Picture card - Pincushion


University of Wolverhampton



Nancy Cox and Karin Dannehl

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'Picture card - Pincushion', Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities, 1550-1820 (2007). URL: http://british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=58841 Date accessed: 19 April 2014. Add to my bookshelf


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Picture card

The only two meanings given in the OED are for a) an alternative name for one of the court cards in a pack of PLAYING CARDS, or b) a MESSAGE CARD with a picture on one side as in a modern picture post card. In [Inventories (1709)] a number of cards are listed depicting subjects such as 'King Henry', 'the monument' and 'London Arms', which could correspond to the OED's second meaning, although the OED's earliest date of use in this sense is 1838.

A possible alternative would be decorative picture either for displaying on the wall, or possibly for educating or entertaining children. If the latter they could be the same as the 'small toy cards' and 'large ditto' offered for sale in [Tradecards (1794)]. Sayer and Bennett's Catalogue for 1775 listed a great many small and cheap pictures, including 'Metzotintos, Posture Size. Viz Fourteen Inches by Ten, Price 1s Each', and even smaller ones 'Six Inches by Four and a Half Wide, Price Sixpence each'.

Sources: Inventories (late).
References: Sayer and Bennett (1775), 15-33.

Piece goods

In the seventeenth century, the term was largely applied to INDIAN and other oriental imported TEXTILE fabrics. These usually first came in short lengths suitable to make a single garment, though, as the Indian market gathered strength, conditions were imposed by the importers on the native manufacturers. Indian textiles were so popular that British manufacturers were quick to produce imitations. During the nineteenth century, as technologies were developed at home to rival those of India, the term came to be used for a trade operating in the opposite direction, from Britain to the East, and to Africa. An early indication of this shift appeared in [Newspapers (1790)] in which the advertiser addressed the 'Manufacturers of British Piece Goods' among which he listed MUSLIN, CALICO, CHINTZ, PULLICATE, NANKEEN and MUSLINET, all of them except the last had originally come from India.

The term, 'piece goods' does not appear to have been used in the shops. Apart from the instance quoted above, the only other reference in the Dictionary Archive comes from the short title of a patent [Patents (1774)]. This gives a different meaning to the term, since the patentee included among the fabrics that would benefit from his invention VELVERET, COTTON, SILK CORDUROY, JEAN and DIMITY, few of which appeared in the lists compiled by Milburn [Yule and Burnell (1886, pb 1996)].

Although the improvements in British technologies played their part in diminishing the trade in Indian textiles, the main damage was done by prohibitions and punitive duties placed on Indian goods. Although not effective at first, an act in 1720 went some way to drying up supplies coming legitimately from the East and left the market open to British suppliers, [Acts (1720)]. The duties, which became the main method of discouraging these imports in the later part of the eighteenth century, were so high that they encouraged smuggling. They were therefore reduced in 1783 to 18% ad valorem. Even then they did not kill off the trade. In the year 1796-7 the value of piece-goods from India imported into England was £2,776,682, or one-third of the whole value of the imports from India, which was £8,252,309 [Yule and Burnell (1886, pb 1996)].

OED earliest date of use: 1665


Sources: Newspapers, Patents.
References: Yule and Burnell (1886, pb 1996).


[pyke; pikes; pick]

The term has two distinct meanings. It was first a WEAPON consisting of a long WOODEN shaft or PIKE STAFF with a pointer or PIKE HEAD of IRON or STEEL. Formerly it was the chief weapon of a large part of the infantry, but in the eighteenth century it was largely superseded by the BAYONET. The head was sometimes modified by the addition of a lateral hook.

OED earliest date of use in this sense: c1511

It was secondly a large, extremely voracious, freshwater FISH of the northern temperate zone, Esox lucius. It has a long slender snout, and it was the resemblance of this to the weapon that probably gave rise to its vernacular name. It was formerly eaten far more than is common now, being cooked in a number of different ways, including boiling, roasting, stewing and baking in pies.

