In England, 13ᵗʰ – 18ᵗʰ centuries, a unit of mass used for wool. As an object, a sarpler was a large coarse bag. Spellings like serplaith and sirplithe indicate the Scottish version of this unit.
The usual definition of the sarpler is = 2 sacks = 728 pounds avoirdupois of wool (about 330.2 kilograms).
..the sacke wyll con[tain] iiiclxiiij lb. woll....
Also woll ys sold by numbre and schipped to, as by sacks, sarplers, and pokys. ii sacks make a sarpler, and x sarplers make a laste, and the poke ys at no serteyne, butt aftre as ytt weys. ...
Butt as fore Powndes and Sarplers, thai be butt lityll usyd in beyng and sellyng amonge merchauntes; for thai use to by or sell most comynly odyr by the Clawe, the Nayle, or by the Stone or the Todde, or the Sake.
The sacke will contain 364 pounds of wool. ...
Also, wool is sold and shipped by number [instead of by weight in pounds], as by sacks, sarplers and pokes. Two sacks make a sarpler, and 10 sarplers make a last. The poke is not a certain size, but sold by its weight. ...
But as for pounds and sarplers, they be but little used in buying and selling among merchants, for they use to buy or sell most commonly either by the claw [i.e., clove], the nail, or by the stone or the tod, or the sack.
MS Cotton, Vesp. E. IX (15ᵗʰ century)
Among the common medieval measures, which are now obsolete, the Sarplar is conspicuous, for it is constantly mentioned in documents referring to the wool trade. Cowell defines the sarplar as half a sack, or 40 Tods, each tod of 28 pounds². He adds : « This in Scotland is called Serplathe, and conteineth fourscore stone. » Other writers have followed his opinion³. Confusion may arise from this definition, since Cowell's sack is obviously very much larger than the medieval sack of 26 stone. The amount of wool in a sarplar was originally quite indefinite; thus in 1278 a consignment of 103 sacks (weight) of wool was sewn up in 86 sarplars⁴, and all through the fourteenth century the Close and Patent Rolls give evidence of sarplars containing odd numbers of sacks and cloves. In 1340 the collectors of customs at King's Lynn were ordered to ascertain the number of sacks and stones in a consignment of 56 sarplars⁵; and in the same year the collector of customs in the Port of London received orders to « weigh seven sarplars of the wool of Peter, Cardinal Priest of S. Praxed, and, the sacks being counted, to permit the cardinal or his attorneys to lade those sarplars and take them to Flanders⁶ ». The number of sarplars was evidently no clue to the weight of the wool.
The amount of wool in a sarplar gradually increased, until in 1435 there is mention of « 222 sarplars of wool containing one with another 2½ sacks apiece⁷ ». This weight apparently remained constant for some time, for the sarplars mentioned in the Stonor Papers contained 2½ sacks each with some extra cloves⁹, but those of the Cely Papers were nearly 3 sacks¹⁰. However, increase in the size of the sarplar must have taken place before Cowell's time, for his sarplar of 40 tods of 2 stone would be equal to 3 medieval sacks.
2. Cowell, John., Interpreter, 1607, Sarpler.
3. Macpherson, I, p. 485 [Annals of Commerce]; Halliwell, J. O., Dictionary of Archaic Words, 1847, Sarpelere.
4. C. P. R. 1272-1281, p. 284. [Calendar of Patent Rolls]
5. C. C. R. 1339-1341, pp. 402-403. [Calendar of Close Rolls]
6. C. C. R. 1339-1341, p. 536.
7. C. P. R. 1429-1436, p. 454.
8. Statutes at Large, I, p. 575, 27 Hen. VI, c. 2.
9. Kingsford, C. L. ed., The Stonor Letters and Papers, 1290-1483 (C. S., 3rd series, XXX), p. 61.
10. Cely Papers, pp. 2, 3.
W. H. Prior.
Notes on the Weights and Measures of Medieval England.
Union Academique Internationale. Bulletin du Cange.
Archivvm Latinitatis Medii Aevi. Vol. I.
Paris: Librarie Ancienne Édouard Champion, 1924.
In England, beginning in the late 17ᵗʰ century and continuing to the early 19ᵗʰ century, a series of dictionaries define the sarpler as half a sack, equivalent to a pocket. This value should perhaps be viewed with suspicion. By this time the sarpler was probably not in use (a 15ᵗʰ century source says the sarpler was already not in actual use, see the source under definition 1). Sheppard, apparently the first to give the half-sack definition, sounds none too sure of it, and the later authors may simply be echoing Sheppard.
“A Sarpler ... is a quantity of Wooll, and seems to be all one with a Weigh of Wooll. ...A Sarpler (otherwise called a Pocket) is a half Sack.”
“A pocket of wool contained half a sack, and so did a sarpler.”
Lord Chief Justice Hale.
“A Treatise in Three Parts... Pars Tertia. Concerning the Customs of Goods Imported and Exported.”
in A Collection of Tracts Relative to the Law of England, from Manuscripts, Now First Edited. Vol. 1.
Francis Hargrave, editor.
London: Printed by T. Wright and sold by E. Brooke, 1787.
“SARPLER OF WOOL, a quantity of wool, otherwise called a pocket or half-sack; and contains 11 stone of wool at 14 lbs to the stone.”
A Commercial Dictionary of the Names of All the Coins, Weights and Measures in the World.
In the late 19ᵗʰ century, the sarpler begins to be defined as a long ton (2240 pounds of wool). This value may also be an error, in this case arising from a mistaken substitution of the tod for the stone.
“Sarpler: A large bale or package of wool, containing 80 tods, or a ton in weight.”
Peter Lund Simmonds.
The Commercial Dictionary of Trade Products, Manufacturing and Technical Terms. New edition revised and enlarged.
London: G. Routledge, 1898.
Eighty tods would indeed be a long ton (80 × 28 = 2240 pounds), which is larger than a last and much larger than any of the earlier definitions of the English sarpler.
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Last revised: 29 October 2014.