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9-08-2015, 18:09

Economics and technology, 1600–1789

Glickl bas Judah Leib advised her husband on business matters while bearing and raising their twelve children. At his death, she took over the whole business, rescuing her eldest son from repeated bankruptcies, and expanding into new markets: I had a manufactory for Hamburger stockings, many thousands worth of which I turned out for my own account … I procured wares from Holland, I bought nicely in Hamburg as well, and disposed of the goods in a store of my own. I never spared myself, summer and winter I was out on my travels, and I ran about the city the livelong day. What is more, I maintained a lively trade in seed pearls. I bought them from all the Jews, selected and sorted them, and then resold them in towns where I knew they were in good demand. 1 Glickl was in many ways highly unusual. She was a woman operating in a man’s world, running a factory, traveling to trade fairs and markets, and handling large amounts of merchandise, including luxury goods such as pearls, jewels, and gold lace. In this her Judaism proved an advantage. Because Jews were prohibited from staying in most inns run by Christians, they often had networks of friends with whom women could stay safely, and because Judaism prized the life of a scholar more than that of a merchant, Jewish women were often freer to run businesses than their Christian neighbors. Even more unusually, as we saw in chapter 8 , Glickl decided to recount her life story for her children and grandchildren. Her memoirs are unique, but her activities refl ect some of the most important economic developments of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. She ran a “manufactory” making stockings, in which many workers gathered together in a single location owned by a capitalist investor to produce one type of textile product, for which they were paid wages. The production of thread, cloth, and clothing on an ever larger scale was at the heart of Europe’s economic expansion in this era. The other booming sector of the economy was trade. Glickl traded in pearls, which came from South and Southeast Asia to northern European cities such as Amsterdam and Hamburg. They were handled fi rst by wholesale brokers, who may have fi nanced the voyage, then by middlemen – or in Glickl’s case middlewomen – and then retail dealers. The retail dealers sold them to embroiderers, goldsmiths, tailors, and other artisans who used pearls, gems, and semi-precious stones in jewelry, clothing, tableware, clerical vestments, communion goblets, and household items purchased by wealthy Europeans. International merchants were usually male, but retail trade tended to remain a family business, in which women sometimes had opportunities to work on their own. Increases in production and trade provided Europeans, including many with moderate incomes, with cheaper and more diverse consumer goods of all types. From Europe’s overseas colonies came new foodstuffs such as sugar, chocolate, tea, and coffee, new types of fabrics such as calico, and new types of household goods, such as lacquerware and the porcelain that came to be known as “china.” Spices such as cinnamon and pepper grew so affordable that they were no longer a mark of status and their consumption declined; instead people who wanted to be elegant used perfumed waters such as rose water or orange-fl ower water as fl avorings in pastries and sauces. The fashionable drank coffee and hot chocolate in coffeehouses and cafés, of which there were about six hundred in Paris by 1750. Brewing and drinking tea became part of the lives of city residents in some countries, especially England, and even domestic servants bought their own teapots. Servants, and other relatively poor people, chose to spend their income on other “frivolous” consumer goods as well, such as tobacco, lace collars and cuffs, mirrors, parasols, sugared cakes, Chinese tea sets, and hats. Middle-class people bought more and fancier clothing and home furnishings, paying attention not only to quality and price but also to changing styles, which they learned about through printed works and shop displays. They paid for paintings that showed off their possessions, both interior scenes of well-furnished homes and still lifes with elaborate fl ower arrangements, glass dishes, clocks, mirrors, and books. As tea and coffee became common drinks for the daytime, Europeans increased their consumption of stronger alcoholic drinks as well. Beer, ale, wine, and hard cider had long been the most common beverages for all social classes, but in the seventeenth century distilled liquors became widely available as well. Every wine-producing area began to distill brandy and sweet liqueurs, while rum made from sugar cane poured in from the West Indies and brandy made from fruits such as apples, pears, plums, and cherries was produced and sold locally. Improvements in the distillation of grains helped distilled liquors compete with brandy in terms of price, and whisky, gin, and vodka became more common beverages, especially for poorer people. In England, the government decided that distilling gin was a way to use up poor-quality grain, so let anyone distill and sell it; by 1740, the production of gin was six times that of beer, with thousands of gin-shops in London alone. Gin-drinking was seen as the root of many social problems, however, and in 1751 the government limited the sale to licensed dealers, although illegal production and sales continued. In their analyses of economic systems, historians have traditionally regarded production as the most important variable, with trade as a secondary factor, and consumption – the purchasing and use of the goods produced and traded – a distant third. They viewed the transformation of the European economy into its “modern” commercial form as the result of technological and organizational changes that dramatically increased the supply of goods and sharply reduced prices. In part because consumption plays such an important role in today’s post-industrial economy, however, historians are now paying greater attention to the role of the consumer in times past. Europe’s economic growth was fueled by changes in production, and also by international trading ventures and the development of colonial empires, a subject we will take up in chapter 13 . It was also fueled by a growing demand for consumer goods within Europe itself, as people living in some parts of the continent decided that certain consumer goods were so desirable they were worth working longer hours to obtain. This “industrious revolution,” as the economic historian Jan de Vries has termed it, produced a more comfortable standard of living for people in some parts of Europe, and prompted technological and organizational change. Economic changes were very uneven, however, and in many parts of Europe, working longer and harder would not have brought any improvement in people’s lives, while in other areas improvements for some people led to decreases in the quality of life for others. Consumer demand brought economic change even to parts of Europe where the only consumers were members of the aristocratic elite, however. These changes occurred in cities where merchants like Glickl bought, sold, and manufactured merchandise, but also in the countryside.

 

 

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