German - Germany linen

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

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Nancy Cox. Karin Dannehl, 'German - Germany linen', Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities 1550-1820, (Wolverhampton, 2007), British History Online [accessed 23 June 2024].

Nancy Cox. Karin Dannehl. "German - Germany linen", in Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities 1550-1820, (Wolverhampton, 2007) . British History Online, accessed June 23, 2024,

Cox, Nancy. Dannehl, Karin. "German - Germany linen", Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities 1550-1820, (Wolverhampton, 2007). . British History Online. Web. 23 June 2024,

In this section


[jerman; jermaine; germon; germany; ger]

In the early modern period, the descriptor 'German' was used to refer to a geographical area roughly corresponding to the north German plain and not to the state of GERMANY, which did not exist except as a convenient label. Even within this definition, matters were not simple. Trade flowed towards Britain from this region in two directions, apparently depending in part upon the commoditiy in question. Some, particularly those which could be carried down the rivers that flowed northwards into the Baltic Sea, passed through ports like DANTZIG on the Vistula, RIGA on the Djina and St Petersburg or Peterborough at the head of the Gulf of Finland. The goods that went through these ports were sometimes not described as German but labelled after their port of export, hence, DANTZIG IRON, RIGA HEMP and PETERBOROUGH FLAX to name but a few. Other goods travelled more directly westwards, passing either through HAMBURG on the Elbe, and hence for example HAMBURG LINEN, or towards DUTCH ports like AMSTERDAM and ROTTERDAM, in which case they may have been described as DUTCH or HOLLAND, as in for example DUTCH TOY and HOLLAND EARTHENWARE. To add to the complexity, many commodities were strongly associated with their place of origin within Germany, hence BRUNSWICK MUM, CULLEN KNIFE (from COLOGNE) and SPRUCE CHEST.

Because of these uncertainties, it is often a challenge to trace goods produced in Germany once they had arrived in Britain; GERMAN TOYs, for example, have not been located in the Dictionary Archive, though they were well known at the time. On its own, 'German' also used as a convenient abbreviation for GERMAN LINEN and as a label for a type of MADDER.

OED earliest date of use: 1552

When used for German linen: Found described as BROAD Found in units of ELL, PIECE, YARD

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

German Bible

Almost certainly a copy of the translation into German of the BIBLE by Martin Luther published in its entirety in 1534. It has not been noted in this country in the shops, but only in private possession [Inventories (1809)]. However other versions have been noted including the GENEVA BIBLE and HOLLAND BIBLE.

Not found in the OED

Sources: Inventories (late).

German buckram

[buckrams of germanie; buckrams germ]

Judging from the rather cryptic entry in the 1660 Book of Rates, 'Buckrams of Germanie, or fine per peice' [Rates (1660)], German BUCKRAM was finer that some other varieties of this TEXTILE. How else it differed from other buckrams is not clear. Apparently much buckram was made of old curtains or SAIL CLOTH stiffened with GUM and calendered, so perhaps the GERMAN sort was imported and deemed FINE because it was made of new fabric [Montgomery (1984)]. It was apparently not the same as buckram from the EAST COUNTRY, as that was rated separately and in different units, but it may well be identical with 'Hamborough black, the piece' also rated by the PIECE four years earlier [Rates (1656)].

Not found in the OED

Found imported Found rated by the PIECE

Sources: Houghton, Rates.
References: Montgomery (1984).

German cloth

A TEXTILE, almost certainly synonymous with GERMAN LINEN. It was rated in various widths from below 31 ½ INCH to above 36, and in long lengths of 120 ELL. German cloth is a nice example of how the two systems of measure, the inch and the ell were often used for the same piece of cloth. The use of the ell to measure the length is indicative of LINEN.

Not found in the OED

Found described as PLAIN
Found rated by the ELL

Sources: Rates.

German devil

The OED suggests a form of screw jack but given that it was used for grubbing out tree roots [Houghton], it seems more likely it was a form of winch.

