timber

In England, 13 – 16th centuries, a unit of count used in trade in furs, = 40 skins. It was found throughout Scandinavia and the Baltic area, often as timmer. It is related to the German Zimmer. link to a chart showing relationships between terms used to indicate numbers of items. The term is mentioned in dictionaries of commerce as late as 1883 (Simmonds), where it is said to be “40 or 50” pelts, but it is unclear whether the word was actually still in use at that date.

Sources

1

Pelter by the Tymber.  Also pelter ware, as sablys, ermynes, letes, martrons, foynys, beuers, otres, Grey and many oder be sold by the tymber, and xl fells make a Tymber.

Pelts by the timber. Also pelt ware, as sables, ermines, snow-weasels, martens, beech-martens, beavers, otters, badgers and many others are sold by the timber, and 40 skins make a timber.

MS. Cotton, Vesp. E. IX, (15th century)

*Judith Werner identifies the “letes” (and “letewsse”, below) as the snow-weasel. The Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed.) says the word’s “meaning and origin are obscure,” and provides a list of citations from cookbooks. Whatever it was, people ate it as well as using its fur.

2

24 Mar. [1480] From the ship of William Philpott called Clement of London
William Grenewolt, H[anse], 1 bag with 50 timbers lettice...

H. S. Cobb, editor.
The Overseas Trade of London. Exchequer Customs Accounts 1480-1.
London Record Society, 1990.
Entry 106, page 33. (The spelling has been modernized by the editor.) 

A customs record of imports into London. The timber appears frequently in these accounts.

3

Armynes the tymber that ys to saye the xl skynes    xiii s. iiii d....
Bever wombys the tymber    xx s....
Callabur rawe that ys to saye xl skynes the tymber    iii s. iiii d.
Callabare wonbys [i.e., wombys] the tymber    [no duty given]...
Ducance the tymbber    [no duty given]...
Gray tawyd the tymber the tymber [sic] that ys to saye xl skynnes    vi s. viii d....
Letewsse the tymber that ys to saye xl skynnes to the timber vi s. viii d....
Marterns the tymber    xxxiii s. iiii d.
Mynkes the tymber    xl s....
Otter the tymber that ys to saye xl skynnes to the tymber    xl s....
Sablles the tymber    [no duty given]

From a 1732 copy (British Museum Add. Roll, 16577) of a manuscript by T. Forgon, internally dated 15 July 1507, consisting of a list of customs duties on various articles, as reproduced as Appendix C in Norman Scott Brien Gras, The Early English Customs System, Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press, 1918.

“Wombys” apparently refers to a fur made by skinning the animal in such a way that the belly, rather than back, is left intact. By the way, not all furs were sold by the timber. The same source refers to beech-marten, fitch and fox skins being sold by the “pane,” meaning a number of skins stitched together to form a piece large enough to make a lining.

The author defines the timber much more frequently than any other unit in his list, which suggests that he expected his readers not to be familiar with it. Was the timber already going out of use by 1507? Were these explanatory comments added by the copyist in 1732?

4

TIMBRI A Pellit:um, leg:Burg:cap:Capitulum. 138.  Ane Timmer of skinnes; that is, swa mony as is inclused within twa broddes of Timmer, quhilk commounlie conteinis fourtie skinnes: In the quhilk maner, merchands usis to bring hame Martrik, Sable, and u:her coastlie skinnes and furringes.

TIMBER The laws of Burrowes, cap. 138. A timber of skins, that is, so many as are enclosed within two boards of timber (which commonly contains forty skins), in which manner, merchants customarily bring home marten, sable, and other costly skins and furs. 

John Skene.
De Verborum Significatione.
Edinburgh: printed by David Landsay, 1681.
The first edition was published in Edinburgh in 1597.

5

Armins [ermines] the Timber cont. forty skins…

Calaber untawed the timber conteyning forty skins…

Dokerers the timber conteyning forty skins…

Fitches the timber cont. forty skins

[a number of other examples]

“A Subsidy granted to the King of Tonnage and Poundage and other summes of Money payable upon Merchandize Exported and Imported.”
A statute from the 12th year of Charles II, 1660. The selection is from the Booke of Rates, which is not part of the statute proper but developed from it. Both are printed in:
Statutes of the Realm, Volume 5: 1628-80, John Raithby, editor.
London: 1819.

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