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The Asian Shawl Trade 1500 -1800 AD

The Asian Shawl Trade 1500 -1800 AD

“Consuming Kashmir: Shawls and Empires 1500 – 2000″

PART – 1

(The Asian Shawl Trade 1500 -1800 AD is first part of  the article regarding the great history of genuine Kashmir Pashmina Shawls (Today’s GI Kashmir Pashmina) was found luckily after a deep research from ‘Journal of World history” online. This article provides a great research by Michelle Maskiell regarding this most luxurious product of fashion industry which has gone through the test of times. I am directly copying and pasting without any editing on this website for general information of Kashmir Pashmina customers and lovers who want to know more about the genuine Kashmir Pashmina (GI Kashmir Pashmina). This article has been posted in parts for the ease of readers.


Michelle Maskiell, “Consuming Kashmir: Shawls and Empires, 1500-2000,” Journal of World History 13, no. 1 (Spring 1992), 27–65.

Abstract: Kashmiri shawls serve as a material vector to trace how European assumptions of geographical determinism, racial hierarchy, and gender essentialism underpinned the seemingly disparate nineteenth-century narratives about design history and various theories about an “Asiatic mode of production” in labor history. The continuing strength of these assumptions is demonstrated by the contemporary marketing in 2001 of pashmina (“woven goat hair” or cashmere) shawls, using the recycled tropes of exoticism and fantasy ethnography crafted during the heyday of British colonialism.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, wealthy Europeans embraced Kashmiri shawl cloth with as much enthusiasm as Americans who discovered polyester fleece at the end of the twentieth century. 1 Kashmiri shawls were fabric rectangles worn primarily as shoulder mantles from the 1770s until the 1870s, and they came in a wide variety of sizes, patterns, and modes throughout the century of their widespread popularity in Europe and the United States. Handloom weavers in Kashmir produced this soft, warm, goat-hair fabric for a world market long before affluent Western women draped their bodies with these distinctive wraps. 2 Luxurious Kashmiri shawl fabric was wound as men’s turbans in Egypt, stitched into wealthy Iranian women’s [End Page 27] jackets, prized for men’s coats in Turkestan, worn as sashes in Tibet, and gifted to both “dancing girls” and male nobles from Delhi to Istanbul. 3

The word “cashmere,” from the eighteenth-century English spelling of Kashmiri shawls’ geographical home, was popularly linked with “exotic” luxury in nineteenth-century Britain. European and American firms used “cashmere” to give distinction to locally manufactured shawls, fabrics, and even toiletries. (A talcum powder named “Cashmere Bouquet” is still sold by an American mail order business which specializes in commodity nostalgia, with an advertisement situating the product in the 1870s.) 4 Western manufacturers produced imitation Kashmiri shawls and used the word “cashmere” to promote their own products. 5 Similarly, in the late 1990s western European and American marketing relied on the exoticism of a different Subcontinental word, pashmina, to sell plain-weave shawls made from the same goat hair as “cashmere.” 6 Pashmina shawls went from being exclusive high fashion to middle-class popularity in 2000.

The domestication of Subcontinental textiles in Europe and America has been within historically contingent cycles of appropriating and renaming Asian

handcrafted textiles for home markets. First, Europeans tried to monopolize the collection of commodities in Asia and their transportation home. Second, Europeans manufactured import substitutes which copied the commodities, from Chinese porcelain to [End Page 28] Kashmiri shawls. Third, Europeans incorporated both the imports and their European-made copies into the western European and Euro-American “fashion cycles” for Chinoiserie, Orientalism, Japonisme, “Indian style,” and so on. Kashmiri shawls serve as a material vector to trace persistent patterns within the historical context of one such cycle. 7

European and American art historians constructed a “rise and fall” narrative about Kashmiri shawls in which both their production and their consumption were driven by European fashion demands and design trends. Briefly, the story started when eighteenth-century European traders “discovered” Kashmiri shawls marked by a characteristic woven design, a teardrop with a bent tip. This design, the buta (or boteh, literally “flower”) inspired one of the most often repeated Western textile motifs, commonly known today as the “paisley” in the United States and Canada. Technological invention and design innovation made the nineteenth-century machine-made shawls competitive with Kashmiri shawls and intensified the degeneration of authentic Kashmiri designs and weaving techniques caused by European influences. In the first half of the nineteenth century, the Scottish town of Paisley, near Glasgow, became famous for its imitation Kashmiri shawls with the buta motif, and, after about 1850, many English speakers started to use the town’s name to describe any shawl with this design. Around 1870, according to this story, European fashion changes and political events ended the demand for Kashmiri shawls and ruined the shawl business in Kashmir.

