Black ginger - Black oats

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

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Nancy Cox. Karin Dannehl, 'Black ginger - Black oats', Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities 1550-1820, (Wolverhampton, 2007), British History Online [accessed 13 June 2024].

Nancy Cox. Karin Dannehl. "Black ginger - Black oats", in Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities 1550-1820, (Wolverhampton, 2007) . British History Online, accessed June 13, 2024,

Cox, Nancy. Dannehl, Karin. "Black ginger - Black oats", Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities 1550-1820, (Wolverhampton, 2007). . British History Online. Web. 13 June 2024,

In this section

Black ginger

[bl'k ginger; blacke ginger; black ging'r; bla. ging'r; bla ging'r; bl gingar]

The unscraped rhizome of the GINGER plant, Zingiber officinale. It was also known as 'coated' ginger, although not in the Dictionary Archive. CASE GINGER is possibly an uncommon synonym. Black ginger was prepared merely by washing and drying, although the old rhizomes, sometimes called in trade WHOLE GINGER, had to be treated somewhat differently to make them marketable [Simmonds (1906)]. Valuations of black ginger varied considerably, presumably reflecting quality and freshness. By the CWT black ginger was usually valued at around 20s and by the LB from 3d to 5d. It was much cheaper than the more processed WHITE GINGER.

OED earliest date of use: 1707 under GINGER

Found described by FINE, GROUND, UNGROUND
Found in units of BAG, C, cent, HUNDRED, LB, QUARTER, RACE

Sources: Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers.
References: Simmonds (1906).

Black haft

[blacke heft]

Like the BLACK FRAME for pictures, looking glasses and the like, the black haft was quite commonly recorded in the later half of the seventeenth century, either already affixed to its KNIFE or ready prepared. Presumably a black haft was made of EBONY or some other WOOD stained to imitate it.

Not found in the OED

Found describing KNIFE

Sources: Inventories (mid-period).

Black heart

The OED has an entry only for the variety of the cultivated CHERRY called black heart, with 1833 as earliest date of use. In the Dictionary Archive Black heart is a TIMBER or TIMBER - TREE that came originally from South America. There was an attempt, with what success is not known, to establish it in the West Indies [Acts (1793)]. Black heart does not seem to have been in common use, and its botanical name is unknown.

Sources: Acts.

Black hellebore

[blacke helebor; black hellebor; black helleb; black heliber; black elebore]

A name given by the ancients to Helleborus officinalis, a herbacious plant having poisonous and medicinal properties, and especially reputed as a specific for mental disease [Henriette (online)]. There is, however some uncertainty about identification, as Gerard seems to have been describing Helleborus niger, commonly known now as the Christmas Rose [Gerard (1597, 1985 ed.)]. Culpeper claimed black hellebore to be an HERB of Saturn, and consequently taken with 'greater safety after being purified, than when raw'. He added 'Country people use it for such beasts as are troubled with the cough ... by boring a hole through the ear and putting a piece of the root therein' [Culpeper (1653, new ed. n.d.)]. Black hellebore has been noted valued at 18d the LB, and 1d to 1½d the OZ.

OED earliest date of use: 1390

Found in units of LB, OZ

Sources: Inventories (mid-period).
References: Culpeper (1653, new ed. n.d.), Gerard (1597, 1985 ed.), Henriette (online).

Black hemp

Black hemp was an alternative name for hemp dogbane, Apocynum cannabinum, also known as wild cotton and Indian hemp. It was apparently valued by the American Indians for its fibres. Although several writers quoted by the OED acknowledged these characteristics and referred to its use by Europeans in America, there is no evidence of its importation into Britain. The only example of black hemp in the Dictionary Archive contrasts it with WHITE HEMP [Tradecards (n.d.)]. [Patents (1678)] shows that the possibilities of whitening hemp were being explored, even when it was intended for CORDAGE. With this in mind, it is possible that black hemp was nothing more than hemp that had not been artificially whitened.

Not found in the OED

Sources: Tradecards.

Black indigo

A single instance has been noted among the 'Shop goods' of a London colourman [Inventories (1724)]. It not known what was meant by this term. The nearest known substance to a black indigo is 'brown indigo' that is present in all indigo and can be extracted from it. The method, though, appears to have been developed in the nineteenth century and was probably not known by early-modern dyers. It is possible that an indigo containing a high proportion of brown indigo may have given a blackish colour. However, this is not mentioned in early-modern authorities.

Sources: Inventories (late).

