Viol - Vizard mask

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

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A musical instrument with 5, 6 or 7 strings, played by the means of a bow. The bridge of a viol was much flatter than that of the VIOLIN, and the bow more arched. Both these characteristics facilitated the playing of chords. Viols came in various sizes, several making up a 'consort'. The larger ones were called base viols [Inventories (1671)], the smaller ones (though not in the Dictionary Archive) descant viols. Unlike the violin, the smaller viols were held between the knees when playing, the larger ones between the legs, or held like a modern guitar across the body [Scholes (1956)].

Viols were in common use throughout our period, but were eventually more or less superseded by the VIOLIN. They are found quite frequently in the Dictionary Archive compared with other MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS. Only valuation distinguishes them from the VIAL, since both were variously spelt in similar ways.

OED earliest date of use: 1463

Found rated by the PIECE

Sources: Diaries, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Rates.
References: Scholes (1956).



A large genus of herbaceous plants, including the VIOLET, Viola odorata. Viola tricolor was grown as a decorative garden plant, the seeds being available in some shops under 'Seeds of annual flowers' [Tradecards (18c.)]. 'Viola' was also used in APOTHECARY for the violet, which was used extensively in medicine. In this sense it is dealt with under VIOLET.

OED earliest date of use in this sense: c1430 meaning violet; 1731 in the more general sense

Although not noted in the Dictionary Archive, 'Viola' was the name given to a four-stringed musical instrument slightly larger than a VIOLIN.

OED earliest date of use in this sense: 1797

Sources: Tradecards.


[vyolett; vyolet; vyolar'; voylett; violit; violette; violett; violaru'; villet; vilett; vialett]

A plant or flower of the genus Viola, especially the sweet smelling violet, Viola odorata, which grows wild and was cultivated in gardens, The flowers are usually purplish blue, mauve or white. The whole flower heads, and sometimes just the so-called leaves or petals, were used in MEDICINE. Nicholas Culpeper called it a 'fine pleasing plant of Venus, of a mild nature, and no way hurtful.' Although he continued with his usual extensive list of disorders for which violets could be used, reading between the lines would suggest it was mostly esteemed 'to cool any heat or distemperature in the body, either inwardly or outwardly' [Culpeper (1653, new ed. n.d.)]. Possibly the pleasant taste, and strong scent made violets a good masking agent to make tolerable the many unpleasant medicinal products. Perhaps for this reason, they were still part of the Materia Medica in the mid-eighteenth century, but they were little used, SYRUP OF VIOLETS being the only from in which the flowers were used [Pemberton (1746)].

In PERFUMERY and CONFECTIONERY, the violet was one of the most important flowers. Apart from the syrup, there was a CONSERVE OF VIOLETS and VIOLET CAKE as well as a violet COMFIT, for example [Inventories (1692)], and a 'Violet cordial' [Patents (1760)]. Any of these may have been deemed to have some medicinal use as well as being article of confectionery. In TOILETRY, VIOLET POWDER and VIOLET WATER were well advertised in the eighteenth century, as were the ESSENCE and the OIL [Tradecards (1790s)], a POMATUM, and a SOAP [Tradecards (1800)]. Any reputable retailer in this line of trade stocked several forms, for example [Inventories (1573)]. Many violet products as well as the dried leaves were imported [Rates (1657)].

OED earliest date of use as a flower: c1330

Violet is also a purplish blue colour, resembling that of the violet flower. It was a popular shade in the sixteenth century, apparently being produced by using WOAD with either KERMES or ORCHIL, though this process gave rather dull shades. The introduction of COCHINEAL and LOGWOOD allowed a greater range of colours, while the use of TIN as a mordant gave brighter tones [Ross (n.d.)]. Most TEXTILEs and APPAREL of a violet colour in the Dictionary Archive was said to be IN GRAIN, that is kermes was used as in 'A gown of violette yn grene xxxiijs iiijd' [Inventories (1541)]. However, one retailer had in stock both 'vij yardes and A half violet in grayne [BROADCLOTH] at xiijs' and 'ij yards iij q'ters violett in madder [BROADCLOTH]at ixs' [Inventories (1587)] showing the use of MADDER as the red component. Textiles described as violet in colour seem to have disappeared almost entirely after 1660, but violet re-emerged as a fashion colour in the 1790s for LADIES dress [Newspapers (1790)].