European shawl manufacturers “transformed” shawls “into a European taste and business” to the extent that a Paisley-made imitation Kashmiri shawl and “an English at-home dress of the same period might [both] be seen as indigenous western dress” (Martin 1995, 209). This appropriation, a naturalization of the violence enabling colonial possession of shawl design as well as the earlier possession of Kashmiri shawls as trade goods, continues today in Europe and America. In the following 1999 U.S. catalog merchandising of a skirt, for instance, the transportation of the “exotic paisley” seems independent of the British imperial economic regime that brought model shawls to Europe, and the design’s availability for Euro-American consumption is individualized: [End Page 29] “From Kashmir to Scotland, via Egypt and France, with a few additional stops en route. The exotic paisley, serpentine and mesmerizing, has traveled through history and across the world to enfold you in its embrace.” 8 Kashmiri shawls had once followed a similar route. Uncritical of such commercial discourse or complicitous with it, many European and American textile historians who have written about and helped display vintage Kashmiri shawls have overestimated the importance of European consumption (for example, Levi-Strauss 1998). They have likewise underestimated the importance of colonialism for the procurement of Kashmiri model shawls and their characteristic design.

This essay is divided into five sections; the first traces the Asian trade in Kashmiri shawls from the sixteenth through the eighteenth century. Specifically western European and Euro-American consumption of Kashmiri shawls is the subject of the second section, followed by a third sketching western European and American manufacture of imitation shawls. The fourth section considers eighteenth- and nineteenth-century changes in the Kashmiri production and Asian consumption of shawls in light of British imperial economic, political, and cultural goals in Asia. The final section explores implications for Eurocentric narratives about Asian workers. I argue that gender was as important as race in nineteenth-century colonial labor discourses about handloom weavers and their products. The commonplaces of contemporary U.S. marketing for South Asian textiles, including pashmina shawls, remain the recycled tropes of exoticism and fantasy ethnography crafted during the heyday of British colonialism (see also “ethnic” textiles from South America in Hendrickson 1996).

The Asian Shawl Trade 1500–1800

Kashmiri shawls and shawl cloth were well-known exports within Asia and moved through established trade networks linking international areas of demand long before the shawls became European commodities. From the sixteenth through the eighteenth century, Kashmiri artisans wove cloth from Central Asian goat fleece, silk, and other materials. Dealers brought unprocessed goat hair to Kashmir from the city of Leh in Ladakh (see Map 1), the long-established entrêpot between Kashmir and Central Asia. 9 Merchants and peddlers in caravans carried the [End Page 30] [Begin Page 32] finished shawls overland, some going north to Central Asia and east to China, while others ventured west to Russia and the Ottoman Empire. Although western historiography of India’s domestic and foreign trade in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries has stressed European sea trade with India, exports to Europe “were [still] exceeded by far by the volume of India’s trade with Asian and African countries” (Tchitcherov 1998, 136). The intra-Asian overland exchange continued to compete successfully with European traders on some routes and for some goods in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. For example, the Central Asian trade which carried Kashmiri shawls to Russia continued well into the nineteenth century. 10 P.N.K. Bamzai (1980) repeated a mid-nineteenth-century British estimate that shawls worth Rs. 50,000 annually were still being exported from Kashmir through Ladakh to the “Chinese provinces.” Both Asian and European merchants moved Subcontinental shawls from their sites of production to their sites of consumption along distribution networks that evolved gradually from Asian-focused seventeenth-century routes to the bustling colonial trade routes of the nineteenth century (Veinstein 1999; Chaudhury and Morineau 2000).

