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The Trading Eurasia East India Traded Textiles to Europe Glossary

The Trading Eurasia Project specifically seeks to cross the boundaries of social, economic, and material culture history, and through the postdoctoral monographs, and research of the Ph.D. student, the project has focused in part or whole, on East India Company textiles traded to Europe. By drawing on existing textile glossaries, contemporary descriptions - for example in newspaper advertisements, and existing textile samples we have begun to create a single glossary drawing these sources together, initially to assist the project team. This project is merely a tentative start, but we hope that others may help us identify the textiles which correlate to the the order lists we make available from the project on the website.

The current list of 131 textiles derive from transcripts of English and Dutch East India Company order lists from the first half of the eighteenth century, from which textile names have been extracted by Sheilagh Holmes. For the English East India Company details of the orders sent out to its four principal commercial centres in Asia – Madras, Canton, Bombay and Calcutta – between 1708 and 1753 have been used, part of a larger database constructed for this project by Tim Davies (See further: The Dutch lists used detail the orders sent out by the Dutch East India Company to the Governor-General and the High Government in Batavia (modern Jakarta), who after discussing them in their council, sent them to their centre in Asia – Batavia– between 1707 and 1757. The orders contained in this database can be found in the National Archives series (‘VOC resoluties’). Specifically, the spreadsheets have been compiled from the ‘Eisen der Retouren’ or demands for returns in books NA/VOC/159-173. database. For further information on this database see:

The Glossary includes illustrations of samples where possible, and information on their source, and fields covering Place of Origin: Finish: Material:Dimensions when ordered:Market: Colours: Pattern: Notes which give information from previous glossaries and Contemporary Notes that provide quotations from primary 17th to early 19th century sources.

It has been extremely difficult locating named textile samples. Most museum collections contain textiles that were accessioned without contemporary nomenclature. We can only guess what they would originally have been called. Other sources are a little too late. For example The Textile Manufactures of India, is an 18 volume set of fabric sample books put together in 1866 by John Forbes Watson, Reporter on the Products of India, to show British manufacturers the types of fabrics made in South Asia. Twenty copies were published by the India Office of the British Government. Each page contains a textile sample measuring about 35 x 20cm along with information about where it was made, how it was worn or used, and the price, size and weight of the original fabric from which the sample was cut. The volumes given to Preston are now in the collection of the Harris Museum & Art Gallery and are still in their original display case, and have been digitised. The website ( makes all 700 textile samples in these books available to explore digitally for the first time. You can browse through the fabrics by volume, or you can search according to categories such as material, object type, pattern, decorative technique or use. There is also an index of technical terms and an advanced search function. This resource is rather late for the purposes of this Glossary, but does reveal the importance of white textiles, which are by far the most numerous, compared with textiles in museum collections which tend to favour the patterned and colourful. Of the 700 samples in the Forbes Watson Collection, only 14 match names in this Glossary, and most of these have also been found in earlier eighteenth century sources. Florence M. Montgomery (1984), illustrates a 'Figure Bafta' and 'Guinea cloths' but they are from a scrapbook made in the 1880s. She does however illustrate a silk pullicate handkerchief from a book watermarked 1787, (Cooper Hewitt Museum gift of Mrs Samuel S. Walker, (p.329), a taffeta, (p.359) from a trader's book kept between 1797 and 1809, from the Rhode Island Historical Society and a Half-silk Morea, from the Journal fur Fabrik, February 1792, p.155 (Winterthur Museum Library), p.301. The paucity of samples gives an idea of the difficulty of locating the material evidence.

Thanks to Erik Goebel, Senior Researcher at the Danish National Archives we have been allowed to use textiles samples pasted into a Swedish East India Company Sales Catalog (1735), containing goods brought home by the ship Ulrica Elenora, held in the archive of the Danish West Indian Company (Vestindisk-Guineisk Kompagni), in the series: Charles Barringtons med Grevinden af Laurwigen hjemførte arkiv,1725-1738, Volume 219, Danish National Archive (Rigsarkivet), Copenhagen. This was located by Hanna Hodacs in the process of her research for the Project. It is referred to in Jan Parmentier's, De holle compagnie: Smokkel en legal handle onder Zuinederlandse lag in Bangalen, c.1720-1744, 1992. Dr Goebel also drew our attention to the Danish West India and Guinea Company ledger, Box 121 which contains two pages of samples. There are also many other unexplored sources. For example in his article ‘Chinese Export Silks for the Dutch in the 18th Century’ (Transactions of the Oriental Ceramics Society, vol.73, 2008-9, pp.1-23) Christiaan J.A. Jorg mentions that the fabric sample books of Chinese silks ordered by the VOC in the National Archives at the Hague (Canton Factory Archive 53) ‘have never been systematically researched. Such a study will yield much information on the types of export silks’.

Helen Clifford
Museum Consultant, Trading Eurasia 1600-1830
20 August 2014