octothorpe; nails

Frank Abate Abatefr at CS.COM
Fri Jun 30 14:52:37 UTC 2000

Re Steve K's comments on penny and nails:

I happen to have a couple boxes of nails at hand.  They do indeed use the "#"
sign, thus:

  #4D  bright finish nail
  #6D  bright common nail

If I were a carpenter (sorry), I'd say "4 penny nails" and "6 penny nails"
for these designations, ignoring the "#".  The "#" sign is to show (I guess)
that the 4 and the 6 are numeric designators (how could anyone not realize
this?), but seems to be a convention often used in designating nails.  The
"D" is a common abbrev. for "penny" (in ref to nails), reflecting the former
UK practice of using this letter to designate a penny (before the change to
decimal currency).  Just to confuse things further, the "D" actually stands
for "denarius", the Latin name for a Roman coin of low value.

So we have the number sign (aka pound sign, etc.) used in a convention that
represents the "penny" designation for nails, and the abbrev. for penny is
from a Latin word.  Ain't life a hoot.  It gets better:

OED (at penny 10) says that the "penny" designation for nails refers to their
price per hundred in the 15th century.  The tradition persists, though not
the prices, and now they are often sold in bulk by the pound (in the US, at
least).  The "#4D" nails I have here are shorter than the "#6D" ones.  The
numeric designation is now used to refer to the length of the nails (whatever
the type, as "common nail" vs. "finish nail"), as indicated by a chart on the
boxes I have, which show every size from "4d" (1.5 inches; 38 mm) to "20d" (4
inches; 102 mm).  Note that the "penny" designator is here a lower-case d,
and on the charts is actually shown as superscript.

For the record, the boxes are "distributed by the Howard Berger Co., Inc.
Brooklyn, NY 11207".  They are marked "Made in China".  Each box cost $1.69
for a pound of nails.

There's a lot of currents roiling around in this one.  Have fun.

Frank Abate

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