The Emperors of the Safavid, Zand, and Qajar empires in Iran (c. 1500–1924) and the Mughal court of North India and its regional satellites (1526–1848) used Kashmiri shawls and shawl cloth within their “established and evolving social relations of consumption” (Howes 1996, 2). For example, they bestowed shawls as khil’at (“robes of honor”) within their political and religious practices. In the Iranian-influenced culture of the Mughal Indian court, fine garments given in political settings were intended to establish a hierarchical relationship between the giver and the recipient, whose acceptance acknowledged submission. Indeed, the word “khil’at” originally meant “something [End Page 32] passed on,” especially a “garment cast off” (Buckler 1922, 197 and 1928, 240). The robes of honor typically were exorbitantly expensive fabrics. The Mughal khil’at consisted of a sumptuous set of clothes, which could include a turban, long coat, gown, fitted jacket, sash, shawl, trousers, shirt, and scarf. One or all of these could be made of pashmina (shawl cloth) and embellished further with gold-thread embroidery. 11 Symbolic of the greatly reduced circumstances of the last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah (r. 1837–58), were the audiences he gave at the Red Fort in Delhi, when he would present cheap pieces of fabric to British visitors as a token khil’at (Fisher 1990, 455)

Zahiruddin Babur (1483–1530) founded the Mughal (from “Mongol”) Empire in 1526 C.E.., and established the custom of rewarding allies with robes of honor. A pair of Kashmiri shawls became an expected part of khil’at ceremonies under his grandson, the Mughal Emperor Akbar (r. 1556–1606). After conquering Kashmir in 1568, Akbar showed great interest in the production of Kashmiri shawls, and encouraged their use through his personal example. He initiated shawl cloth production in imperial workshops at Lahore, Patna, and Agra, directing changes in how these shawls were to be woven and dyed (Chandra 1989, 65, 67). In addition to the finest shawls made of white shah tush (wild ibex hair) supposedly reserved for the Emperor and his family, artisans wove shawls from domesticated goat hair, silk, sheep wool, or combinations of fibers (67; Ames 1997, 360; Saraf 1982, 2). During Akbar’s reign, robes of honor were normally given within the emperor’s ruling circle, but the practice was greatly expanded under his successors.

Members of the Mughal imperial court consumed large quantities of Kashmiri shawls between the sixteenth and mid-nineteenth century. Imperial patronage by the Mughal Emperors was reflected in the names of certain designs, such as “Shah Pasand” (Emperor’s Delight), and “Buta Muhammad Shah” (Muhammad Shah’s Flower), named after the emperor who reigned from 1720 until 1742. As late as the reign of Akbar II (1806–37), a painting of the Mughal court displayed the continued desirability of these textiles; every figure in the painting appears to be wearing one or more shawls (Mikosch 1985, 9; Saraf 72).

Kashmiri shawls were also in continual demand in Iran from the sixteenth to the early twentieth centuries. The emperors and family [End Page 33] members of the Safavid, Zand, and Qajar dynasties often wore Kashmiri shawl fabrics (Bier 1987), 12 and Iranian emperors gifted Kashmiri shawls as robes of honor throughout their rule. Both women and men of the Iranian elite likewise provided a large market for Kashmiri shawl cloth; they did not wear shawls in the English-language sense of a loose wrap about the upper body, but shawl cloth was tailored into their fitted clothes (Scarce 1988 /89, 23). Fath Ali Shah (r. 1797–1834) promoted Iranian shawl-weaving using the fleece of Kermani goats and sheep and tried to limit competition by restricting shawl imports from Kashmir (Bier, 25). At the end of the eighteenth century, a senior British official reported that Kashmiri shawls reached Iran both overland, through Afghanistan, and by sea, via the Persian Gulf (Malcolm cited in Issawi, 1971, 266).

Kashmiri products had to compete with shawl cloth designed specifically for Iranian consumption, woven by artisans in Kerman, Mashad, and Yazd. For example, in 1849–50, Kerman alone had 2,200 looms for weaving shawls along with looms for woolen cloth, together producing approximately £40,000 to 45,000 worth of goods (Abbott quoted in Issawi 1971, 267). Jakob Polak, a German physician who lived in Iran in the 1850s, wrote that “Persian shawls… are comparable in design and color to those of Kashmir, but are far inferior in suppleness and closeness of weave.” Kermani shawls, reported Polak, were exported to “Constantinople and Alexandria,” while those made at Yazd were sent to “Constantinople and Russia” (cited in Issawi, 269, 271). Until the early twentieth century, Kermani and Kashmiri shawl cloth continued to be used by the Qajar court in Iran as gifts from the shah to those he wished to honor, as formal attire for members of the court, and as shrouds for the wealthy (Scarce, 33; Bier, 31).

