Fire arm - Fitch

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

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

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

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

In this section

Fire arm

A WEAPON in which GUNPOWDER is used, such as a GUN or PISTOL. Although there are many examples of specific fire arms in the Dictionary Archive, the term itself is found only in patents where improvements were set out [Patents (1776)]; [Patents (1792)], and in one advertisement claiming that they would be 'clean'd & repair'd on the shortest notice and most Reasonable terms' [Tradecards (1802)].

OED earliest date of use: 1772

Sources: Patents, Tradecards.

Fire box

[furr box; firr box; fire or tinder-boxes; ffirbox; ffir boxe; fferbox]

Not to be confused with 'Fir Box', that is a box made out of FIR wood or DEAL, as in '11 dozen of paynted boxes 4 & A halfe dozen of Small waynescott boxes & 4 dozen of firr boxes' [Inventories (1670)], or 'One Fir Box containing Various Machanical Instrumants' [Inventories (1779)]. Rather, a Fire box was a box with materials for procuring fire; a TINDER BOX, as was made clear in the 1660 Book of Rates: 'fire or Tinder-boxes the groce, containing twelve dozen boxes' [Rates (1660)].

OED earliest date of use: 1555

Found described by OLD
Found rated by the GROSS of 12 DOZEN

See also TINDER BOX.
Sources: Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Rates.

Fire bucket

[fire buckett]

A BUCKET used in fire fighting, generally made of LEATHER. Randle Holme informs: 'A Fire Bucket, (or a Leather Bucket). This is also called a Syphon, which is a kind of Vessel made of Tanned Hydes to carry Water in, to quench Fire that is raging amongst Dwelling Houses' [Holme (2000)].

OED earliest date of use: 1688

Found (by implication) made of LEATHER
Found in units of SET

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

Fire cape

A water-repellent and/or fire-resistant CAPE for fire fighters

Not found in the OED

Sources: Tradecards.

Fire engine

[fire-engine; engines used for extinguishing fires; engines for extinguishing fire; engine for extinguishing fires]

A term that was applied in two different ways. In the first, a fire ENGLINE was an apparatus used to assist in extinguishing fires. Early fire engines were hardly more than a vehicle equipped with buckets, and possibly a tank to hold water, but by the eighteenth-century, innovators were developing pumps that could be used for fighting fires, particularly at sea where water was readily available; hence the patent of 1766 for a 'Pump; also an engine for extinguishing fires' [Patents (1766)]. The same type of system was also used for watering gardens [Tradecards (1775)].

Secondly and more commonly, fire engine was an alternative name for a (stationary) steam engine. The term in this sense is found almost exclusively in the Dictionary Archive in the string of patents concerned with its initial invention and with its application to working mines, particularly draining them [Patents (1785)], and to working mills [Patents (1770)], or for powering industrial BELLOWS [Patents (1757)].

OED online earliest date of use: c1680 in the first sense; 1722 in the second sense, both under Fire-engine

As a steam engine: Found used to drain water out of mines

Sources: Patents, Rates.

Fire hearth

A kind of cooking range for ships, though possibly the term was applied more generally to the cooking equipment used at sea. Anxieties about the dangers of fire on board meant that there were two patents concerned to make imporovements in existing equipment [Patents (1668)]; [Patents (1677)].

OED earliest date of use: 1678


Sources: Patents.

Fire horse

[ffire horsse]

Possibly an alternative name for a FIRE DOG or ANDIRON, but in the only example noted in the Dictionary Archive andirons were also listed in the same entry as are FIRE IRONs [Inventories (1679)].

Not found in the OED online

Sources: Inventories (mid-period).

Fire mastic

A substance patented in 1779 with the alternative name of bitumen. It was intended for covering or sheathing ships etc. [Patents (1779)], but does not seem to have come into general use, at least not under the name of fire mastic.

Not found in the OED

See also MASTIC.
Sources: Patents.

Fire pike

[pich; fyer picke]

An IMPLEMENT for stirring or making up a fire. The term was sometimes abbreviated as in 'a pich shovel & tonges' [Inventories (1715)].

OED earliest date of use: 1413

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

Fire screen

[fire-screen; fire skreen; ffire skreen; ffire screen]

A fixed or adjustable SCREEN to protect someone from the heat of the fire, sometimes given a different name to denote construction as in POLE SCREEN or area to be protected as in FACE SCREEN. Like other screens the fire screen was designed for display at least as much as for function. They were made with expensive woods like MAHOGANY or WALNUT, or with decorative in-fill inside the frame as indicated by the '6 Fire skreen prints and Borders' in the workshop of one upholsterer [Inventories (1780)]. Although Gloag does not suggest this, it seems likely that some of these more decorative screens were intended to stand in front of the grate when it was not in use [Gloag (1952, revised 1991)].

A different type of fire screen altogether is represented by the 'wooden fire screen to dry the hair upon' noted among the equipment of a PERUKE maker [Inventories (1748)]. This was presumably in the form of a drier on which the hair could be hung or laid.

OED earliest date of use: 1758

Found made of MAHOGANY, WALNUT

Sources: Inventories (late), Newspapers, Tradecards.
References: Gloag (1952, revised 1991).


Although the term was most commonly synonymous with incombustible, that is PROOF against fire, in the Dictionary Archive it had another meaning, which is not found in the OED. It indicated that something was capable of withstanding a shot from a MUSKET or other hand-held FIRE ARM. Two patents, the one for a 'Chariot of artillery' that was 'musket proof' [Patents (1693)], and the other for 'breastplates, fireproof and much lighter than ordinary' [Patents (1721)], are expressions of concern about protecting the military from death and injury where possible.

