publisher colophon

This article explores the large Scandinavian trade in cheap and colorful Chinese silk textiles between 1731 and 1761. Most pieces brought from Canton (Guangzhou) to Denmark and Sweden were monochrome, with discreet designs and patterns. What stood out was the wide color assortment, shades named with a nomenclature shared by the European East India companies. Changing quantities of different shades of red and blue silks reveal shifting Scandinavian consumer demands. The lack of new colors in the assortment of cheap and cheerful Chinese silks suggests, however, that Canton only played a limited role as a fashion leader.

For those interested in investigating colors and consumption in the eighteenth century, the "packing book" of the Swedish East India Company (SEIC) ship Calmare is a good place to start. The book lists the deliveries of more than four thousand pieces of Chinese silk to the Swedish factory in Canton in the autumn of 1742. A table, stretching over three densely written pages (in English), with the heading "Recapitulation of the different color of each assortment of wrought silk," summarizes the colors of silk cargo. Altogether, forty colors and color combinations are listed; the most common are "sky blue," "junquille," "crimson," and "white," but there are also numerous pieces in "scarlet," "cherry," "mazareen blue," "straw," and "citron." Only a few pieces were multicolored, but the descriptions of them are particularly evocative; combinations such as "crimson and light green," "dark green and white," or "turquine and sea green" stand out.1

This colorful silk cargo fitted into sixty-five chests; the chest identity numbers are also indicated on the table. Pieces of cherry-colored poisee damask, for example, were packed in chests numbers "5," "29," and "36."2 Theft and fraud were common, and one reason for monitoring the packing was to deflect opportunists. More importantly, though, noting down the chest numbers set the stage for the next phase of trade. The ship Calmare arrived in Gothenburg, the headquarters of the SEIC, on the west coast of Sweden in early June 1743. In late August, the cargo was auctioned off. Prospective buyers had by then been able to inspect the silks in the house of Mess. Thornton, in the Main Harbour. But at the time of the auction, the contents of the sixty-five chests had been turned into more than two hundred multicolored auction lots. As Figure 1 shows, the first silk lots (of poisee [End Page 23]

Illustration 1. Sales catalogue, from the Swedish East India Company ship Calmare, listing silk textiles put up for sale in Gothenburg in August 1743. Source: Riksarkivet, Stockholm (Swedish National Archive). Kommerskollegiums arkiv: Enskilda arkiv inom Kommerskollegium, Ostindiska kompaniet, Försäljningskatalog Vol. 6, 1743. Also available in Warwick University Library, Warwick Digital Collection, , Försäljningskatalog, Vol. 6, 1743 (accessed 23 July 2016).
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Illustration 1.

Sales catalogue, from the Swedish East India Company ship Calmare, listing silk textiles put up for sale in Gothenburg in August 1743.

Source: Riksarkivet, Stockholm (Swedish National Archive). Kommerskollegiums arkiv: Enskilda arkiv inom Kommerskollegium, Ostindiska kompaniet, Försäljningskatalog Vol. 6, 1743. Also available in Warwick University Library, Warwick Digital Collection,, Försäljningskatalog, Vol. 6, 1743 (accessed 23 July 2016).

damask pieces of identical dimensions) put up for sale at the auction each contained thirty pieces in fourteen different shades. Information on numbers of pieces, types and color assortment, and exact location (chest number) were of course essential to those assembling thousands of silk pieces into hundreds of lots in Gothenburg.

Taking colors as its cue, this article explores the Swedish and Danish eighteenth-century trade in Chinese silks. It investigates what the trade can tell us about the connection between long-distance commerce and European fashion, and about more long-term changes in consumption and production. As I discuss in more detail below, the Danish and Swedish East India companies have quite different histories of engagement with Asia. What they have in common, though, is that they both started to trade directly with China in the early 1730s. The modus operandi for the two companies was the expanding market for tea in Europe, particularly the market for contraband tea in Britain where high taxes on tea created large profits for smugglers bringing in Chinese tea imported to Europe by, among others, the Swedes and the Danes. But colorful Chinese piece goods for the domestic markets in Denmark and Sweden did also prove profitable, at least for a few decades in the middle third of the eighteenth century, a period largely characterized by relatively low silk prices and unrestricted trade in Canton.3 By combining source materials from the two companies' China ventures, as well as material relating to the wholesale [End Page 24] trade in Chinese silk in Copenhagen and Gothenburg, we can reconstruct most of the trade taking place between 1731 and 1761.

The article focuses on a history that is largely uncharted, first because it deals with eighteenth-century East India trade in Chinese silks and not Indian cottons, and second because it is concerned with Scandinavian markets and consumption, which have so far attracted limited attention by non-Scandinavian scholars. The rich Danish and Swedish material should also be of interest to those interested in color fashion in Europe more generally as it allows us to map color schemes both quantitatively and qualitatively. First, though, I will provide an outline of the European trade in Asian textiles in the seventeenth and eighteenth century.


Those studying the European trade in colorful Asian textiles and its long-term effects both in Europe and globally have largely focused on the import of Indian cotton to the Atlantic world.4 Historians have pointed to several reasons for the success of Indian textiles, including their colors. Early modern European consumers were quick to appreciate the quality of the dyes used by Indian manufacturers, decorating their piece goods with printed or painted designs. Indian tradesmen used techniques and components not available to European manufactures, including resist-dyeing and mordant, to arrange and fix pigments in textiles. The end result was colorful textiles that were largely resistant to the fading effects of sun and washing. Intertwined with the history of Indian dyeing is the history of cotton as a fiber. Pigments available in the early modern era, typically derived from plants, insects, or minerals, work differently depending on which fiber they are applied to. While the cotton fiber was not fully new to Europeans, they were unfamiliar with the use of madder to generate a red color on cotton, known in Europe as "Turkey red."5 European weavers also had no knowledge of how to produce pure cotton textiles. Indian tradesmen were able to use cotton in both the warp and weft. European tradesmen lacked this skill in the beginning of the eighteenth century. Instead, Europeans typically used different mixes of cotton, wool, and silk, thereby producing fabrics heavier than their Indian rivals. One favorite Asian textile was muslin, a very light, white cotton fabric. Dhaka, in present-day Bangladesh, produced the finest muslins; they were famously so thin that pieces one yard wide and twenty yards long could be passed through a finger ring.6

From the late seventeenth century onward, the Eurasian cotton trade boomed. Cotton imports from India in the last three decades of the century involved 1.3 million pieces per year. The English East India Company (EIC) was the leading importer to Europe and the Atlantic world. The Dutch Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC) also traded vast quantities of cotton textiles, but was largely supplying Asian markets.7 Other companies, especially the Danish and the French East India companies, imported Indian cottons too. When the French textile trade with Asia was at its peak in the 1730s, the French East India Company imported over 400,000 pieces of Asian textiles on average annually; ninety-five percent of the French traded East India goods between 1687 and 1761 was cotton from India.8 The Danish trade blossomed particularly in the last thirty years of the eighteenth century, and particularly during periods when other European powers were at war.9 [End Page 25]

In Europe, the import of Indian cotton textiles caused controversy. European textile manufacturers whose production was threatened by Asian cotton were generally successful in pressuring governments to ban domestic consumption of foreign textiles.10 Prohibitions did not stop people from using cotton textiles, though. In France, the smuggling in of printed cotton made in India, the Ottoman Empire, and other European countries was so significant that it influenced debates on political economy. The implication of large numbers of people in illegal activities spurred philosophers and commentators to develop new liberal notions of how the market ought to work.11 In Britain import substitution, replacing imported Indian textiles with homemade versions, was central in catalyzing technological advances, thereby promoting a process we traditionally label the Industrial Revolution. In short, pure and colorful cottons came to stay in Europe. Cotton suited European consumers hungry for change, and in time European producers started to churn out an ever-growing amount of patterned textiles for markets at home and overseas. In this respect cotton textiles have become a central concern to historians investigating the formation of the European consumer society and its global significance in the early modern period as well as those aiming to explain the economic divergence between Asia and Europe in modern history.12

It is no surprise, then, that the history of Chinese silk fabrics in the history of the Eurasian maritime trade is somewhat lost amid all this change. The eighteenth-century importation of silk textiles from China was of course, relatively speaking, much smaller in scale than the importation of Indian cotton pieces. For example, the Dutch VOC auctioned away only 184,000 pieces of Chinese silk between 1729 and 1795.13 We do not know what London received, but EIC headquarters ordered its supercargoes to bring home 499,000 pieces from China between 1707 and 1750.14 The French silk imports from Asia were somewhat smaller: around 94,000 silk pieces arrived to France from the East between 1687 and 1779, but this also included a limited number of silk pieces from India.15 Although incomplete, these numbers suggest that the total Dutch, British, and French official import of Chinese silk in the long eighteenth century probably did not extend beyond one million silk pieces, a figure equaling the annual import of cotton textiles during much of the same period.

