Date of this Version
From Textiles as Primary Sources: Proceedings of the First Symposium of the Textile Society of America, Minneapolis Institute of Art, September 16-18, 1988
Spanning a 250 year period from 1565-1815, the Manila Galleon Trade is a fascinating period in history which is addressed far too infrequently by textile scholars. The cross-cultural contact resulting from the Spanish conquest of America expanded to include Asia with the start of the trans-Pacific trade in 1565. Spanish trade ships sailed between Manila in the Philippines and Acapulco in New Spain, becoming the most enduring trade route in history. Three continents were involved: Asia, the Americas, and Europe, and consequently three entirely different cultures with their corresponding customs, belief systems and art styles. The steady contact between these distant lands enriched their histories forever by establishing traces of foreign influence.
The New World was utilized as a land bridge between the trans-Pacific and trans- Atlantic trade routes established by the Spaniards. Westbound cargos from New Spain to the Philippines consisted primarily of gold and silver while the cargos returning to Acapulco were laden with luxury items.
Manila, under Spanish dominance, had been an entrepot for all the rich commodities of Asia: porcelain, laquerware, and ivory from China; textiles such as gauzes, velvets, cantonese crepes, heavy brocades, flowered silks, taffeta, fine damask, grograins and specific items such as silk bed coverings, silk stockings, silk shawls, cloaks, kimonos, tapestries, hankerchiefs, tablecloths, napkins and Chinese rugs; pearls, semi-precious stones and cotton cloth from the Coasts of Coromandel and Malabar in India; diamonds and spices from Ceylon, pepper from Sumatra and Java; wool carpets from Persia and from the Philippines, gold, hardwood, spices, iron, beeswax, and oils.1
Asian products were shipped to Spanish colonists in the New World and eventually on to Spain. The first stop heading east was Acapulco, where a huge fair was held to distribute a portion of the cargo. The remaining commodities (supposedly 80%) were transported overland to Mexico City by mule train and then on to Vera Cruz on the gulf coast where annual flotas traveling trans-Atlantic carried the cargo on the last leg of its voyage to Cadiz, Spain.2