Hudson's Bay point blanket
A Hudson's Bay point blanket is a type of wool blanket traded by the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) in British North America (now Canada) and the United States during the 1700s and 1800s. The company is named for Hudson Bay and the blankets were typically traded to First Nations in exchange for beaver pelts. The blankets continue to be sold by Canada's Hudson's Bay stores and have come to hold iconic status in Canada. In the United States, they can be found at the luxury department store and Hudson's Bay former sister chain Lord & Taylor.
In the North American fur trade, by 1700, wool blankets accounted for more than 60 per cent of traded goods. French fur-trader Germain Maugenest is thought to have advised the HBC to introduce point blankets.
Originally point blankets had a single stripe across each end, usually in blue or red. In the mid-1800s blankets began to be produced with a green stripe, red stripe, yellow stripe and indigo stripe on a white background; the four stripe colours were popular and easily produced using good colourfast dyes at that time. In 1798 a mill owner received a purchase order for "30 pair[s] of 3 points to be striped with four colors (red, blue, green, yellow) according to your judgement." to be manufactured in Witney, Oxfordshire, a town famous for its woollen blankets since the Middle Ages.
From the early days of the fur trade, wool blankets were made into hooded coats called capotes by both natives and French Canadian voyageurs, which were well suited to Canada's cold winters.[unreliable source?]
Points are short black lines woven into the selvage of the blanket along the edge just above the bottom set of stripes. About four inches in length (except in the case of half points, which are two inches), they indicate the finished overall size (area) of a blanket and allow a blanket's size to be easily determined even when folded. The point system was invented by French weavers in the mid-1700s since then, as now, blankets were shrunk as part of the manufacturing process. The word point derives from the French empointer, meaning "to make threaded stitches on cloth."
Over the centuries the sizes of blankets have shifted, particularly during the 1900s as beds became larger. Blankets of 2.5, 3, 3.5 and 4 point were most common during the fur trade era. Today Hudson's Bay blankets are commonly found in point sizes of 3.5 (twin bed), 4 (double), 6 (queen) and 8 (king).
The misconception persists that originally the points were an indication of the blanket price in beaver pelts or even its weight. Thickness and quality are the same blanket to blanket, and a larger blanket will naturally weigh more.
Versions of the blanket are available at Hudson's Bay stores throughout Canada. Solid colours are available, as is the classic pattern featuring the green, red, yellow, and indigo stripes. The blankets have always been made in England; today they are made by John Atkinson, a sub brand of A.W. Hainsworth & Sons Ltd.
Wools from Britain and New Zealand are used in the manufacture of blankets.
The official licensee allowed to import Hudson's Bay Blankets into the United States for commercial sale is Woolrich Inc. of Pennsylvania. Five U.S. retailers currently sell the blankets to consumers: Woolrich, Lord & Taylor (former sister chain to Hudson's Bay), L.L.Bean, Getz's Department Store in Marquette, Michigan and Johnson Woolen Mills.[failed verification]
Genuine point blankets have become very collectible and could fetch prices up to thousands of dollars. The main determinants of value include age, size, colour, pattern rarity and condition. Particularly collectible point blankets are the Coronation blankets: the one produced for the 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II brings approximately $600 if in mint condition while examples of the even rarer 1937 Coronation blanket have sold for as high as $1300.
In 1890, HBC began adding labels to their blankets because point blankets of similar quality were being sold by HBC competitors from such manufacturers as Early's of Witney.
In April 2017, HBC updated the label, rotating it from portrait to landscape, making it easy to display English and French on either side of the crest, which has been enhanced with red on the flag. To celebrate Canada's 150th Anniversary in 2017, HBC added an additional label to the blanket: a picture of voyageurs in a canoe, with "Canada" printed at the top.
On 2 May 2020, HBC celebrated its 350th anniversary. It has rereleased a series of special, limited-edition blankets in a variety of historic colourways and patterns. It added a 'Special Edition' label with a picture of the sailing vessel Nonsuch and the words 'Celebrating HBC's 350th Anniversary'.
- The Sky Blue Hudson's Bay Point Blanket - February
- The Camel Hudson's Bay Point Blanket - March
- The Ice Cream Hudson's Bay Point Blanket - April
- The 350 Commemorative Hudson's Bay Point Blanket - May
- The Gold Hudson's Bay Point Blanket - June
- The Scarlet Hudson's Bay Point Blanket - July
Name in First Nations languages
The Hudson's Bay blanket was called by different names in First Nations languages. Some examples are:
- Baahlaads gyaa'adaay, Haida language
- p̓a̱lx̱a̱lasǥa̱m, Kwak'wala
- ʔa·q̓unaq, Kutenai language
- "Hudson's Bay Point Blanket". HBC. Retrieved 2 March 2018.
- "Germain Maugenest". Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Retrieved 2 March 2018.
- Greenbaum, Hilary (September 19, 2011). "Who Made That Hudson's Bay Blanket?". The New York Times. Retrieved September 29, 2011.
- Clare Sumner. "history Witney Blanket Story – A brief history of the wool trade in the Witney area". Witneyblanketstory.org.uk. Retrieved 13 November 2011.
- "the native canadian". Nativecanadian.ca. Retrieved October 19, 2013.
- "History of the Blanket | England's Finest Blankets". February 26, 2018.
- "The Hudson's Bay Company Point Blanket: FAQs". Hbc.com. November 26, 2012. Retrieved January 11, 2016.
- "Point blankets and North America". Genuine Witney Blanket Story. Retrieved 2 March 2018.
- "FirstVoices: Hlg̱aagilda X̱aayda Kil words". Retrieved July 10, 2012.
- "FirstVoices: Kwak̓wala words". Retrieved July 10, 2012.
- "FirstVoices: Ktunaxa words". Retrieved July 10, 2012.
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