Moreover, silk, in contrast to (pure) cotton textiles, was not a novelty to early modern Europeans, whose maritime traders joined a commerce in Chinese silk that had connected the western and eastern ends of the Eurasian continent for more than a millennium and a half.16 New though was the sixteenth-century movement of Chinese silk, raw and woven, across the Pacific, from Manilla to Acapulco and Spanish America. In this trans-Pacific trade, Chinese silk textiles played a more prominent role than the cotton piece goods from India.17 Raw silk was important too, supplying the emerging silk manufacturing industries of New Spain.18 Another new feature in the seventeenth century was the growing provision of woven and raw silk from India, brought to Europe by the East India companies. The EIC imported Bengal silk goods to the London market; by the turn of the seventeenth century, for example, only two percent of the EIC-traded silk came from China.19 Of course, at the time the direct maritime trade between the northwest part of Europe and China had only just started. Initially the directly imported Chinese and Japanese silks impacted European designs, most notably and visibly [End Page 26] in the "bizarre style" patterns popular in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, before the rococo style took hold in Europe.20 However, the silk textiles that started to arrive on East India ships engaged in the direct trade with China at the end of the seventeenth century entered a competitive market where European silk manufactures led fashion; it was with patterned silk textiles that new trends were generated across the fashion-conscious continent.21 Leading designers worked with silk manufacturers in Lyon and London, and their innovations were copied across Europe, helping to spin the wheel of fashion.22

Like Asian cotton, Asian silk textiles faced restrictions and bans in France and Britain.23 While sales of Indian cotton textiles seem to have been unstoppable in spite of the bans, there have been few studies of how Chinese silk textiles faired more generally on the European market, at least outside the context of elite consumption.24 With the exception of silk handkerchiefs, we know little about plebeian silk consumption in early modern Europe.25 Raw material costs matter here of course, and raw silk, whether produced in Asia or Europe, was no doubt a more expensive material than the versatile cotton, which could even be made to look like glossy silk if processed right. Whatever the origin of the raw material, early modern silk and cotton textiles do in this respect seem to fit into the general history of how, as European consumerism evolved, "old luxuries" were replaced by "new luxuries." The main cost associated with producing the former was the price of raw materials, while the costs for craft skills formed the main outlay for producing the latter.26


How then can an analysis of the colorful Chinese cargo on the Scandinavian ships help, if not alter, at least modify and develop this history—that is, the association of eighteenth-century cotton with the development of European consumerism, mass markets, and technological developments leading up to the Industrial Revolution, and of silk with notions of old elite consumption? While the quantities of Indian piece goods arriving to Europe outnumbered Chinese woven silks, there is a marked difference between how many silks the different companies imported that is not reflected in the size of their home market. In the case of the Scandinavian trade it is clear that the Swedish silk business was unusually large. By the 1770s, Sweden, which included today's Sweden, Finland, and Swedish Pomerania, had a population of about three million. Although we do not know the number of inhabitants of the Danish realm living in the Baltic area, in present day Denmark, Norway, and the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein in the eighteenth century, by about 1800 the population was 2.2 million.27 Nonetheless, the known Swedish imports of Chinese silk between 1733 and 1759 were five times the known Danish imports: 129,000 versus 27,000 pieces.28 It is however worth noting that the Swedish figures from the sales catalogue include trade conducted on the side or privately by the employees of the SEIC, while the Danish figures only include silk traded by the Danish Asiatic Company (DAC), not its staff. From correspondence between merchants involved in the Scandinavian wholesale trade in Chinese goods, we learn that the silk share of trade conducted privately by members of the Danish expeditions could be huge. In 1747, for example, 12,000 pieces—more than twice the size of the DAC silk import that year—arrived as part of a private trade.29 [End Page 27]

However, even if the Swedish figures include privately traded goods, they stand out compared to the Dutch, British, and French imports of Chinese silk textiles. The VOC imported only 10,000 pieces more than the SEIC between 1733 and 1759 (139,000 pieces versus 129,000). If we match the figures from the English ordering lists for the period between 1731 and 1748 (when an expedition to China took approximately eighteen months) with what we know arrived in Gothenburg between 1733 and 1750, the Swedish trade equaled more than half of the English trade: London ordered 182,000 pieces while Gothenburg received 95,000. Compared to the French imports, 32,000 pieces between 1733 and 1759, the Swedes were big traders in Chinese silks.30

Import, of course, did not necessarily mean domestic consumption. The European markets for Asian goods were notoriously porous; illicit practices and smuggling undermined the monopolies granted to the East India companies over their home markets. Take for example the Scandinavian trade in another Chinese good: tea. Together the Swedish and the Danish East India companies imported up to a third of all tea reaching Europe between 1730 and 1780. With the possible exception of Denmark proper, though, the Scandinavian market for Chinese tea was weak. The bulk—ninety percent or more—of the Scandinavian tea was re-exported. Most of it ended up in pots and cups furnishing British tables, in spite of the EIC's statutory monopoly over its domestic market.31 Tea was a perishable good, and that European stores needed to be replenished regularly set the rhythm to the expeditions going to China. This trading pattern offered opportunities to import silk textiles, a much lighter cargo that could easily be transported on top of the bulky tea. The quickly expanding consumption of tea in Britain was in this respect a precondition for the import of Chinese silk to Scandinavia.

Like tea, Asian textiles were smuggled across Europe, although it is hard to quantify how many goods moved over the borders. We do know that the Dutch Republic provided the first landing point for many Asian textiles reaching across Europe, including France, where consumers also were provided with illicit goods in the form of printed cottons inspired by Indian goods, from the Levant and Switzerland.32 All foreign-made silks were banned from the British markets in the eighteenth century; however, silk textiles, particularly handkerchiefs from India sought after by poorer and middling consumers, were frequently smuggled into the country via London.33 While there is evidence that some Swedish imported Chinese silks were re-exported, there are also good reasons to believe that most of the SEIC imported silks stayed in Sweden. The strongest indication of this is the sharp drop in silk imports after 1754, corresponding chronologically to the introduction of a domestic ban on the consumption of Chinese silk [figure 2]. Before 1754 the Swedish market was by all accounts hot. Dutch traders described the Gothenburg market as "bewitched" by Chinese silk; auction prices rose so high that there was no profit in re-exporting the SEIC silks to other markets in Europe.34

Why this Swedish obsession with Chinese silks? One likely reason is that Swedish consumers had little access to Indian cotton textiles. All in all, only six out of sixty-one Swedish expeditions reached the Indian subcontinent between 1731 and 1766. The first ship to India from Gothenburg led to a diplomatic crisis when staff of the French and English companies attacked the SEIC expedition on the Coromandel Coast in 1733. The EIC in particular objected to a new competitor [End Page 28]

Figure 2 Diagram 1. Import of Chinese silk textiles to Scandinavia 1733–1759 (pieces) Source: Hanna Hodacs, Silk and Tea in the North. Scandinavian Trade and the Market for Asian Goods in Eighteenth-Century Europe (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016): 193–94, Appendix 2, Silk import by DAC and SEIC 1733–1759.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 2 Diagram 1.

