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Alpaca

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ALPACA, one of the two domesticated breeds of S. American camel-like hoofed mammals, derived from the wild guanaco (q.v.). Alpacas are kept in flocks on the level heights of the Andes in Chile, Peru and Bolivia, at an elevation of 14,000 to 16,000 ft. above the sea. In appearance the animal resembles a sheep, except for the long head and neck, carried erect. It is kept mainly for the sake of its wool, though the flesh is quite palatable. The alpaca is sheared yearly, the fleece consisting of thick woolly hair, about 8 in. of which is removed from the total length of 2 feet. In col our it is mainly black or dark brown, but lighter hues occur.

The fibre is elastic, silky, lustrous and strong, and was used by the Peruvian Indians centuries before its introduction into Europe. It was due to the sagacity of Sir Titus Salt (q.v.) that the manu facture of alpaca cloth was suc cessfully started in 1836. At the present day, however, most of the alpaca cloth of commerce is made from mohair and other types of fibre. (See also WooL.) Scien tifically, the alpaca is Lama huanaco var. paca. (See GUANACO; LLAMA; VICUNA.) The four species of indigenous South American fibre bearing animals are the llama, the alpaca, the guanaco and the vicuna. These are all of the camel class, without humps but having the "water stomach." The llama, of which there are 700,00o, and the alpaca, of which there are 1,5oo,000, are domesticated; the guanaco and the vicuna run wild. Of the four the alpaca and the vicuna are the most valuable fibre-bearing animals: the alpaca on account of the lustre and quantity, the vicuna on account of the softness, fineness and quality of its fibre. The usual length of alpaca staples appears to be about i sin., this being a three years' growth ; but the length may be little more than about half this, i.e., a one to two years' growth, shearing being in part dependent upon the demand for and price of the fibre. The fleeces are sorted for colour and quality by skilled native women. The colour of the greater proportion of alpaca imported into the British Isles is black and brown, but there is also a fair propor tion of white, grey and fawn. It is customary to mix these colours together, thus producing a curious ginger-coloured yarn, which upon being dyed black in the piece takes a fuller and deeper shade than can be obtained by piece-dyeing a solid white wool. In physical structure alpaca is akin to both hair and wool, having scales and some fibres medullated. It is probably a mixture of an outer and under fibre-coat. It is very glossy, and its softness and fineness enable the spinner to produce satisfactory yarns with comparative ease.

Alpaca Industry.

Alpaca is a name given to two distinct things. It is primarily a term applied to the fibre obtained from the alpaca. It is, however, more broadly applied to a style of fabric originally made from the alpaca fibre but now frequently made from allied types of fibres, viz., mohair, Iceland or even from lustrous English wool. In the trade, distinctions are made between alpacas and the several styles of mohairs and lustres, but so far as the general purchaser is concerned little or no distinction is made.

The Romance of Alpaca.

The history of the manufacture of this fibre into cloth is one of the romances of commerce. Undoubt edly the Indians of Peru employed it in the manufacture of many styles of fabrics for centuries before its introduction into Europe as a commercial product. The first European importations would naturally be into Spain. Spain, however, transferred the fibre to Germany and France. Apparently alpaca yarn was spun in England for the first time about the year 1808. It does not appear to have made any headway, however, and alpaca was condemned as an unworkable material. In 183o Benjamin Outram, of Greet land, near Halifax, appears to have attempted again the spinning of this fibre, and for the second time alpaca was condemned.

These two attempts to use alpaca were failures owing to the style of fabric into which the yarn was woven—a species of camlet. It was not until the introduction of cotton warps into the Bradford trade about 1836 that the true qualities of alpaca could be de veloped in the fabric. Where the cotton warp and mohair or alpaca weft plain-cloth (usually termed "Orleans") came from is not known, but it was this simple yet ingenious structure which enabled Titus Salt (q.v.), then a young Bradford manufacturer, to utilize alpaca successfully. Bradford is still the great spinning and manufacturing centre for alpacas, large quantities of yarns and cloths being exported annually to the Continent, to the United States, to South America and elsewhere, although the quantities naturally vary in accordance with the fashions in vogue. The typical "alpaca-fabric" was originally a very characteristic "dress fabric" but to-day the fibre is chiefly used for linings.

Owing to the success in the manufacture of the various styles of alpaca cloths attained by Sir Titus Salt and other Bradford manufacturers, a great demand for alpaca arose, and this could not be met by the native product, for there never seems to have been any appreciable increase in the number of alpacas available. Unsuccessful attempts have been made to acclimatize the alpaca in England, on the European continent and in Australia, and even to cross certain English breeds of sheep with the alpaca. There is, however, a cross between the alpaca and the llama, termed the "paco-vicuna," (whether a true hybrid is not yet known) producing a material placed upon the Liverpool market under the name "Huarizo." Crosses between the alpaca and vicuna produce a fibre practically equal to the vicuna fibre in softness and fineness, and it is hoped that further attempts will be made to develop this cross. It is often suggested that the wild huanaco crosses with the alpaca ; but this is still doubtful, although such supposed crosses are exhibited at shows in Peru. The preparing, combing, spinning, weaving and finishing of alpacas and mohairs are dealt with under WooL. (A. F. B.) The following statistics, taken from the Bradford Chamber of Commerce Statistics of the Woollen and Worsted Trades of the United Kingdom, give an idea of the extent of the trade in yarns and fabrics of the alpaca type ; unfortunately statistics for alpaca alone are not published.

fibre, vicuna, wool, bradford and alpacas