The Kashmiri shawl trade in Asia was often disrupted by political turmoil in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and by the heavy tax demands of the Afghan and Sikh regimes that conquered Kashmir. By the last decades of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb’s reign (1658–1707), imperial attention and military strength had shifted south, and northern shawl merchants were forced to alter their trade routes according to the less secure times. The Sikh armies of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1781–1839), whose kingdom centered on the Punjab plains, conquered Kashmir in 1819. Contemporary European travelers wrote in [End Page 34] amazement about the lavish decorative use of Kashmiri shawls and shawl cloth at Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s court in Lahore in the 1840s. 13 The Maharaja encouraged Kashmiri weavers to settle in Punjabi cities, and he used shawl cloth to pay allowances to his followers, to grant robes of honor, and to send gifts to other rulers, including officials of the British East India Company (Bajwa 1982, 236-37; Datta 1970; Ahad 1987, 103–104).

Asian trade in Kashmiri shawls thus antedated the British conquest of India by several centuries, and Kashmiri shawls retained their capital as valued gifts in local regimes after the British Raj was established. Yet, Eurocentric textile histories of this early trade, treating it as merely the background for the later trade with Europe, focused on the supposed non-Kashmiri origins of the characteristic shawl designs and weaving techniques rather than the Asian trade itself. The Asian trade continued to carry shawls overland from Kashmir to their widespread sites of consumption well into the nineteenth century. I argue below that the Asian trade was at least as important as European demand for changes in the production of Kashmiri shawls.

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European and Euro-American Consumption of Kashmiri Shawls

European and Euro-American Consumption of Kashmiri Shawls

“Consuming Kashmir: Shawls and Empires 1500 – 2000 AD

PART – 2

(European and Euro-American Consuption of Kashmiri Shawls is a part of the article regarding the great history of genuine Kashmir Pashmina Shawls (Today’s Geographical Indication labeled (GI) Kashmir Pashmina) was found luckily after a deep research from ‘Journal of World history” online. This article provides a great research by Michelle Maskiell regarding this most luxurious product of fashion industry which has gone through the test of times. I am directly copying and pasting without any editing on this website for general information of Kashmir Pashmina customers and lovers who want to know more about the genuine Kashmir Pashmina (GI Kashmir Pashmina). This article has been posted in parts for the ease of readers.

(Michelle Maskiell, “Consuming Kashmir: Shawls and Empires, 1500-2000,” Journal of World History 13, no. 1 (Spring 1992), 27–65.)

Changing European patterns of consumption for Kashmiri shawls over the course of the nineteenth century developed contrapuntally with Western social scientific and cultural theories concerning European industrial commodities and European labor. The representations of Kashmiri shawls in Europe and the United States cannot be understood independently of the representations of European-made imitations. Both the shawls and the artisans who made them were deployed as mirrors and foils for European products and workers.

Western European consumption began with the eighteenth-century importation of Kashmiri shawls with the characteristic teardrop-with-a-bent-tip design, which also appeared in similar Iranian (Persian) textiles. 14 It became known as the “paisley” in the United States and Canada, and as the “pine,” the “cone,” and the “palme” or “palmette” [End Page 35] in western Europe. A Kashmiri shawl with the design woven on the loom is known as the kani, the kanikar, the “twill tapestry,” or the “brocade weaving” shawl (Keller 1996, 803; Reilly 1996, 10–11; for less Eurocentric views, see Ahad 1987; Chandra 1989; Chattopadhyay 1995). 15