OED earliest date of use: possibly 1598, certainly 1670

Found described as an ENGINE

Sources: Houghton.

German flute

[german-flute; german and common flutes]

A FLUTE blown transversely through a hole in the side near the upper end. Although apparently known from the sixteenth century, the so-called German flute only became popular in Britain in the mid-eighteenth century, probably owing to the accession of the Hanoverian kings, and in contrast with the end-blown instrument that was sometimes called the English flute or common flute. It had been popular in Germany much earlier, and was used by several German composers such as Bach, Mozart and Haydn [Scholes (1956)]. Its popularity in this country is reflected in the music written specially for it, for example the 'collection of new minuets for the Year 1760 (as performed at court on his Majesty's Birth-Day) for the Violin, German Flute or Harpischord, Price 6d' [Newspapers (1760)], and in the publication called 'Harrison's New German Flute Magazine' [Newspapers (1787)].

OED earliest date of use: 1756

Sources: Diaries, Newspapers, Patents, Tradecards.
References: Scholes (1956).

German holland

[germon holland; german hollans; german holand]

A TEXTILE, the name of which well illustrates the confusion surrounding the labelling of LINEN CLOTH from the continent. Although originally derived from the place, the name HOLLAND had come to be used for a particular type of linen, rather than a linen from a particular place in the early modern period, and so was in turn likely to attact descriptors denoting a place of manufacture. How GERMAN holland differed from other types is not now clear, but it was sufficiently distinctive to be so designated in the shops.

Not found in the OED

Found in units of ELL, PIECE, YARD

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

German linen

[jerman lynin; german lining; ger: lynnen; ger lynnen]

A broad group of TEXTILEs, all LINEN CLOTH, originally from that area of Europe then loosely known as GERMANY. Houghton listed huge quantities of linens imported from Germany in 1694/5, including GERMANY LINEN. Some linens also came through DANTZIG, which presumably would have been designated German linens in other documents. Of the linens known to have been manufactured in Germany, Houghton listed CHECK, DIAPER, HARFORD, HESSEN, HINDERLAND, LAWN, MINSTER, and OZENBRIDGE [Houghton], but there were probably many others traded under many other labels. Many, if not all, of these were also listed as coming out of HOLLAND and/or DANTZIG as well. On the whole, individual linens were not listed in the Books of Rates under German as a generic heading, although sometimes some general umbrella term was used with no further detail like 'All Linnen of Germany or highdutch-land and Seletia' [Rates (1660)].

It may be that German linen was commonly perceived as of two sorts, those coming from HAMBURG (HAMBURG LINEN) and those from DANTZIG (DANTZIG LINEN). This would explain why Houghton (apparently following official practice) listed linens coming out of 'Germany' and out of 'Dantzig' [Houghton]. German linens as such were not covered thoroughly by J.F., the anonymous author of 'The Plain Dealing Linen-Draper', who seems to have been knowledgeable only about those that came out of Hamburg [Anon (1696)].

OED earliest date of use: 1752

Found described as WHITE
Found in units of ELL, PIECE Found rated by the ELL

Sources: Acts, Houghton, Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late).
References: Anon (1696).

German linseed

Presumably LINSEED from GERMANY. The single example in the Dictionary Archive gives no clue as to its special characteristics, except that it did apparently come from that part of the world, for it was listed with other German products [Newspapers (1790)]. However, another piece of promotional literature listed DANTZIG FLAX under 'Seeds to improve land' [Tradecards (n.d.)]. This may have been a synonym and, if so, indicates that German linseed may have been used for this purpose rather than for producing FLAX or to extract LINSEED OIL.

Not found in the OED

Sources: Newspapers.

German paper

GERMAN paper has not located in the Dictionary Archive as such, but several types of PAPER described as German were listed in the 1784 Book of Rates; these were CROWN PAPER, DEMY PAPER, FOOLSCAP PAPER, LOMBARD PAPER [Rates (1784)]. John Houghton claimed that nearly 40,000 REAMs of paper were imported from Germany in 1694-5, considerably less than came from HOLLAND, but still a substantial amount [Houghton]. He said nothing about the quality, but there was a long tradition of paper making in Germany. For instance, according to Charles Tomlinson, a paper mill was opened in Nurenburg in 1390 and one of the earliest successful mills in England was set up by a German in 1588 [Tomlinson (1854)].