Import of Chinese silk textiles to Scandinavia 1733–1759 (pieces)

Source: Hanna Hodacs, Silk and Tea in the North. Scandinavian Trade and the Market for Asian Goods in Eighteenth-Century Europe (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016): 193–94, Appendix 2, Silk import by DAC and SEIC 1733–1759.

which to no small extent was manned by exiled Britons, several of whom had worked in the recently folded Ostend Company, a large supplier of tea destined to be smuggled into the British market.35 While other attempts were made, little came of Swedish efforts to establish regular trade with India. Instead, the Swedes concentrated on the China trade. This commerce was the most profitable part of the Scandinavian trade generally, and in the case of Denmark the China trade brought in seventy-five percent of the DAC's profit for most of the eighteenth century.36 In contrast to the Swedes, the Danes did successfully trade in India. The first Danish trading station on the Coromandel Coast was established in 1620, although only in the middle third of the eighteenth century did the Danish trade become regular and more reliably profitable. In India the Danes had the advantage of access to cheap credit in the form of private fortunes generated by representatives of the Dutch, French, and British East India companies' staff in India. The end result was that the DAC imported large amounts of Indian cotton to Copenhagen, turning the city into a northern entrepôt for a wide range of East India goods.37 The larger Swedish import of Chinese silks might in other words be a reflection of Sweden's small import of Indian cotton textiles. Reversing the argument, the smaller Danish import of Chinese silks might reflect on the Danes' large import of Indian piece goods. However, as Figure 2 illustrates, the Danish trade in Chinese silk did change in the 1750s as well, although less dramatically. Again, new legislation can explain the increase in imports; in 1753 all Danish consumption of silk textiles was banned except for domestically produced silks and goods imported by the DAC.38

What sort of silk goods arrived by the thousands to Gothenburg and Copenhagen? First of all, Scandinavian-imported woven silks were generally made from the cheapest raw silk, the type produced in the province of Guangdong, of which Canton (today's Guangzhou) was the center. Only small quantities of the Scandinavian-imported goods were made from the more expensive Nankeen raw [End Page 29] silk, which produced a smoother and glossier fabric.39 Moreover, by putting together information on purchase and sale prices, measurements, embellishments, and proportions of different kinds of textiles making up the cargoes of the DAC and SEIC, we can conclude that more than half of the Scandinavian-imported silk pieces were of a relatively cheap, low-quality type called taffeta (or pekins), a satin weave, and poisee damask. What type of textile "poise damask" designated is not clear. Damask usually refers to a weave structure but in this case the term seems to have been used for a wider category of silk textiles. A comparison of Swedish, Danish, and English sources as well as studies by other researchers suggests only that poisee damask probably referred to textiles of multiple weave types, with varying designs and patterns.40 Judging by the Scandinavian sources, the great majority of taffeta/pekins and poisee damask pieces were monochrome, and in general lacked painted decorations. No embroidery embellished these types of piece goods, something that is also true for most of the other, less common, and sometimes more expensive Chinese export goods such as lustring. Lustring is a silk with a "light, crisp silk" surface. In order to produce lustring, the warp of the textile was coated, heated, and stretched in advance of the weaving process.41 When very occasionally the Danish did contract for embroidered pieces of lustring in Canton, they paid twenty-eight percent more than for the plain pieces.42 When the Swedish company sold embroidered lustring pieces, they could sell for fifty percent more than those without embroidery.43 These examples are rare, however, indicating that there was only a small market for exclusive embroidered goods in Scandinavia, although the profit levels could be good.

While the sources are incomplete, they tell us that the Scandinavian companies imported at least 87,338 pieces of poisee damask and taffeta/pekins from Canton between 1733 and 1759. More relevant perhaps is fact that these types of silk goods represented fifty-six percent of the Scandinavian silk textile cargo, and that they were textiles with the largest color assortments. With an average length and width of 16 × 0.71 meters for poisee damask and 12 × 0.78 meters for pekins and taffeta, this cargo alone could have been turned into 306,000 colorful skirts or twice as many gaudy waistcoats. As Figure 1 shows, a poisee damask piece sold for around sixty-five silver dollars (silverdaler) in Gothenburg in 1743. With the added fifteen percent tax, introduced in 1741 on domestic consumption of Chinese silks, an unskilled laborer would have had to work 106 days to pay for a whole piece of poisee damask. By contrast, he would have needed to labor less than three weeks to pay for enough fabric to make a waistcoat.44 By comparison, an ell of the most expensive silk fabrics, often incorporating golden or silver threads, could cost the equivalent of two years' salary for a French laborer.45 While not all European-produced silks were as expensive, the latter examples help to illuminate an important characteristic of the imported Chinese silk: its low price.

The reception of Chinese silk in Scandinavia in the 1730s and 1740s confirms that the textiles were regarded as relatively cheap—a budget luxury. These decades saw new government policies supporting the domestic production of textiles. The Swedish silk industry expanded from the 1730s onward; by the time it peaked in the late 1750s, the industry employed 2,456 workers, operating 838 looms.46 The aim of the new policy was to reduce the import of silk, particularly from France, which was the main outside provider of silk for the Swedish market. [End Page 30] New sumptuary legislation liberalizing the consumption of domestically produced silk textiles was introduced as a means of supporting the new industry, largely located in Stockholm.47 By coincidence, these changing regulations also benefited the silk trade of the SEIC, established only a few years earlier in the wake of the folding of the Ostend Company. The new company had been given the right to sell silk to the Swedish market from the start, something opponents of the company quickly pointed out undermined the home market for the new domestic silk manufacturers. Those defending the SEIC responded by claiming that the Chinese silks were consumed by a market segment that could not afford Swedish-manufactured silk textiles, never mind French produced silks.48 The status of the new Asian textiles became a subject for public enquiries. Questionnaires returned to the Board of Commerce in Stockholm confirmed the view that Chinese silk was not a "luxury," at least not in the very southern parts of Sweden.49

In Denmark the situation was somewhat different in that the elite, including the King, had invested heavily in the Danish East India trade; by contrast, many of the investors in the SEIC came from the Low Countries, reflecting the legacy of the Ostend Company.50 In the first half of the eighteenth century, there was also less debate in Denmark due to the harsher Danish censorship. However, by the 1750s, economic issues were opened up for debate. Questioning the future of the Danish silk industry, Erik Pontoppidian (1698–1764), a political economist and theologian, underlined the extent to which the Chinese goods were cheaper, but had a weaker "strength and reputation."51 Nonetheless, as in the Swedish case, the Danish silk industry was also expanding: by the middle of the eighteenth century it employed 463 workers operating 122 looms.52 Those writers who championed domestic textile production seemed also to have won the argument over the Asian import in the end; by 1774, domestic consumption of silk imported by the DAC was also banned.53

Judging by the type of Chinese silks arriving in Scandinavia, and the arguments the cargo prompted, these textiles did not represent old luxuries. A more suitable label is "populuxe goods," which has been used to describe cheaper versions of luxury items that made their way into the hands of lower-class consumers in the eighteenth century.54 Focusing on developments in Europe, historians such as Jan de Vries and others have called attention to the popularity of populuxe goods. Low cost made them attractive, but also, and more importantly, populuxe goods offered the consumer more variety in quality and design, aspects that helped speed up the European wheel of fashion.55 As Maxine Berg has argued, what followed was the development of markets where goods were sold with reference to "novelty" and "style," providing consumers more opportunities to express their taste and fashion sense, not only their wealth.56 This brings us back to the color schemes on the imported Chinese silks. What can a study of the color assortment of these pieces tell us about variety and change, and about the possibility of expressing individual taste and following new trends and fashions?


