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Trade Blankets

Blankets were an extremely desirable item in the fur trade.  In addition to providing bedding and warm wraps, blankets were used for clothing, most notably capotes, as wrappers to hold and carry goods and supplies, and as inner liners for cached supplies.  During the 1600's trade and loyalty of many of the eastern Indian tribes was determined based on the quality of the blankets offered.  The superior quality of English manufactured strouds over French blankets convinced many Indian tribes to trade with the British. 

Additionally, the thickness or weight of the blanket might also vary from lightweight to heavyweight.  Points (black lines stitched, woven or died into one corner of the blanket) were assigned based on the weight and size of the blanket.  One point was given to the smallest blankets, whereas the largest blankets were assigned four points.  There was no standardization of sizes and a 2 point blanket from one manufacturer might not be equivalent to that of another manufacturer.  In general, the size and weight of point blankets would be roughly equivalent to those shown in the following table.  

Points

Size (Inches) Weight 
1 Point 34X44 1 lb. 8.5 oz.
1 Points 36X48 1 lb. 8.5 oz.
2 Points 48X54 2 lb. 3.5 oz
2 Points 51X64 3 lb. 5.5 oz.
3 Points 62X72  
3 Points    5 lb.
4 Points     6 lb

During the 1800's, as well as during earlier periods, blankets were woven as a pair, with one side in common.  They were then sold as a pair, or could be split apart if the customer desired.  

The number of blankets, and the size and colors taken to rendezvous varied greatly from year to year. The following table shows a general distribution of colors and sizes of blankets taken as determined from available rendezvous inventories.  The costs given are St. Louis prices, actual prices paid in the mountains would have been considerably higher.  Traditionally, in the wilderness, a blanket sold for one beaver skin per point, or three beaver skins for a 3-Point blanket.

No.

Unit

Item Cost
120 pair 3-Point White $8/pair
15 pair 3-Point Scarlet $8/pair
31 pair 3-Point Green $8/pair
10 pair 3-Point Blue $7/pair
20 pair 2 -Point White $5/pair
8 1/2 pair 2-Point White $3/pair
10 pair 1-Point White $1.16/pair

From the above table it can be seen that white blankets dominate the trade, followed by green scarlet and blue.  The white blanket with the candi-stripes or multi-stripes of red/blue/yellow is mainly an early 1800's and later blanket.  The earliest reference that anyone has so far found for this type of blanket is 1795. So it is generally considered a western Rocky Mountain fur trade era blanket.

So what did a red blanket look like?  Do modern Hudson's Bay or Whitney blankets look anything like the blankets traded in the early 1800's.  Karl Bodmer captured the appearance of some of these trade blankets while painting Indians during Prince Maximilian's expedition up the Missouri River in 1833-34.  Click on the thumbnails below for a larger image showing the blankets.  

BodmerRedBlanket1.jpg (108891 bytes)A young Piegan with a trade blanket at Fort McKenzie.  He wears a red blanket with two broad black, or dark blue stripes along the edge.

 

 

BodmerWhiteBlankets1.jpg (158919 bytes)A young Kutenai dressed in the fashion of the Mandans and Minnetarees.  He wears two white blankets, one with a single broad blue stripe along the edge, the other with a pattern of broad and narrow stripes along an edge.  This particular individual also wears glass beads in his hair and brass trade rings on his fingers.  There appear to be brass buttons attached to the ends of his braids.  

BodmerSpanishBlanket1.jpg (198552 bytes)A Piegan wearing a Spanish trade blanket.  The blanket is completely striped with broad black and white stripes, with zones of relatively narrower black and blue stripes.  

 

 

For more information on trade blankets see:

The Blanket: An Illustrated History of the Hudson's Bay Point Blanket

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