Black parchment - Black work

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 parchment - Black work', Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities 1550-1820, (Wolverhampton, 2007), British History Online [accessed 20 June 2024].

Nancy Cox. Karin Dannehl. "Black parchment - Black work", in Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities 1550-1820, (Wolverhampton, 2007) . British History Online, accessed June 20, 2024,

Cox, Nancy. Dannehl, Karin. "Black parchment - Black work", Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities 1550-1820, (Wolverhampton, 2007). . British History Online. Web. 20 June 2024,

In this section

Black parchment

[redd p'chem't & black; p'chment blacke; blacke p'chme't; black browne parchment]

Probably a careless and shortened way of writing BLACK - PARCHMENT LACE. All examples noted in the Dictionary Archive have been listed among other items of HABERDASHERY, and most of them were listed among the varieties of LACE. Black parchment lace would no doubt have found a market in the MOURNING trade.

Found describing GIRDLING, LACE Found in units of PIECE

Sources: Inventories (early).

Black pepper

[pepper black; pepar black; black-pepper; blacke peper; black pepp'r; black pepp'; black peper; black pep'; black papper; black and jaimaca pepper; black & jaimeca pepper]

This was a cheaper and more pungent form of PEPPER than WHITE PEPPER. For this form the berries were harvested before they were quite ripe as the berries at the lower end of the spike turn red when they are at their most pungent. The gathered berries were dried in the sun for a few days, then packed in bags for marketing. [Patents (1677)] concerned an 'Engine or mill' to hull black pepper, presumably to make a cheap version of WHITE PEPPER, which was properly made in a longer and more complex process.

Black pepper was used in a variety of ways, for example, it was used by some to flavour CHOCOLATE [Houghton], in one recipe claimed effective against the bite of a mad dog [Recipes (Smith)], and in another used for VENICE TREACLE [Recipes (Pemberton)].

Valuations varied considerably due to quality and freshness ranging from 20d to 3s 4d the LB.

OED earliest date of use: c1000

Found described by BEST, GROUND, ORDINARY, POWDERED, whole Found as an ingredient in VENICE TREACLE Found in units of BAG, C, LB

See also PEPPER.
Sources: Diaries, Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Patents, Recipes, Tradecards.
References: Simmonds (1906), II/179.

Black piece

[black peece]

The term refers to the section of a black or darkly coloured HORN found between the tip and the base.

Found described by pressed, UNWROUGHT Found in units of HUNDRED

Sources: Inventories (mid-period).

Black pins

[black and white pins; bla pins]

Early examples of black PINS may have been made of IRON, but probably they were pins painted, varnished or even enamelled BLACK. The Penny Cyclopedia of 1840 declared that 'Mourning pins may be made of brass, ... varnishing being substituted for tinning in mourning' [OED, Mourning]. These may be what were listed in one advertisement as 'Black and white Pins of all kinds' [Tradecards (1794)].

Defined in the OED under Mourning, but no dated citation as such

Sources: Inventories (mid-period), Tradecards.

Black pitch

[black do.]

The term may denote JEWS PITCH, since both are found in similar types of advertisement but never both found together. Alternatively, it may possibly refer to common PITCH to contrast it with BURGUNDY PITCH, which was (also) known as WHITE pitch.

OED earliest date of use: 1375

Found in units of LB

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

Black pot

[blacke pott; blacke pote; black pudding pott; black pott; black drinkinge pott]

According to the OED, this term was a label for a BEER - MUG. However, in the Dictionary Archive, the term seems to have been applied more generally to vessels made of a black EARTHEN WARE or with a black glaze. Black pots were apparently very cheap, being valued at 12d the DOZEN or even less.

OED earliest date of use: 1590

Found described by PUDDING Found in a Glass House Found listed together with GALLIPOT
Found in units of DOZEN

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

Black powder

The term probably has several meanings, but in the Dictionary Archive it has been noted only as a HAIR POWDER [Tradecards (18c.)]. Cox gives a eighteenth/nineteenth recipe for black hair powder that involved mixing STARCH with JAPAN INK, drying it and adding IVORY BLACK [Cox (1966, pb 1969)]. Although it may have been for use as a conventional hair powder, it is at least possible that it consisted of BLACK LEAD in a powder form for use with a BLACK LEAD COMB.

Not found in the OED

Sources: Tradecards.
References: Cox (1966, pb 1969).

