Cochineal Production and Trade from Central America: Pre-Conquest to 1650

(Cover Illustration): Hans Holbein. Portrait of Lais Corinthiaca. 1526. Oil on wood. Kunstmuseum Basel, Basel, Switzerland.  This painting, by Holein, was made in 1526, three years after the first cochineal was delivered to the Spanish Court.  Cochineal took some time to make it to new European markets so the dress in this painting, if it truly existed, would have been made with European kermes rather than cochineal.  It was not until the late 1530’s that cochineal was widely known and beginning to reach the marketplace.  The first experiments with cochineal Venice were in 1543.  The color difference between the two products was relatively small but the dyeing power of the cochineal made it a superior product.  It is also possible that the paint was made with kermes but this is less likely.  None-the-less this portrait illustrates just how powerful and compelling the color red could be and the multiple messages that it could contain.  The subject was a Venetian Courtesan and red was powerful symbol of her wealth and sexuality was well as her audacity to wear a color coveted by her employers. Langon, H. (1976). Holbein. London, England, Phaidon Press Limited. Page 12-13

Elizabeth Ives, copyright Summer 2008
Written for: The Atlantic World, Summer 2008 – Villanova University, Dr. Keita

Introduction:

The study of clothing is more than the study of personal taste; it is the study of socio-economics, politics, trade, craftsmanship, etiquette, social order between classes and social history.  It is also the study of the textile industry that supplied the demand; one of the largest in any economy, including ours.  In the case of cochineal, a small domesticated insect that produces one of the worlds most vibrant red dye, we will discuss how it is produced, who produces it, how it was sold and transported, how it was stolen, adulterated and used.  The Spanish Empire was not founded upon New World silver alone, nor is the story of cochineal limited to the Atlantic.  We shall see, in the course of this paper that cochineal was indeed one of those unique products that allows us to examine subjects such as slavery and exploitation, trade, piracy and therefore also war, and international politics.  However for the purposes of this paper the scope must be limited.  This paper will not focus on fashion but rather the production and trade of cochineal and it is my hope that the readers of this paper will look at a painting of a woman in red with an entirely new understanding about the labor and human cost that they wore upon their back and we wear upon ours.

The history of cochineal can be substantially documented from the Aztec Confederacy to the 1878 when it was replaced in the market with modern aniline dyes.[1] The study of cochineal is further complicated because it was not only produced in Central America but also in Peru by the Incas.  Eventually, it was also produced in Java, the Canary Island and Africa.  This paper will limit the scope of research to Central America before 1650 and as a result will not cover Incan cochineal.  This is a rather arbitrary stopping point however I feel it is necessary to avoid writing a novel. Cochineal production in South America was substantially smaller but similar in method to that of Central America.  Once cochineal was introduced to other areas of the world Spain’s profits from its sale were also substantially diminished.  These other areas are worth study and have been covered by some scholars in limited scope; the main body of research focuses on cochineal production from Central American during the Spanish conquest.

Cochineal was an international trade product; one of the foundations of the Spanish wealth coming from the New World.  It would reach, not only European markets, including those who were at war with the Spanish or had fundamental religious differences, but also the Near East, Africa and China.  The cochineal exports coming out of the New World were second only to silver and yet they receive only passing mention, if any at all, in most histories of the Spanish colonies.  Nor does cochineal receive a great deal of attention from clothing and textile historians.  Clothing and textile history books provide some information on cochineal but they focus on the finished product rather than the labor and products that go into the finished works.  Art history books also fall into this category.  There are some notable exceptions; Mola’s Silk Industry in Renaissance Venice stands out because it provides information about a series of tests in the mid 1500’s on some of the first samples of cochineal to reach Europe and the resulting guild disputes.  These tests are but one set of primary sources available.

Generally when information on cochineal is presented in modern history texts it is in relation to only area of interest; the wealth that it generated for Spain.  It is not cochineal that is the subject of interest, merely one many products that help to bring trade and international politics into focus.  Information on exploitation and relationships with the natives who farmed cochineal must be gleaned from other sources.  The resulting historiography of cochineal is diverse with sources ranging from first-hand accounts of Indian exploitation to the accounts of Venetian silk and wool guilds to English Acts of Parliament concerning cochineal.  Background information must be presented on the Spanish colonies and the policies of the Spanish Crown concerning the colonies.  Modern dyers manuals that explain how to use cochineal and illustrate that the process has not changed much in hundreds of years.  Additional information comes from some textiles and clothing historians because a discussion of cochineal is not complete without understanding the demand for a fine red cloth that drove the market.    Fortunately, there are several works on cochineal specifically; one recently published book and several journal articles.  The book, A Perfect Red by Greenfield is a redaction of almost all available information including the aforementioned journal articles.  It is an excellent scholarly work written with enough style to make it palatable to a wide audience.  Her bibliography is extensive and diverse however I do question a few of her historic clothing sources.[2] The journal articles by Lee and Donkin are the main body of research for this paper and for the early history of cochineal in Greenfield’s work, providing figures and dollar amounts for exportation as well as an understanding of cochineal production in the New World.  All three articles are useful in their specificity but not as useful when it comes to putting cochineal into context from bug to finished gown.  They do not neglect the fact that the only way cochineal could be profitable for the Spanish and other European countries was with the help and exploitation of native labors.  The Spanish did not domesticate cochineal nor did they appreciate the usefulness a profitability of cochineal in the beginning of the conquest.  The authors who have studies cochineal have spent significant time on this aspect of its history.  Greenfield expands this to other areas of production throughout the world rather than simply focusing on Central America however I must limit my scope due to both a lack of sufficient information on areas outside of Central America and due to limitations of this paper.

Seeing Red:

Virginal white, white weddings, white communion dresses, funeral black, the black business suit, and the little black dress; color is imbued with symbolism and meaning.  The red hot dress, blood red, Elisa Schiaparelli’s shocking pink, baby pink, and scandalous red shoes; color has currency, both emotional and monetary with the former driving the later.  Red is one of the worlds oldest colors, save for black and white.  Almost every language and culture in human history has had a word for red.  It is the color of blood and fire; both were understood even in our most primitive times to be essential to life.   Neanderthals used it in their cave paintings (red ocher) and buried their dead with it.  It is power, martyrdom, the color of luck and wealth to some and the dammed to others.  Regardless of the varied symbolism behind red, it is a color that is valued (For example see Figure 1: Cover).  Red fibers and cloth fragments have been found in the Yellow River Valley in China[3], in Babylonian and Assyrian burials and tablet records, and in Egyptian tombs.[4] Rome is almost synonymous with the color red; senators and soldiers alike used the color to represent the power of Rome. It could also represent the Holy Roman Empire as illustrated later by the brilliant red (rather than purple) of the Coronation Mantle of Roger II of Sicily (Figure 2).  Even today, modern Cardinals of the Catholic Church can be pictured in the minds of Catholic and non-Catholic alike.  Cardinals were named for the red they wore but the red was meant to indicate their willingness to sacrifice their lives for the church as well as the Blood of Christ..[5] Red is the color of martyrdom.  There is no better illustration than Queen Mary of Scotts who when to her death in 1587 wearing a conservative gown of black and white illustrating her devotion to the Catholic faith and to Spain who favored the more severe style.  When she reached the scaffold, her handmaidens took off the gown to reveal a bright red under-gown; the color of her martyrdom and her courage.[6]

Figure 2: The Coronation Mantle of Roger II (Scarlet Silk with pearls, gold embroidery, gems & enamel plaques): 1134: Schatzkammer, Vienna.  Honour, Huge & Fleming, John. (1995). The Visual Arts: A History Fourth Edition. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Calmann & King Ltd. Page 329

With time red had became the color of power and wealth in Western culture.  Laws were created to regulate its use in an attempt to keep those with money but not rank from wearing the clothing of their betters.  On June 15th, 1574 Queen Elizabeth I of England issued a series of sumptuary laws concerning the dress of her court.  While the laws do address commoners there main concern is the dress of nobles and others of rank and their habit of dressing above their station.[7] Station was determined both by rank and by income[8] and they were limited both in the types of cloth and furs that they could wear and by colors.  In the case of crimsons and scarlet they were restricted to the rank of Dukes, Marquises, Earls, Viscounts, Barons and Knights being companions of the Garter or and person being of the Privy Council and their wives & children.[9] It is likely that the red to which this law refers to was made from cochineal because England was importing substantial amounts since the late 1550’s even during times of war with Spain.[10] Sumptuary laws were issued in many countries and in many time periods.  They were also issued many times with little change made to them, often within one or two years of the previous sumptuary law; an indication that they were ineffective.  The “Statutes of Apparel” issued by Elizabeth in 1574 were adaptations of laws her father had put in place earlier.  Elizabeth’s laws were reissued by the Crown in 1576-1577.[11]

If the demand for red has been driven by the symbolism impressed upon it by many cultures and time periods then it was the painters and dyers of the world that sought to fill that need.  In the case of red dyes there are several sources in Europe, Africa and Asia before the discovery of cochineal in the New World.  It is useful to cover them briefly if only to illustrate why cochineal was considered such a valuable and superior dye.

