Thursday, March 29, 2018

Salem Pouris: Calico Fabric in Solid Blue or Plain White

4 1/4  [ells of] Pouris Blue Calico 0.3.8 - 1722

There is a reenactor conundrum where someone wants to use cotton fabric in order to make a historically correct outfit on a budget, and they are told to only use cotton that comes in prints, checks or stripes. This is because of the huge number of surviving examples of cotton fabrics in museums or private collections that are chintz and calicos patterns. The designs preserved in surviving garments and textiles are almost always in at least two shades or two or more colors, but almost none are in solid (plain) colors.


There has been some confusing information out there in fashion history books that do not line up with economic history books. It is not unusual for fashion history books to claim that solid colored 100% cotton (both cotton warp and cotton weft) fabrics did not exist. However, economic history books not only claim that they did exist but they were being shipped around the world. One particular inventory from New York City demonstrates that it even existed in America. Why all the confusion? 

There are two reasons; terminology and the customer demographic. Much of it has to do with technical terms being used for specific fabrics by weavers and merchants while laymen's terms are being used by shopkeepers and end customer. A merchant needs to be accurate in their letters and purchase orders, learning very quickly that they will receive the wrong item if the exact term is not used. Bills of lading are less descriptive but useful. This is what we see happen with solid blue 100 % cotton fabric. The technical term or term used in merchant purchase orders and bills of lading is "Salempouris" by the French and "Salempuris" by the Dutch. The second reason is customer demographic, of which there were at least three. The Dutch in the Golden Age were curious about the world, had a middle class with 64% of people working non-agrigrarian jobs, and could afford the importation of both the cheap calicos in solid colors and the more expensive painted versions. Salempouris continues to be imported to the Netherlands and greater Low Countries region from the 17c through the 19c. Salempouris or "course blue cotton" was being imported by an American Dutchmen in 1651 and sold by a Dutchwoman in 1722. The second customer demographic are the free people of Africa, Asia, some America Indigenous people, and those in English New York. The third customer demographic are people of African heritage in bondage, who prized the blue cloth of their motherland. For people in bondage, the blue cloth was part of their ethnic identity.  

While it is tempting to call salempouris blue or white a slave trade fabric, the "guinees" blue or white was actually used specifically for this purpose. Guinees could also come in more varieties, usually check or striped. It is likely that if a solid (or plain) blue or white was called "guinees", it was really a Salempouris. Noting also, that Salempouris increased in quality over time. Also, "plain" is the key word historically, rather than "solid". Salempouris is sometimes used in the slave trade as payment and as clothing, though it was also worn by free people in the Low Countries, Africa, Asia, and the Americas. It was favored outside of the slave trade, and interestedly crossed classes and incomes. 

Manuscript from 'Tashrih al-aqvam, India Early 19th Century.  

Salempouris and the African Trade:

Salempouris comes in only two forms "blanc" and "blew", bleached white or solid blue, and is named for the town of origin, Salem. This is in contrast to a fabric such as "guinees" which is named for the destination place in Africa and also comes in "blanc" and "blew". The solid blue or white salempouris was not expensive, was very affordable and perfect for New York's hot humid weather. 

"How India Clothed the World", Edited by Riello, Roy, Prakash and Sugihara, Global Economic History Series by Brill. 
Salempouris: A broad cotton cloth produced in the Coromandel Coast, usually white or blue, between 14 and 16 metres long and about 1 meter wide, with thread counts ranging from 50 to 90 threads per inch. These cloths were among the most common cloths exported from South India by the English, Dutch and French companies during the seventeenth and eighteenth century
Muris:  Plain [blue] cotton cloths about 8 to 9 meters long and about 1.3 meters wide, with thread counts ranging from 70 to 90 threads per inch and sometimes as high as 130 thread per inch for very fine cloth

We can see below that it was popular in Senegal along with other African regions too. The same book explains that a supplier could trade poor quality pepper for either counterfeit goods, blue cotton cloth from India, painted Indians, or white cotton canvas. The link below is a free google books copy. It is an amazing resource.

Dictionnaire universel de commerce, d'histoire naturelle et des arts et metiers

Philemon-Louis Savary, 1742
Commerce Du Senegal
Toiled Basta "bleu", & "Salempouris", de 12 aunes & demi a la piece, ............6100p

Grand Sestre, & Coste De Malaguette, ou Maniguette
Ce poivre est beaucoup plus acre que celui des Indes Orientales; mais il y peut supplier, quand les retours de la flore Orientale de Hollande n'ont pas et e heureux en cette marchandise; & alors il y a beaucoup a gagner, ce poivre ne s'achetant le quintal que 3 liv. en marchandise "contrebordee" jeune & noir, ou noir & blanc; ou en toiled de cotton "bleues" de Indes, nommées Salempouris; en Indiennes "peintes", ou en toiles de coton blanc. 
This pepper is much more acrid than that of the East Indies; but the supplier may beg, when the returns of the Oriental flora of Holland have not been happy in this commodity; & then there is much to gain, this pepper only buying the quintal 3 liv. in counterfeit goods young & black, or black & white; or in cotton cloth "blue" from India, named Salempouris; in "painted" Indians, or in white cotton canvas. 

