Point blankets were most often used by Native American tribes as a piece of clothing. The blanket was wrapped around the body and worn like a robe. The blanket became an essential part of daily wear, especially in the winter months, and its importance was reflected in the culture of the times in that it became a major form of currency in a society where barter was the lynchpin of the economy.
Among the many point blankets traded in those times, it was the blanket traded by the Hudsonís Bay Company that became the most prized because of its excellent craftsmanship and high quality. These blankets were woven in blanket mills, mainly those in Oxfordshire and Yorkshire, in England. While the Hudsonís Bay Company never actually manufactured the blankets, it did play a vital role in ensuring the quality and manufacturing standards of the blankets that they imported to the new world. Around 1890, the Hudsonís Bay Company began affixing a label to the blankets to ensure that buyers would be receiving the genuine article, as there were many similar blankets on the market. Throughout the past century, the label affixed to blankets has changed twenty six times (since 1890); this assists collectors in dating blankets to a particular time period. The Hudsonís Bay blankets became so popular that eventually point blankets themselves came to be associated with the Hudsonís Bay Company.
The blankets were sold in a variety of sizes and colors and their now trademark multistripe design with headers of green, red, yellow and indigo came to be associated with the Hudsonís Bay Blanket around 1820. These were later called "Queen Anne's colors" because during her reign nearly a century earlier (1700-1714), these colors were widely popular. The association of these colors with the Hudsonís Bay point blanket has grown stronger over the years and has since been adopted as part of the corporate identity of the Hudsonís Bay Company.
Though it probably made its way there earlier with the migrations of Native American tribes, the Hudsonís Bay Company in Canada eventually officially exported the blanket to the United States () where itís gained an association with camping and rugged outdoor life. In many cabins for rent through the United States, you will find Hudsonís Bay Blankets on the bedsóa sign of prestige associated with the establishment. Itís a kind of moniker saying, ďIt may be cold and harsh outsideóbut youíll sleep warm tonight.Ē
The cost of this well crafted blanket has grown immensely over the years. In 1800, a pair of four point blankets sold for two pounds sterling, which was then about ten US dollars.). In the 1930s, a pair of four point blankets cost $22 Canadian and by the 1950s, the cost was $25 Canadian for a single blanket. Today a four point blanket costs around $300 Canadian and is roughly the size of a double bed. Larger blankets, like the six point Queen and the eight point king, cost more and were introduced during the past fifty years to accommodate larger bed sizes. Today, the blankets are made in much the same way as they were many years ago, albeit on more modern machinery. The wool is gathered, blended, and then cardedóa process by which the fibers are straightened. The fibers are then spun into yarn and the yarn is woven tightly into a finished blanket. The blanket is then carefully inspected, washed to remove any oils and brushed to raise the nap slightly and give it the characteristic look people have come to associate with Hudsonís Bay blankets.
Over two centuries old, the Hudsonís Bay Point Blanket has become part of the rich tapestry of the history of North America, a tapestry thatís still being woven today. I think of this as I sink slowly beneath the multistripe covers of the Canadian icon on my bed. Now I am warm and comfortable, thanks in no small part to this blanket. Maybe it will be in my family for generations to come and there will be stories of my life attached to it. For now, though, I settle deeply into a blissful sleep.
Much of the historical information in this article was referenced from Harold Tichenor's excellent book "The Blanket: An Illustrated History of the Hudson's Bay Point Blanket," which is available in Canada at the Bay, its Heritage stores, Canada's History Society, and in the US from the Woolrich Company. Beginning in May of 2004, Mr. Tichenor's second book on blankets, "A Collector's Guide to Point Blankets" will be available from him directly. We'll post more information as soon as it's available. You can read our interview with him here