An Anglo-Saxon, then English unit of capacity, originally “a good horseload.” The Yearbook for the 20th Year of Edward I (1292) says “This measure is the same as a quarter,” that is, 8 bushels. In the sense of 8 bushels the unit was in use for corn and malt at least as late as 1820.¹ The seam as a horseload continued in respect to wood and dung at least through the 19th century.²
1. Second Report of Commissioners on Weights and Measures, 13 July 1820. Appendix A, page 31. Reproduced in Parliamentary Papers 1820 (HC 314) vii, page 473.
2. Worlidge (1704).
Unpaged. Under DRY MEASURE: “Two of these Gallons make a Peck, four Pecks a Bushel, four Bushels the Comb or Curnock; two Curnocks make a Quarter, Seam, or Raff, and ten Quarters a Last...”
“SEAM; in respect to Corn, is 8 bushels, but a Seam of wood is an Horse-load; and of Grass 24 stone, each five pounds weight.”
“Grass” is a typographical error for glass; see definition 2 below.
pd for half a seam lyme....xiiij d.
Excerpts from the Churchwardens' Accounts of the Parish of Leverton, in the County of Lincoln.
Archaeologia, or miscellaneous tracts relating to antiquity, vol 41, page 364 (1867).
The year of the entry is 1567. Ten years earlier the same wardens paid 4 pence for a bushel of lime (see frundel). Assuming a steady price and no quantity discount, the seam of lime would contain 7 bushels of lime. But it was probably 8, and the 1 penny difference represents a quantity discount.
Five seam of an acre I truly was paid.
Th' encrease of a seam is a bushel for store.
All kinde of graines is measured by Troy weight of which 8 pounds makes a gallon, whereof are made Pints, Quarts, Pottles, Gallons, Pecks, Halfe-bushels, Bushels, Strikes or halfe coombs, Cornoockes, Coombes or halfe Quarters, Quarters or Seames & Lasts...
A Conservancy of Yeares: Containing a new, easie, and most exact computation of time…
[London]: Printed for the Company of Stationers, 1612.
Seam, s. ‘a seame of corn, of any sort,’ a quarter, eight bushels. Ess.; ab A.S. seám, et hoc fortè à Graeco σάγμα, a load, a burthen, a horse-load: it seems also to have signified the quantity of eight bushels, being often taken in that sense in Matth. Paris.-Somner. ‘A seam of wood,’ an horse-load. Suss.
A Collection of English Words Not Generally used, with their Significations and Original, in two Alphabetical Catalogues, the one Of such as are proper to tbe Northern, the other to the Southern Counties…. 2nd edition.
London: Printed for Christopher Wilkinson, 1691.
from the edition edited by W. W. Skeat for the English Dialect Society.
London: Trübner, 1873-1874.
In the 19th century, dialect researchers recorded the seam in use in Cornwall:
In west Cornwall: "a measure; a cartload of clay."
In east Cornwall: "Seam, or Zeam, a load of hay; manure, &c. It means with us no definite quantity, but a cart-load, waggon-load, &c. "
M. A. Courtney, West Cornwall. Thomas Q. Couch, East
in Glossary of Words in Use in Cornwall.
Published for the English Dialect Society.
London: Trübner and Company, 1880.
SEAM. A Seam of Tin is a horse load, viz. two small sacks of black Tin. I believe it is borrowed from the German Mine term, Saume of Quicksilver, about 315 lb in two small barrels on a horse. See Brown's Travels.
Mineralogia Cornubiensis. A Treatise on Minerals, Mines, and Mining: Containing the Theory and Natural History...etc.
London: Printed and sold for the author by James Phillips, 1778.
Page 326. “Black tin” is washed tin ore, not to be confused with “block tin”.
An Anglo-Saxon, then English unit of mass, (13 – 14th centuries) used for glass. In the 13th century, it is mentioned as a unit of weight for glass equal to 24 stones each of 5 pounds.¹ Early in the 15th century it is described as 14 stones each of 15 pounds.²
An early 19th century source says 3 hundredweights (336 pounds) of glass, “or according to 31 Edward I, 6 cwt, 28 stone of 24 lb. each.”3
Ronald Zupko compiled a list of the units used by British customs from around 1500 to 1800.⁴ Under glass, we find the hundredweight of 112 pounds, which consists of 8-pound stones. The seam of glass had probably disappeared by the 1500's, and its mention by, for example, Worlidge, (see above) may simply be due to the carrying-forward of terms from one generation of glossaries to the next.
1. Tractatus de Ponderibus et Mensuris, 1302/3?
Reprinted in Statutes of the Realm, volume I, pages 204-5.
London: HMSO, 1810-1828.
“The Seeme of Glass containeth Twenty-four stone, and every stone Five Pound.”
2. Red Book of the Abbey of Bath
Le seem de vitro continet 14 petras; quælibet petra 15 libras.
3. Second Report of the Commissioners..., page 32.
4. Ronald Edward Zupko.
British Weights and Measures. A History from Antiquity to the Seventeenth Century.
Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1977.
In Devonshire, England, ? – 19th century, a unit of mass used for dung, = 3 hundredweights = 336 pounds.
Second Report of the Commissioners, page 32.
Old Country and Farming Words.
English Dialect Society, number 30.
London: Trübner and Co., 1880.
A quarter acre
Seam, s. (1) (A.-S.) Fat; grease, especially lard. North.
(2) A horse-load of wood.
(3) A stratum of coal. North.
(4) A quarter of an acre.
(5) A quarter of corn.
A Dictionary of Obsolete and Provincial English. vol 2.
London: Henry G. Bohn, 1886.
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Last revised: 27 March 2018.