For peasants the choice would have been fabric dyed with madder,[12] a plant common to Europe and Asia.  Madder (rubia tinctorium) is one of the oldest and most common of the red dyes.  It is also one of the easiest to work with however it has limitations; madder works best on plant-fibers such as cotton, hemp and linen rather than protein fibers such as silk and wool.  Madder was cheaply and widely grown but the strength of the dye could vary from year to year according to good and bad harvests.  Even so, madder was commonly used both alone and in combination with other red dyes to achieve brilliant results.  Like most dyes it also requires a mordant to help chemically bind it to the fibers.  Without the mordant (alum, iron oxides, copper, and tannic acids) the dye is not fast.  The term fast is used to indicate a dyes ability to withstand washing and light and is one of the chief measures of the quality of cloth.  Madder was the main dye for the Egyptians[13] and for the Romans.  It is the main color used for Roman red (brick red) but it is also one of the dyes used to produce brilliant purples (Tyrian purple) in combination with the murex shellfish.[14]

Dyeing is a difficult process as best, somewhere between cooking and chemistry but perhaps closer to alchemy. In the beginning the search for a new dye was often a guessing game; dyers were chasing after something valuable and elusive.  The main problem was that a bright red plant or mineral would not necessarily produce a bright red dye; it might produce a yellow or brown one, Pomegranate for example.[15] And to further complicate things, one process of dyeing might produce one set of color while another process would produce a different color.  Different mordents could affect the color; for example alum will generally brighten a color while iron oxides will gray or dull a color.  Once a recipe was established they were jealously guarded buy guilds and individual dyers alike.  Sources for the dyes were also jealously guarded. In addition to madder these sources were mostly insects; Saint Johns Blood, Oak Kermes, and Armenian Red.  All of these insects were available in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa before the discovery of the New World; some as early as Ancient Greece and Rome.  They are all relatives of cochineal but have greater limitations.  In all cases they perform better on protein-fibers than plant fibers; they are brighter and have greater fastness on wool, silk, leather and feathers than linen, cotton and hemp.  In all cases they need a mordant to help chemically bind it to the fabric.

Oak Kermes (Kermes vermilio) is a parasitic insect that can be found on the leaves and oak trees in the hot dry regions of the Mediterranean and the Middle East.  This was the easiest of the three choices to work with, not because it was easy to dye with but because it was easily found and harvested in comparison to the others.[16] Saint John’s Blood (porphyrophora polonica), also called Polish cochineal, was grown in Eastern Europe, Russia, and Asia Minor.  It was typically harvested around the feast of St. John, hence the name.  It is also a parasitic insect that grows on the roots of the scleranth plant.  Harvesting entailed digging up the plants, collecting the insects and then attempting to replant the plants.  This latter process was only sometimes successful thus limiting the next harvest.[17] Each plant might only have about 40 insects, so that thousands of plants had to be replanted each year in addition to new ones.  So why go through the trouble?  The answer is simple; St. John’s Blood produced a brighter dye than Oak Kermes.  The third choice was Armenian Red (porphyophora hameli) which lived on the roots and stems of grasses in Armenia, Azerbaijan Georgia, Turkey and Iran.  This was the color used by ancient Assyrians and Persians.[18]

One of the problems with all three insects was that they all have a high fat content which becomes problematic in the dyeing process.  The fat melts in the dye vats and floats to the surface.  Once there, the wet fabric or fibers must pass through the fat to reach the bath below; some of the fat deposits on the fibers and sticks producing a resist to the dye in that area.  The results are a the finished product could be blotchy instead of a uniform brilliant red.  To spite the problems with these dyes they were never completely discarded when cochineal reached the market, nor was madder.  The risks were worth it, as were the costs of harvest, processing and the dyeing itself.  Most cultures were willing to pay any price for a brilliant red.

By the 16th century the word kermes was used for all three products.  Kermes derives from kirmiz, the Arabic word for insect reds.[19] Once dried the insects looked like seeds so most dyers who worked with these products thought that kermes was a seed or a grain. It is from this idea that the term in grained was coined.[20] This misnomer was common until the 18th century and was even promoted by the Spanish conquistadors who sought to keep a monopoly on cochineal by concealing its true nature.

Cochineal:

When the Spanish first came to the New World, they found a fully developed tribute system set up by the Aztec Confederacy.  The Aztec accepted both tribute and taxes paid in-kind from the Toltec, whom they had conquered, in the form of cloth, foodstuff, feathers, clothing, precious materials and cochineal as well as other items.[21] What we know of the production of cochineal before the arrival of the Spanish is limited.  Some things can be derived from the production practices during the Spanish conquest because they were not changed greatly simply expanded. Other sources like the Mendoza Codex provide some information.  Production before the Aztec conquest is difficult to establish however the process of domestication and small to medium scale production used during the Aztec rule can at least safely infer that the knowledge of cochineal excised in the area for some time before the conquest. Domestication cannot happen overnight nor do farms pop up out of no where.  The Triple Alliance (Mexico, Texcoco & Tlacopan) around 1511-1512 appears to be one of the oldest examples of demands of cochineal in tribute and was levied on approximately 25 towns that were responsible for 65 talegar or cargas annually (9,750 lbs).[22] Surviving Aztec codices, such as the Mendoza Codex, show Montezuma II accepting tribute in the form of sacks of cochineal and cloth dyed with cochineal from various regions of his empire in 1541.[23] (Figure 3)  Some of the regions of the Empire were required to produce as much as 20 bags of cochineal annually or every 80 days but these demands are levied from regions with larger scale production.  Without a reference to the size of the bag it is difficult to quantify this in modern measurements.[24] On average there are 70,000 dried insects per pound which indicates that cochineal production was not a small endeavor even during Aztec times.[25] The Mendoza Codex presents problems in and of itself, since it was produced approximately 27 years after the Spanish conquest, perhaps as an exemplar for Spanish rulers to illustrate how large and wealthy an empire they had gained.  The codex contains both native pictographs and Spanish commentary but it dose not on the face seem to alter the tribute system to fit Spanish tastes.  In addition the codex was partly compiled by native scribes who could still claim to remember Aztec society.[26] Nor does it seem plausible that the Spanish, who simply took over the Aztec tribute system, would demand a new and previously unknown product.  It is far more plausible that the Aztec tribute system, as established much earlier in their rule, might have encouraged the cochineal crop that was only cultivated on a small scale to increase production to meet a higher demand exactly as was done later under Spanish rule.  However more study would be necessary to confirm this theory and it may be impossible to confirm it since so many records and textiles have been lost.

Figure 3: Folio 42v from the Codex Mendoza showing a list of tribute from various regions in the Aztec confederacy and what was given in tribute.  Sacks of cochineal can be seen in the lower left .  This is but one example from this codex.   Berdan, F. F. and P. R. Anawalt (1997). The Essential Codex Mendoza. Berkley, CA, University of California Press. Page 90-91

Scholars believe that Cochineal was also a valuable trade commodity for both the Aztec and the Tlaxcaltecan[27] merchants and that they traded it as far as southern Mexico and Guatemala. It is worth mentioning that tribute could take the form of finished textiles and ceremonial robes for warriors.  Both of these items are demanded from areas that did not supply cochineal to the empire but might have required it to finish the textiles and clothing.  I believe this indicates that cochineal was also traded widely within the empire but it should be mentioned that cochineal was not the only red dye available.  (See Figure 3 for examples of both of these products.  Textiles can be seen in the top line of the illustration while ritual clothing can be seen in the middle.  This page also contains illustrations of cochineal tribute but there are similar pages without that tribute throughout the manuscript; folio 19v for example.[28])  Cochineal was also known to the Inca in Peru (c. 1460-1535) who harvested their own and whose weavers used it in similar ways. [29]

While the pre-Spanish production area of cochineal appears to be extensive much of what we know of the production is documented by early Spanish missionaries and therefore is limited by their motivations. [30] Lee points out in “Cochineal Production and Trade” that the Spanish were at a later point in time inclined to minimize pre-Spanish conquest use and production in an effort to glorify their own expansion of production rather than their reliance on skilled and knowledgeable native laborers.  The Spanish made a concerted effort to put forth the idea that the Aztecs did not understand the true value of cochineal until the Spanish showed them.[31] Antonio de Herrera, who was an early documenter of cochineal, said that while the Indians knew of cochineal in 1519 they did not understand its cultivation until shown by the Spanish.[32] Clearly this is incorrect.