OED earliest date of use in this sense: 1314

Simone Clarke

As a weapon: Found described as bare, FURNISHED, LONG, OLD, without a head Found rated with and without PIKE HEADs

Sources: Acts, Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Rates, Recipes, Tradecards.
References: Dawson (1596, 1996 ed.), 119-20, May (1685, 1994 ed.), 319-30, Murrell (1638, 1985 ed.), 98, Nott (1726, 1980 ed.), P131-57, Smith (1758, 1994 ed.), 42-3, Washington (1749-99, 1981 ed.), 182-3, 186.

Pike head

[pike-head; picke head]

The IRON head of a PIKE, which would be fitted to the end of a PIKE STAFF

OED earliest date of use: 1596

Found described as OLD
Found rated by the PIECE

Sources: Acts, Inventories (early), Rates.

Pike staff

[pikestaffe; pike stave; pike staffe; pickstaves]

The earliest meaning given by the OED is a staff or walking-stick with a metal point at the lower end like an alpenstock. In the Dictionary Archive it seems more commonly to have been applied to the wooden shaft of a PIKE (the weapon). According to John Houghton pikestaves were made of ASH wood. He described how in southern Spain young ash trees were grown (presumably as coppices) until they were tall enough and thick enough for the trunk to be split into four to make four pike staves [Houghton]. Ash was still the preferred wood in modern times according to an OED quotation dated 1904.

OED earliest date of use: 1356 as a staff; 1580 as the shaft of a pike

Sources: Houghton, Inventories (early).


[pykell; pickle; pickevil; pickell; pickeivele]

Also found in several variants of 'pikel' or pickel, which the OED suggests means the same. These forms are found in the Dictionary Archive, but were less common.

The OED suggests that 'Evil' might be derived from the Old English for 'FORK'. The PIKE evil was therefore almost certainly an alternative name for the IMPLEMENT, a PITCHFORK.

OED online earliest date of use: 1602 as Pikel

Found rated by the HUNDRED

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

Pile head

[pyle heade]

'Pile' is an old term for an ARROW, which has now entirely superseded it. Two entries in the Dictionary Archive refer to pile heads, one in conjunction with arrows as in 'arrowes pyle heades safhorne syues' [Inventories (1622)]. It would seem that the term remained in use into the seventeenth century, and that it was used for IRON heads to be mounted on arrows, or on some other projectile weapon such as a dart or JAVELIN. A quotation dated 1700 in the OED suggested it may have been triangular in shape.

Not found in the OED as such

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

Pill box

[pill boxe]

The OED gives a rather narrow definition of a pill box as 'a BOX for holding PILLs; a shallow cylindrical box of cardboard for this purpose'. Nicholas Blundell recorded the purchase of 'Boxes of Pills four doses for me' in 1711, presumably the sort of container meant in the OED's definition [Diaries (Blundell)]. However, some of the purveyors of QUACK MEDICINE promoted their wares though the containers in which they were offered for sale. There is little to deduce about the pill boxes containing the 'Female Pills' advertised in the form of 'a Shilling Box of Pills' available from the 'Men who carry the News' [Newspapers (1743)], but the advertisement for 'Grana Angelica' marketed in boxes that were round and white, sealed up in their directions with Stevenson's Coat of Arms' shows the pill box as part of the promotion [Newspapers (1750)]. More permanent pill boxes were also for sale by those marketing SMALL WARE and TOYS; for example one had 'Round Pill Boxes Oval ditto White Oval ditto', apparently in NESTs of four [Tradecards (1794)], in similar form as pill boxes were rated [Rates (1784)].

OED earliest date of use: 1737

Found described as Oval, ROUND, WHITE
Found rated by the NEST of 4 boxes

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


The term denotes hat which is peeled or which peels off. With regard to HEMP it referred to the outer layer of the stalk which produced the wanted fibres and hence pilled and unpilled hemp. In [Inventories (1728)] it was found valued at 2s STONE as opposed to FIMBLE at 3s 2d.

