Latin Maxims I
Latin Maxims II
Latin Maxims III
Latin Maxims IV
Cowell's Interpreter I
Cowell's Interpreter II
Feal and Divot I
Feal and Divot II
Peddlers and Others I
Peddlers and Others II
Fine and Dandy I
Fine and Dandy II
Folling, Bummers, et al.
Frowzled and Frowsy
Hypergamy et al.
Explode and Imposition
Pixie and Pixilated
Cornage and Culliage
Restringe and Laxative
Miso- (Hatred of)
Nictitate II (Nabokov)
The Kiss of Peace
Loose Ends (on Kissing)
Prink and Quiz
Words for Intoxication
Piffle and Witter
Harangue et al.
Forestall, Engross, Regrate, etc.
Bill Long 2/2/06
If forestall means to intercept goods on the way to market in order to buy them and sell them more dearly, and if regrate means to buy goods at market and sell them for a higher price within a four mile radius of the market, what did the common law crime of "engrossing" consist of? According to Letwin, "engrossing" in its original and narrow meaning, was "to buy crops in the field before they were harvested or at least before they were ready to come to market" (368). Another definition stresses that engrossing is buying from the farmer and selling to other wholesalers--so it is the creation of another link in the chain of selling. Later definitions of engrossing or engrosser suggest its connection with monopolization (the OED definition, for example), but it seems that at its origin it had little to do with monopoly and everything to do with creating an unapproved extra layer of people between the farmer and the fair or market.
Before probing how the laws worked in operation, it might be helpful to mention the crime/word "badger." When the 1552 statute was repealed in 1772, the repealing statute was named "An Act for Repealing...against Badgers, Engrossers..." What, then, was a badger? The OED assures us that the 1552 statute was also directed against badgers, defined as "one who buys corn and other commodities and carries them elsewhere to sell; an itinerant dealer who acts as a middleman between producer and consumer." Thus, a "badger" can be said to be a "cadger, hawker or huckster." We have an attestation as early as 1500: "The bagers, such as bryngeth whete to towne, as wele in trowys, as otherwyse, by lande and by watir." The 1552 statute prohibited buying of "Corn, Fish, Butter, or Cheese" by a "Badger, Lader, Kidder,* or Carrier...," though it if they had licenses to buy these goods, such activity would be permitted.
[*By the way, a "kidder" is one who "hoaxes or humbugs," which means to coax or wheedle someone. It is interesting that the earliest attested use of the verb "kid" in this sense, is only from 1811. Obviously we have, in the 1552 statute, a use of the term in this way that goes back 260 years previous to that.]
The word "badger", however, doesn't seem to be freighted with the same negative connotations as "forestaller" or "regrater/or." From 1587: "No badger, baker, brewer or purveior, to buie graine, untill an houre after the full market begin..." Or, from 1641: "The badgers come farre, many of them; whearefore theire desire is to buy sooner, that they may be goinge betimes, for feare of beinge nighted." Or, from 1674: "Badger, such as buy Corne, or other Commodities in one place, and carry them to another."
Legal and Economic Implications of Badgers/Engrossers
Letwin explains the purpose of the statute of 1552 and its refinements/amendments over time.
"The major objective of laws against forestalling was to keep food prices low. Such laws fit very neatly into the more general price-fixing program administered by medieval, and, later, mercantilist governments. Local authorities of manors, cities, and guilds had customary rights to control food prices; kings issued proclamations and parliaments passed statutes for the same end; all these are implicitly confirmed in a statute of 1533 which gave certain members of the Privy Council as well the right to set 'reasonable prices' of 'cheese, butter, capons, hens, chickens, and other victuals necessary for man's sustenance.' The work of surveillance would be much easier if all sales were made publicly in the market, and so forestalling and engrossing, means of evading the market, were seen as attempts to evade price controls," p. 369.
But, as Letwin goes on to argue, it wasn't simply the government that had interests in preventing these practices. The merchants did, too. What was granted them by the crown was not simply a chance to sell their goods but an exclusive right to do so. The owners of markets had an interest, quite naturally, in protecting their exclusive rights, because some of them had the right to charge toll on certain goods sold in the market as well as taxes on stalls set up in the market. If you hindered sellers from coming to market, you not only deprived the ones who were "playing by the rules" of a cut of the profits but also of facility rents. As one early case alleged, against certain forestallers, he had thereby "lost stallage, terrage, and cottage, etc., wrongfully and to his damage."**
[**These words are interesting. Stallage is clear--the tax on a "stall." Terrage is said to be of uncertain meaning in the OED, but would most logically be the tax for setting up on the "ground" (terra), as "cottage" might be to set up in an enclosed area. But, if any of my readers have more specific information on these taxes, please let me know. Other documents talk about fees for "terrage and pickage." The latter suggests something that pierces or breaks the ground, which has led the OED to surmise that "terrage" is a tax for placing your goods on the earth, without breaking the ground.]
Conclusion--The Death of Forestalling, etc.
As I pointed out earlier, the realities of free-market economics began to triumph over this protective system by the middle of the 18th century. Though a statute repealed the bans on forestalling, regrating and engrossing in 1772, a parliamentary report before that time laid out the reasons why prohibitions of such activities actually made prices more expensive (Letwin, 371-72). Edmund Burke was behind the legislation that passed in 1772. With the passage of the law, free trade appeared to triumph, though a few more prosecutions and convictions for common law (and not statutory) forestalling, convinced Parliament that they had to, once and for all, bury this part of their common law history. Finally, then, in the early days of Queen Victoria (1844), Parliament passed a statute doing away with the law against forestalling. All of this, then, was dead and buried before the Sherman Act (1890) was even a glint in Senator Sherman's eyes (who was just a boy in 1844).
A knowledge of these terms opens our eyes into a powerful reality that for several hundred years defined the economic contours of Britain's economy. And still, even after these essays, we have only scratched the surface of the phenomena here described.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long