Costume and Textile Collections
2 piece silk dress died with mauveine, ca 1860.
BWRAB : 1987/94
This mauve dress with jacket is a rare and important survivor from the early 1860s.
In 1856, the chemist, William Henry Perkin, then 18, discovered the purple dyestuff which soon
became known as Perkin's mauve, mauveine, aniline purple.
Perkin treated phenylamine (or aniline) with potassium dichromate. An unpromising black solid
resulted. Perkin dissolved the solid in aqueous ethanol, whereupon a beautiful purple solution
formed. The colour was reminiscent of Tyrian purple; the colour of the Emperers' togas. It has
been calculated that each toga would have required 10,000 murex purpurae (a Mediterranean
gastropod) to dye it.
Perkin realised the potential of the substance as a dyestuff. He patented it, and soon opened a
dyeworks for production at Greenford in London on the banks of the Grand Union Canal.
The new dyestuff gained Royal approval. Queen Victoria made an appearance in a silk gown
dyed with mauveine at the Royal Exhibition of 1862.
Whist mauveine dyes a stunning purple, the colour fades in light. It fell out of use as a dye by the
1870s, when new synthetic dyes were introduced. This makes our example an unusual survivor.
We only know of one similar dress, which is in the Science Museum.
Lace ruff of jacket
For further information on the chemistry of mauveine, see here
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