Alnus combustus - Alum water


University of Wolverhampton



Nancy Cox and Karin Dannehl

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'Alnus combustus - Alum water', Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities, 1550-1820 (2007). URL: Date accessed: 18 April 2014. Add to my bookshelf


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Alnus combustus

[almus cu'busti]

Literally 'Burnt ALDER', that is CHARCOAL made from the wood of the Alder tree, used particularly for the manufacture of GUNPOWDER but, given that the only example in the Dictionary Archive appears among some apothecarial stock [Inventories (1573)], it may also have been used in medicine.

Not found in the OED

Sources: Inventories (early).


[alowayes; aloss; allows; alloweyes; allowes; alloways; allowayes; allowaies; allo'es; alloes]

Although the singular, aloe, is correct, the term is almost invariably found in the plural. As is often the case with products imported from the eastern Mediterranean, Africa and the Far East, a certain amount of confusion persists regarding aloes.

Most commonly, the term is now applied to a large group of plants native to Arabia and India of the family 'Liliaceae', and less commonly to plants that properly belong to the Agave genus. Formerly, and particularly in trade, the term invariably applied to a thickened juice abstracted from the leaves, most commonly called ALOES SOCOTRINA. All aloes were characterized by a nauseous odour and a bitter taste; so much so that aloes has been a figurative term since the sixteenth century typifying bitterness or great trial. Valuations varied enormously, ranging from 9d to 11s LB and for ALOES ROSATUM up to 2s 6d OZ. This is consistent with the many descriptors denoting quality noted in the Dictionary Archive, which presumably depended on factors like the species from which the product was derived, the care in its preparation and its freshness.

OED earliest date of use in this sense: 1398

The term was also applied, but not identifiably so in the Dictionary Archive, to agalloch, the fragrant heart-wood of Aquilaria, that is ALOES WOOD or LIGNALOES, also known as 'Agila wood' and 'Eagle wood'.

OED earliest date of use in this sense: c950

Found described as 2nd, 3rd, COARSE, COMMON, FINE, MIDDLE, OLD, ORDINARY Found made into a TINCTURE
Found in units of LB, OUNCE, OZ Found rated by the C of 100 LB, HUNDREDWEIGHT

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

Aloes barbadensis

[alloes barbad]

Aloes barbadensis was an inspissated juice prepared from the leaves of Aloe chinensis and Aloe vera, by boiling the juice or by making a decoction of the leaves. It is said to be inferior to the other varieties of ALOES, although the only valuation found, at 3s LB, puts it in the middle of the range. Its colour varies, but it is usually dark brown, approaching black, opaque even at the edges, and with a dull fracture. Like all aloes, it is further distinguished by its nauseous odour [Sayre (1917)]. In America it has also been called ALOES HEPATICA, no doubt because of the similarity in colour [Felter and Lloyd (1898)].

Not found in the OED

Found in units of LB

Sources: Inventories (late).
References: Felter and Lloyd (1898), Sayre (1917).

Aloes hepatica

[aloes-epatica; aloes-epatica; aloes hipatique; aloes epat; aloes apatica]

The spelling of Aloes hepatica was variable. 'Hepatic' often lost its initial 'H', and the adjacent 'E' was often substituted with another vowel, and the list of associated variants is long.

Hepatic aloes is the name applied to a variety of ALOES SOCOTRINA in Europe. In America ALOE BARBADENSIS has also been called by this name, as have any of the opaque and liver-colored aloes [Felter and Lloyd (1898)]. It has been found listed in the Dictionary Archive as a DRUG that was sold by the POUND, and it appeared regularly in the Books of Rates from 1582 to 1784, rated at about half the rate for ALOES SOCOTRINA. The Books of Rates also indicated that it was one of the commodities imported from the Far East by the East India Company, see [Rates (1784)].

Although Aloes hepatica were probably used almost entirely for medicinal purposes, this was not always the case. A lute-maker, quoting from a seventeenth-century source, records that Aloes hepatica was an ingredient of one specialist VARNISH used in that craft [Pedemontani (1603)], while a seventeenth-century anonymous author suggested that it could also be used in place of HOPS in brewing [Anon (1695)]. Neither usage appears to have been common.

OED earliest date of use: 1589 under Hepatic

Found among the DRUGS, rated by the POUND

Sources: Inventories (early), Rates.
References: Anon (1695), Felter and Lloyd (1898), Pedemontani (1603).

Aloes rosatum

[aloes roseatum; allowes rosala; alloes rosatum]

Although found several times before 1700 in the Dictionary Archive, an identification of this variety of ALOES has not been possible. From the occasional instances when a valuation was given, it seems to have been much more valuable than other forms of aloe, though it was also used like them as a DRUG. The specific name suggests it either smelt like roses, or was of a rose colour. Probably it was merely a variety of ALOES SOCOTRINA, but an attractive colour, unlike ALOES HEPATICA, which was liver-coloured as its name suggests.

