All in the Mix at the 19th C Blantyre Dyeworks: Synthetic Violets and Coloured Pigments

Quye, A. , Wertz, J. , van Bommel, M., Joosten, I. and Carruthers, K. (2014) All in the Mix at the 19th C Blantyre Dyeworks: Synthetic Violets and Coloured Pigments. In: 33rd Annual Meeting of Dyes in History and Archaeology, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK, 29 Oct - 1 Nov 2014,

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In the collections of the National Trust for Scotland’s (NTS) David Livingstone Centre, Blantyre, is a vial of coloured solid particulate material, described in the collection record as: “Glass tube of dye, found by plot holders on the site of the old Dye Works” (Object 384) It has no strong provenance for where or when it was found, but it is speculated to relate to the dye works and textile mills that operated in this part of Blantyre from 1794 until 1904, mainly by the Menteith family. Like other Scottish textile producers around Glasgow of that era, these works produced Turkey red cloth. Hence it has long been expected that the vial contents relate to the Turkey red processes undertaken there. The NTS asked the CTCTAH to analyse the contents to understand the artefact’s significance and legitimacy of its association with Blantyre’s past dye and textile works. Initial low-power light microscopy revealed the hard granular contents as an inhomogeneous mixture of yellow, red-brown, purple-red and white particulates that looked more inorganic than organic. Infrared microspectroscopy of one white particle indicated a carbonate, but gave no result for a purple particle which was thought to be an organic colorant. With the new dye analysis facility at the CTCTAH under development at the time, the analytical investigation continued in collaboration with the State Service for Cultural Heritage (RCE). Ultra performance liquid chromatography with photo diode array detection (UPLC-PDA) revealed an early synthetic dye, either Methyl Violet, a pararosaniline basic dye in commercial production from 1866, or partially photo-degraded Crystal Violet, a related dye available from 1883. There was no detectable evidence for natural madder or synthetic alizarin which were widely used in nineteenth century Europe for Turkey red textiles. Particulates that might be calcium carbonate and quartz were identified by scanning electron microscopy with energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (SEM-EDS), also at the RCE. Yellow and red-brown particles in the mix were composed of iron oxides and iron hydroxides. These might be coloured pigments. Further analysis by xray diffraction (XRD) at National Museums Scotland is planned to identify the minerals to shed light on any relevance to textile dyeing and printing. To date the vial does appear to be connected to textile dyes, maybe indicating dyeing and printing activity for Turkey red cloth or other textiles, but not the Turkey red dyeing process itself. With the significance of the vial now revealed, conservation considerations for display and access are important because both of the possible synthetic dyes are light-sensitive. It is remarkable that this fragile vial seems to have survived on exposed ground for some years, and fascinating that it might provide us with primary source evidence of past Scottish textile production. Understanding what the mixture represents requires more investigation into the dyed textile activities of nineteenth century Scotland, through the likes of the research network ReCREATE

Item Type:Conference Proceedings
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Wertz, Julie and Quye, Dr Anita
Authors: Quye, A., Wertz, J., van Bommel, M., Joosten, I., and Carruthers, K.
College/School:College of Arts > School of Culture and Creative Arts > History of Art
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