Black jack

[blake jacke; blacke jacke; black jacke]

A label given to two quite different products. The first is a large JUG or similar vessel, formed out of LEATHER and coated externally with TAR. It was apparently used primarily for holding BEER and other similar liquors. Black jacks of this type appear mostly in domestic settings but they have been noted occasionally in the shops.

OED earliest date of use in this sense: 1591

Black jack was secondly a miner's name for zinc sulphide or blende. In the nineteenth century this was to become the chief form of zinc used in making BRASS. Although known and patented in the previous century, black jack was little used for this purpose whilst the traditional method of using CALAMINE continued to be the preferred one. Nehemiah and John Champion experimented with black jack to make both BRASS and SPELTER and achieved some success. They used the patenting system to protect their methods [Patents (1758)].

OED earliest date of use in this sense: 1747

Found described by LEATHER

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

Black kersey

Although colour descriptors were virtually never used in the Gloucester Coastal Port Books, an exception appeared in 1576 when 'black kersey' was listed. The reason for its appearance is not clear, though it may be that it was deemed a distinct commodity like DEVONSHIRE KERSEY or NORTHERN DOZENS. Black kersey is found fairly frequently in the shops before 1660, but there is no reason to suppose that it is any different from other KERSEY, except that it was given the colour descriptor. Its frequent appearance may be because it was used to make mourning APPAREL more often than other TEXTILEs that would have served the same purpose.

Found in units of YARD

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

Black lamb

[black lambe]

The SKIN of a LAMB that had naturally black wool. Such lambs were uncommon and their skins were therefore more highly valued. They had the additional advantagage that the black colour was permanent and would not come out in wear. Black lamb was classified as a SKIN for FUR in the 1582 Book of Rates [Rates (1582)].

Found rated by the C containing 100

See also BUDGE.
Sources: Inventories (early), Rates.

Black latten

[latten viz black; latten black; black lattin]

This is a thin BRASS SHEET or LATTEN PLATE for slitting and drawing into WIRE and for other uses, for example, the OED has a quotation dated 1676 that said very small weights were stamped out of latten BRASS, in another quotation (1812) said to be synonymous with black LATTEN. However, in the list of rates published in 1657, the phrasing of the entry suggests that it was referring to IRONPLATE [Rates (1657)], a use of the term confirmed by several quotation in the OED.

OED earliest date of use: 1676

Found described by DOUBLE, SINGLE Found describing ROLL
Found in units of C Found rated by the BARREL, ROLL weighing a HUNDREDWEIGHT of 112 LB

Sources: Houghton, Inventories (late), Rates.

Black lead

[black-lead; blacklead; blacke leade]

Although the term was used to label a black ORE of LEAD this use has not been noted in the Dictionary Archive where black lead was the ordinary name of the mineral plumbago (from PLUMBUM, the Latin term for lead), or graphite. The names 'black lead' and 'plumbago' suggest that they were thought to be a form of lead, which they are not, evidence that the names pre-date knowledge of the actual mineral composition. Black lead was also called WAD and BLACK CAWK. It is a soft substance of greyish-black colour and metallic lustre, consisting of up to 88% carbon and up to 3.6% of iron and manganese. According to ACTS 1752/C010, it had only been found in one place in 'in one Mountain or Ridge of Hills, only in this Realm', that is those in Borrowdale, Cumberland. Tomlinson gave an excellent account of the workings of the Borrowdale mines in the nineteenth century. Probably much of the practices he described applied equally well to even earlier times [Tomlinson (1854)].

Mixed with clay, black lead was chiefly used for drawing and writing, and forms the central core of BLACK LEAD PENCILs. It was also employed to give a black metallic polish to IRON work, like STOVEs and GRATEs. A rather less mundane use was in casting BOMB SHELLs, ROUND SHOT and CANNON BALLs to line the moulds and prevent the metal from sticking [Trinder (1992)].

(The term 'graphite' has not been noted until the very end of the eighteenth century.)

OED earliest date of use: 1583

Found described by GROUND, polishing, POWDERED, unground, whole Found describing POWDER Found among DRUGS in the Rate Books Found in units of LB, OZ Found rated by the HUNDREDWEIGHT, 112 LB

Sources: Acts, Inventories (late), Newspapers, Rates, Tradecards.
References: Tomlinson (1854), Trinder (1992).

