‘all wool and a yard wide’: meaning and origin

Of American-English origin, the phrase all wool (and) a yard wide means of excellent quality; thoroughly sound or honourable.

This phrase was originally applied to cloth. The earliest occurrence that I have found is from the following advertisement, published in the Hartford Daily Courant (Hartford, Connecticut) of Monday 10th October 1842:

REAL WELSH FLANNELS! warranted all wool and almost a yard wide. for 1 s. per yard, going fast at E. L. CLAPP’S, 140 west side Main street, 4 doors below Gilman’s Building. Be sure and get the right number and you will get the right goods at the New Cash Store.
Also gentlemen’s Long Scarfs and kid Gloves of superior quality at 140 Main st.
oct 10                                                                                                                                                      6d&4w56

These are the earliest figurative uses of all wood (and) a yard wide that I have found, in chronological order:

1-: From the following advertisement, published in the Muscatine Daily Journal (Muscatine, Iowa) of Saturday 29th April 1865:

John Wilkes Booth is “gone up” and meat is gone down. I, John Mordthouse, alias “Dutch John,” will sell meat—the best found in Iowa, and the New York market not excepted,—at the following extremely low prices:
Best loin steak 16c. p. lb.
Rib Roasts 13c. p. lb.
Stewing pieces 10c. p. lb.
Soup bone by the yard—warranted all wool and a yard wide.

2-: From East-Side Gossip, published in The New York Atlas (New York City, New York) of Saturday 6th October 1866:

About 10 o’clock an immense throng gathered about my door, cheering for Hoffman […]. After cheering for me and for Hoffman—first-class cheers, “all wool and a yard wide”—none of your Clinton-Garden style which Brady got up for Morrissey, where his brother-in-law Jim Mahon came in with a “tiger”—but old style, turned over, done-on-both-sides.

3-: From The Weekly Standard (Raleigh, North Carolina) of Wednesday 6th October 1869:

Turner on Speeches.

Every one knows that our neighbor of the Sentinel has a speech, because he has delivered himself of it at every city, town, village, hamlet, school-house, and cross-roads in the State. Also, two or three times in favored localities. Owing to a cruel fate which we shall ever lament, we have never had the pleasure of hearing our esteemed neighbor-in-law speak his little piece. We know, however, that it must be all wool and a yard wide, or it would never have stood the hard work it has done. Most speeches would have been worn out in being delivered one or two hundred times, but this has stood it on more than a thousand (we reckon) different occasions, and is no worse for it. [A friend who has heard it, says it couldn’t get any worse; but, as he was a Democrat, we believe him to be prejudiced against Turner on account of that bill of indictment he drew up against the Democratic party.]

4-: From the column Brief Topics, published in the Jamestown Journal (Jamestown, New York) of Friday 27th May 1870—although applied to shoddy, denoting an inferior quality yarn or fabric, all wool a yard wide is most probably used figuratively, as suggested by the context and by the fact that the phrase is between quotation marks:

Confucius, who lived more than five centuries before Christ, when asked by one of his disciples, “Is there one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one’s life?” replied: “Is not reciprocity such a word? What you do not want done to yourself, do not to others.” This is very well for Confucius as to theory. Now we would like to know if he shaved notes at twelve per cent., or stole from the poor to give to the cause of foreign missions, or sold shoddy for “all wool a yard wide;” or bought his way into office and robbed the government in the sacred frame of freedom. If he didn’t commit any of these and similar sins—or, in other words, if he practiced what he preached—Confucius was as good a Christian as they make now-a-days.

5-: From the Lewiston Evening Journal (Lewiston, Maine) of Saturday 16th July 1870:

Lincoln Street was entertained last evening by the performance with the bagpipe, of a Highlander in full costume. Several hundreds of hatless children scampered after the picturesque musician, whose fearful music was, “all wool and a yard wide.”

6-: From the following advertisement, published in the Leavenworth Daily Commercial (Leavenworth, Kansas) of Sunday 20th November 1870:

Oysters! Oysters! Celery! Celery!

Save time by going to Arch Cribbs, corner of Fifth and Cherokee streets, as he is always supplied, and oysters guaranteed to be all wool and a yard wide.

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