Nov 192013

Some of the 18th Century trade cards go rather further than just describing the name and address of the business – they are an advertisement for just about everything stocked by an individual shop, and the lists can be absolutely fascinating. That is certainly the case with “Robert Jenkin, oil-man, at the Oil Jar, in Fleet Street near the Market, London” who sold all sorts of fine oils.

It appears on the Lewis Walpole Library site and is part of an intriguing album of trade cards and invitations, dated between 1733 and 1769.


I love the “likewise” and the way it then launches off into the most amazing catalogue of goodies:

“Gallipoly, Linseed, Rape, Train, Neatsfoot, Drying & Turpentine oils,

Distill’d Vinegar, Wine Vinegar, Rape Vinegar, Verjuce,

Basket & comn salt, French Bay salt, Salt Prunalla, Salt Petre & Petre Salt,

India & English mangoes, India & English ketchup, Fine Russia Cavere, French Spanish & Luca olives, capers, anchovies, vermichelli, macrony, troffels & morrels, dry’d mushrooms,

Hams & tongues, Dutch beef, fine Durham & common mustard flower,

Castile & brown soap, common cake soap, crown soap, hair powder, powland & comn. starch, rock indico, fine seques figges & drop do., calcin’d smalts, common powder blue, battle gun powder & shot, rock & common allom, Venice & refin’d turpentine,

Burgundy pitch, roll’d brimstone sulpher, yellow & black rosin, pitch & tar, black red & white lead, ivory & lamp black, gumdragon & arabick, bees wax & glue, wax & spermaceti can[dles], flambeaux & links, red & pickl’d herrings, pearl ashes, rotton & fire stone,

Fullers earth, emmery & whiting, red scowering sand, flag brooms & corks, cords & packthread, Wholesale & Retail with all sorts of foreign & English pickles. ”

It really is a cornucopia of delights – you can almost imagine the aroma as you entered the shop, part turpentine (used for drying paints), part soaps (be they cake, crown or common) and part pitch and tar. What intrigues me is that the combination is that of a dry grocery (salt, mustard, dried herrings etc) and part general store/ironmonger  with yard brooms, cord and lamp black (the latter used as a food colourant and as a pigment in inks). Gunpowder and shot may perhaps seem a little odd to us today as being something to be found in a general store – though salt petre was there as a food preservative (known as E252,  it is still used in the manufacturing process of corned beef and some salamis).

Fullers Earth is a form of clay, high in magenesium oxide, used  in cleaning woolen goods which have become stained with animal fats, oil etc and therefore forms part of the “laundry wash reckittsperquisites” along with the soap and “common powder blue” used as a washing whitener. I see that my ancestor often referred to buying “blue”  – a little blue bag which was stirred around in the final rinse water on washday. We tend to think of ‘Reckitt’s Blue’ but Isaac Reckitt didn’t really get involved with ‘blue’ until he opened a factory in Hull in the 1840’s. Clearly, eighty years before that  Robert Jenkin was getting his supplies from someone else.

Durham Mustard was ‘invented’ on 10th June 1720 by Mrs Clements of Durham (see my post here). The verjuice would have been made by pressing unripe grapes (and sometimes crab-apples or other sour fruit). It was extensively used in cooking – as an ingredient in sauces, as a condiment or to de-glaze preparations.

Neatsfoot oil (‘neat’ being an Old English word for cattle) was obtained by rendering down the shin and feet of cows to produce an oil which, unlike other animal fats, stayed in liquid form at room temperature. It was therefore easily absorbed into leather, making it an ideal conditioner and softener for leather boots, riding equipment and so on.

Gallipoli oil was a coarse form of olive oil, and it looks as though it was used with other exciting products such as sheeps dung, pigments etc to make dyes for cotton such as ‘Turkey Red’.

The dictionary tells me that Burgundy Pitch is “a form of spruce resin which has strengthening and regenerative properties. It also has anti-bacterial properties and can disinfect the air…” and is therefore similar in its origins to the ‘yellow and black rosin’ (used  in varnishes, glues, soaps and … sealing wax!

ws (2)Spermacetti was a waxy substance found in the cranial cavity of the sperm whale which, when compressed, could be used to make a form of candle which burned with a very constant light. The flame didn’t  flicker or gutter, and it had the added advantage that the candle would not melt and “go bendy” in the summer sun. Richard Hall would buy it a couple of ounces at a time, as in his shopping list from 1790.

All in all, a veritable treasure trove and my thanks go out to the Lewis Walpole Libray site  for allowing me to use the trade card.

  2 Responses to “A splendid Trade Card: shopping at the Sign of the Oil Jar.”


    Saltpetre was commonly used as a cooling agent in water, when most people didn’t have access to ice houses. Gum dragon is more familiar now as gum tragacanth.
    These sorts of shops were found still in the late 19th century, my great aunt used to tell a story of a slightly simple woman who would go to the ironmonger’s muttering ‘Tallow, wax and candles’ to remind her of her shopping list, and the local bad boys would try to put her off by shouting ‘tar, pitch and resin!’ at her.


    I love the miscellany of this list though…

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