OED earliest date of use: 1400

Found described as GREEN
Found measured by STONE

See also GREEN HEMP.
Sources: Inventories (late).

Pilulae aureae

[pillule auree]

In English golden PILLs. They have appeared only once in the Dictionary Archive [Inventories (1625)], and they were not in the Pharmacopoeia, so were presumably of little importance in medicine. They were probably based on LITHARGE OF GOLD and so in fact contained no gold at all.

Sources: Inventories (early).

Pimper eel

[pimper eele]

Probably an alternative rendering of 'pimpernol', meaning either a variety of the common EEL or merely a small one. Its small size is suggested by the way pimper eels were rated, that is at the lowest rate benath seveeral other types of eel [Rates (1582)]; [Rates (1660)]. They were not rated in 1784, perhaps because the importation of all but QUICK EEL had been prohibited in 1666 [Acts (1666)], which suggests that pimper eels were already processed to some extent, for example DRIED or SMOKED or packed in BRINE.

Not found in the OED but date of earliest use for Pimpernol: 1251

Found rated by the BARREL, LAST

See also EEL.
Sources: Rates.

Pimpernel water


The name 'Pimpernel' was originally, and still is in Romanic languages, applied to Great Burnet, Sanguisorba officinalis, and to Salad Burnet, Sanguisorba minor. Both were more important as a food, while the plant that is now given the name, Anargalis arvensis, was esteemed medicinally. Pimpernel water seems to have been used both inwardly and outwardly. The earliest quotation in the OED, dated 1527, suggests the water 'openeth the stoppings of the liuer ... and helpeth the Jaundies', while the one dated 1837 implies it could be used externally to get rid of freckles. According to Nicholas Culpeper, the leaves boiled in wine 'openeth obstructions of the liver', while the 'distilled water or juice is much esteemed by French dames to cleanse the skin from any ugliness, deformity or discolouring' and is 'no less effectual ... applied to all wounds that are fresh and green, or old, filthy ... ulcers' [Culpeper (1792)].

OED online earliest date of use: 1837

Sources: Inventories (early).
References: Culpeper (1792).


[pyns; pynne; pynn; pyne; pyn; pinne; pinn; pine]

This is a slender piece of WOOD or WIRE, (now normally of BRASS or IRON, TINNED), usually with a tapered point at one end and a flattened round head at the other, commonly used to fasten together parts of dress, loose papers, etc., for mounting entomological specimens, or to fasten together parts of a structure, to hang something upon or to stop up a hole. The most common types of pin traded in this period were those for personal use, made of BRASS WIRE (sometimes IRON) that were then 'blanched' or covered with a thin layer of TIN. With this layer, they were called WHITE PINS, without it RED PINS. Although usually sold in papers, they were also advertised sold by weight. This term was also applied to larger articles of the same kind made of STEEL, GOLD, SILVER, etc., often more or less ornamental, and used for securing the hair, a hat, shawl, scarf, etc., or merely for ornament such as BREAST PIN, CLOAK PIN and HAT PIN. The importation of pins was forbidden by 5 ELIZ C7 (1563) to protect home manufacture.

The manufacture of Pins was complicated. At the beginning of the period, the processes involved were described in an act of parliament, which said that pins 'should be double-headed, and have the Heads soudered fast to the Shank of the Pins well smothed, the Shank well shaven, the Point well and round filed, canted and sharped', although this seems to have been the ideal at the time rather than the reality for English pins [Acts (1545)]. A lack of skill on the part of the pinners was implied in the act, and may explain why FRENCH PINS were available in the shops. About a century later, Randle Holme made detailed drawings of the equipment used by pinners, showing in his text that many of the processes were mechanized by using treadles to facilitate cutting, grinding, straightening, and papering the pins [Holme (2000)]. By the late eighteenth century, each of the several stages of pin-making were often performed by different workers, so that Adam Smith was able to use it as his example of the division of labour: 'One man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head; to make the head requires two or three distinct operations; to put it on is a peculiar bisiness, to whiten the pins is another; it is even a trade by itself to put them into the paper' [Smith (1776)].

