]. The term was also used elliptically for BEAVER HAT.

OED earliest date of use: 1000 for the animal; 1756 as a TEXTILE; 1528 as a HAT

As the fur: Found describing CAROLINA, HAT
As a TEXTILE: Found described as FINE Found used to make COAT

Sources: Acts, Diaries, Houghton, Inventories (late), Newspapers, Patents, Rates, Tradecards.
References: Montgomery (1984).

Beaver belly

[bever bellies; beaver bellies]

The meaning of this term is ambiguous. It is almost certainly an alternative meaning of BEAVER WOMB, in which case its main use was for the BEAVER WOOL plucked or shorn from it. However, the difference in rate per piece in 1582 between the bellies (8d.) and the skin (5s.) is considerable. An early meaning of 'Belly' given in the OED, and references in medicine to the bellies of the SKINK raises the possibility that this was a reference to CASTOREUM or more particularly to the 'Beaver Cods' from which it was extracted [Rates (1657)].

Not found in the OED

Sources: Rates.

Beaver hair

[beaver wool or hair]

The guard HAIR of the BEAVER, after separation from the BEAVER WOOL. It was mainly used to make itmes like a BRUSH, hence entries like 'Two beaver brushes at 8d' [Inventories (1682)], but it may also have been used in addition to the wool to make the BEAVER HAT.

Not found in the OED

Found used to make BRUSH, HAT

Sources: Rates.

Beaver hat

[bever; beaver hat]

Also found shortened to BEAVER, the term referred to a FELT HAT made of BEAVER WOOL or its fur, or some imitation of it; formerly worn by both sexes, but increasingly chiefly by men. After the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, the beaver hat became fashionable, hence Samuel Pepys' pride in his new clothes and 'a new beaver, which altogether is very noble' [Diaries (Pepys)]. Such hats went under a variety of names as one advertisement shows: 'fine Beavers, Beaverets, Casters, Beaver Carolinas'. The same advertisement indicates how expensive they could be, offering 'fine large Beaver hats at 25 shillings a piece which were formerly sold for 50 shillings' [Newspapers (1707)]. Inevitably, the hat attracted the attention of innovators. For example, in the 1790s, a patent was taken out for 'Manufacturing waterproof hats, in imitation of beaver-hats' [Patents (1794)].

OED earliest date of use: c1386

Found rated by the HAT

Sources: Acts, Diaries, Newspapers, Patents, Rates.

Beaver skin

[beavers skin]

The SKIN of the BEAVER, valued primarily as the source of BEAVER WOOL, and to a lesser extent of BEAVER HAIR. Howver, the skin was also used to make an attractive FUR. This is naturally dark brown, becoming paler towards the flank, where the coarse guard hair is shorter. The skins, most of which came from northern America, were imported either whole, or with the BEAVER WOMB, or belly part, cut off and packed separately, so both whole skins and wombs were included in the Books of Rates. The skins were normally dressed in ALUM and SALT, or in MEAL [Acts (1800)].

OED earliest date of use: 1761, presumably as SKIN

As a SKIN: Found described as DRESSED in ALUM and SALT or MEAL, HALF DRESSED, INDIAN, UNDRESSED Found used to make BREECHES Found imported by the SKIN Found rated by the PIECE, Piece of Skin, SKIN (when imported from AMERICA)

Sources: Acts, Diaries, Houghton, Inventories (late), Patents, Rates.

Beaver womb

The skin from the underside or belly of a BEAVER. Since it seems to have been desired mainly for the BEAVER WOOL, which was thicker there and less protected by a layer of outer BEAVER HAIR, wombs were often found associated with the wool as in 'Beavers wool and Wombs' [Acts (1762)].

OED earliest date of use: 1612

Found imported by the PARCEL Found rated by the PIECE Found exported and rated by the LB

Sources: Acts, Houghton, Rates.

Beaver wool

[bever-wool; bevers wooll; bever wooll; beavers wool]

The soft wool-like under fur plucked or shaved from a BEAVER SKIN or BEAVER WOMB and used to make the BEAVER HAT. Such hats were much in demand, so ideas were sought for speeding up the process of separating the wool from the skin itself without harm, as a patent in the 1720s for an 'Engine for cutting the wool from beaver, coney, and hare skins, for making hats [Patents (1721)].