Both before and after the Spanish conquest the local Indians worked with one of two methods of cochineal production; either they worked with domesticated cochineal (dactylopius coccus) and the domesticated opuntia cacti or with the wild varieties of both insect and cactus.  Wild cochineal is heartier than their domesticated cousins, capable of surviving higher altitudes and therefore colder climates in addition to resisting disease.  However, their dye is less potent than domesticated varieties; this, in addition to easier harvesting lead to a preference for domesticated cochineal.  Domesticated varieties are larger in size (4-6 mm) than their wild cousins and so they also produce more dye.  In both cases the female cochineal is the dye producing insect while the males’ sole job is reproduction. (Figure 4)  Newly hatched females spread out from their mothers and eventually embedded their proboscis into the tissue of the cactus and become immobile for the rest of their lives; the relationship is not symbolic but rather parasitic.  The males will come to the females in the form of a small delicate fly whose sole job is fertilization and who will die shortly afterward.  Once fertilized the female will secrete a waxy substance to protect herself during gestation.  During this process the female’s body will become swollen and her bodily fluids will increase.  Most females will be harvested and killed before this process is complete (90-120 days) but some are allowed to continue the cycle.[33] The dye comes from her bodily fluids which are a natural source of carminic acid, the active chemical ingredient in the dye.

Figure 4: The Cochineal Insect: Female & Male Drawings and Female insects shown embedded on a cactus with a protective waxy secretion.

In the case of domesticated cochineal the cactus fields are seeded with live females at the beginning of each of the two or three seasons.  During seeding the farmers plant or seed the cactus with mature female insects that are ready to begin the process of attaching themselves to the plant and giving birth.  The insects to be seeded have been kept safe during the cold season by the farmers so that they are ready for the start of the next cycle.  Once on the cactus the insects must be protected from natural predators such as birds, lizards and other insects and from the elements.  This practice seems to have been emphasized by the Spanish more than the Aztecs.  Once the insects are ready they are harvested by hand with a small stick and bowel and then killed by either a hot vinegar bath, boiling water or steam.  Once dead they are dried, ground and packed into cakes or sold as sacks of loose “seeds”.[34] (Figure 5)  The dried cochineal looks much like a small seed; hence the confusion in Europe for many years as to the origin of cochineal.  Unlike European versions of kermes, cochineal can be harvested two or three times a year instead of just one and the dye is up to ten times more potent per ounce then kermes.  Since harvesters are working with live insects there are no shortcuts to the process of growing cochineal.  In addition careful preservation and expansion of the cactus garden must also be seen to.  If the cactus are overused they will die and so they are given a resting period between every two or three harvests.[35]

Figure 5: The grinding of dried cochineal insects on a traditional mortar and pestle.

Once harvested and killed the dye was prepared for use.  In the case of Aztec consumption the dye was made into cakes or tablets known as nocheztlaxcalli.  This preparation seemed to vary from area to area.  Donkin seems to believe that alum (a mordant) and tezhoatl leaves were added to the mix,[36] which, if he is correct would mean that the dye was ready for use without the addition of other compounds.  This might be well suited to the small scale practices of native weaving which included a loom in almost every household.  However this method of preparation was not suited to European markets. Cotton (both white and yellow varieties) and bast fibers were in use in pre-Spanish mezzo-America and all of these would have required a mordant to make the dye fast.  In addition to textiles of all types, cochineal could be used to dye feathers, leather, and basket material.  It was used in makeup, medicine, food and paints (some scholars believe that the red of the Mendoza Codex is cochineal paint).  Cochineal appears to have been widely produced and widely used as a luxury good during Aztec times.

When the Spanish arrived they discovered Aztec markets with products from all over the Confederacy including textiles and cochineal.  They write in glowing terms about these markets.  Alonso de Zorita[37], who was a Spanish judge in New Spain, quotes Cortés’s original descriptions made to the Spanish Crown concerning the markets; “There is a market in this city (Tlaxcala), in which, every day, above 30,000 people sell and buy, not to mention many other smaller markets in different parts of the city.  This market contains everything in which they trade, not only provisions but also clothing and shoes.”[38] Cortés, as reported by de Zorita, goes on to describe the various products sold in the market however cochineal or grana is not mentioned specifically.  Cortés is further quoted describing the gifts he received from Moctezuma including

“large quantity of articles of cloth, which, though fashioned of cotton and not silk, could not be equaled by anything else in the world for texture, richness of colors, and workmanship.  They included many marvelous garments for men and women, hangings for beds, incomparably finer than any made of silk, and material like tapestry that could be used to adorn drawing rooms and churches. There were also coverlets and quilts of featherwork[39] and cotton, in various colors, also very marvelous, and many other things so curious and numerous I do not know how to describe them to Your Majesty.”[40]

It seems very likely that some of these same styles of textiles, including those dyed by cochineal were sent to the Spanish Crown, Charles V, in the initial shipments of Mexican treasure.[41] The Emperor issued orders to Cortés in 1523, commanding him to find out and report if kermes had indeed been found in the New World, to then decide if it was available in exportable quantities and to make to further arrangements to do so.[42] Limited amounts of cochineal seems to have been shipped as early as 1526 but is appears that the Spanish simply took over the existing tribute system and did not expand cochineal production until later in the century.[43] Most of the Spanish conquistadors were more concerned with expanding Spanish control and locating precious mineral such as gold and silver.  Cochineal would not go unnoticed for long; Charles V dreamed of a larger Empire and he needed all the money he could get to fund the wars and a strong, plentiful, red dye was a valuable commodity.

Even if cochineal had great potential for profit, during the first 20 years of the conquest the conquistadors ignored it in favor of silver and gold.  Cortés could not afford to pay his conquistadors a salary because he was funding much of the New World venture out of his own pocket.  Charles V had other things on his mind and other wars to spend money on; he expected that the new Spanish colonies would help to fund him, not the other way around.  Cortés, in an effort to make good on his promises of New World booty for his men, began using a system of land grants called encomiendas.  The encomienda system was a land grant that gave the ecomiendos the right to demand labor and tribute from natives; in return they were obligated to defend the natives and convert them to Christianity.[44] The encomiendas that were given out in Central America by Cortés were temporary at first and would not transfer to the family of the conquistadors if they died.  The conquistadors never owned the land but instead held it in stewardship for the crown and as such they could not buy and sell the inhabitants of that land; in theory the natives were not slaves.[45] In practice the natives were brutally exploited by the Spanish.  Cortés made no friends with either the Spanish Crown or the Dominican friars when he gave out the encomiendos.  The friars argued that the enconienda system was immoral and promoted the exploitation of the Indians without any thoughts to their spiritual welfare.[46] This analysis was not out of line; they had seen it fail horribly in the Spanish Caribbean in the early 1500’s.[47] The encomienda system in the New World could not be restrained by Crown as it had been in Spain and the encomiendos abused their power by exploiting the Indians and the land ruthlessly.  Most importantly to the Crown, they did not bother converting the Indians.[48] In 1520 Charles V and his advisers tried to phase out the encomiendas but it did little to change the Caribbean and the decree was still on the books when Cortés conquered Mexico.  Cortés, who knew that the law could not be enforced, chose not to pay any attention to it in an effort to keep his conquistadors from mutiny.  The possibility of mutiny was quite real; Bernal Diaz, writing much later in his life of his adventures as a conquistador, said that “we were all disappointed when we say how little gold there was and how poor our shares would be.”[49] The conquistadors fought amongst themselves and soon looked to other providences for profit.  Diaz continued “When we realized that there were no gold mines or cotton in the towns around Mexico, we thought of it as a poor land, and went off to colonize other provinces.”[50] Perhaps the encomiendas helped to control the conquistadors more than the Indians, who showed little sign of revolt.  Kamen, the author of Empire, states that in the beginning Spanish power in America was dependent on a system of collaboration with natives rather than conquest and subjugation because the Spanish were spread too thin to be an effective military force.  He holds that in order for the encomiendas to work the Spanish needed to come to agreements with the local chiefs.  This meant that in the central regions of Spanish settlement that two societies developed at the beginning; one that was Spanish and one that was Indian.[51] Cochineal production at the start of the Spanish settlement seems to support this at least on the face; most of the cochineal trade was handled by local Indian merchants rather than Spanish merchants.[52] I suspect that this is due to the lack of understanding of the value of cochineal more that a sense of cooperation.  At first the encomiendos simply took over the established tribute system however the conquistadors did not see cochineal as a valuable product in comparison to dreams of silver and gold.[53] In the rush for gold and silver the Spanish were unquestionably brutal to the Indians and similar to the Spanish Caribbean, they cared little about converting them.  Cochineal production was not a traditional crop of a gentleman farmer from Spain and so it was possible that they looked down upon it.[54] Lee believes that a few encomiendos did collect some cochineal early on but many seem to have ignored it.[55] When Lee mentions this he say that “The 8,700 tributary Indians of Tecamachalco paid grana to the widow of the original encomiendos, Alonso Valiente; the widow of Rodrigo de Segura collected cochineal from the 800 natives of Izcatlan”[56] In both cases that he says that the people who receive the tribute are widows which leaves me to wonder if they were Spanish women who were married to conquistadors or native Indians who married them.  If the later was the case they would have understood the value of cochineal but in both cases, textiles and many products related to them, were traditionally women’s work.  There would be no shame for a widow to accept this tribute.  Lee does not note this.