Black ribbon

[blacke satten ribbin; blacke ryband; blacke ribon; blacke ribbin; blacke rebon; blacke broad ribon; blacke 2d ribbon; blacke 2d ferritt ribbon; black silk ribbin; black silk ribband; black ribben; black 8d ribbon; black 6d ribbon; black 3d rybon]

A black RIBBON was an essential attribute of mourning, worn by many at funerals, and sometimes also bequeathed to anyone prepared to swell the crowd of mourners. It had, however, other uses; for example, Pepys wore one to warn others about jostling his arm where blood had been let that day [Diaries (Pepys)] while in 1743 some unfortunate advertised as lost 'A small Silver Watch, ... with a black Silk Ribband instead of a watch chain' [Newspapers (1743)]. As would be expected, black ribbons varied greatly in price depending on quality, width and fashionability, being valued from 2d (for 6d ribbon) to 12d the YARD and 2s to 7s the DOZEN.

Found described by 2d, 3d, 6d, 8d, BROAD, FERRET, SMALL Found made of SILK
Found in units of DOZEN, PIECE, YARD

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

Black rod

[black rode]

The precise meaning is not clear, but black rods have been noted in the inventory of BASKET maker along with WHITE RODs [Inventories (1700)]. There was a substantial difference in valuation, the black being valued at 12d the BUNCH, and the white at twice as much [Inventories (1700)]. Probably the black were rods that had not yet had their bark removed.

Not found in the OED

Found in units of BUNCH

See also ROD.
Sources: Inventories (late).

Black rosin

[blacke rozin; blacke rossen]

Black rosin is a bye-product of the distilled TURPENTINE OIL, being the substance left at the bottom of the still and then well refined [Illustrated Herbal (online)]. Where prices or valuations were given, black rosin appears to have been of marginally less value than YELLOW ROSIN.

Not found in the OED

Found in units of CWT, LB

Sources: Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Tradecards.
References: Illustrated Herbal (2003).

Black skin

[blacke spanish skin; black sk]

Black SKIN may be no more than skins that were black, either because that was their natural colour or because they had been dyed black. However, black skins do seem to have been used more commonly than other skins not so defined for making POCKETs. The most explicit example may be found in [Diaries (Moore)], which records their use to make POCKETs for a pair of BREECHES, but elsewhere their are entries like the one for ' 3 doz: black pocketts at 22d p doz:' [Inventories (1720)].

Not found in the OED

Found rated by HUNDRED of 100 LB

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

Black soap

[blacke sope; black sope; bla: sope]

In Latin SAPO NIGRUS, it is a SOFT SOAP often made from inferior materials such as TRAIN OIL or other fish OIL. The retailer stored it in a BARREL or like vessel, but the ordinary customers probably bought it by the LB and used it as an all-purpose soap unless a superior form of soap like the WASHBALLs or CASTILE SOAP was affordable for personal use. It was valued at a few pence the LB, typically 3d.

Cox gives an alternative recipe and use for black soap. A soap of this name was made of CASTILE SOAP and IVORY BLACK that was used to treat infestations of the human parasite crab lice [Cox (1966, pb 1969)].

OED earliest date of use: 1425


Sources: Diaries, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Tradecards.
References: Cox (1966, pb 1969).

Black stuff

[stuffes blacke; blacke silke stuffe; black stuufe]

The term was commonly applied to the TEXTILE, STUFF, when it was coloured BLACK. In this sense the term does not warrant a separate entry in the Dictionary, although the frequency of black stuff in the shops does reflect the importance to trade of black fabrics in MOURNING. However, black stuff has also been noted labelling a material used for stuffing UPHOLSTERY. The context provides no further clue to what it was.

Not found with this second meaning in the OED

Found in units of YARD

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

Black tea

[black and singlo tea]

A type of TEA fermented before drying, in contrast to GREEN TEA which was not. BOHEA TEA (the most common), CONGOU TEA, PEKOE TEA and SOUCHONG TEA were all defined by Statute as black teas [Acts (1767)]. Although in the early eighteenth century it was more expensive than green tea, the situation reversed as the century progressed.

OED earliest date of use: 1785 under Tea

Found in units of LB

Sources: Acts, Inventories (late), Newspapers.

Black thread

[threde blacke; thredd blacke; thred vocat black; red thryd and black; blacke thride; blacke thrid; blacke threede; blacke threedde; blacke threed; blacke thred; black treed; black thrid; black threed; black thredd; black thred; black third; black sowing thred; black brown & coller' thred; black bridges threede; black and colored thred; black & cullered thrid]

It is not clear whether this is a type of THREAD, as is BROWN THREAD and BLACK AND BROWN THREAD, or merely one dyed BLACK. A case can be made for either use and meaning. On the one hand black thread was common in the shops throughout the period and had sufficient significance to be rated as a distinct commodity. On the other hand, it does not seem to have been sufficiently prestigious for retailers to single out in their promotional material. Furthermore, the range in valuations extending from 6d the LB up to 2s 4d, and the number of units in which black thread was measured do suggest that it was applied to different types of thread even if BRIDGES THREAD was the only one specifically named. In this case the colour gave no additional significance and black thread was common merely because it was needed to make up black clothes for MOURNING.

