Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Hudson Bay Influence

You've probably seen these blankets or perhaps you own one.  Ask me why I thought about this as a topic for a blog post, well it's getting colder and the horses are getting fuzzy and the blankets will come out soon, unfortunately.  And yes, they do make blankets for horses that mimmik the Hudson Bay ones, but really they are copies of Witney Blankets (for another day).  Anyway, here are what they look like on the horse. Rambo makes one (and they are great). 

Let's get back to the topic at hand.  

The Hudson Bay is a large body of saltwater in northeastern Canada and the southern arm is called James Bay.

It is the second largest bay in the world behind the Bay of Bengal and it is part of the Atlantic Ocean. You may have heard about  the Hudson Bay Company as it was a trading post started in 1670 along the James and Hudson Bays.  Natives would barter furs for trade goods such as knives, beads, needles and blankets, hence the Hudson Bay Blanket.   The company is still going strong today.  But this place is cold.  Water temperatures peak at 46-48 degrees (F) on the western side in late summer so you can understand how a trading company might get started in a place as remote and cold as this.

The Hudson Bay Company (HBC) or "The Bay" (La Baie in French) is the oldest commercial corporation in North America and one of the oldest in the world.  A fur trading business for much of its existence, today the company owns and operates retail stores throughout Canada and the US including the Bay, Lord & Taylor, Zellers and Home Outfitters.  The company is headquartered in Toronto.

The company was incorporated by English royal charter in 1670 as The Governor and Company of Adveturers of England trading into Hudson' Bay and functioned as the de facto government in parts of North America early on. At one time the company was the largest landowner in the world.

The "Point" Blanket was typically traded to Native Americans and First Nations in exchange for beaver pelts.  They were desired because of the wool's ability to hold heat even when wet and they were easier to sew than bison or deer skins (how the world has changed).

Wool cloth was traded as far back as the French regime in North America (1500-1765) but the HBC point blankets were introduced in 1780.  They are called point blankets due to the point system - the points or smaller lines that are stitched into the blanket to denote its size so that it does not have to be unfolded to be measured.  

Point blankets are made in England from 100% wool and the office licencee allowed them to be in the US through Woolrich, Inc out of Pennsylvania.  Similar blankets are made by Pendleton Woolen Mills but they are not the original ones.

We all know of the Hudson Bay influence in fashion, decoration and just the recognition factor.  I love these handbags from Rebecca Ray that are made from point blankets (don't know if she uses the real thing or a copy):

Many of the early blankets have become collectors' items and their value is determined by age, condition, size, pattern rarity.

Next time you see the Hudson Bay influence you'll know where it came from.  Funny how some things never get old.


  1. I have always wanted one of these blankets but they are a bit pricey. I have made the next best thing though I have made a sweater that looks like a Hudson point blanket.

  2. Did you see the jackets HorseWare has?

    LOVE the Newmarket/Hudson Bay look


  3. Hey, this was REALLY interesting! Thank you for the research. I've been familiar with these blankets all my life but was missing most of the story. For example, I could not have said what the largest bay in the world was, much less the second-largest (if pressed I would have guessed Chesapeake). This is a good fact to hold in the trivia section of my brain. Nor did I know that Hudson's Bay owned (still?) L&T or was the world's largest landowner.

    Having said all that, no, I don't own one - but I'd LIKE to!


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