Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 4-1 (October 2012)Thijs Maarleveld; Alice Overmeer: Aanloop Molengat – Maritime archaeology and intermediate trade during the Thirty Years’ War1
3 The Aanloop Molengat cargo

3.6 Textiles, with lead cloth seals

A total of 101 lead cloth seals have been found. Most were discovered in a wide spread in the excavation squares southeast of the wreck mound; a single one was found in the southwestern trial trench of 1985. This first seal comes from Mons in Hainaut and is provisionally interpreted as marking cloth of ordinary quality (Maarleveld 1988). On hindsight the seal is not as representative as then assumed. Only one other ‘Mons’ seal has shown up, as against 26 from Leiden, three from Delft, and ten from Hondschoote in the ‘Westhoek’ of Flanders (fig. 31). This means that the most important production centres of the Republic and of the Spanish Netherlands are represented. Another 16 cloth seals remain unidentified, whereas 44 merchant marks refer to individual merchants.


Figure 31 Lead cloth seals from (from left to right) Leiden, Delft, Hondschoote and Mons (photo: T. Penders(RCE)).

Frank van Deijk, who specialises in Leiden industry, undertook a study of these objects from that perspective. The collection is presented here for reference, without individual marks having been explored in full (HyperlinkDeijk). It must be assumed that the seals were attached to cloth that had been packed and stowed in the hold, on top of the heavy and more durable cargo and which decayed more or less on site, rather than being swept away with the ship’s upper parts.

A small cloth sample, enclosed in a seal from Delft, is the only textile that remained. Cloth seals are small, and many may have gone unnoticed in the excavation of shifting sands. The number of seals suggests that they represent a considerable shipment, but this is hard to assess. It is also impossible to say where exactly the bales were stowed, or whether the bales from the Northern Netherlands were stowed together or separately from the consignments that left fewer traces.

Leiden’s wool-based textile industry has been fairly well studied (Posthumus 1939; van Deijk 1993). Since the 1580s, it was organised in large corporations (neringen) that saw to the production of a specific kind of fabric. Each had its own type of cloth seal. Of the Aanloop Molengat seals, 26 were issued by the saainering, which was Leiden’s main trade until 1660. There is a striking similarity with woodcut images of seals and stamps in the organisation’s 1594 by-laws. In combination with other evidence, it is certain that all seals with the inscription LEYDS GVET (Leiden cloth) must originally have been attached to either ‘saye’ (saai) or ‘grosgrain’ (grein or grogrein). Both are non-felted fabrics. Saye (or serge) is woven in a twill pattern (keper) from strong worsted (kamgaren). Grosgrain is a plain woven fabric with a ribbed appearance as a result of the weft being thicker than the warp. In Leiden grosgrain, the warp is twined. The wool for both products was obtained from Scotland, Pomerania and Holland.

Unlike many of the merchant seals, the Leiden saainering seals have one pin. Although this does not show in the published photographs, the almost identical seals from the Wittenbergen wreck in the Elbe have two pins (Bracker 1986). This corroborates their 16th-century dating (Stanek 2011). Double-pin seals were prevalent up until 1593. A 1594 by-law made single-pin seals the norm (Posthumus 1912, 238). The dies used for the Aanloop Molengat seals show variations that are hitherto unknown. The obverse shield normally has a round base, but here a more Renaissance-style shield also appears. Varieties of the reverse are more significant. In 1630 it became obligatory to mark the year.[7] The most common reverse consistently includes the date 1635, divided either side of a rampant lion (see fig. 43). The imprint of another die has the inscription ‘[an]no 16[..]’, the year being unclear. The third type probably also had a date.

It is not just the type of seal, however, which primarily indicated the type and quality of the fabric produced under control of the saainering, but rather their number (up to five) and spacing. A saye fragment with three seals, found in Amsterdam, illustrates the system (Baart 1988). Luckily, there are some additional clues, for instance counter-stamped tally marks that indicate the length in Brabant ells (69.8 cm). Each cloth received one tally mark only. Six seals have a mark for 36 cubits (approx. 25.13 m). The by-laws give standards for gross length, before finishing would cause shrinkage. The closest match is for herensaai, the top-quality product. This fabric would have had about 20 threads per cm width. Other counter stamps give an indication of grades of quality: L stands for first quality (three seals), X for second quality (two seals). One seal is special. It also bears a ‘split eagle’ mark (fig. 32). The eagle marks of the Leiden saainering point to different qualities of blue woad dye as a basis for black (one eagle), light violet (split eagle) or deep violet (double eagle). They were used for herensaai and grein/grogrein exclusively and thus support the conclusion on the basis of the tally marks (Posthumus 1914, 60 (par. 21), 69, (par. 64), 70 (par. 80), 75 (par. 101); Posthumus 1939, 1176).


Figure 32 Split eagle tally mark on a Leiden cloth seal AM-H-28, indicating the light-violet color of the fabric. A similar split eagle was found on a cloth seal from Delft (photo: T. Penders (RCE)).


Figure 33 Sample of fabric (AM-1993-65-5), twill, woven from worsted. Length is 1.5 cm (photo: T. Penders (RCE)).

The Delft seals can be discussed more briefly. A sample of fabric was taken from one of these. Again we find twill, woven from worsted (fig. 33) (Nientker 2011 HyperlinkNientker). This means we are dealing with Delft saai. Its production started in 1595-96, when ten Leiden drapers moved to Delft, much to Leiden’s chagrin (Posthumus 1912, 249-271, 273-274). High-performance liquid chromatography shows that the dye used was derived from woad or indigo, madder and a third, unidentified colouring agent (at a very low concentration). New, the fabric was probably purple (van Bommel & Joosten 2012 HyperlinkBommelJoosten). Interestingly, another Delft seal has a ‘split eagle’ counter stamp. According to regulations from the 1640s, Delft saai had to be dyed in Leiden. Earlier rulings remain unclear, but the present find seems to indicate that this had been standing practice.

The Hondschoote textile industry has been the subject of one of the classic studies in the French Annales School of socioeconomic history (Coornaert 1930). Like Leiden, Hondschoote produced cloth of different qualities. Both were at the peak of their production at the time of the Aanloop Molengat wreck (Deyon 1972, 26). In both cities, the emphasis seems to have been on different qualities of sayes and regulations are particularly comprehensive for the highest quality of doucques and sayes de seigneurs (Coornaert, 216ff.). Although it is therefore quite possible that the Hondschoote consignment matched the quality of the herensaai from Leiden, we cannot establish the connection between the actual lead cloth seals and the quality they represent. By comparison with Leiden and Hondschoote, the industry of Hainaut – and specifically that of Mons – has been less well-studied, as a major part of the relevant archives were destroyed in May 1940 (Verriest 1942a; Verriest 1942b). Assumptions about the type of fabric represented by the Mons seals are therefore hard to corroborate.

The cargo contained textiles produced in urban industries in Holland, Flanders and Hainaut. It is not known how much or whether these were packed together or separately. What is known is that the shipment included at least six, but more likely ten, pieces of herensaai produced in Leiden. Four were certainly of first quality (including a light violet one), another four were presumably first quality, and two were of second quality. It can be assumed that all these pieces were dyed, which was compulsory for herensaai. After being folded into a square and placed in a large heated press, the sides were stitched together using a silk thread. There was also purple saai that had been produced in Delft and dyed in Leiden, and Hondschoote textiles that may well have been sayes of similar quality. It is no more than an assumption that the cloth from Mons was ordinary.