Let us return to the forty color references in the packing book of the ship Calmare. These were distributed unevenly depending on the use of the textiles. [End Page 31] Bed or meuble damask, which as the name suggests was intended for interior design, such as in bed hangings, curtains, or upholstery, was only imported in three shades in 1743: "crimson," "green," and "junquille." Blue shades such as sky blue and bleumourant/blomerant were other popular colors of bed damask in the Scandinavian trade in Chinese silk in the middle third of the eighteenth century.57 In contrast, textiles intended for clothing—the bulk of the silk pieces imported from China—had a much wider color assortment. The largest batch of poisee damask pieces arriving on Calmare included sixteen different shades, and the taffeta pieces contained fifteen shades, although in both cases the word "different" before brown, green, and ash suggest the variation was even wider.58

Color variety was in fact at the center of the trade in Chinese silk, something to which the packing book but also the surviving sales catalogues, such as the one depicted in Figure 1, bear witness. Next to the type of weave and the dimensions of the textiles, the color schemes of the lots are prominently displayed. Surviving documents from the Danish trade, including contracts with Chinese merchants, are similarly detailed, outlining what colors the ordered silk should have.59 When the DAC directors in Copenhagen ordered goods from China in the first half of the eighteenth century, they were often vague about the number of silk pieces to buy in Canton. How much money the DAC supercargoes had left to spend on silk textiles depended on how much they had spent on tea, which depended on the level of competition in Canton from other European companies also buying tea.60 Independently of how many silk pieces the Danish could afford, what was important, the DAC directors emphasized in their orders, was to stick to the proportions of different colors indicated in the ordering lists.61 An economic rationale directed the color composition of silk cargo: offering a variety of colors made financial sense. A close reading of surviving annotated SEIC sales catalogues tells us that lots with a greater variety of colors garnered higher prices; buyers were willing to offer up to twenty percent more for lots with a high color diversity than for those with a low one.62 In other words, the greater the variety of colors, the greater the profit in the Scandinavian East India trade in Chinese silk.

In contrast to colors, woven designs are rarely alluded to in the Scandinavian trade, although again the bed damask case is an exception. Regularly though not consistently, Swedish and Danish sources refer to design numbers selling bed damask. The variety of designs was, however, usually limited to only a handful.63 From Danish sources we learn that bed damask designs were sometimes distinguished with shapes that contained "figures" or flowers in different sizes.64 There are also occasional remarks concerning designs in the case of other types of textiles. In 1754 Danish supercargoes were requested by Copenhagen to buy poisee damask pieces with "small designs which currently are much wanted."65 In the packing book of Calmare, some of the taffeta is listed as decorated with "Boquets" and "flowers of different colors" as well as stripes, but together these batches constituted only seven percent of the silk cargo.66 As the sales catalogue from Calmare indicates, the silk textiles put up for sale by the Swedish Company were also on display before the auction began. While the possibility to inspect the textiles in situ rendered it less necessary to describe patterns in the sales catalogues, it does not explain the lack of references to patterns in sources stemming from the Canton end of the trade. The most plausible conclusion is that, in so far as the [End Page 32] piece goods had woven designs or painted patterns, they were generally of such a neutral character that they usually escaped any further remarks. Instead, the main focus of attention was the color assortment of Chinese silk cargo.

This conclusion helps us situate Chinese silk on the European market, where new silk designs catalyzed seasonal changes to fashion in the eighteenth century. Studying the silk firm L. Galy, Gallien et comp. in Lyon, Leslie Miller has calculated that on average it produced between one and three designs per week.67 Designs for exclusive silk textiles might only have been used a handful of times.68 Commissioners working for the leading Lyon firms traveled the continent selling their wares with the help of samples to exclusive customers, including royals. Once orders were made, the Lyon weavers set to work producing the full fabrics in required quantities of elaborately designed silk textiles.69 Plain silks, similar to the taffeta and pekins imported from China, could be highly fashionable too; for example, Madam de Pompadour, official mistress of Louis XV, was portrayed in several outfits made from silk textiles without woven designs or added patterns. Her wardrobe also contained clothes made from silk textiles from Asia.70 Colors on plain silk pieces were of course also subject to fashion trends. Surviving European sample books and textile collections from the eighteenth century, such as the one Miller has written about, contain plain silks in a great variety of colors, indicating that customers wanted selection.

What samples can guide us in the study of the color schemes of the East India silks? One unique collection was created by the Swedish professor of economics Anders Berch (1711–1774) in the mid-eighteenth century. Kept by the Nordic Museum in Stockholm, it contains over seventy samples of textiles labeled "East Indian silk," including several taffeta and damask pieces in different shades of red, blue, and yellow, among others, only a few of which are patterned.71 Another smaller collection of samples, some of it portrayed in Figure 3, is held in the archive of the Dutch VOC. What makes this collection unique is that color names are noted down next to samples of Chinese silks traded by the VOC. The nomenclature used here was largely shared by other East India companies; since all companies traded in Canton, this joint color terminology is hardly surprising. A further explanation is that the companies were run by cosmopolitan supercargoes and wholesalers operating on overlapping European markets. Scottish merchants, many of whom had been working for the Ostend Company, were for example prominent in the Swedish China trade; hence it is no surprise that the packing book of Calmare is written in English. As Figure 1 demonstrates, the Swedish sales catalogue advertising the goods arriving on Calmare was published in German, reflecting perhaps the historical role of the Ostend Company supplying a German-speaking market, but also the ambitions of the SEIC to welcome foreign buyers to purchase the goods it had imported from Asia. When the SEIC started printing its catalogue in Swedish, the color terms were either kept or directly translated. Comparisons with material produced by the Dutch, the English, and the Danish company reveal the applications of a nearly identical set of color terms.72

Was this Pan-European color nomenclature applied identically? Or did the same color names refer to different shades? Sources describing the trade in Canton suggest that contracting for silk textiles with the Chinese Hong merchants sometimes involved the use of samples of silks dyed different colors, some of which perhaps [End Page 33]

Figure 3 Illustration 2. Silk samples from Canton, with references to color names in Dutch, collected by the VOC (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie). Source: Nationaal Archief, the Netherlands, archive VOC, Factorij Canton, 1.04.20, 167.
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 3 Illustration 2.

Silk samples from Canton, with references to color names in Dutch, collected by the VOC (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie).

Source: Nationaal Archief, the Netherlands, archive VOC, Factorij Canton, 1.04.20, 167.

were brought to Canton by European supercargoes.73 Such a practice might explain the odd case of disagreement. In 1747, for example, the Dutch banking house Clifford & Sons wrote to the Scottish supercargo and wholesale trader of Swedish East India goods Charles Irvine (1693–1771), highlighting that "by Mazarine blue, we mean what we call here Turkish blue."74 As one of a few examples, however, it cannot offset the general impression that few disagreements existed regarding what name referred to what color. It thus seems reasonable to assume that the Dutch samples portrayed in Figure 3 can visually guide us in interpreting the silk cargo of the Calmare listed in the packing book and sales catalogue.

