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A Brief History of Natural Colorants

SpecialChem / Nick Morante – Jul 23, 2007

The Dye industry before English chemist William Henry Perkin prepared his synthetic mauve dye, that was an aniline purple from coal tar chemicals, was quite colorful (no pun intended). It involved the Orient, Europe, and Colonial America, the introduction of Cochineal (carmine red), Turkey red and dyewoods into Europe and the first semi-synthetic dyes, picric acid and murexide. The structure of the dye industry in the 1840's was also greatly influenced. In 1630 a Mr. Higginson of Salem, North Carolina, noted of the local vegetation, "Here to be divers roots and berries where with the Indians dye excellent holiday colors that no rain or washing can alter." He, like other colonialists in the New World, marveled at the remarkable variety of dye-yielding trees and plants that were unknown in the world they had come from. Until the arrival of these new sources of dyes, Europe relied almost exclusively on the same colorants that had been in use since antiquity, such as woad, madder and indigo. Even the methods of application had changed little from those employed by the ancient Egyptians.

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