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The story of the Penny nail - Year 1477AD
Nails in Stuart times           - Year 1682AD
Handmade nails - Year 1946AD

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The Penny Nail

This article in 'The Ironmonger' from 1915 tells us the story of the 'penny' nail.

As you can see from the above picture, the details come from the account books of churchwardens and builders in the Middle Ages in England.  In this case, the researcher examined the records dated 1477 from the Church of St Mary-at-Hill in the City of London.

Although many different handmade nails were in use at the time which had specific names, a large proportion were named simply by the number of pence paid for a hundred nails. 

For example, four penny nails were those of which a hundred were purchased for 4d. (The 'd' stands for pence in the days when sterling was denominated in pounds, shillings and pence - s d).

The account records of the Church of St Mary-at-Hill show -

'ffor a c of v peny nayle      vd'

The 'c' is the Roman numeral for 'hundred' and 'v' is the Roman numeral for 'five'.

The amount of money paid for a hundred nails - fourpence, fivepence,sixpence - is thought to depend on the size of the nail. The larger the nail, the more expensive it was. The largest nail appears to have been the tenpenny nail, also referred to as the 'fyve stroke nayle' - possibly because it took five strokes of the hammer to get it home.

This nomenclature for nails 4d, 5d, 6d etc is still in use today particularly in the USA, but relates only to the size of the nails not the price!

Size Length Size Length Size Length
2d 1" 8d 2 1/2" 30d 4 1/2"
3d 1 1/4" 9d 2 3/4" 40d 5"
4d 1 1/2" 10d 3" 50d 5 1/2"
5d 1 3/4" 12d 3 1/4" 60d 6"
6d 2" 16d 3 1/2" 80d 7"
7d 2 1/4" 20d 4" 100d 8"

For those that would like to work out the true cost today, the article tell us that the medieval penny would have been the equivalent of around 1s 6d in value in 1915.  Government sources suggest that prices have risen over 61 fold since 1914, so a medieval penny might be worth around 4.50 today.

View the full article (170K).

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Nails in Stuart Times

Moving on a couple of centuries and we begin to see some of the nail names appearing that we still use today.

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This article, again from 'The Ironmonger' this time dated 1924, reports on a young man named Ambrose Crowley who lived in the days of William & Mary. He was a Quaker who was in business as a 'naylor' and by 1682 had set himself up as an ironmonger in Thames Street in London to sell his nails.

Apart from explaining the best size of bags to use for packing the nails to stack them successfully in a pile, the document reviewed by the researcher showed the following nail names being used at that time -

Batten Brads Pound Nailes Long
Plain Brads Port Nailes
Kings Brads Patten Rivetts Long
Bill Brads Horse Nailes Short
Pound Brads Patten Rivetts Short
Clout Nailes Rosehead Nailes -
Deck Nailes        Sharp
Dogg Nailes         Square
Flat Head Nailes Sheathing Nailes
Flat Pointed                  ditto     Dutch
Flat Pointed Short Filling Nailes
Tenter Hooks Weight Nailes
Lyne Hooks            ditto Diamond Head
Horse Nailes Long Weight Nailes for ye King
Lead Nailes Spikes Copp Head
Pound Nailes Short Spikes Diamond Head
Spikes for ye King


Today, we still use the words Flat Point, Rosehead, Clout, Spikes, Dog spikes, Square shank and so on.

When Ambrose Crowley died in 1713, at the age of 54 years, he left a fortune of well over 100,000 (over 6 million today) - an inspiration to all nail manufacturers!

View complete article (170K).

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Handmade nails

In 1946, 'The Ironmonger' tells us under the Trade Chat section of a Mr S R Naish who put together 'a fine private collection of nails made by methods in use before nail-making machinery was invented....which must be by far the most comprehensive of its kind that has ever been compiled'.

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Listed below are the types of handmade nails Mr Naish had collected at that stage. 

The article goes on to state that the collection of handmade nails was given to Salisbury Museum. The museum, now Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum, still has the collection and has kindly given permission to show images of some of the nails (Click on the links - the images are Copyright of the museum).

Although the collection is not currently on display at the museum, the nails can be viewed by visitors provided adequate advance warning is given. (The museum accession number is SBYWM: 1941.8)

Batten, Fine Hob, Wrot. Sq.
Bocking     (Welsh)
Cider Spike Hob, Wrot. Patent.
Cider Stub. Hurdle, 6 in.
Clasp, Fine. Limer, Stock Head,
Clasp, Fine Wing.       Wrot.
Clasp, 4 in. Wrot. Mop, Rd.Hd., Large.
Cloth Hook Mop, Square.
Clout, Best. Ox.
Clout, Best Strong. Pig Rings.
Clout, Common Wrot. Plate.
Clout, Csk.Wrot. Prison Door, Cast.
Clout, Double Deep Csk. Prison Door, Wrot.
      Wrot. Roofing Stud, Cast.
Clout, Fine. Rose, Fine.
Cooper's Flats. Rose, Flat Wrot.
Cooper's Hook Rose, Pointed Wrot.
Cooper's Nails, 2 in. Rose, Pointed.
Crib. Rose Spike.
Essex Hurdle Rose Wherry.
   (or Cooler) Rose, Wrot.
Fencing Spikes, Wrot. Scupper.
Flemish Tacks. Scupper, Fine Sq.
Frost, Chisel Head Sign Hook.
Frost, Snap Head. Slate, Fine.
Gate, Wrot. Staples, Wrot.
Horse. Tenter Hook.
Horse, Csk. Tiling Hook.
Horse, Half Csk. Tyre, Cast.
Hob, Wrot. Clasp Tyre, Wrot.
Hob, Wrot. Clinker. Tyre Stubs, Wrot.
Hob, Wrot. Fancy Sq. Wrot. tip.

View complete article (70K)


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