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General FAQs

HBC Point Blanket FAQs

  1. What are points and what do they mean?
  2. What do the colours of the stripes mean?
  3. Where are point blankets made today?
  4. How can I determine the age of my blanket?
  5. I have an old HBC point blanket. Is it valuable?
  6. Can I wash my blanket? How should I take care of it?
  7. What colours have the blankets been made in?
  8. My blanket has four sets of stripes and is twice as long as it should be. Is this a mistake?
  9. Do you still sell blanket coats?
  10. I live in the U.S. Where can I purchase HBC point blankets?
  11. How long has Hudson's Bay Company been selling blankets?
  12. What was a traditional capote like?
  13. Where can I find out more information about HBC point blankets?
  14. Why is the blanket stripe blue in your advertising when it's actually black?
  15. I live in the U.K. or Europe. Where can I purchase HBC point blankets?
  16. I have heard that HBC sent blankets infested with smallpox to infect the First Nations.  Is there any truth to this story?

 

 

What are points and what do they mean?

Advertisement from The Beaver, 1960

Advertisement from The Beaver, 1960

The points are the short black lines woven into the blanket just above the bottom bar or set of stripes. They are about 4 inches in length, unless they are half points, in which case they are 2 inches in length. The "point" system was invented by French weavers in the mid 18th c. as a means of indicating the finished overall size (area) of a blanket, since then, as now, blankets were shrunk or felted as part of the manufacturing process. The word point derives from the French empointer meaning "to make threaded stitches on cloth". Our first pointed blankets were made in 1780, although we had been selling unpointed blankets since our founding in 1670.

 

Over the centuries the sizes of blankets have shifted from time to time, particularly during the 20th c. as beds became larger. Blankets of 2.5, 3, 3.5 and 4 point were most common during the fur trade era. Today HBC offers blankets in the following sizes: 3.5 (Twin), 4 (Double), 6 (Queen) and 8 (King).

The misconception persists that originally the points were an indication of the blanket price in beaver pelts. This is false. From time to time, given market forces, there was a congruence of prices and points - whereby a 2 pt. blanket might "cost" 2 beaver pelts. But this was merely coincidental. The larger sized blankets weigh more and thus have always cost more; however, thickness and quality are the same blanket to blanket. This remains true today, except in the case of the caribou throw, a fringed afghan-sized blanket which is of a lighter weight than the bedding blankets. It also has narrower stripes than the blanket, scaled down appropriately for its smaller size.

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What do the colours of the stripes mean?

Nothing intentional. The four traditional colours (green, red, yellow and indigo) were simply colours that were popular and easily produced using good colourfast dyes at the time that the multistripe blanket was introduced about 1800. These four colours are sometimes known as Queen Anne's colours since they first became popular during her reign (1702 - 1714).

However, these colours have always had special significance for aboriginal people, who were, after all, HBC's original customers. Green is taken to mean "new life", red often stands for "battle or hunt", yellow relates to "harvest" and "sunshine" and blue represents "water". Aboriginal people were very discerning, and colour patterns frequently changed to meet their requirements.

The earliest reference to the multistripe pattern is from a 1798 order from the London HQ to Thomas Empson of Witney (Oxfordshire) for "30 pairs of 3 points to be striped with four colours (red, blue, green, yellow) according to your judgment." The modern "order" of the stripes - green, red, yellow and indigo - was not standardized until the mid to late 19th c.

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Where are point blankets made today?

Hudson's Bay Company point blankets are made in England by John Atkinson & Sons, a division of
A. W. Hainsworth & Sons Ltd.

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How can I determine the age of my blanket?

The blanket label is the best tool to date a blanket: its colour, size, colour of thread, text and layout of the text all provides useful information regarding date of manufacture. Size (dimensions) of blanket and blanket colour are also extremely useful.

While HBC Heritage Services is not in a position to advise on the age of any blanket, here are a few general guidelines:

  • Early labels were usually red on white and fairly consistent in size, being roughly 1.5" x 2.5" give or take a quarter or eight of an inch
  • By the 1940s the label size changed to about 3.5" x 3"
  • Bilingual labels were introduced in 1970
  • Six point (Queen-size) blankets were introduced in the mid to late 1960s
  • Eight-point (King-size) blankets were introduced in the mid to late 1980s
  • Use of the text ALL WOOL was discontinued by 1950
  • Use of the text 100% WOOL began in 1950
  • The U.S. Registration No. 220747was first issued in 1926

 

Author and HBC point blanket collector Harold Tichenor has published a guide for collectors.

