Long Lawrence, a stick die from England

Long Lawrence (reproduction from 1895). Culin 1898. Public domain

Long Lawrence or Laurence (sometimes also in other spellings, often based in dialectal variation1 ) is the name of a four-sided or eight-sided stick die with non-numeric markings, used for a Put & Take game.

There is little research on it so far, so this post is mostly concerned with collecting the available data, including some textual references. After a description of the die and three references from the 17th century I will first discuss other occurrences of the moniker “long Laurence” before returning to the stick die.2

The Long Lawrence has four different sides. One side is commonly marked with crosses, another with two strokes, the third with a single stroke, and the fourth is either marked with a zigzag line or left blank. On an eight-sided Long Lawrence, each face is shown twice. The double and single strokes may be repeated three times on their respective faces. The marks on the four sides could look something like this:

XXXXXXX
|| || ||
| | |
\/\/\

The description by Francis Willughby

In the 1660s Francis Willughby (from Warwickshire, England) worked on a Book of Games which was left unfinished when he died in 1672. It was edited and published in 2003, which is where I quote from:

A Long Laurence is a long parrallelopipedon, one of whose sides has nothing cut upon it and is called Blanke, the opposite side has severall crosse lines & crosses & is called Soope All. One of the other sides has 3 crosse lines, & the opposite to it one.
Everie one of the plaiers stakes one at first, and then they throw the Long Laurence by turnes as a die. If a Blanke bee throwne they neither take up nor lay downe any. If Soope All, they take up all. If the side has || upon it, they lay down 2. If the side that has |, they take up one. And as often as all are taken they all stake againe.
A tetraedricall die would serve better for this game, with the same marks upon the 4 sides.

Francis Willughby’s Book of Games3

Willughby includes an illustration, showing the four faces and their meanings:

In short, the die is for a game of Put & Take: Players start by each putting a certain amount into the general pool, and then roll the die (or, in many put & take games, spin the spinning top) and, according to the outcome, put more money into the pot, or take out of it what the die roll or spinning result tells them to.

Further 17th century references

The Long Laurence was also referenced in the comedy The Cheats by John Wilson, written 1662, first printed 1664 (Bidell/Collins/Adams, London), in act IV, scene I. Titere Tu asks Bilboe rhetorically who taught him the ways of gaming/ gambling:

Did not I (if you are yet cool enough to hear truth) teach you, your Top, your Palm, and your Slur?—Shew’d you the mystery, of your Jack in a Box, and the frail Dye?—Taught you the use of Up-hills, Down-hills, and Petarrs?—The Waxt, the Grav’d, the Slipt, the Goad, the Fullam, the Flat, the Bristle, the Bar; And generally, instructed you from Prick-penny, to Long Lawrence?

John Wilson, The Cheats4

I also found a quote by Aphra Behn, in the preface to her Dutch Lover (1673):

(…) but really methinks they that disturb their heads with any other rules of Playes besides the making them pleasant, and avoiding of scurrility, might much better be imploy’d in studying how to improve men’s too too [sic!] imperfect knowledge of that ancient English Game which hight long Laurence

Aphra Behn, The Dutch Lover5

This could be interpreted as an idiom denoting idleness (see below), but I believe it at least also carries the connotation of the put & take game of chance, and that is probably even the primary meaning. The earliest reference (as given by the OED, see below) for “Laurence” as part of a phrase that means “being idle/lazy” is from 1796, which is why I think it more likely that Behn, like Willughby and Wilson, was referring to the put & take game played with a stick die.6 These three sources from the 1660s und 1670s probably indicate that the Long Lawrence was popular around the time.

The Trinity College Tripos from Dublin 1688 includes the line “bar me the happiness of kissing long Laurence”. Like Behn, this source is about a century older than the earliest references for the idioms quoted by the OED, so it might refer to the stick die, although an idiom meaning idleness seems possible, too. Maybe a later opportunity will allow me to explore this reference and how it might be interpreted.

