The term derives from Old English hlæst, ultimately from a Proto-Germanic root reconstructed as *hlaþ- or *hlað- ("to place"). It is also parallel and probably influenced by the Middle Dutch and Middle Low German last, used in identical senses as a load, cargo, or standardized unit.
The Assize of Weights and Measures, one of the statutes of uncertain date from c. 1300, defined the wool last as 12 sacks' worth, equivalent to 24 weys, 336 London stone, or 4200 merchants' pounds (about 1835 kg). The last subsequently varied with the different values given to the sack of wool.
The Assize of Weights and Measures describes the herring last as ten long thousands or 12,000 fish. The Norman French editions describe this as the "red herring" or kipper last and compose the herring last out of ten short thousands of twelve long hundreds, still making 12,000 fish altogether. (Elsewhere, the herring last was treated by volume.)
The English last could also be understood as the volume occupied by the other lasts. In some sources, the last is equated with 640 gallons. The beer last was 12 barrels, the cod last and some herring lasts were also 12 barrels, and the pitch last was 12 or 14 barrels.
The Polish last (łaszt) used for bulk trade in dry goods from the 16th to 19th century comprised 30 Polish bushels (korzec). In the early 19th century, this amounted to 3840 liters but varied over time and location.
- Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed. "last, n.2" Oxford University Press (Oxford), 2014.
- Oxford English Dictionary, 1st ed. "lade, v." Oxford University Press (Oxford), 1901.
- Ruffhead, Owen, ed. (1763a), The Statutes at Large, Vol. I: From Magna Charta to the End of the Reign of King Henry the Sixth. To which is prefixed, A Table of the Titles of all the Publick and Private Statutes during that Time, London: Mark Basket for the Crown, pp. 148–149. (English) & (Latin) & (Norman)
- Andrade, Tonio (2005). "Appendix A: Weights, Measures, and Exchange Rates". How Taiwan Became Chinese: Dutch, Spanish, and Han Colonization in the Seventeenth Century. Columbia University Press.
- Statutes of the Realm, Vol. I, London: G. Eyre & A. Strahan, 1810, p. 204
- Cardarelli, François Cardarelli; Sheilds, M.J. (2003). Encyclopaedia of Scientific Units, Weights and Measures. Their SI Equivalences and Origins. London: Springer. p. 23. ISBN 978-1-4471-1122-1.
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