origin of the adjective ‘A1’ (first class, outstanding)



first class, outstanding




Lloyd’s Register, historically Lloyd’s Register of Shipping, is an independent society formed in 1760 by a group of merchants operating at Lloyd’s coffee house in London, which surveys ships to ensure compliance with standards of strength and maintenance.

The name also denotes an annual publication giving details of ships according to the various classifications established by this society. The aim of the Register, first issued in 1764, was to give both underwriters and merchants an idea of the condition of the vessels they insured and chartered after a survey of the physical structure and equipment of merchant vessels had been conducted.

From the 1775-76 edition onwards, the quality of a ship’s hull was denoted by a letter, and that of its equipment by a number. A1 was therefore applied to ships in first-class condition as to hull and equipment alike. The following is from the Register for the year 1800, printed in 1799:


The Vessels marked A are of the First Class
The Materials of the Vessel with the Figure.
1 are of the First Quality.

Example from the Register for that year: the following ship was thus described:


– first column: ship’s name and type of rig: Grenville and Bg, that is, brig
– second column: master’s name: J. Ferritt
– third column: tonnage and number of decks: 78 tons and SD, that is, single deck
– fourth column: place of build: Yarmouth
– fifth column: years of age: 1
– sixth column: owner’s name: S. Padget
– seventh column: draught in feet when loaded: 9
– eighth column: port of survey: Yarmouth
– ninth column: classification and month of survey in 1799: A1 and 8 (August).

The earliest known figurative use of A1 is from The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (1837), by the English novelist Charles Dickens (1812-70). Samuel Pickwick has just been incarcerated at the debtors’ prison; he and his valet, Sam Weller, follow Tom Roker, a turnkey, who has a bed to let:

Mr. Weller proceeded to inquire which was the individual bedstead that Mr. Roker had so flatteringly described as an out-and-outer to sleep in.
“That’s it,” replied Mr. Roker, pointing to a very rusty one in a corner. “It would make any one go to sleep, that bedstead would, whether they wanted to or not.”
“I should think,” said Sam, eyeing the piece of furniture in question with a look of excessive disgust. “I should think poppies was nothin’ to it.”
“Nothing at all,” said Mr. Roker.
“And I s’pose,” said Sam, with a sidelong glance at his master, as if to see whether there were any symptoms of his determination being shaken by what passed, “I s’pose the other gen’l’men as sleeps here, are gen’l’men.”
“Nothing but it,” said Mr. Roker. “One of ’em takes his twelve pints of ale a-day, and never leaves off smoking, even at his meals.”
“He must be a first-rater,” said Sam.
“A, 1,” replied Mr. Roker.

The expression A1 at Lloyd’s, meaning first-class as classified in Lloyd’s Register, was used figuratively in a poem by one Edward Oxenford, published in The Leeds Times of 19th March 1892; it thus begins:


Why, yes, I’m glum just a bit, my lads,
Tho’ it’s seldom the case with me,
But I’m down at heart, that’s it, my lads,
And a little upset d’ye see!
For I left behind, when we anchor weighed,
All I prize in the world to-day,
And I can’t forget, in my mind, as yet,
How she sobb’d when I sail’d away!

There are lasses, lads, that a tar can love;
There are lasses a tar avoids;
But my darling Sue is all sweer [sic] and true—
Aye! she’s classed A1 at Lloyds!

Equivalent to A1 for wooden ships, the later classification 100A1 was introduced in 1872 as a rating for iron ships. The following is from the South Wales Daily News of 11th May 1895:


Messrs Croom and Arthur launched from their yard at Victoria Dock, Leith, on Wednesday a powerful screw tug of the following dimensions:—95ft. B.P. by 18ft. 6in. by 10ft. 6in., moulded with engines of 400 l.h.p., and to class 100 A1 at Lloyd’s. She has been built to the order of Messrs W. H. Tucker and Company, Cardiff, and was named Lady Windsor.

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