June 9th, 2011, 03:50 AM   1
Pierre Galafassi

Join Date: Oct 2009
Posts: 24
What about Kermes?

Hi all,
I eliminated rather quickly another potential way to achieve a bright Salor red: Use of an insect red called Kermes ( Kermococcus vermilis, oak Kermes).
Around the turn of the first millenium Kermes was one of the most expensive items on earth. It was used to dye «scarlet» which had replaced imperial purple as the favorite shade of the (very) rich and famous.
However, several reasons make Kermes an unlikely candidate as a Salor dye:
Its horrendous cost (One could think that cost is irrelevant for competent caravan robbers, but my guess is that any (hypothetical) Kermes caravan would have been protected by a very strong escort and Turkmen were not suicidal).
Its shade, brighter but also more yellowish than the madder/alum shade, does not fit well the description of a Salor red, which is supposed to be brighter than the madder/alum «brick red» but more bluish, while not quite as bluish as cochineal/alum.
Its geographical origin: Kermococcus vermilis lived only on a specific oak in a limited geographical area, mainly the Mediterranean shores.
Its nearly complete elimination from the market (except in the Maghreb) even before the introduction of cheap central American cochineal during the 16th century.

June 12th, 2011, 02:44 AM   2
Mike Mccullough

Posts: n/a

I agree that Kermes is unlikely. Europeans called cochineal from the new world "kermes"
because they had no other name for it.
The Spanish closely guarded it's origin
Central American cochineal was anything but cheap. it was the second most valuble spanish import from the new world. second only to silver.
Pirates in the atlantic and Carribean were after cochineal as much as gold and silver.
After visiting many websites about natural dyes and dying, the way i understand it, carminic acid is what gives it it's intense red color. by using an alkaline, you would be neutralizing the very thing that gives it it's color and an acid solution is required for a bright red. The Mordant is the key. Aluminim for crimson, Tin for bright Scarlet, iron for violet, grey, and black
June 12th, 2011, 04:26 PM   3
Pierre Galafassi

Join Date: Oct 2009
Posts: 24

Hi Mike,

I agree with what you write about the high value of central American Cochineal for the Spanish economy. It was indeed as important as Mexican and Peruvian silver. And yes, it was still more expensive than madder, the «commodity red».
But it was hugely cheaper than oak kermes (which contains a slightly different dye called Kermesic acid). And much cheaper than two varieties of cochineal previously used in Europe, Middle East and Central Asia, both containing mainly carminic acid too (*): Armenian Ararat cochineal (Porphyrophora hameli) and Polish cochineal (Margarodes polonicus) (**).

There is no doubt that cochineal (whatever its origin) was known in Turkey, Persia and central Asia since centuries. While the Turkmen were no gifted merchants and the Persian played in a minor league too, the local Jew, Armenian and Bokharan Tadjik did not need any crash course in marketing.

In the information given by a site claiming that «carminic acid is what gives it it's intense red color. By using an alkaline, you would be neutralizing the very thing that gives it it's color and an acid solution is required for a bright red» the second part of the sentence is incorrect.
In fact, all(***) major natural red dyes used for dyeing wool for rugs share a common feature, their «chromophore» (as the name implies, the moiety responsible for the color ), which is always a chemical structure called «di-hydroxy anthraquinone», with only a few secondary details to differentiate them (additional substituents and their position in the chromophore). The acidity or alkalinity of the dye-bath is irrelevant for the coloration of the chromophore itself, but strongly influences what we call in our dyer’s pidgin its «affinity» for wool. Translated in English it simply means that more dye molecules leave an acid dye-bath and penetrate the fibre than in an alkaline dye-bath.
I am not sure whether dye chemistry is a wild and un-controlable passion for many Turkotekers, thus I shall only mention quickly here that the presence of a so-called «carboxylic acid substituent» is what gives its common name to «carminic acid». This substituent (and its particular position in the chromophore) is also what makes hard water unsuitable for dyeing with cochineal since calcium ions form an insoluble salt with it.

(*) To differentiate them is not easy even with HPLC DAD analysis.
(**) Burnes mentions as well a variety of cochineal indigenous to the banks of the Amu darya, but does not identify the insect and adds that the Bokharan did not know how to use it properly.
(***) Including all botanical variety of Rubia (R. tinctorum, munjeet, etc..) and the insect reds "lac", kermes as well as all varieties of cochineal.

Best regards
June 22nd, 2011, 03:55 AM   4
Pierre Galafassi

Join Date: Oct 2009
Posts: 24

Hi all,

It may come as a surprise that American cochineal was much cheaper than Polish and Armenian cochineal, although all three varieties have the same dye composition (with about 90% carminic acid and 10% of various other anthraquinone red dyes).

As clearly explained in D. Cardon’s book (1) the European insects (Porphyrophora hameli and Margarodes polonicus) contain much less dyestuff per weight of dry insect than the American variety (Dactylopius coccus)
A saturated shade can be obtained on wool with only 70 to 150 g of dried American insect per kg of wool (7% to 15%wof) while it requires at least 300% to 600% wof of both European varieties to achieve the same shades. Lets say roughly 50 times more!
The American variety was reared in cochineal farms ( plantations of «nopalli», Opuntia ficus-indica), by the Mixtec, centuries before the Spanish conquest of Mexico. The latter adopted the technology and vastly expanded the production. No successful attempt at rational farming of the European varieties is recorded. Gathering of European cochineal was therefore much more expensive and unreliable.
Dr. Cardon mentions that both European varieties contain a high percentage of fatty substances which had to be removed from the fibre after dyeing. This rather lengthy operation increased again the cost of dyeing. Failing to perform it surely had negative consequences for the market value of the textile but must have been too tempting for the dyer since Genoan regulations, for example, eventually forbade the use of the European varieties.

The huge technical and economical advantages of imported American cochineal easily explain that it quickly replaced the other varieties in Europe and Asia.

Next to American cochineal, from the seventeenth century onward, the only other insect dye to keep a significant market share (in Asia only) on wool and silk was lac ( Kerria lacca or Kerria chinensis). Lac contains a different chromophore (mainly laccaic acid, a dihydroxy- anthraquinone too) with a much duller, much bluer shade of red but equally light-and wet fast, on alum mordanted fibers.
Its survival to these days is mainly due to the fact that the dye has become in the past few centuries (and still is) a by-product of an even more valuable item: the natural polymer "shellac" produced by this insect. Today lac dye extracts with very high color-strength (10% wof are enough to reach a saturated shade) can be bought for less than $10/kg in Asia. This makes lac dye roughly competitive even with madder.

(1) D. Cardon. Natural dyes. Chapter XII. p. 607-666.