Saturday, October 14, 2017

Chintzes for the Portuguese 6: We're All Portuguese

 Collection of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum.

1858 cartoon of Queen Victoria as Empress of India with
one of her many subjects.

There was a time when England was the center of the universe (or at least thought they were.) They dismissed the rest of us with descriptions high and low from Colonials to (well, I won't say).
Apparently, one of the more polite terms for the Rest of the World was Portuguese.

In 1872 a discussion in the House of Commons centered on French, Belgian and German competition in the fabric export trade. The speeches were not concise:
"The Portuguese market is a small one and its requirements are to a certain extent peculiar to itself and it is a well known characteristic of the British manufacturer that he does not care to adapt his productions to meet the demands of any market [but] an extensive one."
The competition, however was "ready to bestow any pains on suiting their fabrics to the taste of any class of customers, however small....This market...[for fancy goods] once almost monopolized by Great Britain...has for many years been relaxing, and is getting more and more into the hands of foreigners."
What they were complaining about was that by 1872 Britain's formerly fabulous export business had now "relaxed" into a shadow of its former self---due to foreign competition.

But the point here is in the first sentence. The speaker describes the world-wide export customers as the "Portuguese market."

In a similar discussion a member questioned a witness in 1813: "I understand a great deal of the printed cotton is for the Portuguese and others....Are not the people commonly called Portuguese ...natives of India?" The witness had confused the member by using Portuguese as a shorthand term for people born in India. 

 "Portuguese Print"about 1855
made for world-wide export. Collection of the V&A Museum.

The Victoria & Albert Museum's caption:
"This inexpensive printed furnishing cotton is a rare surviving example of an export cotton produced in Lancashire in the mid-19th century. Although the so-called 'Portuguese prints' such as this were produced...mainly for the Portuguese, Spanish and South American markets....they were used elsewhere..."
Distinguishing characteristics: exotic flowers, bright colors.

It seems that the "Portuguese market" was synonymous with the export market. Somehow through centuries of trade with the Portuguese in India, Africa and South America, the textile trade came to use the term Portuguese to refer to their world-wide customers. We were all Portuguese.

Whole cloth quilt, detail. Collection of the Cooper Hewitt Museum. The caption:
Quilt (Portugal), 1840; cotton; Gift of Mrs. Ralph P. Hanes; 1978-167-1

Made in Portugal?
Or made of a "Portuguese Print," a British export cotton?

Another Cooper-Hewitt cotton labeled "Textile (Portugal), mid-19th century."
Donated in 1932.

Do a search at the Cooper-Hewitt site for textiles and the word Portugal.

Apron, Portugal. Late 19th-early 20th-century.

Some items do appear to have been made in Portugal; others not so much.

Above, another print from Portugal in the Cooper-Hewitt.
Below, same print from Cynthia Collier's Collection.

Cynthia pointed out that Kaye England did a Portuguese stripe interpretation
several years ago in her Matters of the Heart line...

And Waverly did an upholstery weight repro in
their Colors of Provence line. The stripe is "Rochelle."

UPDATE: I bought a yard and a half of Rochelle on line
and it arrived yesterday. Dottie is showing you how
big those baskets are.


  1. The apron reminds me of Portuguese pottery.

  2. Thanks for this interesting series, Barbara. While the act of quilting is fun and a link to women in the past, articles like this add a real richness to those links. It's very good to know more about how the economy and design worked.