Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Madder trade in shoots and seeds

Madder culture was propagated by both shoots and seeds. Shoots were more expensive but made the crop cycle shorter. And any shortening could be the lifeline for the depending families: quick(er) revenue was essential in this slow multi-annual type of agriculture. Seeds were mostly locally sourced or homegrown, but there is also evidence for a more international trade.
Chenciner (2000) focuses largely on the Caucasus cultures, but the use in Dutch madder culture of three main plant types suggest a surprising link to Minor Asia madder.

Enklaar (1855) mentions: 'In Zeeland en Vlaanderen worden drie soorten van meede gekweekt, die men op het eiland Schouwen, alsmede in de polders bij Goes, Brielsland, Ouddorp en andere plaatsen de Darmstadtsche, de Glazemakers en de Arabische of Smyrnasche Meekrap noemt, en waarvan de laatste in hoedanigheid voor de beste gehouden wordt, zijnde de Rubia foliis annuis caule oculeato. De Smyrnasche of Levantsche meekrap geeft een meer roode verwstof dan die van meer noordelijke streken'.
To add Chenciner: 'In France, in 1756, and (according to Shtorkh) 1821, the government bought seeds from Smyrna (Izmir). Some of these seeds also their way to the Gent and Tronsheim areas in Holland.'
It seems like the favored plant was not Rubia tinctorum (as often assumed), but the near related Rubia peregrina, sometimes even seen as a subspecies from R. tinctorum.
However, (because of the high price of the imported seeds?), the actual planted material (and the material that was produced and resold locally), was mostly the local cultivated version of R. tinctorum.
In addition to the Smyrna-connection with R. peregrina, the name of the darmstadtsche suggests a German provenance, but whether this is actually (again) a connection with the flourishing Caucasus trade (transported through the Black Sea and Donau/Rhine) or (nearer) with the madder culture along the Elzass Rhine, needs to be seen.
And if I am talking names now, what about the name of the glazemakers? Buchanan (1987): 'In 1842 on the island of Schouwen in Zeeland there were three species grown: 'darmstats', 'glazemakers', and 'arabian', of which the last was preferred. Nearby, in Aksel and Gulst 'arabian', 'swiss', 'gaspar' and 'old-French' were grown, of which 'old-French' was the worst because it gave a blackish-red when milled into krap'.
Not species maybe, but at least there seems to have been a nice diversity in cultivars.
The exact balance between imported and homegrown plant material has yet to be researched, but I am confident that price lists for madder shoots and seeds have to be available in the larger Zeeland and Zuid-Holland archives.
work in progress...

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