It's hard to believe it now, but in the 1600s spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon, and pepper were very valuable commodities. Spices were essential ingredients in many medicines, including those used to treat the plague. They were also used to make perfumed oils, and to flavour the food of the wealthy.
Nutmeg was particularly precious. There are two parts to nutmeg: the nutmeg itself and the casing on the outside, which is known as mace. Mace was even more expensive than the nutmeg itself.
At this time nutmeg only grew on the Spice Islands, but international trading organisations like the East India Company took nutmeg seeds all around the world. As a result, the spice was eventually grown in many countries, and therefore became less expensive.
This picture shows the great marketplace at Bantam in the late 1500s. The key that accompanies the engraving lists all the goods that were sold at the market. These include melons, coconuts, sugar, bamboo, swords and helmets, spices, drugs, jewels, pepper and rice.