Other meanings of Long Lawrence

Referring to persons

It is to be expected that individuals might be referred to as “Long Laurence” for various reasons, e.g. simply for being tall and named “Laurence”. For instance:

“Laurence Oliphant (…) who was, from his extreme height, called Long Laurence”

(ca. 1575), quoted from Burke’s Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry7

Given that “Long Laurence” is attested as a name for a particular gambling die in the second half of the 17th century it is intriguing that, just a few decades earlier, this moniker for a person also comes up in a context that may include gambling. There is a treatise on rogues and rogueries in England: Martin Mark-All, Beadle of Bridewell; His defence and Answere to the Belman of London. London: Iohn [John] Budge, and Richard Bonian 1610, by someone with the initials “S.R.”, sometimes attributed to Samuel Rowlands, more often thought to be by Samuel Rid8. A few pages into the section titled “The Runnagates Race, or the Originall of Regiment of Rogues”, the author talks about “Lawrence Crosbiter, the first inventer of crosbiting”. This man was also called “long Lawrence”. (Crossbiting means cheating, particularly cheating in return when being cheated, cheating by outwitting.)9 The text makes no reference to either dice, games, or gambling, nor to the character being particularly tall (or idle). It is not clear if this person has anything to do with the stick dice that is the topic here, but it shows that the phrase “long Lawrence” was in use as a name (and needed no explanation or remark to disambiguate it) in London around 1610, and that it was used for a well-known rogue.

Robert Greene (1558?-1592) also discusses “crosbiting” at the end of the 16th century, without mentioning “long” Lawrence Crosbiter: A notable discouery of coosenage Now daily practised by sundry lewd persons, called connie-catchers, and crosse-byters

Referring to idleness

“Long Lawrence” is part of the idiom “Long Lawrence has got hold of s.o.”, meaning that person is idle.10 Another idiom in which the name “Lawrence” signifies idleness is the saying “Laurence bids wages”. The OED also lists “Lazy Laurence”:

Laurence | Lawrence, n.2
A Christian name, used to denote a personification of indolence. Laurence bids wages: a proverbial phrase meaning that the attractions of idleness are tempting. Also Lazy Laurence, a reproachful designation for an idle person.
Possibly the alliteration of the last-quoted phrase may sufficiently account for the use of the name; some, however, have suggested an allusion to the heat prevalent about St. Laurence’s day (Aug. 10). Another conjecture is that there was a joke to the effect that when the martyr St. Laurence told his tormentors to turn him round on his gridiron, it was because he was too lazy to turn himself. It is important to note that the equivalent German der faule Lenz (Lenz = Lorenz) has been in use from the 16th c.; see Grimm s.v. Lenz.
1796 S. Pegge Anonymiana (1809) 348 Laurence bids wages; a proverbial saying for to be lazy; because St. Laurence’s day is the 10th of August, within the dog-days, and when the weather is usually very hot and faint.
1821 J. Clare Village Minstrel II. 23 When..the warm sun smiles And ‘Lawrence wages bids’ on hills and stiles.
1880 T. Q. Couch E. Cornwall Words in M. A. Courtney & T. Q. Couch Gloss. Words Cornwall He’s as lazy as Larence. One wad think that Larence had got hold o’n.

OED11

Playing with the stick die called Long Laurence could of course be seen as an idle pastime. However, it is difficult and probably far-fetched to propose a connection here, apart from a possible connotation after these idioms had come into use (regardless of their etymology). Still, it is interesting to note that some of these idiomatic expressions refer not just to Laurence, but to Long Laurence.

The OED points out the German expression “der faule Lenz” (Lenz = Lorenz, so the words can be translated as lazy/ idle Laurence). This expression is a playful derivation of the verb “faulenzen”, splitting the word into attribute + name even though the word originally had nothing to do with “Lenz”.12

This German expression was coined earlier than the English phrases discussed above, so it might have been a formative influence, but there are other possible explanations, too, as the OED points out.