Not found in the OED

Found made into PILL
Found in units of OZ

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

Aloes socotrina

[socotrine aloes; aloes-cicotrina; aloes succotr'; aloes siccatrina; aloes cicotrinu'; aloes cicotrina; aloes cicotrin'; alloes succatin; alasicatrina]

The OED indicates that early forms of the name like 'aloes cicotrinum' were more common before 1660, though by the eighteenth century ones like 'aloes succotrina' are found more frequently. The term denotes a drug prepared from the juice of the Aloe perryi and originally obtained from the island of Socotra in the Indian Ocean near to Africa and Arabia. The bitter, yellow, succulent portion of the leaf (which, when inspissated, constitutes the aloes of commerce) is found in thin-walled ducts near the surface. The thick leaves are cut off near the base in March and April and stood up in the sun to drain upon skins [Sayre (1917)]. A compendium of 'Homeopathic Remedies' indicates that the juice is bright red [Médi-T (online)]. Two other varieties of prepared aloes, the liver-coloured ALOES HEPATICA and the presumably rose-coloured ALOES ROSATUM, were probably prepared in the same way, the former ending in an inferior product, the latter in a rarer and more desirable one.

Pemberton included 'aloe socotorina' in the Materia Medica, using it as an ingredient of 'Rufus's Pills' [Pemberton (1746)]. Aloes socotrina were rated throughout the period, at about twice the rate for ALOES HEPATICA. By the early nineteenth century, judging by a comment quoted in the OED for 1811, the genuine product was becoming scarce. It appears to be unconnected with the species now named Aloes succotrina, which is native to South Africa and was not discovered until the late seventeenth century [Synge (1951, new ed.1956)].

OED earliest date of use: 1425 under Socotrine

Found in units of OZ Found among the DRUGS, rated by the POUND, HUNDREDWEIGHT

Sources: Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Rates.
References: Médi-T (online), Pemberton (1746), Sayre (1917), Synge (1951, new ed. 1956).

Aloes wood


The wood of the Agalloch, derived from species of two East Indian species, Aloexylon and Aquilaria. Nicholas Culpeper included it as an ingredient of the CONFECTIO ALKERMES [Recipes (Culpeper)], although it was not in the official recipe of the Royal College of Physicians given by Pemberton nearly a century later [Pemberton (1746)].

OED earliest date of use: 1633 under Agalloch

Found in powdered form as an ingredient of a CONFECTIO ALKERMES

Sources: Recipes.
References: Pemberton (1746).


Not located in the OED in this sense. As found in trade an alphabet was a set of letters intended as a COPY BOOK so that children could learn to write correctly as in 'alphabets of round hand copies' [Diaries (Turner)]. Various devises have been noted for teaching the alphabet, including 'Alphabet Books and Boxes, Cut and Engraved' and 'Alphabet Dials' [Tradecards (1794)], as well as the 'Royal Mechanical Alphabets' [Tradecards (1808)].

Although apparently a slow development, the potential of the alphabet for sorting as well as for writing was recognised in at least one instance where a tradesman had among his equipment 'Counter and 9 drawers 12s. Alphabet drawers 2s' [Inventories (1720)]. The 'Alphabets the set, containing twenty-four' [Rates (1660)] indicate that 'I' and 'J', and 'U' and 'V' were still commonly united, reducing the alphabet from 26 to 24 letters.

Found described as MECHANICAL Found describing BOOK, BOX, DIAL, DRAWER
Found rated as SET of 24

Sources: Diaries, Inventories (late), Rates, Tradecards.


[alpisty; alpisti]

The seed of the Canary grass given to cage birds; sometimes applied to other grass-seeds.

OED earliest date of use: 1597

Found imported by C Found rated by the HUNDREDWEIGHT

Sources: Houghton, Rates.



A plant of considerable medicinal importance, Althaea officinalis, or MARSH MALLOW of which the leaves and seeds, and especially the roots were used. John Pechey claimed 'It softens, discusses, eases pain, brings tumours to suppuration, and corrects sharp humours.' He added further that it was used 'chiefly for diseases of the bladder, and the stone of the kidnies, and for an asthma and pleurisie' [Pechey (1694a)].

Pemberton noted that a CONSERVE could be made of 'the flowers of mallows'; by this he may have meant the flowers of marsh mallow, or those of the hollyhock, or Althaea rosea [Pemberton (1746)].

OED earliest date of use: 1669

Sources: Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Recipes.
References: Pechey (1694a), Pemberton (1746).

