Small Coals for Nailers

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X:1 % T:Small Coals for Nailers M:C L:1/8 R:Reel B:Milne – Middleton’s Selection of Strathspeys, Reels &c. for the Violin (1870, p. 8) Z:AK/Fiddler’s Companion K:Emin F|E2 EF G2 GB|ABAG FEDF|E2 EF G2 GB|efe^d (e2 e):| B|e2 ef g2 fe|defg afdf|e[B^d]ef gagf|efe^d (e2 e)B| e^def {a}gfge|=defg afdf|~g2 bg ~f2 af|efe^d (e2e)||z/[G,/E/]|[G,4E4]|]

SMALL COALS FOR NAILERS. Scottish, Reel. E Minor. Standard tuning (fiddle). AAB (Middleton): AABB (Honeyman, Williamson): AABB’ (Kerr). Robin Williamson (1976) wrote "...a nailer was slang in the 18th century for the final word in an argument, anything of exceptionally high quality, one who made an arrest, an extortionist or a thief. In the last sense the title would mean 'slim pickings for thieves" (Williamson, 1976). Alternatively, Albert Barrere's A Dictionary of Slag, Jargon & Cant (1890) gives:

Nailer, nailing (common), terms expressing excellence in any way; a nailer at football, riding, &c, a nailing shot. It is said of a handsome, clever, or fashionable lady that she is a nailer. At school a nailer is a clever, good student. (Turf), a horse which cannot be shaken off, that keeps pace with his antagonists.

The same volume also explains the slang meaning of 'coals':

...receivers of stolen goods are in the habit of carrying small pieces of coal about with them. When they see a thief who seems to be rather shy, they will walk up to him, take out a purse, and innocently show him a bit of coal. It has been suggested that this proceeding is analogous to taking salt together among the Arabs as a sign of good faith and mutual hospitality. In several languages "glowing coals" is a slang synonym for money, e.g., French braise.

Thus the phrase may mean "small rewards for those who strive and do well," or, if specific to horse-racing, "a small purse for those who do well (but do not place)."

Additional notes

Source for notated version: -

Printed sources : - Honeyman (Strathspey, Reel and Hornpipe Tutor), 1898; p. 14. Kerr (Merry Melodies, vol. 4), c. 1880’s; No. 103, p. 13 (appears as “Sma’ Coals for Nailers”). Milne Middleton’s Selection of Strathspeys, Reels &c. for the Violin), 1870; p. 8. Williamson (English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish Fiddle Tunes), 1976; p. 54.

Recorded sources: - Olympic 6151, The Angus Strathspey and Reel Society - "Scottish Traditional Fiddle Music" (1978). Temple Records, The Battlefield Band - "Stand Easy & Preview" (1994). Tra le Gael - "Sailing Home to Glacier" (2012).

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