OED earliest date of use as a colour: 1400-50

As the flowers: Found rated by the LB

Sources: Diaries, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Patents, Rates, Recipes, Tradecards.
References: Culpeper (1653, new ed. n.d.), Pemberton (1746), Ross (n.d.).

Violet cake

[violett cake]

VIOLET cake has not been found in the dictionaries and appears only once in the Dictionary Archive. Ralph Josselin wrote 'I was aguish and very ill at night, a violett cake through gods mercy did much revive me [Diaries (Josselin)]. Probably he was referring to what John Gerard called 'certain plates called Sugar violets, Violet tables, or Plate, which is most pleasant and wholesome, especially it comforteth the heart and the other inward parts' [Gerard (1597, 1985 ed.)]. It was, he wrote, made just of SUGAR and violets, by which he presumably meant the flowers.

Not found in the OED

Sources: Diaries.
References: Gerard (1597, modern ed. 1985).

Violet powder

[violet ditto]

OED suggests it was a toilet POWDER, citing as evidence Simmonds 'Dictionary of Trade (1858), which suggests further that it was STARCH or FLOUR scented with VIOLET and used to powder the skin. HAIR POWDER was also scented with violet, and the two are occasionally listed together as in 'Violet Hair Powder' and 'Violet Shaving Powder' [Newspapers (1770)].

OED earliest date of use: 1858

Found described as shaving, sweet scented, FRENCH Found included among 'Coloured powders'

Sources: Newspapers, Tradecards.

Violet water

A cooling toilet WATER made from the sweetly scented VIOLET. Like many items of PERFUMERY, violet water was sometimes given a FRENCH label in support of the belief that quality and fashionability hailed from PARIS, and hence 'eau de Violette' [Tradecards (18c.)].

OED earliest date of use: 1620

Sources: Tradecards.


[viollin; vialin]

A musical instrument with four strings and played with a bow; called sometimes in the vernacular a FIDDLE. It was (and is) usually the smallest in a family of related instruments, including the viola, violoncello and the double bass. The violin gained popularity in the eighteenth century when it largely superseded the VIOL. Newspaper advertisements show how they started to be available in the shops outside London, for example [Newspapers (1790)]; [Tradecards (1760)], along with accessories like violin strings and bridges, for example [Tradecards (18c.)], as well as suitable printed music, for example [Newspapers (1760)]. The popularity of this relatively new instrument is shown in two patents, [Patents (1772)] and [Patents (1776)].

OED earliest date of use: 1579

Sources: Diaries, Inventories (late), Newspapers, Patents, Tradecards.



The small snake, Pelias brues, also known as the adder. Vipers are unusual in retaining their eggs inside their body until they hatch and therefore appear to give birth to their young. They are abundant in Europe and the only venomous snakes found in Great Britain. The flesh of the viper was formerly considered to have great nutritive or restorative powers, and was frequently used medicinally. They were still in the eighteenth-century Materia Medica [Pemberton (1746)]. Culpeper claimed that vipers help the vices of the Nerves, [and] resist poyson exceedingly'. Vipers were used both as an ingredient and to provide a jelly or fat to bind other ingredients. The Royal College of Physicians included a recipe for viper wine. In their 'Remark' they reveal that they had intended to use 'living vipers and intire', but settled for dried ones, as this would be 'prepared in less time', and not, as one might think, because the live ones might prove dangerous [Pemberton (1746)]. The Pharmacopoeia also included a recipe for viper's broth [Recipes (Pemberton)]. One recipe for GASCOIGN POWDER used a viper's skin to make a jelly to bind the powder into balls [Recipes (Ketilby)].