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I have an old HBC point blanket. Is it valuable?

Yes. In recent years genuine HBC point blankets have become very collectible and may command prices in the hundreds of dollars. Factors affecting value include age, size, colour, rarity and condition. HBC Heritage Services is not in a position to advise on the value of any item. We do not offer appraisals and indeed rely on experts to provide them to us when required. A service such as e-Bay is a good place to check current market trends in collectibles. Author and HBC point blanket collector Harold Tichenor has published a guide for collectors.

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Can I wash my blanket? How should I take care of it?

Yes. HBC point blankets are made of 100% wool and are pre-shrunk as part of the manufacturing process. So you can hand wash your blanket in a gentle detergent like Zero or Woollite. The trick is in the drying. You must gently press or blot the water out by wrapping it in towels: NEVER WRING THE BLANKET. Then lay it out flat to dry, preferably in the shade on your lawn. Since this is pretty awkward for most people, dry cleaning is the recommended care. With normal use your blanket ought not to need dry cleaning very often. But be sure to dry clean:

  • If you have recently acquired a second-hand blanket, to ensure that no moth eggs infest it; or
  • If the blanket is one of the pastel colour series

 General Care: Brush your blanket occasionally to raise the nap and dislodge any foreign particles which might be trapped in the fibres. Store it in a cedar chest or closet (preferred) when not in use to protect it from moth damage. If you haven't got either then wrap securely in an old bed sheet or pair of cotton pillowcases; do not store in plastic or vinyl as you risk damage from humidity. Store folded or hung from a hanger but if storing for any period of time be sure to re-fold so creases do not become permanent. With proper care there is no reason why your blanket should not last for decades - or even longer.

 Manufacturer A. W. Hainsworth & Sons Ltd. recommends the following process for treating stains.

Apply a small amount of dry cleaning solvent (PB Blaster Aqueous-Based Degreaser or Scotchgard™ Spot Remover & Upholstery Cleaner (Aerosol)) to a white terry towel and blot the stain. Continue until no further transfer of material to the towel is apparent. If the stain remains proceed to the next step.

  • Mix 1/2 tsp. of dish washing soap or fine fabric detergent into 1 (8 oz.) cup of warm water.
  • Apply a small amount, blot or tamp and repeat until the stain is removed. Be patient. Complete removal may require repeating the same step several times. Tamp down on the blanket; do not scrub as this may distort the texture of the pile
  • Cover the stain with the towel and press down repeatedly to absorb the stain material and detergent.
  • Once the stain is completely removed, rinse the area with cold water; blot with a dry white terry towel until all moisture is removed. Repeat this process several times to remove cleaning solution residue. (Residue can attract soils).
  • If the spot or stain turns brownish when dry, mix 1 part white vinegar and two parts water. Apply a small amount and blot. Repeat only once.

Precautions: Never use a stronger concentration than is recommended. Never use laundry detergent or automatic dish washing detergents because they may destroy or dye some fibres. Never use non-volatile solvents as they can cause delamination in synthetic carpets either immediately or over a period of time. Non-volatile solvents do not dissipate at room temperature & will remain in your blanket. Instead apply the solvent to a white terry towel and blot the stained area. Never use highly combustible solvents such as gasoline or paint thinners.

As to repair and care, here is our best advice.  Our blanket expert recommends invisible weaving to address small tears.  This service is often provided by dry cleaning & tailoring establishments. Fraying is not an uncommon problem although typically it is more of an issue with older blankets.  That being said it is relatively rare with HBC blankets because of the way that they are made. In fact our blankets are woven about one and a half times their final width and are shrunk to their final size as part of the manufacturing process.  This ensures a very tight weave which not only provides superior warmth and insulation but also resists fraying.

That being said it does sometimes occur,  esp. if they have been washed a lot.  Normally removing that single thread is sufficient to stabilize the condition and will not contribute to further loss.  If you are concerned about it, though, a few fine overcast stitches along the edge will help secure the last bit of yarn. You should use very fine embroidery wool in the same colour as your blanket.  Embroidery wool comes in skeins where multiple strands have been twisted into a single yarn.  These are easily separated with the eye of a darning needle.  Alternatively, if you do remove a single strand of yarn from the blanket itself, this could be used for overcasting. We recommend hand finishing for this type of repair.

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Blanket department, Hbc Winnipeg, 1963 HBCA 1987/363-W-316/224

Blanket department, HBC Winnipeg, 1963
HBCA 1987/363-W-316/224

 

What colours have the blankets been made in?

