Cochineal dye extracted from the shells of Dactylopius Coccus insects was prized in Central America in the 15th Century, and was tithed by the Aztec and Mayan rulers. In the Spanish colonial period it became a very important export, along with logwood, and was used across Europe, where it became so important that it was listed as a commodity on the London stock exchange. The red of British ‘red coats’ was dyed with cochineal, as were ‘hunting pinks’ worn while fox hunting.

The Launceston Examiner ran the following piece on Friday 3rd January 1890:

Formerly cochineal was the substance used to impart the necessary tint to the treble-milled cloth [of hunting coats], which was almost as impervious to dye as it was to water; consequently, white edges, which vexed the soul of the hunting man, were seen; and this, and a slight change in the colour, led to the introduction of chemical dyes …Whatever may be the result of fashion’s decree, however, it is to be hoped that the scarlet coat may last as long as fox-hunting.


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