OED earliest date of use: 1526

Simone Clarke

Found described as DRIED Found 'dried', as an ingredient in VENICE TREACLE

Sources: Recipes, Tradecards.
References: Pemberton (1746).

Virgin mercury

It is the name given to the metallic MERCURY, which is sometimes found entrapped in a vein of ore and which readily flows out, if the rock encasing it is fractured. Agricolus described how it could be cleansed with VINEGAR and SALT, the mixture being poured into a 'canvas or soft leather', whence it could be squeezed out [Agricola (1556, modern ed. 1950)]. Although now known to be identical with the metal extracted from the ore, it was believed by PARACELSUS among others to be the best for 'chemical preparations' [Rolt (1761)].

OED online earliest date of use: 1673 under Virgin

References: Agricola (1556, new ed. 1950), Rolt (1761).

Virgin wax

[virgins-wax; virgin's wax; virgins wax; virgin ditto]

Originally fresh, new or unused BEES WAX, sometimes that produced by the first swarm of BEES; in later and more general use, a purified or fine quality of WAX, especially as used in the making of CANDLES. In the latter sense WHITE BEES WAX.

OED earliest date of use: 13--

Found in units of DRACHM, LB, OZ, PENNYworth

See also WHITE WAX.
Sources: Inventories (mid-period), Recipes, Tradecards.


[virgynall; virginall; verginall; vergenall]

Frequently referred to in the plural or as a pair of Virginals. The virginal was the earliest member in a family of keyed MUSICAL INSTRUMENTs, of which the SPINET and the HARPSICHORD were later developments. It is played using keys to activate QUILLs that plucked the strings. Unlike the harpsichord, but like the spinet, it has only one string to a note. Virginals were set in a square case or box without legs, so they had to be stood on a table or stand; hence 'a paire of virginalls and stand' [Inventories (1702)]. The shape also meant there was no opportunity to vary the length of the strings, so the tone was relatively weak in the lower registers. They were common in England in the seventeenth century and the eighteenth, but were superseded by the harpsichord, which was a more flexible instrument.

The virginal was important in the development of keyboard music. It was claimed that 'Parthenia' published first in 1611 and frequently republished was the first printed music for this instrument, possibly the first printed music ever in this country. Its title, a version of the Greek for 'Maidens' songs', indicates that young women were probably the most common performers. Other contemporary collections in manuscript include the 'Fitzwilliam Virginal Book' and 'My Ladye Nevell's Booke' [Scholes (1956)].

OED earliest date of use: 1530

Found described as DOUBLE, OLD, SINGLE, SMALL
Found in units of PAIR Found rated by the PAIR

Sources: Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Patents, Rates.
References: Scholes (1956).

Virginal wire

[vyrginall wyer; virginall wyer; virginal and cithern wire]

The WIRE used to string a VIRGINAL, usually made either of BRASS, COPPER or IRON

OED earliest date of use: 1662

Found made of BRASS, COPPER, IRON
Found in units of LB, OZ Found rated by the HUNDREDWEIGHT, POUND

Sources: Acts, Inventories (early), Rates.


[virginy; verginy]

State in eastern North America, important for the good quality of VIRGINIA TOBACCO, which was sometimes abbreviated to VIRGINIA, as well as other commodities. In the Dictionary Archive INDIGO [Newspapers (1760)], SKINs [Inventories (1680)], STAG SKINs [Inventories (1674)] and WALNUT [Inventories (1780)] have been noted, but there were many more goods that came from this fecund state. One probate inventory of a Bristol merchant included 'ffower dozen of Virginia pipes' [Inventories (1680)]. The context suggests that they may have been made in England for the Virginian market, rather than coming from there. If this interpretation is correct, then it is evidence that even in the late-seventeenth century, British manufacturers were adapting their goods to suit the colonial market.

OED earliest date of use: 1609

Found as TOBACCO described as Addingtons, BEST

Sources: Diaries, Houghton, Recipes, Newspapers, Tradecards.