The extent to which the eighteenth-century Eurasian trade in hundreds of thousands of Chinese silk pieces helped standardize color nomenclature more generally, even perhaps contributing to the notion of a fixed universal color order, is an open question. A comparison with the color names employed in the trade in Indian cotton helps to highlight how specific the nomenclature applied in the East India Chinese silk trade was. When, for example, the EIC directors ordered cotton textiles from India, they rarely specified what shades they wanted; orders were made for cotton pieces with "blue," "red," and "green" grounds.75 In contrast, the Chinese poisee damask imported to Gothenburg came in shades of blue called not only "dark," "middle," and "light blue," but also "sky," "mazarine," "millan," "bleumourant/blomerant," and "turqvin" blue. Among the red shades we find "crimson," "poppy," "scarlet," "incarnate"/"color de chair," and "cherry," [End Page 34] as well as "rose." Only the green shades were somewhat more limited, as here we find only "green," "dark green," "grass," "lime," and "celadon" or "sea green." The number of colors on the silks traded by the Scandinavian companies varied. Compared to that of the Danish Company, the SEIC assortment of colors of silk was notably richer. The largest single order of poisee damask (500 pieces) made by the DAC in Canton between 1734 and 1761 included twelve shades—the average number of colors in the Swedish poisee damask trade, with some SEIC batches containing as many as eighteen shades.76 While the Swedish company silk trade was richer in colors than the Danish one, an even richer and more specific color assortment did by all accounts characterize the private trade in silk. When Irvine summarized his private accounts to be shipped home on the ship Calmare on its return journey in 1745, he listed silk textiles colored "dark sky," "light sky," "light cherry," and "dark cherry," shades absent in any of the SEIC sales catalogues.77 The use of prefixes such as light and dark is also something that characterizes the English East India trade in Chinese silks, and might reflect Irvine's contact with potential buyers in the British Isles.78

Given these observations of colors and variety in the silk trade, it is possible to consider how changes to the color assortment might indicate the impact of new fashions and trends directing the Scandinavian trade in Chinese silks. The most common colors in the largest batches of Swedish imported poisee damask pieces between 1733 and 1761 were the following: on top of the bill was crimson (14 percent), followed by white (11), jonquille (8), sky blue (7), green, black, and brown (6), yellow (5), and ash, dark blue, and pearl (4). We can assume that consumer demands dictated the trade, since European merchants regularly had to bribe Chinese customs officials to let them have red and yellow silk goods; Chinese sumptuary legislation otherwise reserved these colors for the emperor.79 In Danish account books, crimson colored pieces are occasionally listed separately and at a higher price. For instance, in 1739 the Danes paid fourteen percent more for crimson colored poisee damask pieces than for pieces of the same quality in other colors.80 Crimson also became more popular over time. Figure 4 traces the proportion of red pieces and particularly crimson colored pieces in the largest batches of Swedish imported poisee damask from between 1733 and 1761. Initially, crimson pieces, together with poppy ("ponso" or "ponceau") and "color de chair" or incarnate dominated the red spectrum. Towards the end of the period, between sixty and ninety percent of all red pieces were crimson. A reverse development can be noted in the case of sky blue, illustrated in Figure 5. In the 1730s, four-fifths of all blue colored pieces were sky blue. The popularity of this shade declined sharply over time. In the 1750s, several years passed with no sky blue poisee damasks arriving in Gothenburg whatsoever, although the shade made a comeback in 1757. "Bleumou-rant" or "blomerant," a pale shade of blue, along with light blue, dark blue, and a blue called "millan blue," were the new favorites, judging by the sales catalogues.81

Occasional remarks in merchant correspondence confirm that market demands were communicated to those in charge of the trade. In 1747, for instance, the Amsterdam firm Clifford & Sons claimed "the Best Colours in all sorts of East India Silks are White, Bleumourant and Crimson."82 According to one Danish supercargo in 1741, black was always a safe bet since it "rarely goes out of fashion."83 This seems to be particularly true of the beginning of the 1740s; half of the [End Page 35]

Figure 4 Diagram 2. Import of crimson red and other shades of red* colored poisee damask pieces 1733–1761 (percentage of the largest batches). * Other red shades refer to poppy red, scarlet, cherry, and incarnat. Source: Excel sheet "Poisie-Dammasts, one colour, width 'ordinary'/unspecified/1 1/4 ells, length approx. 27 1/2 – 31 1/4 ells, sold 1733–1761" downloaded from
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 4 Diagram 2.

Import of crimson red and other shades of red* colored poisee damask pieces 1733–1761 (percentage of the largest batches).

* Other red shades refer to poppy red, scarlet, cherry, and incarnat. Source: Excel sheet "Poisie-Dammasts, one colour, width 'ordinary'/unspecified/1 1/4 ells, length approx. 27 1/2 – 31 1/4 ells, sold 1733–1761" downloaded from

batch of 1,896 taffeta pieces put up for sale in Gothenburg in 1742 were black.84 One likely explanation was the need for mourning clothes following the death of Ulrika Elenora (1688–1741), the last member of the Pfalz dynasty in Sweden and the Queen Consort. Sometimes the quality of the dye also directed the selection. In 1752 Danish supercargoes avoided poppy colored pieces; although they were "sellable in Europe," they were expensive and sensitive to spotting and hence not worth buying.85 From the Swedish sales catalogue we learn that almost every silk cargo contained some pieces defined as second-grade goods. In other words, while the changing proportions of different colors are likely to reflect shifting consumer demands, restrictions imposed by material conditions, such as the quality of the dye, did also influence the selection of shades in Canton.

While the above explanation might have favored a more limited color assortment, this does not explain the lack of new colors introduced to the standard assortments of Chinese silks bound for Scandinavia. The only significant addition is the color millan blue. There are no references to millan blue pieces in the poisee damask trade, nor in the trade with other Chinese textiles in Swedish sources before the 1750s. As Figure 5 shows, the first millan blue colored poisee damask pieces arrived in 1753; numbers grew in 1754, as well as in 1755 and 1759. Toward the end of the period, millan blue was common, although of course by then the Swedish import of silk textiles had decreased sharply. The largest single batches of poise damask pieces in the 1740s contained several thousand pieces, while in 1761 the biggest batch contained only 97 pieces.86 Taking into account all the different types of silks imported by the SEIC, the lack of "new" colors is in fact striking. [End Page 36]

Figure 5 Diagram 3. Import of sky blue, millan blue, and other shades of blue* colored poisee damask pieces 1733–1761 (percentage of the largest batches). * Other blue refers to dark blue, mazarin blue, turqin blue, bleumerant, light blue, and middle blue. Source: Excel sheet "Poisie-Dammasts, one colour, width 'ordinary'/unspecified/1 1/4 ells, length approx. 27 1/2 – 31 1/4 ells, sold 1733–1761" downloaded from
Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 5 Diagram 3.

Import of sky blue, millan blue, and other shades of blue* colored poisee damask pieces 1733–1761 (percentage of the largest batches).

* Other blue refers to dark blue, mazarin blue, turqin blue, bleumerant, light blue, and middle blue. Source: Excel sheet "Poisie-Dammasts, one colour, width 'ordinary'/unspecified/1 1/4 ells, length approx. 27 1/2 – 31 1/4 ells, sold 1733–1761" downloaded from

Occasionally novel colors make a brief appearance, such "mandarin grün" and "may grün," which are listed in 1733 and 1736.87 The latter color is interesting since it might refer to the Chinese bureaucratic status, although the connection between mandarin and green is not clear. In contrast to Chinese tea names, such as "bohea" and "congo," used in the trade across the Eurasian continent, Chinese color terms in general did not "travel" with the silk. A telling example is the term "tea colored." We know it was used among Chinese silk manufacturers providing the Canton market with export silk; the Berch collection contains a sample with "tea color" written on it (in Chinese).88 But the term was not used in the Swedish wholesale trade, although there are examples of silk referred to as tea colored in the late eighteenth-century American China trade.89

The topic of color nomenclature touches, of course, on a wide range of issues relating to perception, philosophy, science, and, not least, commerce. Dyers and textile traders in the West branded their products with innovative names, sometimes rebranding old shades with new names, responding to market demands and the need to sell off their old stock.90 The seemingly static color assortment of Chinese silk might partially reflect Eurasian linguistic barriers and how the trade was organized; European traders were often dealing only indirectly with silk manufacturers in the Guangdong area, via their designated Canton contacts, the Hong merchants. Whatever the reason, it is hard to deny the distinct lack of new shades occurring in Canton. Almost all the ten top colors listed above were available in Canton for the whole period investigated (1733 to 1761), if not on poisee damask pieces than on other types of silk textiles.91 The imported Chinese silks [End Page 37] from the middle third of eighteenth century in this respect did not "lead fashion." Rather, the majority of imported Chinese silk was not only cheap, but was also fairly standardized when it came to color assortment.