While the Spanish Crown did little to encourage cochineal production after the initial letter of interest, Dominican friars and other religious officials soon began to do so.  Bishop D. Sebastian Ramirez de Fuenleal (1531-1535) appears to have been one of the first to take an interest in expanding production.  He gives orders for the local Indians to do so.  Similarly a Dominican friar named Francisco Marin seems to have done do as well.[57] This too makes sense because the Church has always appreciated a fine red and they consume a great deal of it.  However this cannot be confirmed without further research.  Donkin also makes note of the Dominican’s interest in cochineal in the 1540’s which leads to the inevitable questions of conflict-of-interest.[58] The Dominican orders and other religious officials pushed for changes to the encomiendas and were some of the strongest objectors to slavery based upon religious concerns.  However they seemed to control area in similar ways to the encomiendos.  There appears to be little doubt that they pushed for an expansion to cochineal production because there are several documents stating their ambitions.[59] Vazquez de Espinosa wrote about his observations from 1609-1612, that the city of Tlaxcala “takes in quantities of fine cochineal, as do other cities and villages in its jurisdiction; and if the Indians paid tithes on it, as the bishop proposes and has taken legal steps to authorize, the diocese will have an annual income equal to that or the archdiocese of Toledo.”[60] They were also in a position to witness the abuses of the encomiendos first hand and they did have genuine objections.  However the Dominicans might have also seen the encomiendos as competition for wealth and influence.  Donkin speculates that “perhaps the wealth to be derived from grana fina was an important consideration in founding missions in the region of Oaxaca, including the Mixteca”[61] Oaxaca and Mixteca were areas of previously established cochineal production.

The Spanish were unquestionably brutal to the Indians and this brutality in combination with diseases from Europe caused the deaths of millions of Indians.[62] The immediate results were that the labor that the encomiendos relied on for their growing estates were greatly diminished.  No matter how much encouragement or direction the Spanish gave, either as encomiendos or as Dominican friars, the Indians were the vast majority of the labor force in this early period of conquest.

The various religious officials that were in New Spain were also guilty of brutality against the natives.  In 1567 four local Indian Governors from the Providences of Mani, Panaboren, Mona and Texul, wrote to the King of Spain to complain about their treatment at the hands of Franciscan missionaries.  They complain that they were tortured; “hanging us by our hands, whipping us cruelly, hanging stone weights from our feet, torturing many of us on racks, and pouring a great deal of water into our bodies and from these tortures many of us have died and been crippled.”[63] One of the other complaints that I find worthy of notice was that the Franciscan’s “condemned many to serve the Spaniards as slaves for eight and ten years”[64] The Indians were not suppose to be slaves.  I was unable to correlate any of the provinces’ named in this letter to any of the maps provide by Donkin that would confirm that these regions were producing cochineal but I do not think that this is particularly important because abuses were likely to be widespread.

One of the few areas that appear to be lacking in cochineal research during this early period is that of the condition native labors.  With the increase in production came a greater need for skilled labor.  At the same time diseases was wiping out that very labor supply.  Stories of the abuses were reaching Charles V at the Spanish court from men like Alonso de Zorita who was in the New World from 1556-1566.  At first the reports made by de Zorita are glowing in regards to the wealth of the New World but in most cases he is quoting Cortés rather than using his own words; it is as if he is seeking to lay blame for the decline at Cortés’s feet.  It is also possible that since he was not in this part of the Spanish colonies at the time of the conquest he is also relying on Cortés’s accounts.  de Zorita describes how tribute is paid in kind, usually with crops and that each village sets aside a plot of land for the tribute to be grown on.  He say before the time of the conquest that, “Thus the peasants worked the tribute fields and harvested and stored the crops; the artisans gave tribute from things they made; and the merchants gave of their merchandise-clothing, feathers, jewels, stones-each giving of the commodities in which he dealt.”[65] He seems to idealize this time period but he is quite frank when it comes to the events which he witnesses.  He expresses considerable concern for the natives even if he is also prejudiced towards them.  de Zorita tries to tell the crown that

“Throughout the Indies the natives are dying out and declining in number, though some assert that this is not so.  Since the Indians are so heavily burdened with tribute payments that they cannot support themselves their wives and children, they often leave them (although they love them dearly), and abandon their wretched little homes and their fields.  They depart for some other region and wander about form place to place or flee to the woods, where jaguars or other beasts eat them.  Some Indians have hanged themselves in desperation because of the great hardships they suffer on account of the tribute.  I have personally verified such incidents on carious tours of inspection.”[66]

de Zorita lays the blame with the tribute system and those that manage it and uses the Catholic sins of a desertion of a marriage and suicide to make his point.  To his eyes if they die out then it is the end of everything.[67] His reports contain many such blistering comments.  He does not mention cochineal specifically or grana, however he does mention that cloth production as part of the tribute system are also a burden on the Indians.  Cloth takes a great deal of time and resources and as a result it is a burden; he says that “it is better that there be a shortage of cloth than a shortage of people.”[68] So if we take de Zorita at his word we know that production of almost all types of tribute, including cochineal, was a burden on the native population.  Reports such as these lead Charles V and his advisors to try and reign in the encomiendas but he could not afford to alienate them altogether.  In 1542 they rewrote the laws of the Indies; the Leyes Nuevas essentially abolished the system but it was never enforced.  The econmenderos threatened revolt and the laws were rewritten to allow the system to continue with a few changes; the encomenderos could no longer demand any labor from the native Indians and the tribute system was more strictly regulated.[69] The encomenderos soon realized on their own that the tribute system would not produce long term wealth and so they looked to develop their landholding.  They continued to ignore cochineal.

The local Indian farmers were still cultivating cochineal on small farms all over Central America and would continue to do so throughout Spanish rule; larger estates also began to grow.  Greenfield contends that the majority of the market for cochineal during the early part of the 16th century was made of local Indians who still used it in medicine, dye, paint and food.[70] While this might be true to some extent I believe that the European market drove the boom in the later half of the century.  When the plantations began to grow I do not know if slaves were imported from Africa to make up for the shortfall in native labor or if those slaves were used on other crops freeing natives to work on cochineal.  None of my sources discuss this to any satisfaction.

Another unique situation grew up around the production of cochineal.  Cortés acknowledged his debt to the Tlaxcalan natives who enabled him to conquer the Aztecs by granting them an unprecedented right; to be governed by the Crown not by the encomenderos.[71] He gave them the region of Tlaxcala in which no enconiendas were given out and the Spanish were discouraged from settling there.  Their independence was not absolute but their lot was better than most.  With relative independence they were able to realize that the growing European demand for cochineal could be profitable to them.  There was no shame among their culture concerning its production and so they enthusiastically tried to meet demand.  Spain profited with taxes and tithes placed upon the transport of the cochineal and the Tlaxcalan merchants profited from its sale.[72] The profits also brought problems and soon the local council of elite Indians that oversaw daily life in the region, the cabildo, soon saw cochineal as a problem.  With the increase in profit came an increase in excesses such as alcoholism, trading on Sundays, and fornication.  One of the other complaints from the surviving minutes of cabildo meetings was that the cochineal growers no longer showed proper respect to their betters.  They also believed that their society was on the verge of starvation because the commoners preferred to tend their cochineal rather than crops.  This was an exaggeration of course but these complaints illustrate how cochineal production had upset the local order.  The council tried to limit cochineal production with little result.  This region became one of the leading producers of cochineal with little interference from Spanish officials and the cochineal helped to give the natives independence not granted to others.[73]