A study mentioning Salempouris can be found in "The textile industry and the economy of south india". Plus, Salempouris is spoken about in detail in "Dutch-Asiatic Trade 1620-1740" by Glamann, page 146. 

"The supply of coarse [cotton] fabrics has also been unsatisfactory. It was especially the gathering of "guinees" and salempouris on the Coromandel Coast that failed [in the 1690s due to interlopers]. The Directors suggested that it should be attempted to transfer the production of these goods to Bengal, or if possible, to supplement the deficiency on the Coast." 

By about the 1690s, the English had opportunities to displace some of the Dutch trade in India by paying for the finished textiles before they were made. This is compared to how the Dutch did business which was to supply the weavers with "free" cotton, then choose higher quality finished products when the textiles were finished. The only issue with paying upfront was that the English took the good with the bad in one bale. 

Here we can see the ship's bills of lading on their return trips from India to Amsterdam in 1732 & 1733. 

30 December 1732
Carga, or Ladinge, of four East Indian Return ships, to we ten, Oostrust and Meermond, to the Chamber of Amsterdam, Wickenburg and Schuitwyk, to the Chamber of Zeeland: on the 30 December 1732. van Ceilon left.
19140 ps. Salempouris divers.

Done in the Hage den 20 July 1733. 
In this month there are several East Indian Return ships in the Ports of these Countries arrived, of which the next Cargaas are seen. Carga, or Ladinge, of seven East Indian Return ships, namely, Stadwyk, 't Hof not altyd Winter, and Geertruid, for the Amsterdam Chamber; Meyenburg and Westcapel for the Zeeland Chamber, Maria-Adriana, for the Rooms Delft and Rotterdam; the Cornelia, for the Chambers Hoorn and Enkhuisen: they had left from Batavia on November 30, 1732.
9960 ps Salempouris 
11 May 1733 
On the 11th of this month, in the evening at 7 o'clock, the Queen of Vrankryk happily gave birth to a Princess. On the 19th, April and 4th May, arrived in the Port of Orient, the Ships the Mars, the Duke of Chartres, and the Attalante, of Mocha, and Pondichery, their load consists in:

6400 stuks Guinees divers.
9360 stuks Salempouris divers.
26537 stukken witte [white] Salempouris.
30090 st. witte [white] Gninees.
5358 st blaauwe [blue] Salempouris.
3900 st blauwe [blue] Guinees.

Salempouris, is not expensive. It is actually a cheap affordable fabric, though the color was sought after, the prices do not reflect the popularity. It is likely because such huge volumes were made. "Guinees"- which were woven in many different towns in India - were valued at about twice that of Salempouris. As the table below shows, the cotton fabrics from India were able to hold their prices compared to silks which became more and more affordable in the Netherlands in part due to the Dutch specializing in luxury fabrics, they were able to reduce the price. Silk and Calico become so affordable in the Netherlands and due to the ties many New York merchants had with Holland, that they are found in most wardrobes. 

Calico textiles of a variety of types were in wealthy merchants, middle class tradesmen, and the working class inventories in New York. 

"Dutch-Asiatic Trade 1620-1740" by Glamann, page 284, 285, 286.  
            Persian Silk      Bengali Silk    Chinese Silk    Salempouris    Guinees
            fl. per pound         same               same             fl. per piece      same 

1698         8.45                 11.89             14.90                 8.66               21.10
          1700           -                      7.97               9.30                 8.20               21.40
          1705           -                  -                         6.62                 8.66               19.25 
          1706         5.30
 1731           -                      5.85                 -                     7.75               16.50

South America: Venezuela and the Caribbean

While looking around for sources, I came upon this quote from a Dutch WIC employee looking to establish relations with the indigenous population of South America. He mentions the flow of goods to and from the Caribbean, which is possibly how he received in the salempouris. However, it also provides one example of how solid blue cotton was used.

May 5th, 1769 - List of Goods which I have advanced on behalf of the West India Company at the Post of Cuyuni [post van 'Coejanie'], in payment of 'togas' to the 'Indiejanen'. Hired five 'Indiejanen' to fell, bum, clean, and plant a bread-garden; paid to each 'Indiejan' 'live' yards salempouris, two woodsman's knives, two mirrors, tow fine razors, two shears, two trumpets, two fine combs, two coarse combs, some pins and needles, some steel hooks, three strings of beads [ die mast 'cralen'], two strings fine black beads, and one string fine white beads - this is payment for one garden. 

