Tjaps as cultural encounters in a colonial world

26 September 2023

A recent donation to the TextielMuseum has added two special books of tjaps to the collection. As a means of communication between manufacturer, trader and customer, these tjaps – colourful images on paper – formed an important and intriguing link in the colonial textile trade.

Van Puijenbroek donation

In 2022, the Van Puijenbroek textile company in Goirle, North Brabant, donated two large books of tjaps (pronounced ‘chaps’) to the TextielMuseum. In addition, the company donated a series of books containing cotton and linen samples. The sample books and the books of tjaps have been integrated into the library collection. The donation also included the first yarns from the company's own spinning mill from 1959 and a pair of overalls made from the first yarn. These items are now part of the museum collection.

Part of Van Puijenbroek's donation. Photo: Patty van den Elshout

Hendrik van Puijenbroek, better known as Harrie, founded the H. van Puijenbroek company in 1865. Initially a linen merchant, he became a textile producer and, by 1890, he employed 85 home weavers who wove linen (wallpaper) for his company. By around 1900, the company had become a mechanical cotton and linen weaving mill. The company still exists today and now makes work clothing under the name HAVEP1.

With financial support from the Van Puijenbroek company, we were able to have the various books cleaned and restored by Mascha van den Hout. The company's archive was donated to the Tilburg Regional Archive2.


The textiles that Van Puijenbroek made were partly intended for the colonial market. This is evident from the two books containing tjaps. Tjaps were an early form of marketing. They are beautifully printed images that were used in the export of industrially made textiles from Europe to India, Indonesia and other countries. The textile manufacturer and/or trader ensured that each roll of fabric was accompanied by a stack of colourful images. If a buyer in Indonesia or elsewhere bought the fabric by the meter, he or she received the printed image to go with it. Stamps were used for plain textiles. The term tjap comes from Malay and means brand, seal or stamp.

Jantiene in the library with the tjaps of Van Puijenbroek. Photos: Patty van den Elshout

Colonial market
From the second half of the 19th century to the early 20th century, European textile manufacturers produced large quantities of textiles for countries that were then European colonies or in other ways under European influence. This colonial market was an important source of income and an important reason why large parts of Africa and Asia were colonised in the first place.

The trading houses on the tjaps in Van Puijenbroek's books were active between 1860 and 1930. The books therefore date from this period. The tjaps were intended for countries such as Indonesia, Singapore, India, Argentina and East Africa. French, German, Italian, English and Dutch trading houses handled this trade. They included Handelshuis B. van Leeuw & Co, Soerabaya, Kerr Tarruck & Co, Calcutta, Handelsvereeniging Java, and the Moluccan Handelsvennootschap.

Jantiene in the library with the tjaps of Van Puijenbroek. Photos: Patty van den Elshout

Tjaps as a marketing tool

It was difficult for European textile producers and traders to establish a direct relationship with overseas consumers, who had a different culture and were far away. To attract overseas consumers and convince them of the quality of their products, textile manufacturers and traders used tjaps.

The images were printed using chromolithography, a new colour printing technique at the time. They were produced and registered in Manchester, where several companies had been established to design and print the images. These companies sent catalogues of the images to textile manufacturers throughout Europe, who could then order the images they wanted. The two donated books are likely catalogues of tjaps from one of the printers in Manchester, but further research is needed to verify this.

The tjaps producers in Manchester carefully controlled which company used which image. Competition was fierce and a buyer wanted to be sure that his unique tjap was only used by his factory or trading house. The images were purposely complex to prevent imitation


Catalogues of tjaps from 1860 – 1930. Photo: Patty van den Elshout

Cultural encounter
In his article 'Chops and Trademarks', Andreas Zangger writes that in East Asia and Southeast Asia, the use of seals and stamps was traditionally an important part of trade. Consumers in those regions trusted a brand's reputation. European traders and manufacturers adapted their trade to this existing practice and, through a process of trial and error, identified which symbols were popular overseas. As Adrian Wilson note in his blog3:

            ‘It is important to understand that the worst thing that could happen to any merchant was that their potential customers around the world, mostly women, found the image unappealing, or even offensive.’

The images were often inspired by the culture of the area where the textiles were sold. They included scenes of everyday life as well as gods and goddesses, myths, animals, ships, Western women, flowers, landscapes and Queen Wilhelmina.

Images are inspired by the culture of the sales area. Foto: Patty van den Elshout

The relationship between the images and the countries for which the textiles were intended is often difficult for us to interpret. Why is a Western racing rowing boat depicted on the tjap for the Borneo-Sumatra Trading Company? What did the three kings on camels and the Biblical story about the birth of Jesus mean outside Europe? Why is there a finger on one of the tjaps? And a clock with deer antlers and a deer’s head?

We can no longer ask the Asians from that period what they thought of the images, but it is easy to imagine that the colourful and beautifully designed tjaps became collector’s items, just as we now collect football and animal cards from the supermarket.

Tjaps are an example of a fascinating cultural encounter in a colonial world. Their complex fusion of Western, Asian and African iconography, (religious) symbolism and aesthetics is an open invitation for more historical, artistic and decolonial research, which the TextielMuseum will continue to pursue in the coming years.


Meer lezen? 

Find out more: Susan Meller. Labels of Empire. Textile Trademarks: Windows into India in the Time of the Raj. Goff Books, 2023.

Adrian Wilson. Textile Trademarks: Ethnic Art and Typography of the English Cotton Merchants.

Andreas Zangger. Chops and Trademarks: Asian Trading Ports and Textile Branding, 1840–1920. Enterprise & Society, 2014, 15(4), 759-790.