Throughout the mid to late 16th century cochineal farms continued to grow.  Cochineal was still being produced on small farms run by impoverished natives[74] but lager plantations (haciendas) of 50,000 nopals or more were also being used.[75] The amounts of skilled labor that these estates demanded were enormous.  These estates and cochineal production were described by Gonzalo Gómez de Cervantes in 1599 (vida económica y social de Nueva España) as part of an initiative to expand production therefore the information about the production would be likely to accurate but the ease of production may be exaggerated.[76] The expansion was being pushed by two viceroys, Martín Enríquez de Almansa (1568-1580) and Pedro Moya de Contreras (1583-1585) who ordered local mayors to extend cultivation, combat fraud and regulate trade.[77] Neither Lee nor Donkin specify how these expansions worked.  Some local official estimated the value of cochineal to be worth its own weight in silver but this has proven to be a gross exaggeration.  Never-the-less this myth has continued to exist ever since the 1500’s and still it sometimes appears in less reputable clothing history sources.  What was true by the late 16th century was that cochineal was now the second largest export and source of wealth for Spain coming from the New World.  Cochineal was valued at nearly 9% of silver exports in 1594.[78] Spanish officials, both civilian and religious, attempted to expand profitability by introducing silk rearing and weaving to Central America.[79] If they could control the use of cochineal from bug to finished silk then they could control nearly the entire supply.  However this attempt met with only limited success and silk rearing had disappeared from Central America by the 1570’s due to the importation of Chinese silks across the Pacific.[80]

With an increase in production an increase in fraud accompanied it.  Ground cochineal was sometimes mixed with other ingredients to increase its weight but these ingredients did nothing to improve the quality of the dyes.  Complaints about adulteration help to document cochineal production in the late 1500’s.  The complaints came from as far away as Italy.  Four Castilian merchants filed a petition with authorities in Mexico City in 1554 for the mayor of Puebla to be empowered to investigate the problem.[81] Various attempts were made to curb the practice, throughout the late 16th century.  These attempts indicate that while cochineal had become an important export there was little regulation of the product.  It may also indicate that local Indian farmers needed to make the adulterations to meet the demands put upon them by landholders.  Without additional sources this is open to interpretation but is an interesting idea.

Exports were recorded by local officials in both the cities of export and importation, in addition to ships manifests and merchant logs.  Exports vary dramatically from year to year for reasons that do not seem to be clear.  Figure 6 shows a chart that was developed from Lee’s works showing exportation figures over several years.  In some years the exports exceeded 12,000 arrobas or 300,000 pounds.  It is harder to assign monetary values to these amounts. There are also problems calculating how much fabric could be dyed with these quantities.  It is estimated that 4 pounds of the ground dye could only dye one length of cloth but Lee does not specify how much cloth is in one length.[82]

Figure 6: Cochineal Exports from New Spain as reported in Cochineal Production and Trade to 1600 by R. Lee (he reports the figures in arrobas which calculate to a 1:25 ratio to pounds.  Lee, R. L. (1948). “Cochineal Production and Trade in New Spain to 1600.” The Americas 4(4): 449-473. AND Lee, R. L. (1951). “American Cochineal in European Commerce 1526-1625.” The Journal of Modern History 23(3): 205-224.

Cochineal Trade:

It is not enough to have a product; you also need a market that desires it.  In Europe the first experiments with cochineal were taking place within the dyeing guilds of Seville, Spain, the official port for both exports and imports for the New World.  The Spanish textiles industry at the time lacked enough skilled workers to create a cochineal monopoly from bug to finished silk.  In addition to issues with the textile industry in Spain, limited communication and limited production in New Spain also caused problems.[83] They could, however, make a serious attempt to control the export of cochineal to the rest of Europe and thereby hold an importation monopoly.  First they needed a market for the new product.  One of their first customers were Italian textiles guilds who were experts at working with bright reds made from European kermes.[84] The Venetians were particularly interested and in 1543 the Venetian silk guild was present with three samples of cochineal by a pair of enterprising silk merchants.  These silk merchants sought to gain official sanction from the merchant guilds of Venice for cochineal, which must approve all new products before they could be sold.  The silk guild began preparations for experimentation with the samples on February 9th, 1543.  By the 12th the guild officials had all sworn an oaths that the experiments had been conducted properly and that the results proved that the New World kermes was equal to European varies.  The records were saved by the administrators of the guild, documenting the experiments in full.[85] However these efforts did not have the desired results until much later; other officials from the guilds disputed the findings and the resulting deadlock forced the guild to sequester all fabrics dyed with cochineal until a resolution could be found.  The dispute was so intense that it was put before the Council of Forty, Venice’s most important civil court.  In January 1544 they decided in favor of those who supported cochineal.[86] Other cities soon followed except Genoa who stubbornly refused to allow cochineal use until 1550.[87] The hesitation of Genoa is confusing because bankers from the city helped to fund some of the original Spanish expeditions to the New World and they had a tangible presence in the New World.[88] As such they would have been familiar with the new products coming out of the New World. There were Italians from Genoa in Cortés expeditions.[89] There were strong trading ties between Genoa and Charles V as well; particularly the Genoa and the Spanish city of Seville which was the site of much of importation of cochineal.[90] Their influence over the finances of the Spanish empire was unquestionable.  An English trader observed that the Spanish did not control their own finances because of “the residence of many Genoa merchants among them, whose skill in trade far surpassing the native Spaniard and Portuguese.”[91] Propaganda perhaps but the Genoese had an undeniable influence.  Genoa has a very strong tradition in textiles, as well as banking, and why they did not go to some effort to secure a new and profitable source of dye is a mystery.  This will be an interesting area of further research however there is not enough research available to expand on this idea at this time.

At first the fabric dyed with cochineal were cheaper and in less demand than the traditional kermes dyes but that soon changed.  Cochineal proved to be powerful, fast and could yield colors ranging from delicate pinks to vivid reds.  (Figure 7)  In addition the cochineal proved to be 10 to 12 times stronger per pound of dye than kermes.[92] Quality control issues concerning cochineal lead to considerable infighting among the silk guilds over the next 50 years or so.[93] It was not the dyers who were at fault, but adulteration of cochineal by farmers and merchants alike, that was the problem.  Quality control would be a problem until 1572 when the viceroy of Mexico instituted a Juez de la Grana Cochinilla in Puebla de los Angeles, whose responsibility it was to check the purity of the products before export to Europe.[94] There were few complaints made after this dates.

Figure 7: Examples of various colors that can be achieved with cochineal

If there were problems initially with getting enough cochineal to Europe or in growing enough in the colonies these issues seem to have been resolved by the early 1600’s.  By 1564 an annual flotilla of ships linked the Old and New Worlds bringing reliable delivery of cochineal to Europe.[95] By 1600 the imports were worth 600,000 pesos and upwards in Spain.  Some would have been lost to pirates and privateers and some to shipwrecks.  Determining the cash value of such exports is more difficult.  Lee makes some attempts to do so in American Cochineal in European Commerce.  Of more interest than the cash values would be who was importing the cochineal and how it was brought to market.  If the Spanish hoped to have a monopoly on cochineal these hopes were dashed by the end of the 1600; to spite of the best Spanish attempts forine agents, both sponsored and independent agents, were living and working in New Spain.  Viceroy Enríquez reported that in 1575 few people were engaged in cochineal trade.[96] He was grossly misinformed.  These agents came from all over Europe and imported all manner of goods including cochineal.[97] There are numerous records of Spanish ships who carried cochineal in there holds.  Much of the Spanish trading worked within the framework of powerful trading guilds but additionally smaller partnership agreements with an agent in New Spain and one in the Old World.[98] However English, Flemish, and French merchants had permanently established themselves in Seville by the 1580’s.  Seville also attracted merchants from Naples, Florence, Venice, Genoa and Greece.[99]

The English were particularly interested because cochineal could be used on fine English wools and it was a recognized import by 1558.  I have to question Lee’s assessment that English woolens were often bared from the best markets due to inferiority; all information that I am aware of says that English woolens were some of the best in the world.  Perhaps Lee meant that the color of the cloth was inferior which would match Lee’s assessment that English were particularly interested in cochineal to meet continental demand.[100] Richard Hakluyt declared in 1584 that nearly half of all English trade with Spain was a result of Spain’s control of cochineal and new world indigo (blue plant-based dye).  Even war could not stop English demand for cochineal; the Anglo-Spanish War of 1588-1604 hampered trade but English residents in Spain still managed to import the dye to England.  Once the war was over English citizens went to the source of cochineal in the New World.[101] Allowing cochineal trade during times of war became a pattern for England even into the early 18th century.  While it is beyond the scope of this paper, it is useful to point out an Act of Parliament made in 1708 that allowed for the “Importation of Cochineal from any ports in Spain, during the present War, and Six months longer.”[102] This act holds that cochineal was of

“principal use in the Dying of Clothes, and other the Woollen Manufacture of this Kingdom, Scarlets, Purples and other Colours call Grain Colours, to the great improvement thereof, and the employment of great Numbers of Her Majesties Subjects in finishing and perfecting such Woollen Manufacture.”[103]