Not found in the OED

Found rated by the REAM

Sources: Houghton, Rates.
References: Tomlinson (1854).

German sausage

GERMAN sausage is a type of SAUSAGE very different from those made in Britain. There were many varieties, the most common being the BRUNSWICK SAUSAGE [Simmonds (1906)]. German sausages were usually made from partly pre-cooked meat, spiced, salted and flavoured before being stuffed into part of the gut of a COW depending on the diameter required, then dried and smoked. Properly cooked, they would keep for some time and were thus a good way of preserving MEAT. As a result they were advertised by some of the big London retailers as suitable for travellers going abroad; it being claimed by one that they could be 'packed for the East and West-Indies, America, &c. after a peculiar Method' [Tradecards (1800)].

Sources: Tradecards.
References: Simmonds (1906).

German serge

[german searge]

A TEXTILE, a distinctive form of SERGE presumably originally made in Germany, but by 1767 being made at Devizes in the West of England [Montgomery (1984)]. How it differed from other serges is not clear, though it may well have been synonymous with DUTCH SERGE, which has also been noted in the Dictionary Archive. In one document it was listed with SHALLOON, which suggests a lightweight fabric and may be a clue as to type [Tradecards (1740)]. It was listed sporadically in the shops with the earliest reference in the Dictionary Archive being 1740.

Not found in the OED

Found describing as dark drab, drab
Found in the shops measured by YARD

Sources: Inventories (late), Newspapers, Tradecards.
References: Montgomery (1984), 344.

German sheet glass

German SHEET GLASS was made in the method commonly employed on the continent to make a flat GLASS suitable for WINDOW GLASS. A cylinder of glass enclosed at both ends was first blown, then the ends were cut off, and the cylinder cut down its length with shears, reheated and flattened. The method allowed sheets of considerable size to be made, but the glass itself was inferior, being marked in the process of flattening and because of the alkali used - mostly soap boilers waste or SOAPERS WASTE and KELP [Tomlinson (1854)]. German sheet glass was similar to NEWCASTLE GLASS, but freer of spots and blemishes; it was also somewhat less warped [Rees (1819-20, 1972 ed.)]. It was also known as broad window glass, spread window glass and inferior window glass [Tomlinson (1854)], and was presumably an alternative name for RHENISH GLASS. Once it was manufactured in Britain, for example [Newspapers (1780)], it was also called BRITISH sheet glass.

Found rated by CWT

Sources: Acts, Newspapers.
References: Rees (1819-20, abridged 1972), Tomlinson (1854).

German spa water

[german spaw-water]

There were several well-known springs in GERMANY and their SPA WATER was exported to Britain, though the only one actually designated as GERMAN came from what was then called the 'Pouhan Spring' (correctly Pouhon), but now better known as Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium near the border with Germany, famous for its 'Eau rouge' corner on the racing track used for the Belgian Grand Prix [Newspapers (1780)]. Better known was SELTZER WATER.

Not found in the OED

Found described as FINE
Found in units of FLASK

Sources: Newspapers.

German steel

A form of STEEL rather than an import from GERMANY. William Nicholson noted that 'The steel obtained immediately from the ore by simple fusion, is called natural steel. It is likewise distinguished by the name of German steel, because it come principally from Germany' [Nicholson (1797-1813) quoted in the OED, 'German']; [Rees (1819-20, 1972 ed.)].

OED earliest date of use: 1799

Found described as BEST
Found in units of C, LB, QU

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

German testament

Almost certainly a copy of the German translation by Martin Luther of the NEW TESTAMENT in the early 1520s, which was incorporated into his BIBLE published in its entirety in 1534. It has not been noted in this country in the shops, where English testaments were common, but only in private possession [Inventories (1809)].

