Isabella Whitworth

probably more than natural and synthetic dyes, wax, resists, and history

Tyrian Purple – from a Leeds archive?


In early 2008 a small hand-labelled envelope fell from the hinges of a rusty trunk. In it were two knotted twists of purple-dyed threads.

A co-authored paper I’ve written with Professor Zvi Koren about these extraordinary threads was finally published yesterday, after several years’ research. Their existence offers a fascinating insight into the scientific connections and achievements of the people of nineteenth and twentieth century Leeds. You can read the abstract of the paper here


I will write more about it in a week or so. If you can’t wait to read the paper, there is a limited number of free downloads available. If you want one, contact me through this website or on Twitter, and I can send a link.


Until I am back with more, here are some thanks

To Ambix for publishing our work and for the exceptional quality of their editing

To Professor Koren who set out on this purple adventure with me after a chance conversation at La Rochelle during ISEND

To the owner of the Leeds archive, who allowed us to analyse the threads and the ink on the envelope


Professor Zvi Koren is the Director of the Edelstein Center for the Analysis of Ancient Artifacts at the Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art, Ramat-Gan, Israel.

Ambix published by Taylor & Francis Online

Some background to the research already on this blog here

6 thoughts on “Tyrian Purple – from a Leeds archive?

  1. Absolutely fascinating. How intriguing an adventure. And thanks for your lovely ‘generational’ card Isabella, we enjoyed the evening too very much..

  2. Thanks Richard. I remember bringing the botanical collection to show you some years back, somewhat breathless with excitement.. it has been an extraordinary adventure for me.

  3. C. S. Bedford has beautiful handwriting!

    • The handwriting is interesting because it was so carefully done and it made me take notice. Finding Tyrian purple at such a date would be (and was) very unusual. The handwriting seemed to indicate that the writer knew it was important too. We analysed the ink too, in case it was also from shellfish. But it wasn’t. It was red ink

    • Thank you. It is an amazing find and changes current knowledge of murex dyeing. Sadly, we have only the envelope and its contents and no contextual information. Its date and provenance were part of our ‘detective work’.

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