OED earliest date of use: 1568

Found described by BRIDGES
Found in units of BOLT, boule, BUTT, DOZEN, LB, OZ Found rated by the POUND

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

Black tin

[black tyn]

ORE of TIN when it has been dressed, stamped and washed ready for smelting. It was a laborious process for which running water was an essential requirement. It is perhaps, therefore, not surprising that innovators patented a supposedly improved method of smelting black tin to turn it into 'merchantable white tin' [Patents (1702)]. The fact that black tin was also found describing amd used to make various artefacts like BUTTONs and LADLEs suggests that it had a further meaning not noted in the dictionaries.

Not found in the OED

Found describing BUTTON, LADLE

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

Black varnish

Black varnish was an invention of the Chinese and the Japanese, introduced here in the seventeenth century and much admired, hence JAPANNED WARE. The method of making black varnish used in the Far East remained a secret almost to the end of the early-modern period, but a cheaper substitute was found in the West consisting of mixing LAMP BLACK or IVORY BLACK, the former giving a better result, in a strong solution of GUM LAC in SPIRIT OF WINE [Rees (1819-20, 1972 ed.)].

Another composition, also called black varnish, was patented in 1782. Its purpose was to protect naval equipment such as YARDs, MASTs, BLOCKs and ANCHORs, and it was designed to replace TAR and LAMP BLACK that had formerly been used for the purpose [Patents (1782)].

OED earliest date of use: 1667 under Varnish

Found described as naval

Sources: Patents.
References: Rees (1819-20, 1972 ed.).

Black ware

A term the meaning of which is only made plain by context. In the Dictionary Archive it either referred to items HABERDASHERY, particularly of black MADE WARE or to BLACK - IRON WARE. In the former 'black' was no more than a colour descriptor, but in the latter there is some implication at least that the WARE was in a rough state, unpolished or in some way unfinished. Among the stock of a blacksmith, black ware did not, apparently, include FRYING PANs [Inventories (1621)].

Not found in the OED

Found in units of C, LB, SCORE

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

Black wax

Probably BLACK - SEALING WAX was intended in the only entry found in the Dictionary Archive [Inventories (1799)]. The best was made by melting SHELLAC and RESIN together with IVORY BLACK, but for inferior varieties the shellac was omitted [Rees (1819-20, 1972 ed.)].

Found in units of OZ

Sources: Inventories (late).
References: Rees (1819-20, 1972 ed.).

Black wood

There is more than one possibility for black wood. The OED cites several TIMBER trees that have attracted this label. One unlikely possibility is the East-Indian Dalbergia latifolia, although that cannot have been known as such since Nicholas Dalberg, in whose honour it was named, was only born in 1736. It affords an extremely hard wood suitable for FURNITURE, carving etc. [Synge (1951, new ed.1956)]. Another possibility is EBONY, but it seems out of place in the inventory of the joiner concerned [Inventories (1696)]. A third possibility is a wood dyed BLACK to imitate the more expensive ebony.

Black wood has also been noted in the inventory of a mercer who held small stocks of DYESTUFF [Inventories (1689)] It follows a listing of REDWOOD (that is either BARWOOD, GUINEA WOOD or BRAZIL), and was almost certainly the common black DYEWOOD called LOGWOOD.

Found in units of LB

Sources: Inventories (mid-period).
References: Synge (1951, new ed.1956).

Black wool

[black wooll]

The WOOL from a BLACK - SHEEP or LAMB. Since the colour is natural, it is extremely fast and not subject to fading. Most blacks fade unevenly allowing undue prominence to the colour of one of the DYESTUFFs used, which explains the popularity of any material naturally coloured. Black wool seems also to have been esteemed for its medicinal (or possibly its magical) properties as it was specifically mentioned in some recipes when, to modern eyes at least, any WOOL would seem to have been adequate, for example [Recipes (Berington)]

Not found in the OED

Found in units of LB

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

Black work

[blacke worke]

A type of embroidery of Spanish origin, popular in the sixteenth century and the seventeenth, using BLACK - SILK to stitch stylised or naturalistic motifs onto WHITE - LINEN or SILK. Not the same as 'black framework'.

Not found in the OED

Found describing PILLOW BERE

Sources: Inventories (early), Newspapers.