Academic/folkloristic references to the stick die since the late 19th century

Dialectal dictionaries often contain valuable folkloristic information, although the sources of this information are not necessarily clear. Regarding the put & take stick die discussed here, Alfred Easther’s Glossary of the Dialect of Almondbury and Huddersfield is of particular relevance. (Almondbury and Huddersfield lie in West Yorkshire, England.)

Lang larence, i.e. Long Lawrence; also Long lorren, Long lawrent, and Lorrimer, an instrument marked with signs, a sort of teetotum. A long lawrence now before me is about three inches long, something like a short ruler with eight sides; occasionally they have but four. On one side are ten x’s or crosses, forming a kind of lattice work; on the next to the left three double cuts, or strokes, passing straight across in the direction of the breadth; on the third a zigzag of three strokes one way, and two or three the other, forming a w with an additional stroke, or a triple v; on the fourth, three single bars, one at each end, and one in the middle as in No. 2, where they are doubled. Then the four devices are repeated in the same order.
The game, formerly popular at Christmas, can be played by any number of persons. Each has a bank of pins, or other small matters. A pool is formed. Then in turn each rolls the long lawrence. If No. 1 comes up the player cries ‘Flush,’ and takes the pool; if No. 2, he puts down two pins; if No. 3, he says ‘Lave all,’ and neither takes nor gives; if No. 4, he picks up one. The sides are considered to bear the names, ‘Flush – Put daan two – Lave al – Sam up one.’
It has been suggested that the name Lawrence may have arisen from the marks scored on the instrument, not unlike the bars of a gridiron, on which the Saint perished.

Easther, Glossary (1883)13

Easther’s description fits with with that of Francis Willughby from the 1660s. Willughby’s blank side is marked with a zigzag line according to Easther, the single and double strokes are repeated three times, and the crosses have multiplied, but their meanings in the game are the same despite being more than two centuries apart. Willughby only describes four-sided stick dice, while Easther mentions eight-sided as well as four-sided versions. On the eight-sided Long Lawrence the face markings each show up twice, so neither the probabilities nor the mechanics of the game change.

The Glossary also mentions an etymological attempt to explain the name as a reference to Saint Laurence. This martyr was roasted on a gridiron (and, according to some retellings of the legend, asked to be turned over after a while, since his one side was done). Despite being a charming opportunity to recount this anecdote, this etymology for the dice name would need supporting evidence or at least more convincing arguments.

The detailed report by Easther was picked up by Alice Bertha Gomme a few years later.14 Based on Gomme & Easther, ethnographer & game researcher Stewart Culin had a specimen produced for the Museum of Archeology at the University of Pennsylvania. He compares the Long Lawrence with the Korean stick die called tjyong-kyeng-to, although that die is five-sided and not used for a put & take game.15

Image of Culin’s reproduction, based on the description by Gomme/Easther (Culin 1895, p. 78)16

The reproduction is still in the museum collections but the old object number 18257 has been replaced by the new number 18404.17

Wright’s English Dialect Dictionary only references Easther’s work cited above.18 Since Wright checked many different glossaries and dictionaries from different regions, it seems that “Long Lawrence” as a term for a stick die for put & take was rare – at least rare enough not to be listed in any other dictionary that Wright consulted.

Murray’s History of Board-Games Other Than Chess barely mentions this stick die in a single sentence: “The English ‘long Lawrence’ was an eight-sided prism.”19

Van der Heijdt describes the Long Lawrence briefly, but gives no sources (and they are not obvious from the bibliography, either). He includes several spurious claims, e.g. that these dice were wooden, used in medieval England, and are considered as the predecessor of the 8-sided spinner numbered 1-8. Each of these claims needs (but sorely lacks) references.20

Both Murray and van der Heijdt demonstrate that academic understanding of the history of the Long Lawrence has barely grown since the late 19th century. The documents quoted here indicate that the existence of this put & take die is only attested from the 1660s onward, that it might have been popular around that time, and that it was still known in Yorkshire in the second half of the 19th century, where it had been played primarily at Christmas.

