John & Susan Merrell
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Scio, OR 97374
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Alpaca Umbrellas

Alpaca Umbrellas Yes. While for a long time, Umbrellas were only covered with two materials--silk and cotton, manufacturers constantly searched for a better material that would resist the friction and wear that the mechanism puts on its covering. In the middle of the 19th centruy alpaca was given this task, and a patent was taken out.

It should be remembered that even though the umbrella's roots stretch to at least the Egyptian Empire, since we can today see paintings originating from that time, they were used for protection from the sun.

In the 17th and 18th centuries efforts were made to improve the umbrella, in part by using new materials.  Early rain umbrellas were covered with oiled silk, and when wet were heavy and difficult to operate.

Later, silk and gingham replaced the oiled silk, providing significant improvement to umbrellas.

The steel ribbed umbrella was invented in 1852 (baleen from whales had been used in the best umbrellas prior to that).  This was just one year William and John Sangster were awarded a Prize Medal for, "Silk Parasols and Umbrellas of excellent quality, and for their application of alpaca cloth to the coverings of Parasols and Umbrellas." at the Great Exhibition of 1851.  Comments attending this prize medal included:

"The demand for the Paragon Umbrella is so great, that the patentee is able to supply them at a price not much exceeding the ordinary sorts. The frames are guaranteed for two years, but in consequence of the superior quality of the article, the number found to require repair is much less than the average of other kinds. In the course of the two years succeeding their introduction, upwards of 50,000 Paragon Umbrellas mere sold.

"Nor was the progress of the alpaca Umbrella less cheering. Though the material is in some respects inferior to silk, it has been found to wear so much longer, and to cost so much less, that its use is now becoming general among that numerous class with whom economy and an Umbrella are equally indispensable. The sale of alpaca Umbrellas, in the year 1854, amounted to upwards of 45,000."

In his book "Umbrellas and Their History" William Sangster wrote"

"Since this time W. & J. S. have sold, under their patent, Umbrellas to the number of nearly four millions.

"These facts we will leave to our readers to draw their own inference from; but the very kind reception which the alpaca Umbrellas have hitherto received, justifies us in asserting, that no material has yet been brought forward which has so thoroughly fulfilled the required conditions. The weight of the Umbrella has also been diminished, and, last not least, the price has decreased in a corresponding ratio. This latter fact is of the very greatest importance, when we remember the immense quantity of Parasols and Umbrellas manufactured during the year in London, and estimated at the enormous value of 500,000 Pounds. In addition, a very great number are made in Manchester and Birmingham."

Even today alpaca is respected for its light weight, water repellency and durability.

Umbrella fabric may have been taken over by synthetics, but alpaca played a little known role in umbrella history!

 
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"Some of them were encased in wicker work, others in cloth made of alpaca wool in brilliant colors and gorgeous with curious designs..."

- Paul Boyton
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