obverse and reverse of a lead seal
Obverse and reverse of Haarlem lead seal

The 17th century was a time of prosperity for the city of Haarlem in Holland, the Netherlands. A rise in English dominance in the woolens market had impacted the once dominant woolens industry in Flanders, where raw English wool was transformed into cloth and sold to all of Europe. As a result, Dutch textile production changed to meet demand, producing lighter woolens and worsteds, and shifting to linen production. Haarlem’s geology and an influx of talented textile workers from Flanders led to a linen finishing and bleaching boom. Linen woven elsewhere in the Netherlands was brought to Haarlem to be refined and bleached on the city’s famous bleekvelden (bleaching-grounds) using nearby clear coastal waters that resulted from a landscape with a very specific sand and clay mixture. A bird’s eye view of the bleaching fields in use in the seventeenth century, complete with sun bleaching linen can be seen in the Dutch master Jacob van Ruisdael’s masterpiece View of Haarlem with Bleaching Fields. The city’s prosperous dairy industries provided ample buttermilk, which was also important in the linen bleaching process of the time due to its lactic acid content.

At the peak of its prominence, Haarlem was producing some 44000 cloths each year, many of which were plain-woven linen textiles known as “holland cloth” or simply “holland” in England and elsewhere. Hollands were used in England and the colonies for shirts, household linens, caps, aprons, and other items requiring a finer all-purpose linen. Haarlem remained an important source of bleached linens for European nations and their colonies until its economic decline in the early 18th century.

This seal includes elements of the coat of arms of Haarlem and the Dutch phrase Haerlems Goet, or “goods from Haarlem.” The obverse side of this fragment is marked “20,” signifying that this seal was once attached to a cloth measuring 20 Dutch ells- about 45 ½ feet. While many of our Haarlem seals were found in mixed contexts, a few have been found in mid-late 17th century contexts, indicating that linen was imported long after Jamestown became a port city.