Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



From Textiles in Trade: Proceedings of the Textile Society of America Biennial Symposium, September 14–16, 1990, Washington, DC


Copyright © 1990 by the author(s).


This paper attempts to relate a small number of Mughal furnishing fabrics to their 17th C prices and to the purchasing power of Mughal money. There is no intent to give a comprehensive overview, but rather to see a few 17th C textiles, which today are rare and fabulously expensive, in terms of their original comparative cost. Information about the fabrics comes from the goods themselves and from contemporary Mughal paintings. Although inscriptions on the textiles contain some information about prices, several tables of textiles and prices are found in the Ain-i Akbari, a compendium on the mode of governing Akbar's empire.1 Written by Abu'1 Fazl in 1595, the A'in-i Akbari also informs about revenues, salaries and food prices, making it possible to relate the Mughal economy to ours. The text precedes by 50 years the earliest textile included in this paper. Therefore the cost of living may have increased by the time the fabrics under discussion were traded. However, the comparisons below would be of interest even if salaries and food prices had increased four-fold in that time.


Two large, complete, 17th century chintz floorspreads have recently come to light.2 The Cincinnati chintz is 6.8 by 4.6 meters, and the other a little more than 5 by somewhat less than 5 meters. Both floorspreads have inventory inscriptions giving their original prices (Rs 45 and Rs 30), original sizes (The Cincinnati chintz was and is 10 gaz 7 girah by 6 gaz 14 girah. A gaz, or yard, was divided into 16 girahs; a girah was about 4 centimeters. The Heeramaneck piece was and is 7 gaz 8 girah by 7 gaz 4 girah). Both are inscribed with various dates, including when the summer carpets were first acquired (June 1645).

What is immediately obvious about both floorcoverings is their carpet-like design: cartouches and arabesques in the border, guard stripes, and either a colored ground with repeating floral scrolls, or a floral field with a central ojival medallion and finials extending on the longitudinal axis. From the reproductions one may not immediately recognize that these are not carpets. But where, comes the question, are these chintz floorspreads in Mughal paintings? Why do we see so many carpets in the pictures?