What traces of consumption of colorful Chinese silk textiles can we find in Scandinavia? Much remains to be done to explore this topic, but we know that neither Danes nor Swedes were unaccustomed to silk textiles before the direct trade with China began. Studies of textile markets in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Denmark and Sweden suggest that customers could access a great variety of foreign fabrics. We know that English silk textiles supplied the Norwegian market.92 In Denmark, attempts were even made to recruit English weavers to the expanding domestic industry.93 French silks had found a market in Sweden, and were regarded as the main competitor to the budding Swedish silk industry in the first half of the eighteenth century. Studies of inventories of retailers of textiles suggest that Scandinavian customers had access to a wide range of Asian goods too, perhaps particularly in the Danish realm.94

The inflow of Chinese silk fabric, indeed of Asian textiles in general, in Scandinavia has received little attention.95 One exception is a local study of the implementation of Swedish sumptuary legislation in Helsinki in the 1740s. At the time, the law stipulated that some clothes needed to be inspected and stamped in order to be legal to wear. Surviving records tell us that the wardrobes of the Helsinki merchant families contained several clothes made from "East India damask" in "red and white, grey and blue, yellow and white," while poorer classes were dressed in "grey" and "black" woolen clothes.96 Protocols from parallel inspections across Sweden suggest a similar distribution of colors across social groups, with colorful silk clothes distinguishing the socially elevated.97 While the protocols of the inspected wardrobes need to be more fully investigated, their colorfulness suggests a Swedish development recognizable from more central places on the European fashion map. Studying the inventories of a cross section of the Parisian population, Daniel Roche, for example, has shown that the colorfulness of wardrobes in the capital increased and expanded across the eighteenth century. The share of colorful clothes—reds, yellows, and blues—increased among the elite, from making up on average fifteen percent of noblewomen's wardrobes in 1700 to dominating aristocratic outfits on the eve of the French Revolution. Lower-class wardrobes became more colorful too, a development that also matched the diffusion of silk textiles among the population more generally.98

Although Swedish inspection protocols only cover limited periods, they too suggest a merging colorfulness fed by imports from Asia, most prominently among representatives from richer layers of society. Lists of wardrobes containing contrasting colored silk clothes are common. Color variety here might not only reflect fashion changes: it could also be a way to signal that a new piece of clothing had been purchased. Possibly the best way to highlight the addition of a new dress was to select a color not previously represented in the wardrobe.99 The Helsinki material also shows that rich and specific color nomenclature of the sales catalogues has here been reduced to simple color references: clothes are "red" and "blue." [End Page 38] Reflected here is the correlation between nomenclature and need for precision; colors played different roles as a distinguishing feature to those engaged in wholesale than to those inspecting wardrobes. Most importantly, the results suggest that from an individual and local point of view the difference between a rich and changing and a rich and static color assortment might not have been so noticeable, yet.

To conclude, the history of colorful Chinese silk in the Scandinavian market can provide an alternative to the history of patterned and white cottons revolutionizing consumption and production in Europe. Silk was not only an old luxury; it could also be relatively cheap and, more importantly, a colorful populuxe good. Color variety seems to have provided a viable alternative to printed patterns, woven design, and fast changing fashion, at least among Nordic consumers in the middle third of the eighteenth century. But more work is needed to trace the reception of Chinese silk in Europe, including the extent to which the hundreds and thousands of silk textiles helped standardize color nomenclature.

Hanna Hodacs

Hanna Hodacs is Associate Professor at the University of Dalarna. She previously worked as a Research Fellow at the University of Warwick, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Stockholm, and the University of Uppsala.


This article is largely based on research I conducted at the University of Warwick, within the ERC-funded project "Europe's Asian Centuries." This research is presented in more detail in my book Silk and Tea in the North: Scandinavian Trade and the Market for Asian Goods in Eighteenth-Century Europe (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). The article contains some new source material, foremost the "packing book" of the ship Calmare and some more detailed statistics relating the shifting color schemes of the silk cargoes arriving from China to Gothenburg between 1733 and 1761. The piece also contains some new arguments relating to the wholesale of Chinese silks developed in response to helpful comments from the anonymous reviewers, to whom I am very grateful.

1. Packing book of the ship Calmare, 1743, Östadsarkivet [hereafter ÖA], A 152, Box 52, Landsarkivet i Göteborg [hereafter GLA].

2. Packing book of the ship Calmare, 1743, ÖA, A 152, Box 52, GLA.

3. In the early 1760s, a ban on the export of both raw silk and silk textiles was introduced by the Chinese emperor, bringing about a temporary stop to the European trade in silk textiles. For a discussion of the development of the silk trade in Canton, particularly in the latter half of the eighteenth century, see Paul van Dyke, Merchants of Canton and Macao: Success and Failure in Eighteenth-Century Chinese Trade (Hong Kong: Hong Kong Univ. Press, 2016), 171–207 (177).

4. See for example Giorgio Riello, Cotton: The Fabric That Made the Modern World (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013); Beverly Lemire, Cotton (Oxford: Berg, 2011); Sven Beckert, Empire of Cotton: A New History of Global Capitalism (London: Allen Lane, 2014).

5. Serge Chassagne, "Calico Printing in Europe Before 1780," in The Cambridge History of Western Textiles, ed. David Jenkins, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2003), 1:513–27; Giorgio Riello, "Asian Knowledge and the Development of Calico Printing in Europe in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries," Journal of Global History 5, no. 1 (2010): 1–28.

6. Prasannan Parthasarathi, Why Europe Grew Rich and Asia did Not: Global Economic Divergence, 1600–1850 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2011), 33–34.

7. Riello, Cotton, 93, 95.

8. Felicia Gottmann, Global Trade, Smuggling, and the Making of Economic Liberalism: Asian Textiles in France 1680–1760 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 37.

9. Ole Feldbæk, India Trade under the Danish Flag, 1772–1808: European Enterprise and Anglo-Indian Remittance and Trade (Lund: Studentlitteratur, 1969), Appendix III, 246–47. On the success of different qualities of textiles put up for sale in Copenhagen, see page 32. For the earlier period, see Kristof Glamann, "The Danish Asiatic Company, 1732–1772," Scandinavian Economic History Review 8, no. 2 (1960): 137, 142–43. [End Page 39]

10. On the Dutch exception, see Chris Nierstrasz, Rivalry for Trade in Tea and Textiles (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 125–28.

11. Gottmann, Global Trade.

12. Maxine Berg, "In Pursuit of Luxury: Global History and British Consumer Goods in the Eighteenth Century," Past & Present 182, no. 1 (2004): 85-142; Parthasarathi, Why Europe Grew Rich.

13. Christiaan Jörg, "Chinese Export Silks for the Dutch in the 18th Century," Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society 73 (2008–09): 14.

14. A summary of the orders made by the EIC between 1707 and 1750 can be found under "China" at (accessed 19 July 2016). Note that the figures exclude handkerchiefs and nankeens, a term which usually refers to cotton cloths but occasionally also includes woven silks (see Hodacs, Silk and Tea in the North, 94–95).

15. Gottmann, Global Trade, 175. Note that a small portion of the silk goods included here was from India.

16. Debin Ma, "The Great Silk Exchange: How the World was Connected and Developed," in Pacific Centuries: Pacific and Pacific Rim History Since the 16th Century, ed. Dennis O. Flynn, Lionel Frost, and A. J. H. Latham (London: Routledge Press, 1998). For an early history of the European maritime trade with Chinese silk, see Teresa Canepa, Silk, Porcelain and Lacquer: China and Japan and Their Trade with Western Europe and the New World, 1500–1644 (London: Paul Holberton Publishing, 2016).