OED earliest date of use: 1757

Found as 'Beaver Wool or Wombs' Found described as 'cut and combed' (see COMBED WOOL)
Found rated by the POUND

Sources: Acts, Rates, Tradecards.

Bed cord

[bedd corde; bedd cord; bead cord]

OED suggests it was the CORD used to stretch the SACKING that provided the foundation for the BED. Occasional references in the Dictionary Archive suggest that the term was sometimes used in this sense, for instance abbreviated in 'Steddle, sacking Bottom and Cord' [Inventories (1754)]. Occurrences elsewhere in the Dictionary Archive, however, suggest that it was more commonly a CORD threaded through holes in the bed frame from side to side and from top to bottom to form a base on which was placed the BEDDING. This afforded the sleeper with some flexibility, since the long cord could adjust to the shape of the user. On top of the cords was placed a MAT or MATTRESS, hence the usual form of entry, again abbreviated, as in 'bedstead w'th matt & corde' [Inventories (1646)]. The term bed cord was rarely used in full, where the meaning and use of the abbreviated 'cord' was self-evident. However, in places where this was not the case, for instance in the shops, bed cords were quite common. The entry in one probate inventory of 'Sacking Cords 37 lb Bed Cords 40 ll' [Inventories (1780)] shows clearly the distinction between the cord designed to stretch a sacking base taut and the bed cords used on their own.

OED earliest date of use: 1625

Found in units of C, DOZEN, LB, PIECE

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

Bed covering

[cov'yngs for beddes; coveryng for a bede; covering for a bed; cou'ing for a bed; bedd cou'ring; bedcoverine; bedcouerynge; bedcou'; bed coveringe; bed cover; bed cou'ing; bed coueringe; bed cou']

A COVERING for a BED, but not synonymous with COVERLET, a term with which it was associated in the Dictionary Archive [Inventories (1591)]. Unlike the coverlet, it becomes much less common later in the period and virtually disappears after 1700.

Found described as COARSE

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

Bed head

[head for a bed]

The upper part of a BED; the HEAD PIECE. John Gloag is more specific, suggesting it is either the solid, panelled head of a BEDSTEAD rising behind the PILLOW and either framed into posts, or part of a framework that supports the TESTER [Gloag (1952, revised 1991)].

OED earliest date of use: c1386

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

Bed quilt


A QUILT used as a bed covering, but distinct from a COUNTERPANE or a COVERLET, see for example [Newspapers (1790)]. Randle Holme explained the structure in some detail: 'Quilting, is to put Cotton Wool of an equal thickness between two Silks, or a Callicoe or other Cloth undermost, and a Silk above, which is wrought in scrolls, flowers, &c. to keep the Cotton from shifting its place' [Holme (2000)]. His description exactly fits those in one advertisement for 'Sattin & Callicoe quilted Bed Quilts' [Tradecards (1740)]. Some bed quilts were extravagantly ornamented as Randle Holme suggested, with designs far more complex than the diamond patterns often associated with quilts, like the 'curious Bedquilt, one side quilted and the other curiously wrought with coloured Needle-work' [Newspapers (1790)], or the one 'white worked with colour'd silks on one side, and blue and white cotton on the other' [Newspapers (1790)].

OED earliest date of use: 1847

Found described as WHITE, WROUGHT Found made using CALICO, COTTON, SATIN, SILK

Sources: Inventories (late), Newspapers, Tradecards.
References: Holme (2000).

Bed screw

[bed and other screws]

A SCREW used for holding together the posts and beams of a wooden BEDSTEAD. They have been noted among the stock of a BRASS founder, who presumably made them [Inventories (1792)], and of a carpenter, who presumably used them in the construction of bedsteads [Inventories (1780)]. Although a method of constructing bedsteads 'by putting them together without screws and nuts' was patented in the 1780s [Patents (1785)], it would appear that the use of screws remained popular as a 'Machine' was patented in 1800 'to mould patterns for casting wood, bed, and other screws, of cast iron, brass, or other metallic compositions' [Patents (1800)].

