Friday, July 31, 2009

Pointed question

I received a recent inquiry regarding the use of "points" on blankets and whether they related to weight or thickness of the blanket. I thought the reply might be of use to you:

Blankets, from the reading I've done on English manufacture, were indeed produced by weight (and sometimes, consequently, length of the complete piece, many many yards) as the completed blanket fabric was taken to the guild hall for weighing and approval. Various widths of fabric were produced which pertained to the ultimate size of the blankets to be manufactured.

However, the weight referred to does not refer to the individual blanket, rather the total piece which would be later cut up into pairs. The thickness of the knap and the quality of the fabric were more a function of the maker and were not indicated, as far as I have been able to determine, by the points (weight could vary from country to country, by manufacturer or weaver; the guild was the ultimate arbiter of whether the fabric was of good quality). The use of points, when they were used and not everyone used actual points apparently, were for indicating size. They would be especially useful as a handy tool for finding the right blanket at a glance.

The "point" is sort of a matter of contention. According to the HBC blanket historian, Harold Tichenor, the "point" may have evolved from French useage in the 16th century. However, there was never a consistent standard for a "point", per Tichenor, until the 19th century when HBC set a standard. In reading about blanket manufacture in Witney and Oxfordshire, there seems to have been an understood set of sizes, though they may have varied from guild hall and manufacturer (remember all work was piece work sent out to individuals and groups by the blanket company). From the use of the "point" in inventories, etc. there must have been a common understanding as to the sizes, or relative sizes each appellation indicated ( 2 point, 2 1/2 point, etc).

And yet, when the point sizes are compared by manufacturer they vary. This site (I may have already passed this on to you) has a messed up page, but toward the bottom there is a comparison of sizes to various companies late 18th into the 19th centuries:

Off to Grand Portage next week.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Blankets, one more time

Since there was a question about sizes, this page about Point Blankets is a good, quick reference, especially if you can't get a hold of other books. Remember to double the length indicated to derive the "pair of blankets" size. Ex. the one point at 46 inches long is about 8 feet as a pair or double.

You can figure the half point as in between the point sizes.

Contact me for some bibliographic references on blankets and weaving in England (Witney, Oxfordshire, etc).

Blankets, pelts, and costs: a clarification

I recently received an email requesting more information and a clarification on my previous posts. I thought it might be helpful to post my reply here, also, in case I was unclear or others might desire an encapsulation:

First, a bit of a correction. The 2 1/2 point blanket is sized more along the size of a modern twin bed blanket. I'll check the actual dimensions and send, but I'm sure you have a number at the fort (can't remember if you have Rob Stone's among your blankets; his are well sized and used by many of us). So they aren't 12'x12'. They were woven, by individual weavers (some with multiple workers), on looms in varying overall sizes depending upon the type and size of blankets being called for. The Alfred Plummer books, "The Blanket Makers 1669-1969: A History of Charles Early & Marriot (Witney) Ltd" and "The London Weavers' Company, 1600-1970" are two good resources, among a number of others I have used.

The blankets were taken in large batches (I forget the term) to the Hall for guild approval before being cut for shipping, usually into double lengths of the blanket size ordered. The blankets were shipped in the double lengths, hence the term "pair of blankets". The whole sale price (which I am trying to track down from mill to sale) is based upon this double blanket (price paid to weavers was on overall length woven or weight).

On the price, 8s. is indeed an "average" wholesale price for an individual blanket (one half of the double blanket sent as a "pair"). This is based upon the Grand Portage inventory, the Grant Campion invoice, and other price documents. The 8s. is considered the "cost" (wholesale plus overhead--canoes, men, food, etc) to get that blanket to Grand Portage, and most likely by extension Fort William, though the price and cost was higher by the time period you portray there.

On the plus, I thought I had included some of the documentation sources. Mainly, the references used had to be secondary (Innis "The Fur Trade in Canada", and Parker's "Emporium of the North") because I don't have access to the records they have/had. Those that were at the MN Historical Society have disappeared.

However, the primary documentation they cite seem to agree both on the varying price structure for the time period I am viewing (1780s to around 1800) and weight of the pelt itself. Ross was one of the cited primary sources. The actual prices varied widely (and wildly) in this time period making comparisons that much more exciting.

Using the records compiled by Harold Innis “The Fur Trade in Canada” and James Parker “Emporium of the North”, beaver brought 8/6 to 10/2 (1784), 15/6 (1789), 1802-5 average 14/. A. Henry in 1806 mentions a beaver pelt being worth 10/ Halifax.

Two pounds for the weight of a pelt seems to be the consensus average, thus the 3 to 4 plus "price" for the 2 1/2 point blanket times the particular price for peltry at any given time.

1 beaver pelt worth 17 to 20/4
Return on one 2 1/2 pt 46-55/ Montreal
1 beaver pelt worth 31/
Return on one 2 1/2 pt 88/
1 beaver pelt worth 28/
Return on one 2 1/2 pt 79/

One thing to keep in mind, most of the blankets were not sold at either Grand Portage or Fort William, so the overhead was much higher, almost prohibitively so by the time it reached the Athabasca Department. Parker's "Emporium" has some good information on this. No matter the overhead (and the Wallace documents gives a rudimentary idea with the advance percentages charged clerks in their minutes on partner agreement regarding prices to be charged) the Native trading partners wanted the blankets for the customary price of 3-4 pelts. So going west, profit became problematic.

Let me know if I am still lacking clarity. You can post here or reach me at