1st Edition

Madder Red A History of Luxury and Trade

By Robert Chenciner Copyright 2000

    Madder red is an ancient dyestuff, extracted from the root of the madder plant, growing in many countries around the world. The secret and devilishly complex Oriental dyeing process to obtain the lustrous colour known as Turkey Red was avidly sought by Europeans, from the time before the fall of Ancient Rome. It was finally cracked by the French about 1760, who were able to dye wool, silk and cotton bright red. After the lowlands of the Caspian Caucasus had been subdued by the Russians in the early 1800s, madder was cultivated there and rapidly became the main crop. The quest for Turkey Red went hand in hand with an avalanche of scientific research, which not only improved the yield of dyestuff from the roots but led to its chemical synthesis and in 1870 the collapse of the world-wide madder industry. Many of the nascent dye companies grew into chemical giants of our time. Further regional and cultural background may be found in Chenciner's Daghestan: Tradition and Survival, also published in the Caucasus World series.

    Foreword: The gifted eye 1. Russian dreams of the bearded root 2. The word and the plant 3. The 5000-year-old root: history in the Old World 4. The venturers’ legacy 5. The care of madder from seed to sack 6. The farmer’s rewards, banks and bankruptcy 7. The purer the colour: ground krap and garancine 8. Inside the vat: the hunt for the dyestuff 9. Almond husks, brick dust and ‘super-fine-fine’ 10. Leonardo’s choice madder lakes 11. The secret recipes of Turkey red 12. An Oriental tradition 13. Fashionable prices 14. The 19th-century madder boom 15. Coal tar reds and the death of madder 16. William Morris: the sumptuous resurrection 17. The dyer’s grail: alchemical philosophies and folklore


    Robert Chenciner

    'The intriguing story of the madder red plant unfolds in this meticulously researched account of the economic impact of this small, unassuming plant of the world. The text is richly enhanced by a multitude of fine illustrations, charts, and maps.' - CHOICE