Rich reds, pretty pinks, and velvety violets: Valentin dyes for Valentine's Day
What I held was a sample book compiled by Valentin Emmerling, a fabric dyer hailing from Geisa, a tiny town in central Germany. Multiple books of his were donated to the museum by his granddaughter in 1979. A dyer is someone who mixes the color and then dyes fabrics and threads for textiles. The exacting business requires knowledge of chemistry, as a multitude of chemical reactions go into making brightly colored fabrics whose colors do not fade with washing, sunlight, or kissing in the rain.
Emmerling's large sample book demonstrated to clients the range of options available to them for coloring their fabrics. The book is over 10 feet long and holds more than 1,000 individually numbered samples, categorized by the hue on the color spectrum. Regina Blaszczyk explains in her 2012 book The Color Revolution that in the late 1800s, "these cardboard folios were slick marketing presentations created by dye manufacturers for distribution by their sales offices, by resident agents, or by traveling salesmen." Clearly, Emmerling's knack for neat presentation was a forerunner of what his countrymen would produce a few decades later.
In the 1840s when Valentin Emmerling was dyeing, he would have used natural dyes sourced from plant and animal material that need metal-based mordants (from the Latin for "to bite") to set the color. A small black leather notebook of his contains recipes and samples of his colors. For instance, he wrote that he used materials such as cochineal (an insect used to dye fibers a brilliant scarlet), logwood (a black dye extracted from bark), and alum (a mordant made of potassium aluminum sulfate crystals). These recipes record the amount of each ingredient needed in the dye bath, the appropriate water temperature, and the fiber (wool, silk, cotton, etc.) on which the dye should be used. Without these recipes, creating thousands of samples would have been the cause for a head and heartache.
Emmerling originally learned the dye trade from his father, and then he set off for 12 years as a journeyman in cities including Berlin, Hamburg, and Venice. He presumably apprenticed with master dyers in each city, continuing to educate himself on the intricacies of fancy dyeing.