Virginia snakeroot

[virginia snake-weed]

The ROOT either of Polygala senega or of ARISTOLOCHIA serpentaria, so called because it came from VIRGINIA and was believed to be efficacious against snake bite.

OED earliest date of use: 1694

Found listed among the DRUGS as RADIX SERPENTARIAE Found rated among the DRUGS by the POUND

Sources: Rates, Recipes.

Virginia tobacco

[virginy tobacco; virginia roll tobacco; virginia cut tobacco; virginia and summer islands tobacco; virgin' tobacko; virgin' tobacco; virg' tobabacco; verginia tobacco; tobacco virginia; tobacco virg]

Often found referred to simply as VIRGINIA, this is a variety of TOBACCO grown and sometimes processed in VIRGINIA, U.S.A. It was a hugely important crop, and the settlers in Virginia were a sufficiently influential to lobby successfully for a ban on the production of tobacco in England. The act claimed that it was on the growth in the colonies and plantations that the 'Welfare and subsistence and the Navigation of their Kingdom and Vent of its Commodities thither, do much depend' adding for good measure, though with less foundations that the home grown produce was 'not so good and wholesome to the Takers thereof' [Acts (1660)]. John Houghton claimed that as a rule Virginia tobacco was not so mild as SPANISH TOBACCO; but that its richness could be tempered by 'treading it hard in earthen pots and so kept for a year, two or three.' This, he believed would make the Virginia 'very mild like Spanish' [Houghton].

Virginia tobacco was available in the shops both cut and in the leaf, which was dearer, and sometimes in more than one grade, for example [Inventories (1665)]. It remained a valuable product throughout the period, and was sometimes marketed in quite imaginative ways. For example, 'The Proprietor of the Virginia Factory in Virginia Street', not only sold the tobacco, but also gave out Gratis 'Penny Papers to make up the Tobacco ... with a Print of Admiral Vernon, and a Spaniard on his knees' so his customers could package it up easily [Newspapers (1741)].

OED earliest date of use: 1618 as Virginia

Found described as BEST, cut, leaf, ORDINARY, second sorts
Found in units of BARREL, BOX, CASK, HOGSHEAD, HUNDREDWEIGHT, LB, OZ, POUND Found rated by the POUND

Sources: Acts, Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Newspapers, Rates.


[vittriall; vitriolum; vitrioli; vitrill; vitriall; vitr]

Vitriol in chemistry is the term applied to any combination of the acid of SULPHUR with any metal; so GREEN VITRIOL or sulphate of IRON, BLUE VITRIOL or sulphate of COPPER, and WHITE VITRIOL or sulphate of zinc. There is also RED vitriol, sulphate of cobalt, but that does not appear in the Dictionary Archive.

National or regional epithets were also applied to various forms of the above, often indicating to the informed not only place of origin, but also sometimes particular characteristics; for example ROMAN VITRIOL was a form of blue vitriol as was that from Poland, while DANTZIG VITRIOL and vitriol labelled GERMAN or HUNGARIAN were forms of GREEN VITRIOL [Rees (1819-20, 1972 ed.)].

Vitriol was also used as a shortened form of OIL OF VITRIOL.

OED earliest date of use: c1386

Found in units of LB

See also ALUM.
Sources: Acts, Diaries, Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Patents, Rates, Recipes, Tradecards.
References: Rees (1819-20, abridged 1972).

Vitriol bottle

Like the AQUAFORTIS BOTTLE this was probably a particular type of GLASS BOTTLE designed for holding OIL OF VITRIOL, with various protective devices to prevent breakage and leakage. Since Vitriol is heavier than AQUAFORTIS, this bottle was probably rather smaller, perhaps holding 2 or 3 GALLON. If holding two gallons the contents would have weighed about 37 LB, if holding three, 56 LB.

Not found in the OED online

Vitriol of mars

[vitriolum martis]

VITRIOL of Mars was made by dissolving STEEL filings in SPIRIT OF VITRIOL. The context of the only example in the Dictionary Archive suggests it was used medicinally [Inventories (1665)].

