Hudson's Bay Point Blanket. source
A Hudson's Bay Point Blanket is a wool blanket. In the 18th and 19th century The Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) - the oldest commercial corporation in North America, in continuous operation for over 340 year - typically traded the blankets to Native Americans in exchange for beaver pelts and other trade goods.
In the late 18th century Hudson's Bay evolved to include mercantile sales as well as fur trading. Point blankets were sold in the stores as well as traded at this time in the companies history.
Point blankets are still being sold by Hudson's Bay department stores today.
They are called point blankets because each blanket has one or more fine lines woven into the wool of the fabric on one edge. These lines refer to the size of the blanket - fewer lines for a smaller blanket, more lines for a larger blanket. "The "point" system had been invented by French weavers in the mid 18th c. as a means of indicating the finished overall size (area) of a blanket, since then, as now, blankets were shrunk or felted as part of the manufacturing process. The word point derives from the French empointer meaning 'to make threaded stitches on cloth'." Placing the lines on the side edge of the blanket meant that traders could identify a blanket quickly and easily and didn't have to unfold them to determine size.
For a little more info on the point system go here.
"The earliest blankets were solid colours but in 1798 an order for a white blanket with stripes of red, blue, green, and yellow were placed with the English manufacturer, resulting in the identifiable Hudson’s Bay Company classic pattern blanket" Blankets were also sold in solid indigo, green, scarlet and light blue. Classic multi-stripe blankets were often referred to as "chief's blankets".
"Pastel toned" blankets were introduced in the 20's and "Deep toned" and "Imperial Toned" blankets in the 30's.
Hudson's Bay also produced a number of special coloured point blankets to commemorate certain events - such as the Coronation Blue blanket issued for the coronation of King George VI in 1937, the Imperial Purple blanket to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953 and more recently, a Brown Multistripe to commemorate the new millennium in 2000.
The classic Multistipe blanket has a white background with 4 stripes or headers on either end in green, scarlet, indigo (often mistaken for black) and yellow.
a small selection of the colours that have been available over the years. source
Because they were easier to sew than bison or deer skins and their ability to hold heat even when wet, the wool blankets became very popular with the Native Americans and French Canadians. They were worn draped over the shoulders or made into hooded coats (or capotes) to wear in the cold winter months.
example of a capote coat. source
Point Blankets as Coats
Hudson's Bay were not the originators of point blankets as outerwear. As stated previously, the Native American people were wearing them in place of buffalo robes and French Canadians were fashioning them into wrap coats (capotes) for years before a blanket was actually manufactured into a tailored coat by HBC.
"Pioneer at Fort Garry 1861", oil on canvas by Adam Sherriff Scott assisted by E.T. Adney, 1925. Detail from mural installed in the Winnipeg Hudson's Bay Company store depicting aboriginals, Métis and settlers wearing blankets and engaged in trade. source
It was in War of 1812 when Captain Charles Roberts couldn't secure warm winter coats for his troops stationed near Sault St Marie. A supply of 3.5 point blankets was requisitioned and Captain Roberts commissioned a group of Native women to sew the blankets into short coats, now known as the Mackinaw after the Michigan fort Robert and his troops occupied the following year.
mid-century vintage men's Mackinaw style Point Blanket Coat. source
Over the years the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) expanded it's company from its humble origins as deep woods fur trading posts of the 18th century to full fledged urban department stores.
In 1922 point blanket coats were being manufactured and sold in HBC stores. They were double breasted, mid-thigh length and offered only in solid colours - grey, dark green, khaki, navy, blue, red or white and featured blanket points under the left armpit.
1922 advertisement. source
By the end of the 20's Hudson's Bay was offering a full line of outerwear for the entire family. Wool was woven in England and shipped to Winnipeg (!) for manufacturing. Coats were manufactured in Winnipeg until 2000.
By the 80's popularity of the point blanket coat was in decline. "In 1981 HBC commissioned five Canadian designers to create updated versions of blanket coats. Alfred Sung, Pat McDonagh, Leo Chevalier, John Warden and Jean-Claude Poitras each came up with a design; only 19 copies were manufactured and sold of each style. The manufacture of HBC classic coat designs ceased in 2000 but in 2009 ‘The Bay’ (as it is now known) introduced a new product line based on the traditional multi-stripe blanket pattern. To promote the collection, ten Canadian fashion designers were invited to create one-of-a-kind coats from Hudson’s Bay Company Point Blankets. The ten designs from Comrags, Erdem Moralioglu, Harricana par Mariouche, Jeremy Laing, Klaxon Howl, Krane, Lida Baday, Pink Tartan, Smythe and Todd Lynn were displayed in Toronto and Vancouver and a special order of 100 jackets of the Smythe design were sold during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver for $695."
Click here for a look at the 2009 designs.
2009 Hudson Bay Coat designed by Smythe. source
Styles have varied over the years, but the multistripe was the most popular colourway, thus becoming known as the "Hudson Bay Coat" - an unmistakable symbol of Canada and our cold winters.
Hudson's Bay may have stopped production on their classic coats, but they still keep a serious nostalgic hold on Canadians. The re-imagined Smythe coat pictured above is very covetable and I would guess with continue to rise in price on the secondary market when the first round of owners are ready to let them go.
Vintage and Antique Hudson Bay Point Blanket Coats are still highly visible on Canadian streets and are readily available second hand on local Kijiji/Craigslist sites as well as Ebay and Etsy. They do, however, demand a pretty serious dollar depending on what style and size you are looking for.
British Colombia. source
1973 Calgary Stampede. unsourced via Pintrest
Piapot - Cree - cira 1880. unsourced via Pintrest
Team Canada at the 1968 Winter Games in Grenoble. source
Princess Grace. source
1940's advertisement. source
tan Mackinaw available on Kijiji Alberta. source
Royal Canadian Mounted Police - 1918. source
1920 - capote style. source
HBC Heritage: The Hudson's Bay Point Blanket: History
HBC Heritage: The Hudson's Bay Company Point Blanket: From Mackinaw to Outerwear
The Point Blanket Site
Wikipedia: Hudson's Bay Point Blanket
Wikipedia: Hudson's Bay Company
Canadian Fashion Connection - The HBC Coat; A Blanket Statement
CBC Radio Interview Digital Archive: Uncovering the History of the HBC Point Blanket
Vintage Haberdashers: Hudson's Bay Blanket Coats
I Want - I Got: The Blanket Statement by The Hudson's Bay Company
Trove General Store: The Skinny on The Hudson's Bay Fur Traders
The Fedora Lounge: Guide to Blanket Mackinaws
See my Point Blanket Coat here!