Two probate inventories of pinners or pin-makers roughly contemporary with Randle Holme, show both the scale and the complexity of pin-making; the one in London [Inventories (1720)], the other in Gloucester, a major centre for the manufacture of pins [Inventories (1694)]. The Gloucester man had pins valued at over £30, with wire ready to cut up at £45, while the pinner in London had pins at well over £200. Neither appears to have had the full range of equipment set out by Randle Holme, but this may be because they two men specialised somewhat. The one seems mainly to have been manufacturing the pins and then tinning them to make WHITE PINS using BLOCK TIN and ARGOL as a flux [Inventories (1694)], a process more often used by pinners in London to make LONDON PINS. The other was mainly concerned with the process of setting the pins into papers ready for sale [INVLATE LY1720BYLT. The Gloucester man had SHEARS for cutting the wire into lengths, which may have been worked with the treadles as Holme described [Holme (2000)]. The London man had a 'straightening board & block' valued at 6s, which probably was what Holme called a 'Pinners Straight Board [with] the Pins'. He explained how 'By the help of this Board and strong wyers set in an angle vpon it, wyer drawn between them, being cross or interturned by each standing Wyer, doth immediately make it ly straight, let it be neuer so long; neither will it haue the least shew of a turn or bending in it' [Holme (2000)]. Both had wheels, treadles and blocks. Probably some of these corresponded with what Holme called the drawing bench to draw out the wire to a correct thickness [Holme (2000)], the pointing mill, to give each pin a pointed end, thus producing PIN DUST, a valuable by-product of making pins [Holme (2000)], and the heading wheel and pin makers stamps for making and attaching the pin's head [Holme (2000)].

Although the most common unit of measure was the DOZEN, it is not clear what this meant, though it may have meant either a dozen THOUSAND, or a dozen OUNCEs. One retailer had in stock 'iij thousand of Red & w'tt pins' valued at 2s 8d [Inventories (1633)]. This would make sense of a roughly contemporary retailer who had '1 dozs redd & whit pins' at 9s [Inventories (1626)]. A seller of large pins, however, seems to have them valued by the dozen HUNDRED [Inventories (1587)], while those belonging to another were valued between 6s and 10s the DOZEN and 6d and 1s the OUNCE depending on size and type [Inventories (1606)]. Whatever the precise numbers, many retailers stocked pins in quantity and variety. Pins were sized according to thickness from 1 to 16, though most sellers sold only the middle sizes, while some had the large CAWKINs and very few the small LILLIKIN.

In the mid-nineteenth century, Charles Tomlinson estimated that 15 million pins were consumed daily in England alone [Tomlinson (1854)]. With a much larger population, the demand would undoubtedly been greater, but the stock of the two pinners mentioned above suggests that an astonishing number were made in the early-modern period. At a rough calculation, with middle-sized pins selling at less than 1s per thousand [Tradecards (18c.)], the London pinner had over 4,000,000 pins in stock.

Other types of pin were on a larger scale and usually used individually such as LARDING PIN and ROLLING PIN, or were part of bigger implements like the IRON PIN and the WARPING PIN.

OED earlies date of use: 1380

Found described as BEST, BIG, broken, COARSE, of different sorts, DOUBLE, FINE, GREAT, LARGE, LOOSE, MIDDLE, ORDINARY, PACKET, patent, SHORT, SMALL, STEEL, YELLOW Found made of SILVER
Found sized in numbers from 4 to 12 Found in units of 1000, C, CLOUT, CWT, DOZEN, GROSS, HUNDRED, LB, M, OUNCE, PACKET, PAPER, POUND, SHEET, THOUSAND Found rated by the DOZEN - THOUSAND

Sources: Acts, Diaries, Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Patents, Rates, Tradecards.
References: Holme (2000), Smith (1776), Tomlinson (1854).