Bed screw was also the name of a powerful machine for raising heavy bodies, often used in launching ships. In this sense it has not been noted in the Dictionary Archive.

OED earliest date of use: 1832 in the first sense; 1757 in the second sense

Found described as LONG
Found in units of DOZEN

Sources: Inventories (late).

Bed work stitching

[bed-work stitching]

The only definition in the OED for 'bed work' does not seem to be applicable here. Bed work stitching was apparently a form of decorative EMBROIDERY stitch, distinct from CROSS STITCH and TENT STITCH. A service offering all three may be found in [Tradecards (1800)].

Not found as such in the OED

Sources: Tradecards.


Probably synonymous with BED LACE and serving the same function of binding raw edges.

Not found in the OED online

Found measured for sale by PIECE

Sources: Inventories (early).


[beife; befe; beeves; beeffe; beefe; beafe]

The term was usually applied to the MEAT from OX, BULL or COW, used as food, but it was occasionally used for the animal itself [Acts (1643)]. The quantity of meat on such a large animal made keeping it fresh and free from contamination by flies difficult during hot weather even during the relatively short process of slaughter and butchering. The result was that few animals were killed for meat during the summer except in large towns where sale was rapid. Most slaughter took place during the cooler months, and much of the meat was immediately placed in SALT or BRINE. The beef, which was quite commonly recorded in probate inventories, would have been in this form even if not actually listed as SALT BEEF or DRIED BEEF, or under a term with like meaning. This is made clear in entries like 'fyve poudringe tubbs and a turnell for beefe' [Inventories (1635)]. Even so, prices for the fresh meat were recorded, indicating it was available, at least at times. For example, Ralph Josselin wrote in his diary for the 15 September 1646 that 'all manner of meates excessive deare, beefe at cheapest 2d. per lb ... and yett it was a very rich grasse yeare' [Diaries (Josselin)]. Preserved beef was an essential item of diet on long sea voyages; as a result it was included among SHIPS STORES and MILITARY STORES [Acts (1781)]. A list compiled in the 1670s of necessaries for those emigrating to the New World included as the 'common proportions of Victuals for the Sea to a Mess, being 4 men' as 'Two pieces of Beef, of 3 pound and ¼ per piece', that is over 6LB of meat to be shared between four men [Diaries (Josselyn)]. It shows the scale of meat-eating deemed acceptable at the time for the working man. The same document suggested a 'Hogshead of English Beef' would cost about £5, and one of Irish beef about half as much.

OED earliest date of use: c1300

Found described as boiled, DUTCH, ENGLISH, good, HAMBURG, IRISH, in ribs and rolls for grating, roast, SALTED, of Scotland Found describing PORTABLE SOUP
Found in units of Baron, BARREL, C, FLITCH, HOGSHEAD, LB, PIECE, QU, SIDE, STONE, TON, TUB Found rated by the BARREL

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

Beef fork

[beife forke; beef-fork; beeffork; beefefork; beefe forke; beef fforke]

The beef FORK was a common piece of kitchen equipment. It was a fork with a long handle, and two or three prongs, probably made all of metal, BRASS or IRON, and used primarily for handling meat on the SPIT or that boiling in a pot hung over the fire, or for handling meat generally [Yaxley (2003)].

OED online earliest date of use: 1634 under Mincing

Found described as IRON, SMALL
Found in units of PAIR

Sources: Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late).
References: Yaxley (2003).

Beef pot

[beefpott; beefe pott; beef shavings; beef pott]

Although noted much earlier in the OED online, the beef pot has only been noted in the Dictionary Archive during the eighteenth century, when it seems to have been a term applied to an EARTHENWARE pot, probably intended as a container for POTTED beef.

OED online earliest date of use: 1480 under Beef (no definition)

Found described as BROWN, ROUND Found in units of DOZEN

Sources: Inventories (late).

Beef pricker

[beeife pricker]

Probably an alternative name for what Randle Holme called a 'Flesh prick' or SKEWER [Holme (2000)].

Not found in the OED as such, but earliest date of use of 'Prick to prick meat': 1530

Sources: Inventories (early).
References: Holme (2000).