January 31st, 1774 - The common Caribs (Indigenous Chiefs) having already been sufficiently rewarded at the time of the revolt, [with hats and silver tipped canes because the Indigenous chiefs no longer desired the large silver breast plates of which they had many. We have, after due deliberation....[concluded] that it would be best to divide the salempouris and other trinkets amongst the Honorable Company's slaves who also distinguished themselves on that occasion, and who are therefore making continual and daily applications for rewards and presents. 
The above quotes are from "British Guiana Boundary: Arbitration with the United States of Venezuela", Volume IV, 1769-1781, Published Unknown. 

Splinter's Inventory:

New Netherland inventories are very helpful because they tend to be very particular often including a color and the textile, this trait mellows but seems to be carried forward into the New York colony in the July 1722 inventory of "Gertye" (Wessells) Splinter. Splinter was the widow of the cordwainer Abraham Splinter (B. 1684 - D. 1721). They are found to be witness to a baptism of Brent who's parents were Jacob Brat and "Aefje" Wessels, held in the Dutch reformed church. While Abraham was a shoemaker with his workroom noted as a separate room from the shop, Gertye appears to have ran the store. In her shop located in New York City we see the following:

25 1/2...yards Cotton 2/p          2.11.0
2 Ps.....'Callicoa' 10/ p ps          4.16.0
52.........Cotton handkerchiefs   4.11.0
4 1/4.....Pouris Blue "Callicoa"   0.03.8
5...........yards Blue "Linnon"       0.13.1 1/2
4 1/4.....yards Striped Cotton e Linnon [the stripe is cotton] 0.2.10
4 1/4.....[pounds?] Cotton Yarn   0.08.6
100.......L Cotton Wool                4.03.4

Sometimes, when a solid colored fabric is mentioned as being "cotton" it is pointed out that the town of Kendal in England made what was termed "Kendal Cotton" which is a brushed fuzzy wool fabric. The recorder of Splinter's inventory used the popular term "Pouris" to ensure the reader understood that this was cheap blue dyed 100% cotton, not to be mistaken for more expensive woolen, linen, painted calico, printed calico or just plain calico in white. The blatant use of "cotton" for the cotton handkerchief avoids the term calico and any implications of printing all together. 

We can see in the following inventory that local merchants who imported goods, such as Lisbet van Eps of Albany 1683 made distinctions between her fabrics. The original inventory is in Dutch. The Dutch did not have the term "Cotton" for wool fabrics. However, in the inventory below, we can see that when cotton was used for a wool, she simply used the term Kendal cotton.

5 3/4 el.........Carsey
6 1/2 el.........Fine Laken
2 ps..............'Blauen' Bay
11 el..............Kendal Cotton
91 el..............'Blau' Cotton
20 1/4 el........'geprint' [printed] Cotton
3 1/4 el..........sits [chintz]
1....................Cotton petticoat
1....................Cotton chimney valance

What is great about Van Eps's inventory as it shows that there was a distinction between "cotton wool" which is a brushed wool and cotton from the plant. It also shows that there is a difference between for instance "cotton", "blue cotton", "printed cotton" and "chintz cotton" so we know that the "blue cotton" is not printed nor chintz leaving few other options of what it could be. The "1 cotton petticoat" is not kendal cotton wool, nor a chintz or printed calico. It is likely simply white. 

An 1683 inventory from NYC shows the following, "4 ell of Painted Calico", "8 ells of striped calico", and "11 ells and a quarter of 'Cours' blew Calico", "6 ells and a quarter of Painted Calico" and "one painted flowered cotton "cloat" for a chest". Here we can see a distinction is made between painted, striped and "coarse blue calico".  Due to the quote mentioned in "Dutch-Asiatic Trade 1620-1740" above we know that Pouris is referred to historically as a "coarse fabric".  

The above gives us two good references in NYC plus a maybe in Albany. 

What can white or blue cotton be used for? 

White is the easier of the two as it is found in aprons, drawers, shirts, handkerchiefs, cravats, caps, under petticoats (Image), waistcoats ( Image ), linings (Image )  ... and stockings ( Image ) in New York inventories whether in big cities or small towns. White cotton is being used everywhere white linen is being used... but to a lessor extent. A number of garments in solid white cotton fabric have survived in the Netherlands, in part because they were embroidered, used as children's clothing or as lining. So far, I have seen few garments that have survived with solid blue cotton fabric in museums. There are three 1750-1800 garments lined in solid blue cotton in the Netherlands. There is one very late 1775-1800 dressing robe with a blue cotton lining. The lining can be seen at the neck, though not easily, enough so that it can be seen that it matched the exterior blue, Image. 