Point blankets were traditionally made in plain red, white, green or blue fields with single bars of deep indigo near each end. In the fur trade era white was by far the most common colour, with bars in indigo, red, or blue. The multistripe pattern was introduced in 1798 and became very popular - so much so that it is sometimes known as "traditional".

The "Pastel Tones" - in sky blue, violet, reseda (green), gold and rose - were introduced in 1929. Designed to fit in with more modern décor they were tone-on-tone and featured bars and points in a deeper shade. These were joined by the mid 1930s by the "Imperial Tones" - Coronation Blue (Royal blue with red bars and points), Harvest Gold (with indigo) and Highland Heather (Royal purple with off white) - and the "Deep Tones", which included Coraline (vermilion red), Pine Green, Cranberry and Caramel. HBC has an image in our photo collection of the Saskatoon store in 1939 and there are about 20 -25 different colours offered. Most of these colours were out of production by the 1960s. Today blankets are produced in the following colours:

  • Multistripe
  • Brown Stripe - four stripes in shades of brown (introduced in 2000 as the Millenium pattern)
  • White with black bar
  • Scarlet with black bar
  • Green with black bar

 

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My blanket has four sets of stripes and is twice as long as it should be. Is this a mistake?

No. What you have is what is called an "unseparated pair" of HBC point blankets. This is just what it sounds like: a doubly long blanket that has not been separated into 2 singles. Blankets are woven on long continuous rolls of about 25 pairs (50 singles) to a bolt. Until the 1970s they were separated into pairs by the manufacturer, packaged and shipped as pairs. They were separated only at the point of sale. A small nick or cut in the selvage of the blankets was made and the blankets were literally torn apart along the grain - much to the amusement to staff who loved to "surprise" unsuspecting buyers! They were also priced "by the pair" until the late 1950s or early 1960s. Unseparated pairs were particularly useful for campers and other outdoorsmen. By folding the pair in half a simple sleeping bag was created. Until the advent of modern outdoor gear HBC blankets were often used in this fashion. Today all blankets are separated and packaged as singles during the manufacturing process. Unseparated pairs are highly collectible, so don't tear them apart.

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Do you still sell blanket coats?

Classic HBC blanket coats were last made in 2000 and are regularly found at second hand stores where they can command strong prices. They also regularly appear on eBay.

For the launch of the HBC Signature Collection for the fall/winter season of 2003 the coat was revamped. The line offered classic duffle and commuter style coats made in a special doubleface wool by well-known UK manufacturer Gloverall. These coats, in scarlet, grey, navy or multistripe exteriors with coordinating dark or light HBC tartan linings, were available only for a few seasons.

In December 2009, Hudson's Bay introduced its new Hudson's Bay Company Collection — an aspirational Canadian lifestyle brand featuring fashion apparel, accessories, home decor and specialty seasonal items. To celebrate the launch of the collection, ten Canadian fashion designers were invited to create one-of-a-kind coats from a Hudson's Bay Company Point Blanket. Comrags, Erdem Moralioglu, Harricana par Mariouche, Jeremy Laing, Klaxon Howl, Krane, Lida Baday, Pink Tartan, Smythe and Todd Lynn participated. Each was given a Point Blanket in the colour of their choice to create a contemporary coat.

There were no limitations on the imagination and creativity the designers brought to the table. The resulting gallery-worthy showcase pieces included a vast range of styles, including: bomber jacket, three-quarter length men's and women's car coats, capelet, and a full-length fur-trimmed coat — including one silhouette with a bustle!

A special order of 100 units of the Smythe design - a hooded swing coat - was made for sale at the 2010 Winter Olympic Superstore in Vancouver. The coat was so popular that the HBC Collection Smythe coat continues to be produced in limited quantities today. In addition to the Smythe coat, HBC Collections has collaborated with Pendleton to create a duffle coat and a peacoat featuring our signature stripes, both of which can be found in stores and online.  

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I live in the U.S. Where can I purchase HBC point blankets?

Woolrich, Inc. holds the exclusive licence for HBC blankets in the U.S., i.e. they are the only company allowed to import them. They are available from Woolrich, L.L. Bean, Lord & Taylor, and Getz Department Store. All these companies offer the blankets for sale on their websites.

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How long has Hudson's Bay Company been selling blankets?

Hudson's Bay Company has been selling blankets from the beginning. In 1668, 2 years before the granting of the Royal Charter, the Nonsuch sailed to Hudson Bay on a speculative voyage to prove the feasibility of the northern fur trade route. Among the trade goods she carried were woolen blankets. Blankets have always been a staple of the trade.

