Point Blanket History

POINT BLANKETS – A Brief History

Multi-Stripe 4-Point Blanket

Multi-Stripe 4-Point Blanket

Throughout the period of the “Indian trade” in America, there were a number of both manufacturers and distributors of point blankets over the years. English made blankets were marketed by many different firms, including T. Eaton’s; Early’s of Witney; BCW; Globe; Gault’s; Mackay, Smith, Blair & Co. (Vancouver); Push, Tact & Principle; Simpsons; Hudson Bay Company as well as several others. Many of the firms offering English made blankets were Canadian trading companies or department stores, and most of the blankets were actually made in England by firms in the Witney or Yorkshire areas, such as Early & Marriott, Charles Early & Co., Charles Early & Son, John Lee & Sons, David Lee & Sons, Marriot, and others.

Over the years, the well-known striped trade blanket with “point” marks, was commonly known as a “Hudson Bay”, regardless of the manufacturer. Even though the “Hudson Bay” blanket is the most famous of these, the company never manufactured blankets themselves. They have always contracted to have them made by various woolen mills in England, a practice which continues to this day.

Hudson's Bay Blanket Label

Hudson’s Bay Blanket Label

Point blankets were also manufactured in Canada by Ayer’s of Lachute; Continental Woolen Mills (Toronto); Horn Brothers; Mohawk; Plessis Woolen Mills; and Victor Woolen Products Ltd. (Quebec).

American firms who produced “point” and or multi-striped blankets include J.C. Penney’s; Pendleton Woolen Mills; Oregon City Woolen Mills; Hale Brothers Stores, Inc. (California); Horner Woolen Mills; Minnesota Woolen Company; Orr Felt & Blanket Company; Patrick (Duluth, MN); Shuler & Benninghofenn; St. Mary’s; Utah Woolen Mills; Baron Woolen Mills; and perhaps a few others.

Interestingly, Pendleton Woolen Mills and City Woolen Mills (who went out of business in the 1930’s) produced a white blanket with stripes of four different colors on each end and called it their “Hudson Bay blanket. These blankets were listed as such in a 1919 Pendleton pricelist; however, this practice changed over the years as the Hudson Bay Company became increasingly protective of their name and the design, with Oregon City’s blanket name for their product being changed to “Bay Blanket” and then eventually to a completely different name.

Hudson's Bay Multi-Stripe

Hudson’s Bay Multi-Stripe

Hudson Bay was not the first to provide blankets for the Indian trade but began offering “point blankets” to compete with Montreal-based fur trading companies. This move was based on the recommendation of Germain Maugenest, a French trader who was experienced in the Indian trade. The French were actually the originators of the point blanket system in the late 17th century, and these short hash marks, or points as they are called, represented the size, and thus a value, of the blanket.

Hudson Bay’s earliest known order for point blankets was placed in December of 1779 with the firm of Thomas Empson of Witney, England. Until approximately 1835, it is thought that all blankets purchased by Hudson Bay were made by various mills in and around Witney. These included such firms as Ann Empson & Son, James Empson, John Early & Son, Robert Collier & Son, A. &S. Henry & Co. as well as a number of others. Subsequently, Hudson’s Bay Company purchased blankets made by a several other companies based in Yorkshire, Leeds, Dewsbury, and London, as well as in Witney. The earliest known label bearing the Hudson Bay Company name dates from sometime between 1890 and 1900.

Today, Hudson Bay blankets are manufactured by a large woolen mill in Yorkshire, England. According to company officials at the factory, because of their contractual agreement, they are only able to make point blankets exclusively for Hudson Bay. Hudson Bay was, and still is primarily a trading company, and although many items were marked with their name or HBC marks, most items were of contract manufacture, much like Sears, Roebuck today.

Point Blankets – Related Products

The following items are used in the above-article, or may provide added reference and helpful information.

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