OED earliest date of use: 1678

Sources: Inventories (mid-period).

Vitrum antimonium

[vitrum antimonial; vitrum antimon]

In English, GLASS of ANTIMONY. It was obtained by roasting stibnite, the most common ore of antimony, into a fused, vitreous mass. Basil Valentine described two methods of manufacture; the one produced a 'pure, yellow, pellucid glass ...', the other with the addition of a 'Transparent white' [Valentine (1685, new edition 1992)]. It was almost certainly used then, as it has been in modern times, for colouring GLASS and PORCELAIN yellow [Partington (1953)].

OED earliest date of use: 1594 under Glass

Found in units of OZ

Sources: Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Tradecards.
References: Partington (1953), Valentine (1685, new edition 1992).



The name of a town in Brittany which gave its name to a type of light durable CANVAS.

OED earliest date of use: c1425

Sources: Acts, Rates.

Vitry canvas

[vittery canvas; fytterai canvas]

A TEXTILE in the form of a light durable CANVAS or SAILCLOTH originally made in the town of Vitré in Brittany. It was often coupled with HOLLAND DUCK and the two may have either been synonymous or have been very similar in their characteristics. The only difference may well have been that the one was made in Brittany and the other in Holland. Vitry canvas was also similar to, or identical with, VANDELAS [Montgomery (1984)].

OED earliest date of use: c1425

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


[vizorn; vizerd; vizart]

An alternative name for a MASK that was common from about 1560 to about 1700, but found later occasionally. A vizard at this time was oval in shape and was commonly worn by women at the theatre, though by the end of the century it had fallen out of fashion and was the mark of a prostitute [Pepys (1971-1983)]. Samuel Pepys noticed at the theatre when the 'house began to fill' that Lady Falconbridge 'put on her vizard, and so kept it on all the play; which of late is become a great fashion among the ladies, which hides their whole face. So to the Exchange, to buy things with my wife; among others, a vizard for herself' [Diaries (Pepys)]. This is just one example of how quick Pepys was to copy the habits of superiors. Four year later his wife wore a vizard at Bartholemew Fair [Diaries (Pepys)].

Randle Holme described a 'Visard' as 'another kind of cover for the Face, and it is made after the form of ugly ill shapen Faces; these are used in Interludes and Plays to make Mens Faces appear to what they act, as deformed Creatures, Apes or Devils' [Holme (2000)]. In this form the term does not appear in the Dictionary Archive.

OED earliest date of use: 1558

Found rated by the DOZEN

Sources: Diaries, Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Rates.
References: Holme (2000), Pepys (1971-1983).

Vizard mask

[vizerd mask; vizard maske]

Randle Holme described a vizard mask as a MASK 'which covers the whole face, having holes for the eyes, a case for the Nose, and a slit for the mouth, and to speak through; this kind of Mask is taken off and put on in a moment of time, being held in the Teeth by means of a round bead fastned on the in-side over against the mouth' [Holme (2000)]. These, he wrote, were used in various forms of revelry such as 'Masking and mumming, danceing in disguised habits' when 'Hood, Maskes or Visards' were worn 'ouer their faces' [Holme (2000)]. However, the quaker Sara Fell recorded the purchase of a 'vizard maske for my selfe' [Diaries (Fell)], which suggests that they were not used exclusively for revelry. Hers was presumably employed to protect the face.

In the Dictionary Archive masks, VIZARDs and vizard masks were all listed, and they cannot be definitively distinguished, though on the basis of a very small sample, the vizard mask seems to have been valued slightly more highly than the mask. For example, one retailer had a vizard mask at 6d while his 'maskes' were valued at 4d each [Inventories (1668)]. However, on the 1st June, 1704, a song was sung at the theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields, called 'The Misses' Lamentation for want of their Vizard Masques at the Theatre', which suggests that the vizard mask was nothing more than an alternative name for the vizard [Pepys (n.d.)].

Not found in the OED

Sources: Diaries, Inventories (mid-period).
References: Holme (2000), Pepys (n.d.).