British imperial rule in India, from its modest seventeenth-century coastal beginnings to its most dramatic early twentieth-century manifestations throughout the Subcontinent, was inextricably bound up with the international textile trade. The British East India Company (hereafter BEIC) monopolized the maritime transportation of Kashmiri shawls to Europe in the eighteenth century. 16 The BEIC adopted a policy of supplying shawls similar to what they had already established for the seventeenth-century importation of Indian handloomed cloth called “chintz” (painted or hand printed cotton). 17 The increased demand for nonwool cloth inspired the most famous examples of British manufacturers’ import substitutions: spinning cotton thread and weaving cotton cloth by machine. With the help of early eighteenth-century legal restrictions on the importation of Indian cotton textiles into England and the copying of Indian cloth-dying technology, British manufacturers invested some of the capital gained from their colonies to produce textiles that substituted for imported Indian cottons. [End Page 36] The long list of industrial innovations in yarn-spinning technology, including the flying shuttle, the spinning jenny, and the water-powered spinning mill–in combination with the roller printing machine, steam engines, and power looms–all enabled British manufacturers to supply their home market and to export machine-spun cotton yarn and machine-loomed cotton cloth to their colonies. When the British “cotton craze” for Indian printed hand-woven cottons waned, there was a wide range of British textiles.

available which manufacturers had developed specifically for the home market. The BEIC had bowed to the demands of British manufacturers for economic protection while they developed these import substitutions for Indian textiles throughout this period, half a century before Kashmiri shawls first appeared around the shoulders of women in London (Schoeser and Rufey 1989, 29–30; Lyons 1996, 173; Mukherji 1983).

In eighteenth-century Great Britain, BEIC employees and other travelers brought home Kashmiri shawls as souvenirs and gifts for their relatives and friends. The social practices of women and men who had lived in India showed Britons how to wear the shawls (Irwin 1955, 19; 1973, 32; Shrimpton 1992, 67). Eurocentric accounts often have assumed that Kashmiri shawls only became fashionable through being displayed in Europe, claiming that fashion is a purely Western phenomenon. 18 Textile historians fixed a starting date for Kashmiri shawl fashion which reflected when English women wore these shawls in England, even though English women (and men) had worn such shawls earlier in India. The British who lived in India might adapt indigenous fabrics to European clothing styles, but fashion supposedly moved solely from England to India and never the reverse. One of the earliest mentions of an Englishwoman wearing a Kashmiri shawl in England occurred in a 1767 letter; consequently, Kashmiri shawl fashion was dated to the following decade (Irwin 1973, 32).

As in India and Iran, the desirability of Kashmiri shawls in Britain rested on people incorporating them into their “relations of consumption” (Howes 1996, 2). These gendered relations in the nineteenth century included conceptualizations of clothing fashion, the distribution [End Page 37] of financial resources for consumption, various gift-giving occasions, inheritance practices, and the like. The primary purchasers of Kashmiri shawls and shawl cloth in eighteenth-century Britain were probably men, since they most frequently controlled finances within affluent families that could afford Kashmiri shawls (Fine and Leopold 1990, 178). Many wealthy late-eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century men “wore robes and vests of exotic oriental cloth as well as shawls for lounging, sport and travel” (Rudzki 1986, n.p. [25–26]). Davidoff and Hall mention no Kashmiri shawls among the clothing worn by middle-class Birmingham English women in the late eighteenth century, but a young manufacturer took his first trip to London in a new “cashmere” waistcoat in the 1780s (1987, 410).

In nineteenth-century English writing, despite the evidence of contrary sartorial practices, Kashmiri shawls became coded as women’s luxuries. Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1849–50 novel, North and South, portrayed “Indian shawls and scarfs” as highly desired items for the English bourgeois trousseau (Gaskell 1986, 37; 299). Margaret, the heroine, modeled a Kashmiri shawl from her cousin’s trousseau early in the novel; Gaskell used the incident to extol the “spicy Eastern smell,” the “soft feel” and the “brilliant color” of the shawl. Margaret’s tall figure “set off the long beautiful folds of the gorgeous shawl,” and, looking in a mirror, she smiled at her familiar features in the “unusual garb of a princess” (39). Gaskell later described Margaret’s attire when she met her future husband as completed by “a large Indian shawl which hung about her in heavy folds and which she wore as an empress wears her drapery” (99). Thus, for one popular nineteenth-century English novelist, Kashmiri shawls evoked both fairytale status and marriage for bourgeois women.