For further examples of put & take games played with dice or dice tops (spinners) see
– Peter Michaelsen: On some unusual types of stick dice. Board Game Studies 6 (2003), pp. 9-24, here p. 14-17 (PDF).
– Jonas Richter: Put & Take. Humanities Commons, 2020. https://hcommons.org/docs/put-take/ – Also see a short forum discussion on teetotums and spinning dice (on HCommons, too).

  1. e.g. Long lorren, Long lawrent, Lorrimer in West Yorkshire, cf. Easther, quoted below []
  2. I first collected this data in a post on rpggeek.com, but have expanded it a bit for this blog entry. []
  3. Francis Willughby’s Book of Games. A Seventeenth-Century Treatise on Sports, Games and Pastimes. Edited and introduced by David Cram, Jeffrey L. Forgeng and Dorothy Johnston. Ashgate 2003, p. 127. Google Books []
  4. online source, p. 46 of the print. – I got this reference from Cram/ Forgeng/ Johnston in their edition of Willughby’s Book of Games. []
  5. archive.org []
  6. The OED points to a similar German phrase (fauler Lenz) already attested in the 16th century, however. See below. []
  7. Burke’s Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry, vol. 4 (1838), p. 259 (Google Books) []
  8. Wikipedia entry on Samuel Rid []
  9. “crossbite, v.” OED Online, Oxford University Press, June 2021, www.oed.com/view/Entry/44826. Accessed 29 August 2021. []
  10. William Holloway, A General Dictionary of Provincialisms, 1839, p. 104 (Google Books – also in the 1840 edition). []
  11. “Laurence | Lawrence, n.2.” OED Online, Oxford University Press, June 2021, www.oed.com/view/Entry/106307. Accessed 29 August 2021. []
  12. Cf. „FAULENZEN, vb.“, Deutsches Wörterbuch von Jacob Grimm und Wilhelm Grimm / Neubearbeitung (A-F), digitalisierte Fassung im Wörterbuchnetz des Trier Center for Digital Humanities, Version 01/21, https://www.woerterbuchnetz.de/DWB2?lemid=F00910, abgerufen am 29.08.2021; „lenz, m.“, Deutsches Wörterbuch von Jacob Grimm und Wilhelm Grimm, digitalisierte Fassung im Wörterbuchnetz des Trier Center for Digital Humanities, Version 01/21, https://www.woerterbuchnetz.de/DWB?lemid=L04753, abgerufen am 22.08.2021; and ²lenz, Frühneuhochdeutsches Wörterbuch, fwb-online.de, https://fwb-online.de/lemma/lenz.h2.0m, abgerufen am 29.08.2021. []
  13. Alfred Easther: A Glossary of the Dialect of Almondbury and Huddersfield, ed. Thomas Lees, London, Trübner & Co., 1883, p. 76 (archive.org). []
  14. Alice Bertha Gomme: The Traditional Games of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Vol. I. Accroshay-Nuts in May. London, David Nutt, 1894, p. 326f. (archive.org). Compare the entry for “totum” in vol. II (1898), p. 303f. (archive.org). []
  15. Stewart Culin: Korean Games (1895), p. 78 (archive.org). Also see the rotated image in S. Culin: Chess and Playing-cards (1898), p. 822f. (archive.org), where the object is identified “Cat. No. 175659, U.S.N.M.” []
  16. see previous note []
  17. https://www.penn.museum/collections/object/137257 []
  18. Joseph Wright, The English Dialect Dictionary, vol. 3: H-L (1902). p. 651 (archive.org). []
  19. H.J.R. Murray, A History of Board-Games Other Than Chess, 1952 (re-issued 1978), p. 9. []
  20. Leo van der Heijdt: Face to face with dice. Utrecht: Gopher 2005, p. 104. []

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