Eiderdown comes from the Icelandic, aedar, relating to the duck, a bird first spotted by English speakers in 1744, with a report on sea bird including the eider. The down part comes from Old Norse (predecessor to Swedish and Danish). Even Chaucer knew the eiderdown as the soft covering often used for pillows or bedding and referred in his Book of the Duchess to a feather made from the “downe of pure doves white.”
Oliver Goldsmith put the words together in English for the first time in 1774. The well-known playwright also compiled An History of the Earth and Animated Nature. There he discusses feathers as a valuable commodity and gives a ranking from the worst to best. At the top end is Greenland, Iceland and Norway. He states “in this number we may reckon the eiderdown”.
Now the whole world harvest of eiderdown could be transported in a single lorry, with the annual Icelandic eiderdown harvests declining to only 2,500 kilograms. Jon Sveinsson, a processor of Icelandic down, reports that eiderdown has to be manually washed in portions of 300 grams. Even though the actual harvesting of eiderdown is environmentally friendly, it is very time-consuming. An average of 9 hours is required for each comforter, only to collect the down, let alone processing. This makes it almost impossibly expensive.
As a result, most of the down found worldwide is not eiderdown, but comes from ducks or geese.