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Calico printing and chemical knowledge in lancashire in the early nineteenth century: the life and ‘colours' of John Mercer

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The life and works of John Mercer (1791–1866), a calico-printer from Lancashire, is a good example to illustrate the complexity of the process of printing cottons with natural colours, and the different skills required to obtain a final product able to be sold in the markets in the early years of the nineteenth century. A subtle combination of entrepreneurial dynamism, chemical knowledge, and expertise in the workshop provided a very special sort of ‘artisan-chemist', who played a key role in the industrial prosperity of the coloured textiles in the early Victorian years. The paper tries to show how, apart from the traditional ‘great luminaries' of the period (Gay-Lussac, Berzelius, Davy, or Dalton), self-educated provincial chemists such as Mercer also made significant practical and theoretical contributions.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Modern History Faculty, Broad Street, Oxford, OX1 3BD, UK

Publication date: 1997-01-01

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