Wreath - Writing paper

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

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Nancy Cox. Karin Dannehl, 'Wreath - Writing paper', Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities 1550-1820, (Wolverhampton, 2007), British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/traded-goods-dictionary/1550-1820/wreath-writing-paper [accessed 21 June 2024].

Nancy Cox. Karin Dannehl. "Wreath - Writing paper", in Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities 1550-1820, (Wolverhampton, 2007) . British History Online, accessed June 21, 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/traded-goods-dictionary/1550-1820/wreath-writing-paper.

Cox, Nancy. Dannehl, Karin. "Wreath - Writing paper", Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities 1550-1820, (Wolverhampton, 2007). . British History Online. Web. 21 June 2024, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/traded-goods-dictionary/1550-1820/wreath-writing-paper.

In this section


[wrathe; rathe]

A metal ring forming a holder for a spindle or AXLE. In a quotation dated 1733, the OED shows how it operated; 'The Spindle is kept from moving end-ways, by Wreaths, in the same Manner as the Axis of a Wheel-Barrow is'.

OED earliest date of use: 1733

Found described as for CART, TUMBRIL

See also RATHE.
Sources: Inventories (late).

Writing box

[wrytinge box; writing desks and box; wrighting box]

A small BOX for containing WRITING PAPER and other writing requisites such as PENs. Such boxes barely appear among the stocks of retailers; the one exception is an entry for 'iiij wrytinge Boxes and xviij bawles w'th the net xijd [Inventories (1583)], and these could have been BOX FOR WRITINGS, rather than boxes as defined above.

By the eighteenth century, a writing box had become typically one of the possessions of the literate who wrote letters, particularly women. Usually they were expensive, with decorative exteriors and desirable internal features. One advertisement in the Dictionary Archive, which was not obviously gendered, advertised 'Writing Desks and Boxes with Secrets and superior Locks; plain and strongly banded with Brass' [Tradecards (1790s)], but in the other instance the advertisement was more specifically for 'Ladies curious inlaid ... Writing Boxes, of various Sorts and Sizes in a pleasing variety' listed under TUNBRIDGE ware [Tradecards (1794)]. Three of the quotations in the OED, including the earliest in 1474, are for writing boxes that must have been as decorative as they were useful.

OED earliest date of use: 1474

Found described as banded with BRASS, CURIOUS, INLAID, LADIES, with LOCKs, PLAIN, with secrets, TUNBRIDGE ware

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

Writing desk

[writing-desk; writing dexk; writeinge deske; writeing deske; writeing desk]

A DESK used or designed for writing on; such a desk being fitted with conveniences for holding WRITING PAPER, PEN, INK POT and other writing materials. In some cases it may be similar to, or identical with, a WRITING BOX. The 'Writing Desks and Boxes with Secrets and superior Locks; plain and strongly banded with Brass' advertised in the 1790s were probably of this type [Tradecards (1790s)]. In another form, the writing desk developed over the period from a relatively simple article of furniture with a fixed sloping front into one both for keeping the accoutrements of writing and for writing itself [Gloag (1952, revised 1991)]. By the eighteenth century, such a desk could be quite costly; one was valued at £2 6s [Inventories (1735)], while 'a Writing Desk with Drawers' was valued at £3 5s [Inventories (1741)]. Several more came in the range of 30s to 40s, while some others were obviously simple items worth very little like the 'small writing Desk' valued at only 1s 6d [Inventories (1750)]. An eighteenth-century development was the writing desk combined with a BOOK - CASE above [Gloag (1952, revised 1991)], as in 'A large handsome Writing-Desk and Book-Case' [Newspapers (1743)] or 'An Oak Writing Desk & Bookcase' [Inventories (1775)]. Two elaborate examples were illustrated in Ince and Mayhew's catalogue of 1762 [Ince and Mayhew (1762, facs. 1960)].

Writing desks were an essential feature of the commercial office, hence entries like the 'Writing Desk' valued at 10s 6d found in a 'Compting House' [Inventories (1781)], and a 'Counter Writing Desk & Rail' [Inventories (1779)].

OED earliest date of use: 1611

Found described as banded with BRASS, with LOCKs, PLAIN, School, with secrets, SMALL, travelling Found made of DEAL, OAK, WAINSCOT, WOOD

Sources: Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Tradecards.
References: Gloag (1952, revised 1991), Ince and Mayhew (1762, facs. 1960).