Pin cushion box

[pincooshinn box]

A small open box in which a PINCUSHION was fitted. The result was both decorative and functional, as one example in the Dictionary Archive shows: 'Pin Cushions, mottoed, and made to any pattern Ditto, in Boxes' [Tradecards (1794)].

OED online earliest date of use: 1706 under Pincushion

Sources: Inventories (late), Newspapers, Tradecards.

Pin dust

[pinne duste]

Dust formed from the filings of BRASS (or possibly IRON) produced in the manufacture of PINS, used for polishing by jewellers. Abraham Rees believed pin dust must have been harmful to the workers who pointed the pins, though he gave no evidence of lung disease so caused [Rees (1819-20, 1972 ed.)].

OED online earliest date of use: 1552 under Pin-dust

Found in units of OUNCE, POUND

See also FILE DUST.
Sources: Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late).
References: Rees (1819-20, abridged 1972).

Pin white

[pinwhite; pinned white]

A TEXTILE in the form of a NARROW CLOTH, also called 'pinned WHITE STRAITS'. 'Pin white', or 'Pinned white', appears to have been a corruption of Penwith, the name of a district in south west Cornwall, probably then pronounced 'Penwit'. This is very similar to the contemporary Dutch term for this fabric, which was 'Penwits' or 'Pennewits'. Pin whites were thus probably so called because they were made from the coarse, hairy WOOL produced in those parts. Pin whites developed from the old TAVISTOCK cloths, which were also made of coarse hairy WOOL with some LAMBS WOOL and FLOCKS added. Later an improved wool from Dorset was used, so the cloths became finer and, perhaps coincidentally, longer (up to 14 YARD from about 12 YARD) [Kerridge (1985)]. The name may then have lost its association with its Cornish origins, and come to mean something different as one northern retailer had 'pin white Callocoe' along with 'Muzlin and white Callocoe' among his stock [Inventories (1684)]. In this context the meaning is obscure.

The making of 'white Plain Streights, and pinned white Streights in Devon and Cornwall' was regulated by parliament in 1553 [Acts (1553)]. Along with STRAITS, they were included among the 'many sorts of the lesser Woollen clothes' in the Book of Rates of 1660 [Rates (1660)]. Pin whites have not been noted in the shops. If they were sold retail in England and Britain, it was under another name, possibly NARROW CLOTH or WHITE CLOTH. In all contexts, the term, and possibly the fabric, had fallen out of use by 1700.

OED earliest date of use: 1552

Sources: Acts, Rates.
References: Kerridge (1985).


[pynckcacys; pyncase; pinn case; pincooshinn boxes; pin-case; pin cushion boxe]

A case for holding PINS, and in this sense synonymous with 'Pin box' which is included here; also, a PINCUSHION. Pincases appear early, and like PINCUSHIONs they were sometimes associated with PURSES as in 'vj sylke pursis and x pynckcacys' [Inventories (1555)], probably because they were two items that many women carried with them. They were made in the eighteenth century to satisfy the market in small luxury goods, hence the retailer who advertised 'A great variety of Margate Pin Cushions, mottoed, and made to any pattern Ditto, in Boxes Ditto, with Locks' [Tradecards (1794)].

OED online earliest date of use: 1515 under Pin-case

Found made of WOOD
Found in units of DOZEN Found rated by the GROSS of 12 DOZEN

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


[pyncers; pinsors; pinshes; pinsers; pinch'rs; pinches; pinchers]

Also found as pinchers and pinches, the term refers to a TOOL for tightly grasping or nipping anything consisting of two limbs pivoted together, forming a pair of jaws with a pair of handles or levers by which they can be pressed tightly together. Many types of operation required specialist pincers, for example, PLUMBERS PINCERS and SHOEMAKERS PINCERS. Other types of pincers noted in the Dictionary Archive, but not listed separately are screw pincers [Inventories (1672)]and hand pincers [Inventories (1685)].