Beef tub

[tubb of beefe; beefe tubb; beefe Tub; beef tubb]

Presumably this was a TUB in which BEEF was preserved in SALT or PICKLE.

Not found in the OED online

See also MEAT TUB.
Sources: Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late).


[beere; beare; bear]

Alcoholic liquor obtained by the fermentation of MALT (and rarely other ingredients such as POTATO) flavoured with HOPS or other aromatic bitters, which were also intended to improve the keeping qualities of the liquor. The brewing process began by grinding dried malt and mashing it. This was a process of reactivating the conversion of starch to sugars started in the malting by the application of water and heat in a COPPER. The liquid (known as wort) was drained off into a MASH TUB and allowed to cool. The next stage was called 'boiling' whereby the wort was put into the then empty copper and boiled. Hops, either loose or in coarse CANVAS bags were added to the heated liquid. When a sediment began to form, the wort was drained off, through SIEVEs, for 'cooling' in shallow coppered TUBs or wooden TRAYs, often called COOLERs. The whole was then fermented by the addition of YEAST for a period between two days and a week. After the SUGARs in the wort had been properly converted into alcohol, the beer was drained off from the yeast debris into CASKs [Sambrook (1996)]. The mash was sometimes re-used to make a weaker drink such as SMALL BEER. The strength of beer depended upon the amount and, to a lesser extent, the quality of malt used. Houghton, for instance, noted that the quantity of malt could vary considerably, between six and fourteen BUSHELs of DERBY MALT to make a HOGSHEAD of beer.

Until about the seventeenth century the distinction between beer and ALE was based upon the addition of hops: the term 'ale' was used to denote a native unhopped fermented malt liquor, and the term 'beer' described a hopped malt liquor that was introduced to Britain from the Low Countries in the fifteenth century [Sambrook (1996)]. Later the term ale was applied to the first drawn worts after mashing and boiling, in words, those that were not re-mashed or mixed with a second wort. Ale manufactured in this way was of a higher quality and strength than beer that was subjected to further processing. However, this distinction was not always made since beer was also used as a generic term for all malted liquor, including PORTER.

During particularly scarce years, beer was made from saccharine substitutes such as SUGAR, TREACLE, HONEY, FOREIGN GRAINS and GUINEA PEPPER, either on their own or as adulterants. Much is known about these in brewing owing to legislation prohibiting their usage in 12ANNE C2 (1713). Some domestic recipes make beer-like drinks; for example, one recipe for TREACLE BEER noted that RAISINs, BRAN, SPICEs, or available FRUIT could be added for flavouring. [Sambrook (1996)].

Prior to the arrival and widespread consumption of TEA and COFFEE, beer was one of the most common liquids drunk, as it was a safer alternative to water that was often contaminated and disease-ridden during the early modern period. However, the high prices levied on these non-alcoholic beverages until the later eighteenth century prevented the majority of society from spurning ale and beer, despite the increasingly severe criticisms by wealthy temperance reformers. The social elite, on the other hand, continued to lubricate the election process and offer ale and beer as a form of payment to outdoor workers and some servants. Sambrook, for instance, in her study of country house brewing notes that 'Contemporary accounts reinforce the general impression that large-scale consumption of alcohol was usual amongst country house servants in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and that drunkeness carried with it less of a social stigma than in later years' [Sambrook (1996)].

OED earliest date of use: c1000

Simone Clarke

Found described as decayed, spoilt, SPRUCE Found describing GLASS, STOOL, VESSEL, VINEGAR
Found sold by the BARREL, FIRKIN, HOGSHEAD

Sources: Acts, Diaries, Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Patents, Rates, Recipes, Tradecards.
References: Sambrook (1996).

Beer vinegar

[beere vinagre]

Probably not the same as VINEGAR BEER, but a vinegar made from beer. This is supported by an advertisement in a Norwich newspaper for a 'very good Beer Vinegar' to be sold ... for 3d the Quart or 3 Half Pence a Pint' [Newspapers (1708)]. The synonym BEEREGAR appeared rather earlier.

OED earliest date of use: 1672

Found in units of HOGSHEAD, PINT, QUART

Sources: Inventories (mid-period), Newspapers.