Not found in the OED online in this sense, but Proof used in this sense goes back to 1596

Sources: Patents.

Firkin head

[firking heading]

The rounded piece of wood that formed the top or the bottom of a FIRKIN, sometimes shortened to HEAD, though the context should make the meaning clear.

No date of earliest use in the OED

Found in units of DOZEN

Sources: Inventories (late).

Fish sauce


A SAUCE designed to be eaten with FISH or using fish as an ingredient. Quotations in the OED suggest that, in the eighteenth century at least, some such sauces would be in the form of a keeping sauce similar to a KETCHUP. Hannah Glasse included a recipe for a fish sauce intended to 'keep the whole year' in her chapter 'For Captains of Ships'. It was essentially an ANCHOVY sauce flavoured with SHALLOT. SPICES and LEMON, boiled in WINE and strained [Glasse (1747, facs. 1983)].

Makers of PREPARED SAUCEs also manufactured their own proprietary products suitable for such purposes, like ITALIAN FISH SAUCE, SAUCE A L'IMPERIALE, and SAUCE de BERNIS. Probably they were similar to the one suggested by Hannah Glasse. The manufacturers addressed their potential customers with phrases like 'To the Curious in Fish Sauces, Gravies &c.' and claimed there was a 'very increasing Demands for these Articles', leading to the production by the unscrupulous of 'Articles entirely different and of a very inferior Quality' [Newspapers (1790)].

OED earliest date of use: 1728

Sources: Newspapers, Recipes.
References: Glasse (1747, facs. 1983).

Fish strainer

Either a two-handled metal CULLENDER for taking a FISH out of a boiler, or a perforated EARTHENWARE slab placed at the bottom of a DISH to drain the fish. The context of the only example in the Dictionary Archive suggest the latter as the more likely [Tradecards (1809)]. On the other hand, fish was often boiled in the early modern period, and so either of the suggested uses would have been applicable.

Defined in the OED, but no earliest date of use

Sources: Inventories (late).



Also found in the form 'Viser'. The OED has early forms 'Vyssare' and 'Vissere'.

It is the FUR of the pekan or Pennant's MARTEN, Mustela pennanti, of North America, and similar to the European marten in appearance, but larger. The fur is dark brown with longer hairs mixed in, the head and neck yellowish-brown and the tail almost black. The male is more heavily pelted than the female.

The two examples in the Dictionary Archive are spelt differently, but seem to be the same. 'Viser' skins were listed among the SKINs imported by the PIECE for their fur by John Houghton [Houghton], while a hundred years later, 'Fisher' skins were rated, also by the PIECE. This distinguishes them from FITCHes, which were rated by the TIMBER.

OED earliest date of use: 1796

Found described as UNDRESSED
Found imported and rated by the PIECE

Sources: Houghton, Rates.

Fishing rod

[rods for fishing; fishing-rod; ffishing rodd]

A long, slender and tapering rod to which a line is attached for angling. Formerly called also an angle-rod, though this term has not been noted in the Dictionary Archive.

OED earliest date of use: 1598

Found made of WHALEBONE

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

Fishing tackle


A term applied to all the gear used to catch FISH with a FISHING ROD and line, and possibly in some contexts to the nets as well. Some examples in the Dictionary Archive seem to exclude from it some items like FISH HOOKs, as in 'Manufacturer of Fish hooks, Lines & Tackle' [Tradecards (19c)], and 'Fishing-rod, Fish-Hook, & Fishing-Tackle Maker' [Tradecards (1792)], but most others are not so specific.

OED earliest date of use: 1703

Sources: Inventories (late), Tradecards.



The term refers to the FUR of the foumart or polecat. The fur trade used two types, the White or Russian Fitch, Mustela putoris eversmanni, and the Black or German Fitch, Mustela putoris aureolus. Both species have light coloured underfur and long, black-tipped guard hair. The guard hair is denser on the Black Fitch. It has the advantage of being very durable, but that is offset by an unpleasant smell. The skin, by the end of the nineteenth century at least, measured about 10 INCH x 21 INCH [Caulfeild and Saward (1885, facs.1989)]. In the 1582 Book of Rates it was classified under 'Skinnes for Furres' [Rates (1582)].

Fitches, variously spelt, were a popular fur so that some tradesmen had substantial numbers, for instance one had '360 of ffitchitts' valued in all at £14 [Inventories (1620)]. In dress in was generally used for FACING or ornamenting, as in 'velvet gowne furrd w'th fytcher' and 'puke gowne furrd w'th fitcher' [Inventories (1544)].

OED earliest date of use in this sense: 1418 as Fitchew; 1502 as Fitch

The Fitch was also a measure of quantity for SUGAR, use apparently for that coming from PORTUGAL, and hence the entry 'There was imported from Portugal of white sugar, C.6. L.28. baskets 25. boxes 4. fitch 4. [Houghton]. It has not been noted in the shops.

Not found in the OED as a measure

As a FUR: Found described as UNDRESSED Found describing SKIN
Found in units of DOZEN Found imported by SKIN Found rated by the MANTLE, PANE, TIMBER of 40 SKIN

Sources: Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Rates.
References: Caulfield & Saward (1885, facs. 1989).