17. Arturo Giraldez, The Age of Trade: The Manila Galleons and the Dawn of the Global Economy (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015), 147.

18. Giraldez, Age of Trade, 37. See also Dennis O. Flynn and Arturo Giraldez, "Path Dependence, Time Lags and the Birth of Globalisation: A Critique of O'Rourke and Williamson," European Review of Economic History 8, no. 1 (2004): 81–108.

19. Maxine Berg, "Passionate Projectors: Savants and Silk on the Coromandel Coast 1780–98," Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 14, no. 3 (2013).

20. Natalie Rothstein, Silk Designs of the Eighteenth Century: In the Collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, with a Complete Catalogue (London: Thames and Hudson, 1990), 47.

21. Rothstein, Silk Designs, 37.

22. Carlo Poni, "Fashion as Flexible Production: The Strategies of the Lyons Silk Merchants in the Eighteenth Century," in World of Possibilities: Flexibility and Mass Production in Western Industrialization, ed. Charles F. Sabel and Jonathan Zeitlin (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1997).

23. William Farrell, "Smuggling Silks into Eighteenth-Century Britain: Geography, Perpetrators, and Consumers," Journal of British Studies 55, no. 2 (2016): 268–94; Charles Woolsey Cole, French Mercantilism 1683–1700 (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1943).

24. Jörg, "Chinese Export Silks," 13.

25. For a recent contribution, see Farell "Smuggling."

26. Jan de Vries, The Industrious Revolution: Consumer Behavior and the Household Economy, 1650 to the Present (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, electronic book, 2008), 146.

27. Jens Rahbek Rasmussen, "The Danish Monarchy as a Composite State," in European Identities, Cultural Diversity and Integration in Europe since 1700, ed. Nils Arne Sørensen (Odense: Odense Univ. Press, 1995), 23–36.

28. Hodacs, Silk and Tea in the North, Appendix 2: Silk import by DAC and SEIC, 1733–1759, 193–94.

29. Clifford & Sons to C. Irvine, 30/9/1747, C. Irvine Correspondence [henceforth cited as IC], James Ford Bell Library [henceforth cited JFBL], Minnesota University Library [henceforth cited as MUL]. [End Page 40]

30. For information on the VOC, EIC, and French imports, see Jörg, "Chinese Export Silks," 18–19; Excel sheet "China," accessible from (accessed 19 July 2016); Gottmann, Global Trade, Appendix 1: French East India Company Textile Imports, 175.

31. Hodacs, Silk and Tea in the North, 12–14, 48–89; Leos Müller, "The Swedish East India Trade and International Markets: Re-exports of Teas, 1731–1813," Scandinavian Economic History Review 51, no. 3 (2003): 28–44.

32. Gottman, Global Trade, 53–82.

33. Farell, "Smuggling," 275–86.

34. Clifford & Sons to C. Irvine, 30/9/1747, IC, JFBL, MUL.

35. Conrad Gill, "The Affair of Porto Novo: An Incident in Anglo-Swedish Relations," The English Historical Review 73, no. 286 (1958): 47–65.

36. Ole Feldbæk, "The Danish Asia Trade, 1620–1807: Value and Volume," Scandinavian Economic History Review 39, no. 1 (1991): 6.

37. Ole Feldbæk, Dansk Søfarts historie, vol. 3, Storhandelens tid: 1720–1814 (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1997), 11–13; Feldbæk, India Trade, 148.

38. Jacob Henric Schou, Chronologiskt register over de kongelige forordninger og aabne breve, som fra aar 1670 af ere udkomne, tillige med et nøiagtigt udtog af de endnu gieldene, for saavidt samme i almindelighet angaae undersaatterne i Danmark og Norge, vol. 4 (Copenhagen: Sebastian Popp, 1795), 310.

39. There are only occasional references to Nankeen silk in the order books of the DAC and in the sales catalogues of the SEIC. See, for example, Negotiation protocol, vol. 1117, 28/8/1737 and vol. 1136, 24/9/1756, Asiatisk Kompagni arkiv [henceforth cited as AKA], Rigsarkivet Copenhagen [henceforth cited as RAC], and Försäljningskatalog, vol. 2, 1736, lots 205–10, 211–24, 280–86, Warwick Digital Collection [henceforth cited as WDC], Warwick University Library [henceforth cited as WUL]. Both of these sales catalogues (as well as eighteen more published between 1733 and 1758) can be accessed at (accessed 23 July 2016). For a discussion of the different qualities raw silks, see Van Dyke, Merchants, 173.

40. Hodacs, Silk and Tea in the North, 98–101, 103–6, 108–9. See also Leanna Lee-Whitman, "The Silk Trade: Chinese Silks and the British East India Company," Winterthur Portfolio 17, no. 1 (1982): 21–41.

41. Rothstein, Silk Designs, 291.

42. 12.7 versus 9.2 taels, Kassa og Hovedbog vol. 2209b, (page 67), RAC, AKA.

43. 121 versus 241 silver dollars (silverdaler): Försäljningskatalog, vol. 2, 1736, lots 236–40, and Försäljningskatalog, vol. 1, 1733, lot 20 (end of catalogue), WUL, WDC, accessed at (accessed 23 July 2016).

44. Johan Söderberg, "Long-term Trends in Real Wages of Labourers," (data), (assessed 23 July 2016).

45. Lesley Ellis Miller, Selling Silk: A Merchant's Sample Book (London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 2016), 14. An ell is a measure of length equivalent to six hand breadths, or approximately forty-five inches.

46. The number of looms peaked during the period 1761–1765 at 964. See Eli. F. Hechscher, "De svenska manufakturerena under 1700–talet," Ekonomisk tidskrift 39, (1937): 156. Erroneous numbers are given in Hodacs, Silk and Tea in the North, 118.

47. See, for example, "Den 28. Sept. Angående inrikes tillwärkade siden-warors friare bruk, än de förre förordningar mot yppighet innehålla," 28 September 1736, in Utdrag utur alle ifrån 1729. års slut utkomne publique handlingar…, D. 2, Til år 1740 (Stockholm: Lorentz Ludewig Grefings, 1746), 1302–3. [End Page 41]

48. Thomas Magnusson, "… till rikets oboteliga skada och deras winning …": konflikten om Ostindiska kompaniet 1730–1747 (Göteborg: Historiska institutionen, Göteborgs universitet, 2008), 69–75.

49. Magnusson, till rikets oboteliga, 133.

50. Philip Kelsall, "The Danish Monopoly Trading Companies and Their Shareholders, 1730–1774," Scandinavian Economic History Review 47, no. 3 (1999): 6–9; Leos Müller, "The Swedish East India Trade and International Markets: Re-exports of Teas, 1731–1813," Scandinavian Economic History Review 51, no. 3 (2003): 40–42.

51. Erik Pontoppidan, Eutropii Philadelphi Oeconomiske Balance eller Uforgribelige Overslag paa Dannemarks naturlige og borgerlige Formue til at giöre sine Inbyggere lyksalige, saavidt som de selb ville skiönne derpaa og benytte sig deraf (Copenhagen: Andreas Hartwig Godiche, 1759), 267.

52. J. B. Bro Jørgensen, Industriens historie i Danmark. 2, Tiden 1730–1820 (Copenhagen: Selskabet for udgivelse af kilder til dansk historie, 1975), 115, 185–86.

53. C. Nyrop, Niels Lunde Reiersen. Et mindeskrift (Copenhagen: 1896), 199.

54. Cissie Fairchilds, "The Production and Marketing of Populuxe Goods in Eighteenth-Century Paris," in Consumption and the World of Goods, ed. John Brewer and Roy Porter (London and New York: Routledge, 1993).

55. de Vries, Industrious Revolution, 145–47.