Writing ink


An INK, only faily durable, that was suitable for writing rather than for printing, for which a PRINTERS INK was necessary. Writing ink is required to be sufficiently fluid to run easily from pen to paper, but sufficiently viscous to stay where it is put. Charles Tomlinson gave a recipe for 'common writing ink' that used ALEPPO GALL crushed and boiled in water, to which was added GREEN COPPERAS (ferrous sulphate), and a little GUM to hold the ingredients in suspension. The INK had to be kept in closed container before use, or the resulting writing would be too pale. But subsequently this ink would inevitable age and the writing become yellow and indistinct [Tomlinson (1854)]. More permanent and more expensive inks such as INDIAN INK and JAPAN INK, were based on quite different recipes which followed practices learnt from the Far East. They are probably reflected in the patent for a 'Powder for making black writing-ink, by mixing with water, beer, ale, or wine' [Patents (1688)], as was the 'finest and blackest Writing Ink, sealed up in Six-penny Bottles, with Directions.' The advertisement promised that a pen may write 'much finer with this Ink, than with any common Ink' [Tradecards (1750)].

OED earliest date of use: 1548

Sources: Newspapers, Patents, Tradecards.
References: Tomlinson (1854).

Writing paper

[wrytyng ppaper; wrytinge paper; wrytinge pap'; wryting paper; writting p'r; writing-paper; writinge paper; writinge pap'; writinge & course paper; writing pap'r; writing pap'; writeinge paper; writeing paper; writeing pap'; writeing pap]

A special type of PAPER, usually a WHITE PAPER for writing on, with a smooth surface produced by treating it with SIZE. The manufacture of paper in England was late to develop, probably not until the 1490s, and then only for the coarser types fit for wrapping [Trinder (1992)]. The Stationer R. Johnson, writing in the 1790s suggested that the manufacture of white paper only began in this country in the 1690s [Johnson (1794)]. Thus before about 1700 nearly all, if not all, writing paper must have been imported. A patent of 1685 reflects attemps to make writing paper in this country 'as white and good as French or Dutch' [Patents (1685)].

Nevertheless writing paper was readily available in the shops, mostly in the larger towns, but not unknown in market towns. The Dictionary Archive shows writing paper for sale in all major regions of England, even if not in large quantities. Where it was recorded, quantites were usually by the QUIRE, rather than the REAM, as 'viij queare of writinge pap' xiid' [Inventories (1544)], though exceptionally one retailer had '2 realms of writinge paper' valued at 9s [Inventories (1616)]. Diaries and account books like that of Sarah Fell illustrate availability from the other side of the counter; one entry in 1677 recorded 'A Reame of writeinge paper' bought in Lancaster [Diaries (Fell)]. However none of these early examples indicate what varieties, if any, were on offer. By the mid-eighteenth century the situation has changed considerably. Even quite a small retailers like Thomas Turner in Sussex was buying writing paper for his village shop in the 1750s and 1760s [Diaries (Turner)], while town stockists held substantial quantities, such as the '9 whole ream of writing paper' and '8 remnants of Ditto' in one Wolverhampton outlet that sold mainly grocery [Inventories (1700)]. Choice was also being recorded like the '2 Rhim Writing paper' at 9s and another ream at only 6s [Inventories (1747)], or the 'Finest Writing Paper, Both Gilt & plain in all sizes' offered in a London shop [Tradecards (1781)].

Newspaper advertisements show a wider choice like the 'Writing Paper, both gilt and plain, wholesale and Retail' [Newspapers (1760)]. The introductory poem in a catalogue of one not specializing in paper proclaimed for sale:

'Pot and Foolscap cut, for writing

Elephant and Cartridge too,

Whited Brown, and Common Blue;

Blotting, Black and Gold embos'd,

Plain or Gilt, and Mourning Post;

Glaz'd, or having lines upon it [Tradecards (1794)].

Another retailer, this time in the West country, offered 'ALL sorts of Stationary Wares; as fine Writing-paper, gilt or black Edged' [Tradecards (1760)]. John Houghton had much earlier commented on the art of gilding the edges [Houghton].

From 1784 writing paper, like all other types was heavily taxed, and the sizes of writing paper were set out in new schedules [Acts (1784)]. The following sizes and types were available (largest first): Imperial, Super ROYAL, ROYAL, Medium, DEMY PAPER, Thick post, Thin post, Small post, FOOLSCAP PAPER, POT PAPER.

OED earliest date of use: 1548

Found described as BEST, BLACK edged, FINE, GILT, LARGE, ORDINARY, Outsize, PLAIN, STAMPED Found in units of QUIRE REAM Found rated by REAM

Sources: Acts, Diaries, Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Patents, Rates, Tradecards.
References: Johnson (1794), Trinder (1992).