In the textile industry, chiefly in Scotland (the English equivalent is beer), at least as early as the 18th century – 20th century, a unit of count for the yarns that run the length of the cloth, = 20, but sources from the 1930's on describe a porter as = 40. In addition to describing cloth, the term is used in describing the reed in a loom.
The porter is just a convenience to simplify calculations; there is no indication of the porter on the loom or the cloth it makes.
Some have described the porter as a unit of length, = 1/20th of a Scottish ell, rather than of a count of threads. It is hard to reconcile such a view with documents like the first example below.
Starting at 4.33 cents in January, 40-inch, 11-porter, 10½-ounce hessians reached 6.33 cents per yard in December with hardly any recessions.
E. Haldeman Dennison.
Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce.
Daily Consular and Trade Reports.
Nos. 75-151; Volume 2; April, May and June 1913.
Washington: U.S.G.P.O., 1913.
Page 795. Report 112, May 14, 1913.
Porter, a weaver's term in Scotland for twenty splits, or threads, in plain linen work.
Simmonds, page 297.
The following methods of packing [textiles for export] may be considered representative:-
(a) Best. The goods are wrapped in (1) white paper, (2) grey paper, (3) linen oilcloth, (4) brown paper, (5) patent black tar cloth, 20-porter linen, (6) brown paper, (7) outside canvas, 18-porter linen, (8) iron bands.
(b) Second. The goods are wrapped in (1) double grey paper, (2) jute canvas, 16 porter, (3) best brown tar cloth, 20-porter linen, (4) brown paper, (5) outside canvas, 18-porter linen, (6) iron hoops.
(c) Common. The goods are wrapped in (1) white paper, (2) double paper, (3) common brown or tar cloth, 16-porter jute, (4) brown paper, (5) outside canvas, 18-porter jute, (6) 5 iron hoops 1¼ in. wide.
(d) Commonest, for India and China goods. The goods are wrapped in (1) double grey paper, (2) common asphalt tar cloth, 14-porter jute, (3) brown paper, (4) outside canvas, 18-porter jute, (5) 5 iron hoops 5¼ in. wide.
(e) Recent, for India and China goods. The goods are wrapped in (1) double brown paper, (2) glazed brown paper, (3) tarpaulin, (4) common brown paper, (5) outside canvas, 18-porter jute, (6) 5 iron hoops.
C. G. Warnford Lock.
Workshop Receipts. Fourth Series.
London: E. & F. N. Spon, 1896.
This passage appears to have been lifted from a work titled “Sizing and Mildew in Cotton” (Was this George Edward Davis and Charles Dreyfuss, Manchester: Palmer and Howe, 1880?). A credit to this title (no author) appears in the report The Cotton-Goods Industry in Lancashire, by Consul Shaw, who reprints the same passage. (U.S. Dept. of State. Commercial Relations of the United States. Cotton and Woolen Mills of Europe. No. 23. September, 1882. Washington: Gov't Printing Office, 1882.) The same passage, translated into Italian and credited to the same source (still no author), was given in a report by Roberto Froehlich, the Italian Consul in Manchester (Bolletino Consulare, vol. 19, Part 1 (March 1882), page 340.
Jute fabrics are described by the number of “porters” and width in inches, the length being according to requirement. As an illustration, take say a “16-porter 40-in. Hessian, of 18 “shots” or picks per inch and 100 yd. in length. The porter is the standard in jute manufacture by which the fineness of the “camb” (or set of heddles) and the reed are determined, and consequently the number of threads in the warp to make any given description of cloth. The porter is composed of 40 heddles, each heddle containing one thread, and 20 splits or dents of the reed, two threads going between each two dents. When one thread alone is used, the reed is as fine again. The number of porters in 37 in. of the reed indicates the fineness of the cloth. In the case supposed, it occurs 16 times, and so gives its denomination to the web. The texture of a jute fabric is, however, considerably modified in the finishing process to which it is subjected. This consists of heavy calendering, by which the length of the piece is increased at the expense of its width, and by means of which it may happen that the latter is so much contracted that, though woven as a “16-porter,” it could only be accurately described by calling it an 18-porter fabric.
Charles G. Warnford Lock, editor.
Spons' Encyclopedia of the Industrial Arts, Manufactures, and Commercial Products. Division IV.
London: E. & F. N. Spon, 1881.
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