Since it was of such importance to English manufacture this law allowed for the lawful importation of cochineal on any “ship or ships, vessel or vessels, belonging to any Kingdom or State in Amity with her Majesty.”[104] In other words the British Parliament legalized cochineal piracy in 1708 and did so again in 1715.[105] By the early 1600’s the dyers of Suffolk were consuming 40,000 pounds of cochineal yearly, which at the time was one-seventh of total Spanish imports from the New World.[106] This number seems staggering but illustrates England’s and the rest of the world’s dependence and demand for a fine red cloth.  Even Lee doubts these figures somewhat and believes that they might be an exaggeration.  With so much demand piracy was inevitable; the early 1700’s not withstanding the British privateers’ actively perused cochineal from the late 1500’s.  Even Drake, who was the son of a cloth maker, had dreams of acquiring cochineal in 1577 when he set out on his world voyage aboard the Golden Hind.[107] Spain itself did not shrink from using its trade resources as a tool of war against Protestants in Holland and England; in 1586 Philip II of Spain ordered that all trade should cease with them.  While this band applied to all Spanish goods, the textile trades were hit particularly hard.[108] Both countries could import cochineal from France, and did so, but using trade as a tool of war (hot or cold) only encouraged privateers and their sponsors.  Spanish ships were not an easy prize; trading vessels were sent across the Atlantic in convoys with heavily armed warships as guards.  Like wolves targeting prey, pirates would target any lagging vessels in their more agile and light weight ships.  The Spanish shipping schedule and routes were well known and so the pirates simply waited for the Spanish to come to them.  In 1589 English privateers captured a ship with 30,000 pounds of cochineal, nearly 10% of that year’s harvest.  That same year another ship was taken with 600 heavy cases of it.[109] In later years, ships continued to come into port with Spanish captured cochineal.  In 1592 they captured 50,000 pounds and in 1597, the famous privateer Essex captured 55,000 pounds.  This piracy, even if legalized by the English Crown, was still an attack from the Spanish point of view and it only served contribute to its wild supply and price fluctuation in Europe.  Nor were the Spanish the only targets; French, Dutch and Florentine ships all suffered.  The ultimate result was that the Spanish began to separate the cargo over a number of ships and flotillas so that no one attack could be devastating.  In addition Spanish authorities allowed merchants to put small amounts of cochineal on navios de aviso, which were swift messenger ships that usually were prohibited from caring cargo.[110] The attacks continued.  It would be remiss of me to fail to mention the symbolism associated with red and war; the conflict over the red dye had taken on a symbolic aspect for both the British and the Spanish.  I cannot help but wonder if the red gowns of Elizabeth I and her courtiers were not a small snub made to the Spanish.  I also suspect that the red favored by men like Essex were a reminder to the Crown of their exploits, not that it helped Essex any; Essex too wore red to his own execution in 1601.  This was not a small matter because Elizabeth herself had stepped in to help Essex deal with the Admiralty Court and customs to decide the fate of his cochineal cargo in 1597.  Even after personal differences she allowed him to buy the bulk of the cochineal for 18 shillings a pound (when price fair market price was 30-40 shillings at the time) on top of the ₤7,000 prize.  In addition she banned the importation of cochineal to England for two years giving him an effective monopoly.[111] He proved ungrateful for her favor and was executed for treason in 1601.  Essex’s death was also the death of cochineal piracy; James Stuart who came to the thrown in 1603 put an end to the pricy and the war with Spain.

The French, Italians, Dutch, were also consuming large quantities of cochineal.  It helped to drive one of the largest industries in Europe; the textile industry.  It was exported to Germany, Russian and into the Middle East.  In the Middle East it was used in Turkish carpets but they also had other sources for bright reds.[112] Textiles finished with cochineal were part of the luxury good that reached Africa as part of the slave trade.[113] The bulk of the dye stayed in Europe.  Cochineal would also reach Asia across the Pacific; the Chinese called it yang hung or “foreign red”.[114] It was part of the trade routes developed by China and Spain between Acapulco and the Philippines.  Silver and cochineal among other luxury good made their way to China and silk returned to Central American, some of which moved on to Europe.  Cochineal had circled the globe by the early 1600’s.

It was not until 1777 when the ban on exportation of live cochineal was broken by Thiéry de Menonvile.  While this particular expedition failed others soon succeed and the Spanish monopoly on production ended.[115] Production was established in Java, the Canary Islands and Algeria among other locations.  Cochineal had now changed the course of the textile industry all over the world; thereby serving to illustrate that the Atlantic world was not isolated from the other half of the globe.  We tend to believe in the modern world that we are first to discover globalization but this is an illusion.  Cochineal trade shows us how small a world it truly is.

Closing:

Cochineal has proven to be a unique view of historical events pushing historians to use a multi-disciplinary approach in efforts to put it into context.  While Donkin and Lee’s articles may be historical works they invariably lead the reader to more diverse subjects such as art history because red, either from cochineal or other sources, is a visual history.  Additionally Greenfield’s work touches upon a modern fascination for fashion which puts a subject like cochineal on the bookshelves of Barnes and Nobel.  It is history written for the mass market but that does not invalidate it but rather gives a mass market audience a chance to see part of history that they would otherwise overlook by making it relevant to their interests.  Cochineal is, in short, a perfect example of the intricacies of history; messy, complicated, and compelling.

If there has been any challenge in this research it would be in finding a stopping point that did not seam arbitrary and summarizing the available information within the parameters of this paper.  Cochineal has, in the course of research, turned out to be a very broad subject that I found fascinating.  The end date chosen for this paper is complexly arbitrary on my part and this does not mean that the study of cochineal after this point would not be worth the time; I cannot help but feel like I was just getting to the good part of a story when I had to stop.  Further, this paper has, of course, generated more questions than answers.  Some of them, such as lingering questions concerning the multiple motivations behind the desire of religious officials in both the Old and New World to grow cochineal could be answered to some satisfaction with further research.  Other questions, such as the development of cochineal before the Spanish conquest will be harder to answer and will rely on the research of archeologists as well as historians because much of the information in yet to be found, if it still exists at all.  Further questions are raised about exploitation and slavery in the New World.  For my own pursuits, the most compelling question that lingers is that of Genoa, who until 1550 did not allow cochineal to be used by their textile guilds while still maintaining a substantial financial and trade interest in Spain and her new colonies.  I wonder if the information that I have available to me on Genoa is correct or if there is information yet to be found in an old library somewhere.  In perusing this last question, I would be forced to answer many of the others that were generated by this research, which is something that I would enjoy.

We should not assume that the story of cochineal is over with the invention of modern red aniline dye in the 1878.  Cochineal can be found in modern cosmetics; lipsticks, rouge and eye-shadows[116].  It is in Cherry Coke too; the color additive E120, carmine or red coloring A.[117] The greatest modern sources of cochineal are now the Canary Islands, Peru and Chile with the former producing the bulk of the product.  The Canary Islands became a source of cochineal with the help of the British in 1861, when they introduced to the islands in an effort of secure a source of cochineal for their own Manchester Mills.[118] It is still grown and harvested in the traditional methods; there are no short cuts for cochineal just as there are none for silk production.  This is all the more staggering with the understanding that the modern food and beauty markets demanded 150-200 metric tons of cochineal annually in 1979.[119] If the modern growing methods are not much different than the ancient techniques, then the dyeing process is not much different either.  The invention of temperature controlled dyeing vats has helped but the recipes are still much the same; one insect producing colors ranging from light pinks to deep purples as determined by the mix of metal salt mordents, time and temperature and most importantly the crop.[120] The demand of cochineal dyed fabrics is no longer significant.  In an effort to produce a more appetizing and appealing food live, pregnant insects are churned into Color Index Number 4 in large steel vats.[121] They are mashed, strained, cooked, pasteurized and shipped to food producers all over the world; Cochineal is still an international product.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


[1] Schoeser, M. and J. Macdonald (2007). Silk. New Haven, CT, Yale University Press. Page 121

[2] I have an issues with the costume historian Laver specifically, who is notoriously unreliable and who, at the very least, does not meet the burdens of scholarly research.

[3]Yang, S. (2004). Traditional Chinese Clothing; Costumes, Adornment & Culture. San Francisco, Long River Press. Page 2-5

[4] Hall, R. (2001). Egyptian Textiles. Buckinghamshire, England, Shire Publications Ltd. Page 10-11

[5] Finlay, V. (2002). Color: A Natural History of the Palette. New York, NY, Random House Trade Paperbacks. Page 142

[6] Greenfield, A. B. (2006). The Perfect Red; Empire Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire. New York, New York, Harper Perennial. Page 18-19

[7] Almost all sumptuary laws were designed to do more than one thing at one time.  Queen Elizabeth justifies her new laws by suggesting that the importation of foreign fashions (presumably from Catholic France, Spain and Italy) were ruining the estates of young men in England.  So these laws are also meant to curb the importation of foreign goods, therefore encouraging domestic spending in addition to curbing the ruinous spending of the young which limited the estates the crown could tax.  Class delineation was also a main goal of the legislation.  Other laws, like those issued by Charles I of England or Louis the XIV of France were designed to encourage economic growth, to keep their nobility poor and debt (poor nobility could not fund revolutions) or to help to regulate the textile industries.  Still others are meant to punish, such as those applied to the dress of prostitutes.  The usual punishments for violations were fines but imprisonments and banishment were not unheard of.  (Ashelford, J. (1996). The Art of Dress: Clothes and Society 1500-1914. London, England, The National Trust. Page 91 & 189-190)

[8] If station was a sign of rank or income then the wearing of certain items was a way of showing rank and income; this was perhaps a greater incentive for nobility to obey the laws more than fines that they could afford to pay.