 

R.M. Ballantyne, Clerk and Chief Trader George Barnston arrive at Tadoussac, 6 February 1846 by Charles Fraser Comfort, 1941

R.M. Ballantyne, Clerk and Chief Trader George Barnston arrive at Tadoussac, 6 February 1846 by Charles Fraser Comfort, 1941

 

What was a traditional capote like?

The capote - a wrap coat made from an HBC blanket - was a common garment among the first nations. Many, many versions of the capote were made, and variations in style were common: with or without hood, embroidered, beaded or with leather fringing. In fact personalization was the norm. The Métis style became perhaps the best known. Hooded, embellished with fringing and closed with a bright Assomption sash, the coat became a staple for HBC's explorers and traders as well. Easy to make, warm and water-repellent, the capote was made for the Canadian climate.

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Where can I find out more information about HBC point blankets?

For more information, visit the HBC Point Blanket page. You might also want to consult The Blanket: An Illustrated History of the Hudson's Bay Point Blanket, written by noted HBC point blanket collector Harold Tichenor. The Blanket was published in 2002 and is for sale at selected Hudson's Bay stores for $19.95. It is also available in the U.S. from Woolrich, Inc. If you are interested in collecting, you should look at The Collector's Guide to Point Blankets of the Hudson's Bay Company and other companies trading in North America, also by Harold Tichenor. It is available direct from the author.

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Why is the blanket stripe blue in your advertising when it's actually black?

In fact, the black bar or stripe is not really black at all but indigo - a very, very dark blue. On solid-coloured blankets the intense contrast of the background and the stripe makes the indigo appear black while in the multistripe pattern, on the cream background, it is clearly dark blue. Indigo is a natural dye which produces a very inky blue/black. From time to time HBC has experimented with other dyes for the black - most notably during the First World War - but the results were not at all successful and since 1923 indigo has been used exclusively.

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I live in the U.K. or Europe. Where can I purchase HBC point blankets?

We are happy to arrange overseas sales for our British and European customers. Please contact us directly via email for further information.

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I have heard that HBC sent blankets infested with smallpox to infect the First Nations. Is there any truth to this story?

No, Hudson’s Bay Company had nothing to do with the story of the use of smallpox blankets as biological warfare.

The story of smallpox blankets comes from letters of General Sir Jeffrey Amherst, commander of the British forces in North America in 1763 during the Seven Years War. In a letter Amherst, who had a dislike and contempt of the indigenous population, made the suggestion to his Colonel Henry Bouquet that smallpox might be introduced to the aboriginal population. Bouquet wrote back saying that perhaps blankets and handkerchiefs could be infected. Scholars do not know if these comments about using smallpox as biological warfare were ever acted upon. 

Smallpox first emerged in ancient East Asia and spread through the Middle East, India, Africa and Europe. The mortality rate is around 30-35% but can be much higher. In Canada, smallpox first struck in 1616 in Tadoussac, France’s first North American trading post. The disease was unknown to First Nations and they had no natural immunity, unlike Europeans. From Tadoussac, the disease quickly spread through tribes in the Maritimes, James Bay and Great Lakes region. Around the same time, British settlers arrived with smallpox in the Boston Bay area, wiping out almost 90% of the local Algonquin tribes.

Edward Jenner invented a smallpox vaccination in Britain in 1796, arriving in  North America shortly thereafter. Smallpox among First Nations was often of great concern to HBC traders who witnessed the devastating impact first hand. HBC employees did their best to control the spread of the disease through early quarantine and providing care for already infected individuals. After an outbreak on the prairies in 1837, the Company started a vaccination program with a goal to inoculate everyone within its territory. This goal was aided by HBC’s transportation and organizational structures already in place throughout western Canada. The effort would limit the disease to little more than a toehold in Canada for several decades. The last case of smallpox in Canada was in 1962 and it was deemed officially eradicated worldwide in 1980.   

Much of this article was taken from Christopher J. Rutty’s article “A Pox in Our Nation” in February-March 2015 edition of Canada’s History.

For additional information on smallpox see:

http://www.museumofhealthcare.ca/explore/exhibits/vaccinations/smallpox.html

http://www.healthheritageresearch.com/SpeckledMonster.pdf

For additional information on HBC and smallpox see:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2094753/

For additional information of about General Amherst see:

https://www.amherst.edu/library/archives/faq#lordjeff

http://www.umass.edu/legal/derrico/amherst/lord_jeff.html

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