Althaea water

A medicinal WATER made from the flowers, roots or leaves of the MARSH MALLOW, ALTHAEA officinalis. Given its use in medicine, a Latin name would have been expected. Though this may emerge elsewhere, it has not been noted in the Dictionary Archive, nor did it appear in the eighteenth century Pharmacopoeia. One possible explanation is that by the early-modern period, althaea water was more commonly used in popular medicine than by physicians.

Not found in the OED

Found in units of PINT

Sources: Inventories (early).


[alome; alom water; alom; alme; allume; allum; allu'; allomes; allome; allom; allam; alam]

Alum is the common name for hydrated sodium (or potassium or ammonium) aluminium sulphate. It is white transparent, and very astringent. Seldom found pure, it was usually extracted from aluminous shale by being first fired with COAL, WOOD and FURZE, then steeped in water for many months and boiled in LEAD pan with URINE [Trinder & Cox (1980); Trinder (1992)]. Found among DYERS GOODS, alum was the most important mordant (a technical term for a substance used to form a colour lake with the dye and to fix colours) throughout ancient and medieval times [Ponting (1980)]. The commodities most commonly dyed with the aid of alum were WOOL, TEXTILEs and BONE. Both alum and COPPERAS became important commodities in this period because of the expansion in the production of English coloured CLOTH. Alum was also used in processing LEATHER to make it supple (see TAWED) and in sizing paper. What is often overlooked is that it was used in medicine and was listed among the DRUGs in the Books of Rates. It was taken internally as an astringent, and externally as a styptic to stop bleeding. The Dictionary Project's sources also reveal that Alum had other occasional applications such as to scent old CASKs [Houghton], and as an adulterant of BREAD [Accum (1820)].

The manufacture and distribution of alum was closely controlled by a powerful elite. Until the fifteenth century Genoa was the main European manufacturing source, and alum was regularly imported to Britain on Spanish and Portuguese ships docking at Bristol and Southampton. Later Tolfa (Italy) under the jurisdiction of the Papacy became the hub of alum production. In Britain alum manufacture was subject to royal monopoly. Yorkshire was the leading centre throughout much of the period, from about 1600 until the mid nineteenth century [Trinder (1992)]. In 1654 the British government intervened further in the distribution of alum by standardizing its principal measure decreeing that a CWT of alum was to be the equivalent of 112 LB.

OED earliest date of use: c1325

Found described as BRITISH, burnt, COMMON, DUST, ENGLISH

Sources: Acts, Diaries, Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Patents, Rates, Recipes, Tradecards.
References: Accum (1820), Ponting (1980), Trinder (1992), Trinder & Cox (1980).

Alum leather

[leather allumd; allumed shepskn; allum leather; allome leather; allomd leather; allam calfe]

LEATHER treated with ALUM or TAWED as opposed to TANNED. Sometimes the type of leather or SKIN was specified, as in '2 Shepskn leather allumd' [Inventories (1709)].

OED earliest date of use: 1903 separated by a second descriptor

Found describing SHOE
Found in units of DOZEN, HUNDRED

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

Alum tub

[alluming tub; allom tub; alam in tubbs]

A TUB containing ALUM, or intended for that purpose. ALUM was used by those such as glovers for processing lightweight SKINs. In one example, 'Alam in Tubbs' appears among the stock of a fell monger [Inventories (1707)]; in the other two, the alum tub was associated with a DRENCH TUB [Inventories (1705)]; [Inventories (1754)]. There was probably nothing distinctive about an alum tub except for its contents. The 'alluminfatt' noted once was almost certainly for use rather than storage [Inventories (1665)], as most of the tubs may also have been.

Not found in the OED

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

Alum water


A solution of ALUM in water that had various medicinal and industrial uses. Alum water had long been in the Pharmacopoeia, and an early version of it 'Fallopius' Allum-water', a supposed cure for the 'French Pox' apparently contained MERCURY. Nicholas Culpeper in his Physical Directory called it 'a childish receipt, for the Quick-silver will most assuredly fly out in the boiling' [Woolley (2003)]. An improved version appeared in Pemberton's Dispensatory called 'Bates Alum Water', since the old form was 'now omitted, as not much in use' [Pemberton (1746)]. This was a mixture of alum with white VITRIOL (zinc sulphate) boiled in water and filtered.

Alum water may have been the form in which alum was sometimes used in dyeing, though it has been noted only once in the Dictionary Archive, when John Houghton claimed it could be used to assist in dyeing BONE [Houghton]. For these industrial uses the formulation may well have been different.

OED earliest date of use: 1578 under Alum

Sources: Houghton.
References: Pemberton (1746), Woolley (2004).