[9] Baldwin, F. E. (1926). Sumptuary Legislation and Personal Regulation in England. Baltimore, MD, The Johns Hopkins Press. Pages 217-219 & 224

[10] Lee, R. L. (1951). “American Cochineal in European Commerce 1526-1625.” The Journal of Modern History 23(3): 205-224. Pages 207-208

[11] Baldwin, F. E. (1926). Sumptuary Legislation and Personal Regulation in England. Baltimore, MD, The Johns Hopkins Press. Pages 217-219 & 224

[12] Madder is one of the oldest and most common dyestuffs but it is not the only choice in plant dyes for red.  In Europe and Asia there was also Henna, St. John’s Wart, Brazilwood & Safflower to name a few.   In the New World there is Hardy hibiscus (Rose Mallow), & Log Wood.  (Dean, J. (1999). Wild Color; The Complete Guide to Making and Using Natural Dyes. New York, NY, Watson-Guptill Publications. Pages 78, 81, 94, 96-7, & 124)

[13] Hall, R. (2001). Egyptian Textiles. Buckinghamshire, England, Shire Publications Ltd. Pages 10-11.  Safflower, which is found in Africa and Asia, is also possible.

[14] Ibid. Page 11

[15] Dean, J. (1999). Wild Color; The Complete Guide to Making and Using Natural Dyes. New York, NY, Watson-Guptill Publications. Page 115

[16] Greenfield, A. B. (2006). The Perfect Red; Empire Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire. New York, New York, Harper Perennial. Page 30

[17] Ibid. Page 30

[18] Ibid. Page 30

[19] Ibid. Page 31

[20] Wilson, K. (1979). A History of Textiles. Boulder, CO, Westview Press., page 92 and Lee, R. L. (1948). “Cochineal Production and Trade in New Spain to 1600.” The Americas 4(4): 449-473. Page 451

[21] Wilson, K. (1979). A History of Textiles. Boulder, CO, Westview Press., page 334-336 & Lee, R. L. (1948). “Cochineal Production and Trade in New Spain to 1600.” The Americas 4(4): 449-473. Page 452 & Berdan, F. F. and P. R. Anawalt (1997). The Essential Codex Mendoza. Berkley, CA, University of California Press.

[22] Donkin, R. A. (1977). “Spanish Red: An Ethnogeographical Study of Cochineal and the Opuntia Cactus.” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society Held at Philadelphia for the Promoting Useful Knowledge 67(5): 1-84. Page 21

[23] Lee, R. L. (1948). “Cochineal Production and Trade in New Spain to 1600.” The Americas 4(4): 449-473. Page 452

[24] Berdan, F. F. and P. R. Anawalt (1997). The Essential Codex Mendoza. Berkley, CA, University of California Press. Page 108

[25] Lee, R. L. (1948). “Cochineal Production and Trade in New Spain to 1600.” The Americas 4(4): 449-473. Page 451

[26] Berdan, F. F. and P. R. Anawalt (1997). The Essential Codex Mendoza. Berkley, CA, University of California Press., page xii-xiii

[27] The Tlaxcaltecan were a neighboring rival group in Mezzo-America.

[28] Berdan, F. F. and P. R. Anawalt (1997). The Essential Codex Mendoza. Berkley, CA, University of California Press. Page 44-45

[29] Lee, R. L. (1948). “Cochineal Production and Trade in New Spain to 1600.” The Americas 4(4): 449-473. Pages 452-453 & Wilson, K. (1979). A History of Textiles. Boulder, CO, Westview Press. Page 332

[30] Lee, R. L. (1948). “Cochineal Production and Trade in New Spain to 1600.” The Americas 4(4): 449-473. Page 453 & Donkin, R. A. (1977). “Spanish Red: An Ethnogeographical Study of Cochineal and the Opuntia Cactus.” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society Held at Philadelphia for the Promoting Useful Knowledge 67(5): 1-84. Page 13

[31] Lee, R. L. (1948). “Cochineal Production and Trade in New Spain to 1600.” The Americas 4(4): 449-473. Page 453

[32] Donkin, R. A. (1977). “Spanish Red: An Ethnogeographical Study of Cochineal and the Opuntia Cactus.” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society Held at Philadelphia for the Promoting Useful Knowledge 67(5): 1-84. Page 23

[33] Ibid. Pages 14-17

[34] Ibid. Page 17

[35] Ibid. Pages 14-17

[36] Ibid. Pages 18-19

[37] Alonso de Zorita’s stay in New Spain was from 1556-1566.

[38] Zorita, A. d. (1963). Life and Labor in Ancient Mexico: The Brief and Summary Relations of the Lords of New Spain. New Brunswick, NJ, Rutgers University Press. Page 152

[39] Featherwork is a type of pile fabric constructed with feathers rather than fibers similar to a velvet made of feathers.  This style of work is also found among the Inca and was unique to Central and South America.

[40] Zorita, A. d. (1963). Life and Labor in Ancient Mexico: The Brief and Summary Relations of the Lords of New Spain. New Brunswick, NJ, Rutgers University Press. Pages 155-156

[41] Lee, R. L. (1948). “Cochineal Production and Trade in New Spain to 1600.” The Americas 4(4): 449-473. Page 454

[42] Ibid. Page 454

[43] Ibid. Page 454

[44] Kamen, H. (2003). Empire: How Spain Became a World Power 1492-1763. New York, NY, Harper Collins Publishers. Page 96 & Greenfield, A. B. (2006). The Perfect Red; Empire Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire. New York, New York, Harper Perennial. Page 56

[45] Greenfield, A. B. (2006). The Perfect Red; Empire Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire. New York, New York, Harper Perennial. Page 56

[46] Kamen, H. (2003). Empire: How Spain Became a World Power 1492-1763. New York, NY, Harper Collins Publishers. Pages 96-97

[47] Greenfield, A. B. (2006). The Perfect Red; Empire Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire. New York, New York, Harper Perennial. Page 57

[48] Ibid. Page 58

[49] Kamen, H. (2003). Empire: How Spain Became a World Power 1492-1763. New York, NY, Harper Collins Publishers. Page 105

[50] Ibid. Page 105

[51] Ibid. Page 122

[52] Greenfield, A. B. (2006). The Perfect Red; Empire Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire. New York, New York, Harper Perennial. Page 57

[53] Lee, R. L. (1948). “Cochineal Production and Trade in New Spain to 1600.” The Americas 4(4): 449-473. Page 454

[54] Greenfield, A. B. (2006). The Perfect Red; Empire Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire. New York, New York, Harper Perennial. Page 65

[55] Lee, R. L. (1948). “Cochineal Production and Trade in New Spain to 1600.” The Americas 4(4): 449-473. Page 455

[56] Ibid. Page 455

[57] Ibid. Page 455

[58] Donkin, R. A. (1977). “Spanish Red: An Ethnogeographical Study of Cochineal and the Opuntia Cactus.” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society Held at Philadelphia for the Promoting Useful Knowledge 67(5): 1-84. Page 23-24

[59] Ibid. Page 24 & Lee, R. L. (1948). “Cochineal Production and Trade in New Spain to 1600.” The Americas 4(4): 449-473. Page 455

[60] Donkin, R. A. (1977). “Spanish Red: An Ethnogeographical Study of Cochineal and the Opuntia Cactus.” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society Held at Philadelphia for the Promoting Useful Knowledge 67(5): 1-84. Page 26

[61] Ibid. Page 24

[62] Kamen, H. (2003). Empire: How Spain Became a World Power 1492-1763. New York, NY, Harper Collins Publishers. Page 127

[63] Cowans, J., Ed. (2003). Early Modern Spain: A Documentary History. Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press. Pages 102

[64] Ibid. Page 102

[65] Zorita, A. d. (1963). Life and Labor in Ancient Mexico: The Brief and Summary Relations of the Lords of New Spain. New Brunswick, NJ, Rutgers University Press. Page 187

[66] Ibid. Pages 239-240

[67] Ibid. Page 243

[68] Ibid. Page 253

[69] Greenfield, A. B. (2006). The Perfect Red; Empire Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire. New York, New York, Harper Perennial. Pages 63-64