But Kashmiri shawls could mean more to individual women than luxurious wraps. As nineteenth-century British law and custom greatly limited women’s inheritance rights to real property, the ownership of Kashmiri shawls and other clothing items of exchange value could be of obvious importance. Nupur Chaudhuri observed that “aesthetic value aside, the Kashmir shawl was also considered to be an item of tangible wealth… [which was] regarded as a valued inheritance” (1992, 234). Even used shawls had considerable exchange value; Chaudhuri traced the largely noncash market for Kashmiri shawls through private letters, newspapers’ “exchange columns,” and “advertisements in women’s periodical literature” (232-33, 235). London’s Regent Street, the epicenter of wealthy women’s public consumption practices, catered to individual women’s differing economic situations [End Page 38] through the India and British Shawl warehouse which advertised that they cleaned, exchanged, or purchased customers’ own shawls, as well as selling new ones (Adburgham 1989, 99; see also, Vickery 1993).

Napoleon and his officers brought Kashmiri shawls back from the 1798–1801 French Egyptian campaign, and Empress Josephine (1804–1809) started the fashion of wearing them in Paris. French consumers obtained shawls by way of the famous Russian fair at Nizhnii Novgorod, as well as from resident agents in Istanbul and Moscow. Kashmiri shawls also arrived in France from Alexandria and Smyrna via Marseilles (Fitzpatrick 1990; Ames, 130). The Kashmiri shawl was a symbol of French bourgeois status from the Restoration (1815–8) through the Second Empire (1852–70). Middle-class French women “actively participated in the formation of the bourgeoisie as a class with tastes distinctive from aristocrats and workers,” and they did so primarily through spending their husbands’ incomes to obtain appropriate clothing and household furnishings. Kashmiri shawls and other goods used as class markers satisfied nineteenth-century bourgeois French taste because “they looked rich,” had “extensive ornamentation, artistic qualities,” and were made of “expensive raw materials” (Walton 1992, 53, 100, 225; Levi-Strauss 1988, 16-19; Auslander 1996 a). In 1866 Paris, the Grands Magasins du Louvre, “where elegant Parisians shopped,” sold “Indian cashmeres for up to 3,500 francs ‘and more’“ (Keller, 810, #19).

Kashmiri shawls were favorite nineteenth-century wedding gifts in France as well as in Britain. Napoleon’s wedding gifts to Marie-Louise, his second wife, included seventeen Kashmiri shawls, and a painting of the guests at their 1810 wedding showed many of the women with “a cashmere shawl carefully folded over one arm” (Levi-Strauss 1988, 19). Wealthy Frenchmen often presented a “fine cashmere shawl… [as] part of la corbeille, the groom’s gifts to his bride; and this item was frequently the most valuable among the women’s clothing in the inventories [of household possessions]” (Walton, 99). Unmarried nineteenth-century French women, no matter how wealthy, were discouraged from wearing Kashmiri shawls, for to do so would “lead people to believe that they are possessed of an unbridled love of luxury and deprive themselves of the pleasure of receiving such finery from a husband” (1863 deportment manual cited by Perrot 1994, 100).

Euro-American women on the northeastern coast of the United States started to wear Kashmiri shawls about the same time that they became fashionable in Britain. When trade with the European empires was curtailed for the new country in the aftermath of the Revolutionary [End Page 39] War, American ships sought out new markets in Asia. Kashmiri shawls reached the United States in the 1780s and 1790s when ship captains bound for China and Turkey acquired them in various ports of call (Dow 1921, 114). Some still unknown but no doubt changing mixture of Iranian, Kashmiri, north Indian, and western European-made shawls, as well as shawls from China, were available in U.S. eastern cities during the first half of the nineteenth century (Leavitt 1972, 55; Harrington 1970, 4546; Bean 1990).

Shawl fashion in the United States, as characterized in popular nineteenth- century women’s magazines such as Godey’s Lady’s Book, published in Philadelphia, and Harper’s Bazaar, published in New York City, followed western European fashion trends. French shawls with imitation Kashmiri  designs became widely available in the 1840s, and a decade later small-town stores commonly stocked embroidered shawls from “Thibet,” although it is impossible to know if this geographical designation referred to shawls from Kashmir or north India. An American advertisement in Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1860 listed the types and prices of Indian shawls obtained from the East India company in London. These ranged from the least expensive, a “Delhi scarf for the shoulders” at $15, to square shawls, “ladylike and desirable” from $50 to $250, and reached the most expensive, “long shawls” costing as much as $1200. Shawls served as “attractive holiday presents” throughout the 1860s, and “India shawls were still considered wise purchases” in 1870. They continued thereafter to be advertised at all price ranges, with a new emphasis on the bottom end, and “imitation shawls were starting to eclipse the genuine Indian” in these advertisements by the end of the 1870s. Good quality shawls were then being tailored into “fitted jackets” or “men’s dressing gowns,” as well as used for “carriage robes” and “country clothes” (Harrington, 50–56, 71–79).