56. Maxine Berg, Luxury and Pleasure in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2005), 86.

57. For a discussion of the color schemes of interior designs in London and Paris, see David M. Mitchell, "'My purple will be too sad for that melancholy room': Furnishings for Interiors in London and Paris, 1660–1735," Textile History 40, no. 1 (2009): 3–28.

58. Packing book of the ship Calmare, 1743, ÖA, Box 52, A 152, GLA.

59. See, for example, Negotiation protocol, vol. 1135, 19/8/1755, AKA, RAC. For examples of color-rich taffeta lots, see Försäljningskatalog vol. 8, 1747, lots 1066/168–1081/183, WUL, WDC, accessible at, (accessed 23 July 2016).

60. Hodacs, Silk and Tea in the North, 56.

61. See, for example, Negotiation protocol, vol. 1116, §16 (Instructions), signed 28 Dec. 1735, RAC, AKA.

62. Försäljningskatalog, vol. 10, 1748, lots 1/884–143/1026, WDC, WUL, accessible at (accessed 23 July 2016).

63. See for example Försäljningskatalog, vol. 4, 1742, lots 104/2429–116/2442, WDC, WUL, accessible at (accessed 23 July 2016).

64. Negotiation protocol, vol. 1116, §16 (Instructions), signed 28 Dec. 1735; Negotiation protocol, vol. 1117, § 17 (Instructions), signed 9 Jan. 1737; Negotiation protocol, vol. 1118l, §16 (Instructions), signed 11 Jan. 1738, AKA, RAC.

65. Negotiation protocol, vol. 1134, §16 (Instructions), signed 11 Jan. 1754, AKA, RAC.

66. Packing book of the ship Calmare, 1743, ÖA, Box 52, A 152, GLA.

67. Miller, Selling Silk, 42.

68. Rothstein, Silk Designs.

69. Leslie Miller, "Material Marketing: How Lyonnais Silk Manufacturers Sold Silks, 1660–1789," in Selling Textiles in the Long Eighteenth Century: Comparative Perspectives from Western Europe, ed. Jon Stobart and Bruno Blondé (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). [End Page 42]

70. Miller, Selling Silk, 20–21.

71. See for example Miller, Selling Silk, f. 4v; and Nordiska Museet, 1700-tals textil: Anders Berchs samling i Nordiska museet (Stockholm: Nordiska museet, 1990), 152–53.

72. See Table 3.2 in Hodacs, Silk and Tea in the North, 124.

73. Negotiation protocol, vol. 1120, 2 March 1741, AKA, RAC.

74. Clifford & Sons to C. Irvine, 30/9/1747, IC, JFBL, MUL.

75. See summaries of orders by the EIC (excel sheets) made to Bengal, Bombay, and Madras, accessible from (accessed 19 of July 2016).

76. See excel sheet summarizing the import of the largest batches of poisee damask pieces to Gothenburg from 1733 to 1761, found at "The Swedish Trade in Chinese Silk," (accessed 25 July 2016).

77. Invoice for goods, Calmar, Canton, 18 Jan. 1745, C. Irvine's shipping documents 1733–1759, 44–3d, IC, JFBL, MUL.

78. See summary of orders made by the EIC to Canton between 1707 and 1750 under "China," (accessed 19 of July 2016). For a detailed discussion of Irvine's private trade, see Meike von Brescius, "Private Enterprise and the China trade: British Interlopers and Their Informal Networks in Europe, c. 1720–1750," (PhD diss., Univ. of Warwick, 2016).

79. Van Dyke, Merchants, 178–80.

80. Kassa og Hovedbog, vol. 2193 (page 38), AKA, RAC.

81. Excel sheet summarizing the import of the largest batches of poisee damask pieces to Gothenburg from 1733 to 1761, found at "The Swedish Trade in Chinese Silk," (accessed 25 July 2016).

82. Clifford & Sons to C. Irvine, 30/9/1747, IC, JFBL, MUL,

83. Negotiation protocol, vol. 1120, 26 Feb. 1741, AKA, RAC.

84. See Försäljningskatalog, vol. 4, 1742, lots 204/2528–241/2566, WDC, WUL, accessible at (accessed 23 July 2016).

85. Negotiation protocol, vol. 1130, 27 July 1752, AKA, RAC.

86. Excel sheet summarizing the import of the largest batches of poisee damask pieces to Gothenburg from 1733 to 1761, found at "The Swedish Trade in Chinese Silk," (accessed 25 July 2016).

87. See Försäljningskatalog, vol. 1, 1733, lot 260, and vol. 2, 1736, lot 401, WDC, WUL, both of which can be accessed at (accessed 23 July 2016).

88. Elisabet Stavenow-Hidemark, "Notes to Catalogue," Nordiska museet, 1700-tals textile, 257; Sung Ying-Hsing, Chinese Technology in the Seventeenth Century, trans. E-tu Zen Sun and Shiou-chuan Sun (Minneapolis: Dover, 1966), 74. See also Paul Van Dyke, "Weaver Suckin and the Canton Silk Trade, 1750–1781," Review of Culture, International Edition 29, (2009): 110, where it is suggested that the term "tea colored" was used in order to get around Chinese bans on the trade in yellow colored silk textiles.

89. Madelyn Shaw, "'Shipped in Good Order': Rhode Island's China Trade Silks," in Global Trade and Visual Arts in Federal New England, ed. Patricia Johnston and Caroline Frank (Lebanon, NH: Univ. of New Hampshire Press, 2014), 124.

90. Sarah Lowengard, "Words for Color: Names, Nomenclatures, the Problems of Black and White," The Creation of Color in Eighteenth-Century Europe [electronic resource], (accessed 15 May 2015). [End Page 43]

91. The big exception is sky blue. It is also worth noticing that the 1733 SEIC sales catalogue contains no reference to jonquille; only in the second volume from 1736 can a handful of jonquille colored pieces be found.

92. Anne Kjellberg, "English 18th-Century Silks in Norway," in Seidengewebe des 18. Jahrhunderts: Die Industrien in England und in Nordeuropa, ed. Regula Schorta (Riggisberg: Abegg-Stiftung Riggisberg, 2000).

93. William Farrell, "Silk and Globalisation in Eighteenth-Century London: Commodities, People and Connections c.1720–1800," (PhD diss., Univ. of London, Birkbeck College, 2014).

94. See articles by Camilla Luise Dahl, Piia Lempiäinen, and Vibe Maria Martens in Fashionable Encounters: Perspectives and Trends in Textile and Dress in the Early Modern Nordic World, ed. Tove Engelhardt Mathiassen et al. (Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2014).

95. On traces of cotton consumption in Härjedalen Sweden, see also Marie Ulväng, "Kattunspår i Härjedalen 1750–1850," in Dolda innovationer. Textila produkter och ny teknik under 1800-talet (Stockholm: Kulturhistoriska bokförlaget, 2013).

96. Bo Lönnqvist, "Siden, sammet, trasa, lump … Klädestilar i Helsingfors på 1740-talet," in Narika 1981, ed. L. Arkio and M.-L. Lampinen (Helsinki: Helsingin kaupunginmuseo, 1982), 112, 129.

97. "Förteckning på siden kläder af klara couleurer som i följe af kongl. förordningen, blifwit hos följande af academie staten stämplade," upprättad 14–16 april 1740, E IIIa, vol. 39, 1740, 1505–1515, Uppsala University Archive; Hall- och manufakturrätten i Västererås, C1, Diarier 1740–1813, Inkomna skrivelser och akter, Stämplingsrekvisitionssedlar 1740–1774, Uppsala Landsarkiv.

98. Daniel Roche, The Culture of Clothing: Dress and Fashion in the Ancien Régime (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996), 118–50.

99. See examples of this kind of reasoning in Miller, Selling Silk, 23. [End Page 44]

Additional Information

Print ISSN
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.