[70] Ibid. Page 93

[71] Ibid. Pages 93-94

[72] Ibid. Pages 94-95

[73] Ibid. Pages 96-97

[74] Donkin, R. A. (1977). “Spanish Red: An Ethnogeographical Study of Cochineal and the Opuntia Cactus.” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society Held at Philadelphia for the Promoting Useful Knowledge 67(5): 1-84. Page 25

[75] Ibid. Page 13

[76] Ibid. Page 15

[77] Ibid. Page 25 & Lee, R. L. (1948). “Cochineal Production and Trade in New Spain to 1600.” The Americas 4(4): 449-473. Pages 457-458

[78] Lee, R. L. (1951). “American Cochineal in European Commerce 1526-1625.” The Journal of Modern History 23(3): 205-224. Page 205

[79] Lee, R. L. (1948). “Cochineal Production and Trade in New Spain to 1600.” The Americas 4(4): 449-473. Page 457 & Donkin, R. A. (1977). “Spanish Red: An Ethnogeographical Study of Cochineal and the Opuntia Cactus.” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society Held at Philadelphia for the Promoting Useful Knowledge 67(5): 1-84. Page 25

[80] Kamen, H. (2003). Empire: How Spain Became a World Power 1492-1763. New York, NY, Harper Collins Publishers. Page 206

[81] Lee, R. L. (1948). “Cochineal Production and Trade in New Spain to 1600.” The Americas 4(4): 449-473. Page 457

[82] Lee, R. L. (1951). “American Cochineal in European Commerce 1526-1625.” The Journal of Modern History 23(3): 205-224. Page 208

[83] Ibid. Page 206

[84] Greenfield, A. B. (2006). The Perfect Red; Empire Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire. New York, New York, Harper Perennial. Pages 72-73

[85] Mola, L. (2000). The Silk Industry of Renaissance Venice. Baltimore, MD and London, England, The Johns Hopkins University Press. Pages 122-124

[86] Ibid. Pages 124-125

[87] Ibid. Pages 121-122

[88] Kamen, H. (2003). Empire: How Spain Became a World Power 1492-1763. New York, NY, Harper Collins Publishers. Page 135, 154-155 and 293

[89] Ibid. Page 135

[90] Ibid. Page 289

[91] Ibid. Page 293

[92] Donkin, R. A. (1977). “Spanish Red: An Ethnogeographical Study of Cochineal and the Opuntia Cactus.” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society Held at Philadelphia for the Promoting Useful Knowledge 67(5): 1-84. Page 37

[93] Cochineal also affected the wool guilds in similar way but the initial resistance was soon put to rest and bright scarlet wool was soon available for sale. (Mola, L. (2000). The Silk Industry of Renaissance Venice. Baltimore, MD and London, England, The Johns Hopkins University Press. Pages 129-130) Cochineal was also being experimented with by painters, with less than desirable results.

[94] Ibid. Page 128

[95] Lee, R. L. (1951). “American Cochineal in European Commerce 1526-1625.” The Journal of Modern History 23(3): 205-224. Page 206

[96] Lee, R. L. (1948). “Cochineal Production and Trade in New Spain to 1600.” The Americas 4(4): 449-473. Page 460

[97] Lee, R. L. (1951). “American Cochineal in European Commerce 1526-1625.” The Journal of Modern History 23(3): 205-224. Pages 207-211

[98] Ibid. Page 207

[99] Ibid. Page 207

[100] Ibid. Page 207

[101] Ibid. Page 208

[102] Britain, G. (1708). An Act for the Importation of Cochineal from any Ports in Spain, during the present War and Six Months Longer. G. B. Parliment, Charles Bill and the executrix of Thomas Newcomb, deceas’d; printers tothe Queens most excellent Majesty. Public General Acts 1707-1708 6&7 Anne c. 32: 2.

[103] Ibid.

[104] Ibid.

[105] Britian, G. (1715-1716). An Act for the Free Importation of Cochineal, during the time therein limited. G. B. Parliament, printed by John Baskett and by the assigns of Thomas Newcomb and Henry Hills, deceas’d 1716: 1-2.

[106] Lee, R. L. (1951). “American Cochineal in European Commerce 1526-1625.” The Journal of Modern History 23(3): 205-224. Page 208

[107] Greenfield, A. B. (2006). The Perfect Red; Empire Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire. New York, New York, Harper Perennial. Page 113

[108] Ibid. Page 114

[109] Ibid. Page 116

[110] Ibid. Page 117

[111] Ibid. Pages 120-121

[112] Lac was the most common red dye they used but cochineal was also put to use in Turkey and Persia during the late 1500’s and early 1600’s.  Donkin, R. A. (1977). “Spanish Red: An Ethnogeographical Study of Cochineal and the Opuntia Cactus.” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society Held at Philadelphia for the Promoting Useful Knowledge 67(5): 1-84. Pages 38-39

[113] Greenfield, A. B. (2006). The Perfect Red; Empire Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire. New York, New York, Harper Perennial. Page 81

[114] Ibid. Page 85

[115] Donkin, R. A. (1977). “Spanish Red: An Ethnogeographical Study of Cochineal and the Opuntia Cactus.” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society Held at Philadelphia for the Promoting Useful Knowledge 67(5): 1-84. Page 46

[116] Finlay, V. (2002). Color: A Natural History of the Palette. New York, NY, Random House Trade Paperbacks., Page 137

[117] In addition to Cherry Coke, cochineal can be found as the coloring agent in Princess Pink Marshmallows, candies called Liquorice Comfits and Spinning Tops, some Nesquik pink milk products & some Jones Natural Drinks to name just a few.  The majority of these products cannot be found in US markets; rather Mexican and South American food products.  Recipes vary from country to country according to health food regulations.  (Ibid., page 138 & Gade, D. (1979). “Past Glory and Present Status of Cochineal.” Geographical Review 69(3): 353-354. Pages 353-354)

[118] Donkin, R. A. (1977). “Spanish Red: An Ethnogeographical Study of Cochineal and the Opuntia Cactus.” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society Held at Philadelphia for the Promoting Useful Knowledge 67(5): 1-84. Page 37

[119] Gade, D. (1979). “Past Glory and Present Status of Cochineal.” Geographical Review 69(3): 353-354. Page 353

I do not have figures for today’s market production.

[120] Finlay, V. (2002). Color: A Natural History of the Palette. New York, NY, Random House Trade Paperbacks., Page 141

[121] Ibid., Page 141-142

9 Responses to Cochineal Production and Trade from Central America: Pre-Conquest to 1650

  1. Pingback: Cochineal Production and Trade from Central America: Pre-Conquest to 1650 | A Fashionable Excuse

  2. Folkert van Wijk says:

    First, this is one great webpage with a lot of good information! Thanks for that!
    Second, I am at the moment looking into Guatemala’s colonial history. With the intension of recreating (reenacting) a Spanish Colonial persona living in New Spain.
    His name will be “Coronel de Cochinilla” He is a militia leader and makes his living by running or owning a Cochineal Finca (farm). Unfortunatly the time period would be 1710 and therefore be outside your eara more or less. My aim with this figure is to be able to explain about Colonial live focused on the history of Guatemala. Using as many as possible, old or recreated papers paintings, drawing, books houshold goods, clothing and other bits and things. To illustrate and emerge people into the colonial life and my story. Offcourse my trade (cochineal) needs to be illustrated as well accompanied by the things that I could tell about it. So your imput here is allready valued highly for that! Still i would like to ask what is there more to know about cochineal production anno 1700? An I would like to ask also if it is possible to get, high resolution images of the images here on this website, I will use them ones by printing them as authenticly as possible to use durring my storytelling…

    Sincerly Folkert van Wijk

  3. Paloma says:

    Wonderful work! I would like to share this with my students in class (painting with natural pigments), if you would agree
    Thank you!
    Paloma Diaz Abreu

  4. Good ¡V I should certainly pronounce, impressed with your site. I had no trouble navigating through all tabs and related info ended up being truly easy to do to access. I recently found what I hoped for before you know it in the least. Quite unusual. Is likely to appreciate it for those who add forums or anything, website theme . a tones way for your client to communicate. Excellent task..

  5. Pingback: Makeup as Ritual: Man as Art

  6. Jim says:

    Cochineal was not produced in Central America during the period from 1620 to 1650. It was produced in the Virreinato de Nueva España (Viceroyalty of New Spain) in the southern highlands of what is now México, where it is still produced.

  7. Emanuel says:

    Thank you. your work is very interesting, I looking information about the cochineal production in the Mixteca , Oaxaca during the Colonial period, if you have some recomendation I apprecite you too much.

  8. Jim Saunders says:

    See Phipps, Eleana; Cochineal Red / The art history of a color; Metropolitan museum of art/Yale University press; 2010.

  9. Pingback: In Search of …. | Under the Pecan Leaves

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s