When the Great Exhibition celebrating British industrial productivity and imperial grandeur opened at London’s Crystal Palace in 1851, Kashmiri shawls and other colonial Indian “art-wares” received prominent display. Industrial exhibitions and world’s fairs in the second half of the nineteenth century intensified the interpenetration of the European and the Indo-Iranian trading networks, driven by the ever greater political and economic power of the imperial states to appropriate designs and technologies from their colonies and to facilitate their imitation by home manufacturers. Britain’s national policies became ever more closely connected to its imperial role in India during the second half of the nineteenth century, and Indian handicrafts as a whole had their most extensive display and consumption within Britain (MacKenzie 1995; Grewal 1996, 125-27 for “merchandising [End Page 40] the Orient”; for parallel trends and Iranian handicrafts, especially carpets, see Helfgott 1994).

In 1881, advertising copy for Liberty and Company (a British firm) transferred Kashmiri shawls from the dust bin of unfashionable clothing to this category of the antique. Its catalog of that year advertised “Indian embroidered table covers” and “Indian cashmere curtains… made like the old Indian shawls and embroidered all over.” The “Antique Embroideries” from India available at Liberty’s were “adjuncts of Eastern luxury and pageantry [and] priceless for adaptation in interior decorations.” The merchandising of the textiles stressed that they were “impossible to reproduce” and would soon be unavailable, since “[t]he whole East [was] being ransacked for [them].” The same Kashmiri shawls, or very similar ones, could have been sold at Liberty’s as fashionable clothing in 1865 or as home furnishings in the 1880s. This was not merely because of ineffective nineteenth-century methods of dating textiles. All Kashmiri shawls carried “romantic associations with the ‘mysterious and unchanging East,’“ whatever nineteenth-century year they were removed from the loom (Irwin 1955, 14).

From the 1880s until World War I, wealthy European and Euro-American women learned to drape their Kashmiri shawls over their pianos instead of their own shoulders. This high period of “Indian style” for British home decoration was part of late-Victorian eclecticism. Even as the manufacturers of European machine-made textiles tried to improve their designs, the British design reform, the Aesthetic, and the Arts and Crafts movements all emphasized in one way or another differentiating between the machine-made and the hand-crafted. By the late nineteenth century, the overall influence of these movements had transformed the political economy of taste in Britain and the United States. Using Kashmiri shawls as curtains or furniture covers attracted consumers whose tastes had been educated to appreciate the aesthetic superiority of artisan-made textiles in contrast to the aesthetic inferiority of the machine-made (Greenhalgh 1997, 105). It was no coincidence that the hand embroidery on Kashmiri shawls seemed to have made them desirable for interior decoration at the same historical moment that machine-stitched embroidery replaced hand embroidery in British textile manufacturing (Parker 1989, 178).

Thus, Kashmiri shawls could be represented as quite different types of commodities, from wraps that made women look like princesses to draperies for the piano, depending upon the fashion of the moment. In the early nineteenth century, representations of Kashmiri shawls were independent of their mode of production because European imitative shawls were also hand-woven. Shawls from Kashmir were then valued for their lightweight warmth, their attractive exoticism, and the exceptional sensual pleasures of wearing them. European mass-produced textiles were never able to compete successfully with Kashmiri shawls as far as the sensual characteristics of the fabric were concerned, and they were far too expensive for all but the very well off. European-made shawls, however, did come to offer design distinction through the appropriation and modification of Kashmiri designs to suit European and Euro-American tastes, and this distinction was available at middle-range and inexpensive prices. Asian commodities like Kashmiri shawls became key objects for late-nineteenth-century aesthetic pronouncements by “taste professionals” who then preferred hand-crafted [End Page 42] textiles and other handicrafts in contrast to machine-made products of all kinds (see Auslander 1996 a for “taste professionals” in France and Greenhalgh 1997). Tracing the European development of an aesthetic taste for the hand-crafted instead of the machine-made requires separate treatment and can only be suggested here.

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…..To be continued in part 3…