OED online earliest date of use: 1338 as Pincers; 1575 as Pinchers

Found described as SMALL Found used in blowing GLASS Found used in the preparation of HORN
Found in units of DOZEN Found rated by the DOZEN, POUND

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


An alloy of about five parts of COPPER with one of zinc, resembling GOLD, named after its inventor Christopher Pinchbeck, a watch and toy maker in Fleet St., London, who died in 1732. His heirs had considerable difficulty in protecting their rights to this attractive metal, hence an advertisement in the Evening Advertiser in 1740 [Newspapers (1740)].

It was used to make a great variety of JEWELLERY etc. and other fancy goods, as evidenced in advertisements like the one reporting a lost 'Pinchbeck Watch, with a green Shagreen Case' [Newspapers (1770)]. The comment by one foreign visitor of 'every imaginable kind of ornament in silver, and in pinchbeck and other compositions' [Diaries (Lichtenberg)], suggests how popular it was as a substitute for SILVER.

OED online earliest date of use: 1732

Found used to make BUCKLE, SPUR, WATCH

Sources: Diaries, Newspapers, Patents.

Pinching iron

[pinching ditto]

Found in both the singular and the plural, the term was applied to several TOOLs or IMPLEMENTs, each with a similar function, but found in different environments. Pinching irons were first of all a form of holding device, possibly similar to PINCERS, but in one probate inventory they were listed along with a HAND VICE and with several pairs of PLYERS, suggesting identifiable differences [Inventories (1799)]. The OED gives a quotation dated 1519, indicating that, on a smaller scale they could be similar to TWEEZERS to be used to pluck out hairs.

The OED also suggests that it was an alternative name for CURLING IRONS, supported by a quotation dated 1789. However, one retailer advertised 'Curling and Pinching Irons' [Tradecards (1790s)], which suggests that the two were distinct. James Stevens Cox describes them as 'irons with circular- flat-faced ends, which heated are pressed together by means of the handles worked scissor fashion to pinch' ringlets and shapes into the hair [Cox (1966, pb 1969)].

OED online earliest date of use: 1519 as Tweezers; 1789 as a means of dressing the hair

Found described as FRENCH

Sources: Inventories (late), Tradecards.
References: Cox (1966, pb 1989).


[pyn cushin; pinn cushion; pine cushion; pine cushen; pin-cushion; pincushen; pin cushion; pin cushin; pin cooshing]

A small CUSHION, sometimes PERFUMEd, used for sticking PINS in to keep them ready for use. They were in the earlier part of the period more often called PINPILLOWs. Pincushions were sometimes enclosed in a PIN CASE, which term came also to mean a pincushion. Although most pincushions were small and functional, some were more for decoration than use like the one seen by Johanna Schopenhauer in which 'the pins of all sizes' were 'arranged in artistic patterns, looking like fine, rich, silver embroidery' [Diaries (Schopenhauer)]. This form of decorative pincushion gave rise to a way of decorating the seat of a CHAIR; hence the record of 'Two, two Arms Mahogany black hair Pincushen bottom Chairs' and 'Two Arm Mahogany Morreen pincushen bottom Chairs' [Inventories (1764)].

Although none have been identified as such in the Dictionary Archive, some of the pincushions recorded in the Dictionary Archive may have been like a 'Loaded Cushion, a lady's table pincushion for fastening work to, and which is loaded with lead' [Simmonds (1858), quoted OED, Loaded].

OED online earliest date of use: 1632

Found described as LARGE, LITTLE, MARGATE Found made of SATIN, SILK, VELVET
Found rated by the DOZEN

Sources: Diaries, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Rates, Tradecards.

Piccalilli - Pickling
Pine - Pitchfork