Sources: Inventories (late).

German ticking

[germon ticking]

A TEXTILE made of LINEN. TICKING was made in variety and it is rarely possible to identify the particular characteristics of one as compared with another. Montgomery records a sample of 'Hamborough ticken' suitable for WAISTCOAT and BREECHES contained in an manuscript of c1784 in the Science Museum [Montgomery (1984)], and this may be the same as the German ticking listed in the single example in the Dictionary Archive [Inventories (1711)], as may be the 'Tiking, of the East country' included in the 1660 Book of Rates [Rates (1660)].

Found in units of YARD

Sources: Inventories (late).
References: Montgomery (1984).

German wine

[german and hungary wine]

Possibly any WINE from the northern GERMAN plains, although the 1784 Book of Rates distinguished German wine from RHENISH WINE [Rates (1784)]. The distinction may have been made by the Custom officials to prevent evasion of payment of duty on some types by merchants using alternative names. For example, HOCK came from the valley of the River Main, and it could therefore be claimed that it was not a Rhenish wine. Very little wine came from further north where the summers were rarely long enough to produce sufficient sugar in the grapes. German wines were generally less popular than those from SPAIN and PORTUGAL, or from FRANCE, though they were cheaper.

Not found in the OED

Found rated by the TON of 252 GALLON

Sources: Acts, Rates.



The name of various plants from the genus Teucrium, though it is not always clear in early sources which was intended. Turner in his 'Names of herbs' referred to water germander (Teucrium SCORDIUM) as ENGLISH germander or English TREACLE [Turner (1548)]. This was still listed in Pemberton's Materia Medica (1746), along with creeping germander (Teucrium chaemaedrys called also elsewhere wall or common germander). It was the leaves of the former and the tops and seeds of the latter which were used. Germander (unspecified) has also been noted in recipes for the relief of gout and for SNUFF [Recipes (Bellers)]. Water germander is found as an ingredient of both MITHRIDATE and VENICE TREACLE, while the tops and seeds of creeping germander were used only in the latter [Recipes (Pemberton)]; [Recipes (Pemberton)].

OED earliest date of use: c1440

Found described as creeping, water

Sources: Diaries, Recipes.
References: Pemberton (1746), Turner (1548).


[germanie; germ]

Although Germany did not exist as a unified state in the early-modern period, the geographical area nevertheless had its own identity. The area covered roughly the north German plain, being bounded (so far as countries important for trade were concerned) on the East by POLAND, and to the South by Bohemia, HUNGARY and Bavaria. Effectively none of these had their own outlets by sea, and most of their produce was exported via the German ports, facilitated by the navigability of GERMAN rivers running up from the South, like the Vistula, the Oder and the Elbe. To the West lay HOLLAND and FLANDERS, each with their own large ports that attracted much German trade. To the North was DENMARK (not important in trading terms, but with the power to control the outlet from the Baltic) and the Baltic Sea iself, across which lay SWEDEN, from which much trade came to DANTZIG and so to Britain.

The term 'Germany' was also used elliptically to denote GERMANY LINEN.

With reference to a LINEN called Germany: Found described as BROAD, NARROW Found in unit of PIECE

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

Germany linen

[linnen of germany; linen germany; germany-linen]

A term apparently used only in official documents and not in the shops, unlike GERMAN LINEN, which has been noted in a much broader range of documents.

Germany linen was a TEXTILE in the form of a LINEN CLOTH made in or imported from that area of Europe then loosely called GERMANY, but how it differed from GERMAN LINEN is not clear. The possiblity remains, however, that German linen was a generic term covering all linen from that region, while Germany linen was a distinctive type. This supposition receives support from John Houghton's lists of imports in the 1690s, in which Germany linen was said to have been imported from Scotland and HOLLAND as well as from Germany itself [Houghton].

OED earliest date of use: 1706

Found described as BROAD
Found in units of ELL

Sources: Acts, Houghton, Rates.