• FA-121688 © Technisches Museum Wien, Photo: Peter Sedlaczek
Collection Area
Production Technology
1900 - 1909

Indigo from Bengal (India), early 20th century


Indigo, the ‘blue marvel’. Natural dyes have always played an important role in cultural history. But since the mid-19th century there has been a gradual transition towards the manufacture of synthetic dyes.

The Technisches Museum Wien’s collection of merchandise technology comprises a large number of dye samples. Among the substances extracted from plants are balls of woad and ground madder, samples of indigo, and raw, grated yellow dyewood, redwood and logwood. Animal extracts are represented by a jar of dried cochineal scale insects. The female of this insect species stores carminic acid, which is used to extract the red carmine dye. Among the mineral dyes in the collection are smalt (cobalt blue) and vermilion, a pigment made from cinnabar. This compound of mercury and sulphur has been produced since 1785, among others in the town of Idrija in Carniola (present-day Slovenia), the site of one of the world’s largest mercury mines.

But the vast majority of dye samples in the collection are of synthetic origin. They include some 900 jars of dyes and more than 250 sample books with samples for dyeing textiles. Only a small number of the samples is actually dated. Most were evidently manufactured between 1890 and 1914 and originate from German and Swiss dye factories, which from modest beginnings quickly developed into large factories. They include the Aktien-Gesellschaft für Anilin-Fabrikation (or Agfa, Berlin), the Badische Anilin- und Sodafabrik (or BASF, Ludwigshafen am Rhein) and Friedrich Bayer & Co. (Elberfeld). Some of these names are still well-known today as the companies gradually shifted their production from dyes to pharmaceuticals. They became international corporations in the 20th century.

Date of origin: early 20th century

Inv.Nr. 53320
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