Victorian London - Directories - Dickens's Dictionary of London, by Charles Dickens, Jr., 1879 - "A1"

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 A1.—This has become a common expression -synonymous with perfect or excellent, and passes current, not only wherever the Saxon language is spoken, but throughout nearly the whole of the civilised world. The term comes from Lloyd’s, and is used in the register to indicate the character of a vessel, the number at the side showing for how many years she is registered A1, or first class. Thus, a wooden ship of best materials, and inspected from time to time during her progress by a Lloyd’s surveyor, may be classed A1 15 years and upwards, though this is practically now the highest point usually attained, owing to the growing taste for iron vessels; while another, constructed perhaps in Nova Scotia or New Brunswick of soft wood, such as pine, will obtain a certificate of only A1 4 years; in all cases the continuance of the right to be described as A1 depending on periodical surveys and adequate repairs. At expiration of the time originally assigned, the character may be renewed for a term, averaging under the most favourable circumtances about three-fourths of that first allotted, provided that everything required by the surveyor be done to his satisfaction. This renewal may be continued ad infinitum, but as the surveyors’ demands would soon amount to a practical reconstruction they are seldom complied with fully more than once or twice, and the vessel after inspection is pronounced eligible only for the “A1 red” class, so called because this character is printed in red ink in Lloyd’s book. Many trusty ships are to be found in this category. Inferior to these is AE, known among underwriters and shipowners as black-dipthong. It includes many a staunch craft built before the days of scamped work and dummy rivets, but too old for the superior classes. E is the lowest grade, and is officially defined as “fit to carry goods not subject to sea damage on any voyage”; but practically, when a ship can take no higher rank the owner almost invariably leaves her unclassed; indeed in the register-book issued about Midsummer, 1878 there are but five vessels with E to their name.
Iron vessels are subject to somewhat different conditions, but in specifying their relative merits A is still taken as the peg on which the gradations are hung. Those now employed by Lloyd’s surveyors begin with 100A as the maximum, ranging downwards by falls of 5 from 95 to 75. There is indeed a class marked A without a number attached, but such vessels are scarce and mostly intended for river and shallow waters traffic. The  scale previously adopted was A descending to B and C, but the first-mentioned one is now almost invariably used. Many other countries, when adopting the plan of Lloyd’s register, copied also the idea of using A as the standard. Thus the Americans, who have several distinct and conflicting register-books, graduate from A1 ½  to A2,  and in some of the northern countries of Europe A is taken as the token. The principal French book, known as the “Veritas,” makes 3-3rds the maximum, dropping to 5-6ths and 2-3rds. (See LLOYDS.) 

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879