Black lead comb

The entry in Cox's Dictionary of Hairdressing directs the reader to 'Lead comb', in which this implement is defined as 'A comb made of lead and used to colour the hair' [Cox (1966, pb 1969)]. Randle Holme's definition is similar; 'Lead combs, used by such as haue red hair, to make it of another colour' [Holme (2000)]. There are problems with these definitions. Lead is a soft metal unsuitable for making a COMB. Added to which the definition ignores the descriptor 'black' and fails to notice the significance of a quotation cited from the eighteenth-century 'Woman in Miniature'. This reads, 'The specious lead-comb, colour-giving box, The crisping iron, and the mimic locks'. It seems more likely that the black lead COMB was an otherwise ordinary comb that was dipped in BLACK LEAD and then combed through the hair in order to disguise greying hair and restore it to blackness. The black lead, due to its fineness of grain was kept in what the quotation called a colour-giving box, but in the Dictionary Archive this has been noted as a BLACK LEAD - BOX.

OED earliest date of use: 1655

Sources: Tradecards.
References: Cox (1966, pb 1989), Holme (2000).

Black lead melting pot

[black lead crucible]

MELTING POTs served many purposes, and usually their purpose can only be deduced from the occupation of their owner. Melting pots used in the production of black lead were singled out for special mention in an act intended to foster the home production of black lead [Acts (1796)]. Presumably the black lead crucibles referred to in [Patents (1769)] were the same thing.

Not found in the OED

Sources: Acts, Patents.

Black lead pencil

[black-lead pencil; blackelead pen; black red and white lead sliding pencils; black lead and slate pencils; black lead and red chalk pencils; black lead and camel hair pencils; black and red lead pencils]

A PENCIL in the modern sense, that is a core of BLACK LEAD protected by a WOOD surround. The making of them seems to have been a specialist trade, hence 'Black Lead and Red Chalk Pencil Maker' [Newspapers (1780)]. Although available from the early seventeenth century at least, they have not been noted in the Dictionary Archive before the eighteenth. It was a commodity to which descriptors such as 'best' and 'new invented' were attached suggesting it was sold in a highly competitive market. This supposition is supported by an advertisement in the Salopian Journal which referred to 'the many deceptions daily practised in the Black Lead Pencil line' and set out the steps taken by one retailer to reduce the risks of copying and fraud. He used a method of sale often adopted by the proprietors of QUACK MEDICINEs, and 'appointed agents for the sale of [his pencils in most Principal Market Towns in England' [NEWSPAPERS MY1794SLJ027]. A manufacturer hinted at the same problems of imitation and fraud and announced that 'all his Pencils that are warranted good, are marked with the Name of John Middleton at full Length, and ... no other are genuine' [Newspapers (1780)].

OED earliest date of use: 1612 as a Pencil of black lead, 1677 as a Black lead pencil and 1612 as a Black lead PEN

Found described by BEST, NEW INVENTED

Sources: Newspapers, Tradecards.

Black leaf tobacco

Black leaf tobacco was a form of dark tobacco and included LUG and TWIST or PIG TAIL. In the only example in the Dictionary Archive it was defined as a form of ROLL TOBACCO [Acts (1788)].

Not found in the OED

Found describing LUG, PIGTAIL, TWIST

Sources: Acts.

Black madder

[black mather]

Black MADDER has been found only in a single entry in the Dictionary Archive among other DYSTUFF in a dyer's workhouse where it was valued at 4d the LB [Inventories (1640)]. Other madder in the same inventory was valued at 6d, a more typical valuation. The best madder came from Rubia tinctorum but that did not grow well in this country and was almost all imported. Perhaps black madder was the product of the native Rubia peregrina (which has black berries) or one of the other plants sometimes called madder that produced a less satisfactory dyestuff [Ponting (1980)].

Not found in the OED

Found in units of LB

Sources: Inventories (early).
References: Keble Martin (1965, 1971 ed.), Ponting (1980).

Black mug

[blacke mugge]

The term 'MUG' was sometimes the label for EARTHENWARE, but it was also, and still is, applied to a vessel, particularly a DRINKING VESSEL. In the only example in the Dictionary Archive it is found associated with BLACK POTs [Inventories (1659)]. In this context a black mug was almost certainly a drinking vessel and it may have been coloured BLACK.

See also BLACK POT, MUG.
Sources: Inventories (mid-period).

Black oak

An alternative name for QUERCITRON, used in tanning [see TANNED] and to make a YELLOW - DYESTUFF.

Found described by BASTARD, LARGE, of the mount Found describing BARK

Sources: Acts, Tradecards.

Black oats

[oats as the common black]

A variety of OATS, Avena strigosa, distinguished by two bristles at the tip in addition to the longer awn present in some varieties. Black oats are very hardy and suitable for hilly districts where other forms of oats struggle.

Not found in the OED

See also OATS.
Sources: Diaries, Houghton.
References: Masefield et al. (1969), 4-5.