Items labels "blue", "white" or "cotton" turn up early in inventories, however, blue linen and white cotton turn up more than blue cotton. This said, there happened to be a small merchant who died while importing a bulk load of shoes, canes, caps and "blue cotton".

Museum Rotterdam: 1750-1775: Pair of mittens of white cotton with border work


Idea Stoffelsen ran her own sheep wool farm and was the wife of the Commissary of Store for the WIC. Her 1641 inventory shows "4 new blue cotton aprons". Had these been made from printed calico the recorder would have likely stated "4 new blue sits aprons", sits is chintz. Blew aprons whether from linen or cotton was not unusual during the 17th century. In 1651, we can see "One package of blue cotton" in the inventory of Jacob Rooy who was importing a shipment with shoes, canes and, "...3 boys caps, one pair of green stockings, four remnants, or pieces of cotton,...". Again, if this was printed it would be labeled as so because painted and printed calicos cost more. Also, if this was an expensive import from England it would have been mentioned. Both above inventories were in Dutch which helps with the "Katoen" vs. "Kendal Cotton" issue. 

White Cotton Lining: A long jacket for women called a "went­ke" specific to the Netherlands, 1725 - 1750, Nederlands Openluchtmuseum: Lining in white cotton: Vrouwenjas of ‘wentke’ van Indiase sits uit circa 1725-1750, gedragen in Hindeloopen. De jas is gevoerd met wit katoen. 

The 1651 inventory of  Jan Jansen Damen includes "1 cotton cravat,...2 reels of spun cotton" and knitted items. Cotton for children is also seen, 1657, Kit Davidts at Fort Orange, "7 cotton swathing cloths". The 7 cotton drawers found in the 1685 inventory of van Horen were likely white calico or salempouris blanc, of these "three calico white drawers" belonged to her husband. Van Horen's inventory also mentioned "5 pairs of white calico stockings". Also, in their chamber we get a sense on how they used their cotton and linen fabrics, "2 'paire' women Calico gloves", "8 ditto long 'Callico' 'Towells'", "16 curtains of 'Linnen' before glass windows", "2 ditto Calico Striped", "11 'callico' 'smoks'", "13 mens shirts calico", "3 linen mens shirts", "3 linen sheets...", "1 ditto [calico] spread lined with white calico". While it is possible it became fashionable to wear printed shifts and shirts, they were more likely plain white. The pair of women's Calico gloves however were possibly printed as a number of women's gloves have survived in printed/ painted calico in European museums. Alternatively, we see in the same inventory "2 'blew' calico mix checker valance"... or blue striped checkered on white background.

A Cotton men's shirt dated at the center front to "1764", Nederlands Openluchtmuseum

Cotton men's shirt from the Kampereiland. The number 12 shows that this shirt was part of a set of 12 shirts. The shirt was made in 1764 and it belonged to a man with the initials 'D R'.

Both men and women had "shirts" and "undershirts". Above is a "shirt" here is a Link to a cotton undershirt. The undershirt is worn over the shirt, but under a jacket.
The 1693 inventory of Elizabeth van Eps of Albany who traded goods with the local indigenous population has 1 colored woman's petticoat, 1 purple ditto, 1 black silk petticoat, 1 stuff women's petticoat, 1 cotton ditto... the inventory is in Dutch so there is no doubt that the cotton petticoat was anything other than a cotton fabric and not a brushed woolen. 

Interestingly, when the term cotton is used above, it presumes white unless otherwise stated. When calico is used it is presumed printed unless stated as being white or blue.

Q & A:

If there was blue what about red or other colors ?

Strange as it sounds, despite India having a variety of dyes, economic books have only written about plain fabrics in blue, red and purple plus white and black. Most towns are making "Guinee" blue or white plus "diverse types" such as striped or checked. There is also solid red muslin (called "beatilha" or Golconda) and solid purple cotton fabric like the Pouris mentioned in these books. Red cotton fabric also turns up in New York often enough it is an option for reenactors. A purple petticoat is in one inventory, whether it was cotton or wool is unknown. Though, if red and blue turn up in New York it is likely someone had purple. 
There is a solid black called "canequins". 

While limited in color choice, this does open the door up a little for reenactors and historic sites for the 17th and 18th century. For those looking for authenticity sticking with solid blue, red, purple and white would be reasonable. I have not seen evidence for solid green, yellow, orange, brown or black... at least for New York. If these same items are listed in the Netherlands they would likely also be accessible to New York buyers as a number of families in New York (and Albany) were making purchases in Amsterdam even during English sovereignty. 

This Link shows a fabric sample card with solid colored fabrics made in India. Unfortunately, I don't know which of the solid colored ones are 100% cotton, 100% silk or blend of cotton and silk. But it does provide the tone and shades available. Note the sites claims black was also available. 

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