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A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire Paperback – April 25, 2006
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Top Customer Reviews
There were reds before the New World was discovered. Dyers and artists were able to make plants and minerals yield russets and orange-reds fairly easily, but real red cloth was hard to manufacture. A more vivid red could be made from insects, like oak-kermes, that could be killed with vinegar and steam, and packed up to sell to dyers the world over. The dyers didn't know it, but these insects contain what is now known as carminic acid, a powerful red dye. It is this dye that the cochineal insect has, too, but it is far more powerful and less fastened to troublesome lipids. The conquistadors saw the colors that were produced in cloth in the new world, and brought back the dye to Spain starting in 1519. By 1580, kermes reds were out and cochineal reds were in. Spain profited from many New World finds, but the new dye was a chief one.Read more ›
It is difficult to accept that until relatively recently red was associated with wealth and power. Cost, and sometimes regulations, placed red clothing beyond the reach of most people.
In the 18th century the best red dye (cochineal) was a valuable and mysterious commodity - and a major import from the Spanish New World to Europe. Was cochineal a seed or an animal? The argument was finally settled as a result of a wager. Early microscopists such as Leeuwenhoek got involved on the side and the result was some of Leeuwenhoek's most exquisite drawings. These are reproduced in the book.
Another compelling story, with resonances in our own day, concerns the destruction of the cochineal industry by cheaper synthetic dyes in the 19th century. In 1870, Guatemala produced over 1.5 million pounds of cochineal a year, almost exclusively by small farmers using very labour intensive methods.
By 1890, Guatemalian farmers had virtualy ceased production. The same was true for the other major producers in Mexico and the Canary Islands. Such massive changes in an important industry led to major social and economic disruption. Modern trade practices often have similar effects in many poorer countries.
However, the story of cochineal does not end there, and has a slightly happier ending in the 20th century. But you will have to read the book to find out how.
I must admit to an addiction to this genre of books on the history of ordinary things.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Who would have thought the history of the color red could be so interesting, but it was. I highly recommend this book. Again, the background history was wonderful.Published 16 days ago by Donna Whelchel
Previously I have read Colour: travels through the pain box by Victoria Finlay in which each chapter is dedicated to a short history of the main colours we know today. Read morePublished 26 days ago by Alumine Andrew
Color is a language unto itself. It communicates all kinds of emotions, from love to hate to sadness to joy. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Heather Mcnamara
I had higher hopes for this book, given the subject is so awesome. Reads like my teenagers history homework papers at time, labored, bored and boring. Sorry.Published 4 months ago by dude
A really interesting book, but I am very disappointed that the pictures weren't included in the ebook. In a book about the color red it seems a very obvious short-coming.Published 5 months ago by Amazon Customer
The power of red is amazing. This book is full of colorful stories and details. Candy GreenePublished 5 months ago by Amazon Customer