Capricious Demands: Artisanal Goods, Business Strategies, and Consumer Behavior in Seventeenth-century Florence

Corey Tazzara

Historians of material culture are fascinated with the particularities of early modern economic life. They have argued that reducing prices to a single abstract figure or a purchase to a single transaction in time are dangerous simplifications because prices for apparently identical goods varied according to the buyer’s social status or relationship with the seller and because many transactions were spread out over weeks or even months.1 This chapter joins the chorus by arguing that the aggregate numbers often used to portray production and sales figures over the long run mask stunning variation in the short run. Artisans in Florence faced a volatile demand environment in which sales varied widely from month to month. Recognizing this fact helps account for the inventory stockpiling habitual among many artisans in seventeenth-century Italy.

Scholars have argued that the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries witnessed a consumer revolution that involved a steady diversification of demand throughout Europe.2 New manufactures and colonial products multiplied to meet the desires of consumers. But despite their love of material things, the middling classes of Baroque Italy as elsewhere in Europe were unable to accumulate many of the objects they desired, at least until households began allocating more of their time and labor to purchasing new goods in what Jan de Vries has termed the Industrious Revolution.3 Local artisans, unlike their high-flying colleagues who produced for international markets, have largely been assigned a passive role in this narrative. They are portrayed first as victims of weak demand, vainly producing new objects until the mid-seventeenth century and thereafter as beneficiaries of an increasingly strong demand.4 However, though an examination of the retail journals of Florentine artisans reveals that consumer demand in the short term was highly variable and hence unpredictable, artisans were hardly docile worker bees producing goods that nobody could afford. The strategies they employed to overcome this capricious demand included stockpiling of inventories and the diversification of goods and services. Ultimately, their efforts to create a more regular market were not merely a consequence of growing demand but may help explain the development of demand itself.

Although the Florentine economy was stagnant during the long seventeenth century, Florentine patricians continued to purchase consumer goods

Capricious demands 205 and were eager participants in the proliferation of material objects observed elsewhere in Europe. The wealth of Florence ultimately rested on the city’s famous, if troubled, wool and silk industries, and on banking. Profits from these industries constituted the basic source of spending for consumer goods in Florence. Wealthy families invested in consumer articles partly because they lacked attractive alternatives for more productive investments. They were the main consumers of objects produced by the burgeoning ranks of artisans in Florence, many of whom were making the new consumer goods for which the seventeenth century is celebrated: fancy glassware, coaches, cutlery, ceramics, elaborate furnishings, and the like. Florence produced almost all of the luxury items consumed in the city and, indeed, in Tuscany as a whole.3 The case of Florence shows that the spread of consumer culture and the diversification of the artisanale need not be accompanied by an expanding local economy. But it does raise the question of how readily the business practices studied in the markets of the major European cities, London and Paris first among them, can be mapped onto Florence.

Early modern artisans did not often write about their approach to business in this growing world of goods. When artisans did discuss their work, their goal was often to celebrate their self-worth and professional identity rather than to enter into the minutiae of their businesses.6 If anything, craftsmen prized secrecy and feared to commit their practices to print. As the French potter Bernard Palissy put it in his Admirable Discourses (1580), when Theory asked Practice for information about ceramics:

The secrets of agriculture must not be kept secret. The hazards and dangers of navigation must not be kept secret. The word of God must not be kept secret. The sciences that serve the whole state must not be kept secret.

Artisanal knowledge was another matter altogether, however, and Practice was reluctant to disclose the arcana of the ceramics industry: ‘Many charming inventions are contaminated and despised because they are too common.’7 Palissy feared that unveiling his technical secrets would result in the overproduction of goods and the immiseration of craftsmen. Although many artisans have left us their diaries and account books, we have few explicit discussions of business practices until the mid-eighteenth century. We must thus infer their strategies from their practices and by examining the statements of other, more loquacious observers.

Florentine merchants produced a vibrant body of literature that promoted a common vocabulary and set of operating procedures among agents in far-flung commercial ventures.8 The dangers of business life particularly troubled them. Leon Battista Alberti was not merely recasting a literary trope when he noted that the mercantile life is

fraught with a thousand risks, carries with it a mass of suspicions and trouble, and brings numerous losses and regrets. There is trouble in purchasing, fear in transporting, anxiety in selling, apprehension in giving credit, weariness in collecting what is due you, deceit in exchange.9

The city’s diarists offered a wealth of advice to their readers about how to cope with pervasive risk. Remedies included hard work, always keeping one’s money active and invested in a variety of ventures, and, above all, good planning. Paolo da Certaldo remarked that ‘foresight is a beautiful thing.’10 Even so, merchants knew that it was impossible to secure themselves completely from the vicissitudes offortuna.

It is unclear whether artisans faced as tumultuous a business environment as merchants. Benedetto Cortugli (c. 1416—1469) thought that ‘it was almost impossible for [artisans] who worked hard and diligently to be poor.’11 According to Cotrugli, they had an easier time because they worked within a guild framework that regulated production processes and access to the profession. Scholars have speculated, moreover, that the frequent holidays of the pre-Tridentine calendar prevented overproduction and regularized the relationship between supply and demand.12 In any case, the political and economic changes of the sixteenth century wrought key transformations on the Florentine artisanate. The Medici grand dukes relied on guilds for social and political control, but circumscribed their capacity to regulate economic activity. Local artisans produced a greater variety of goods than their ancestors, in other words, and they did so with fewer of the labor restrictions of the old Catholic calendar and guild-dominated political sphere. If artisans had been shielded from the whims offortuna during the heyday of Florentine merchant capitalism, as Cortugli believed, their situation was different by the close of the Renaissance.13

The glass industry was one of the expanding industries of early modern Florence. Although glassmakers primarily served the local market, postmortem inventories of three artisans reveal that they kept substantial stocks of wares that would appear to be far in excess of their immediate business needs. For instance, the shop of the glassmaker Giuseppe Coscietti (d. 1602) contained about 46,000 pieces of glasswork and was valued at about 5,600 lire — an impressive sum, although it excludes debits and credits and therefore does not reflect all of Coscietti’s assets. Of that, only 7 per cent represented fixed capital such as benches and tools. The other 93 per cent comprised raw materials, semi-finished products, and finished goods (Table 8.1). Coscietti was not alone in possessing a large stock of unsold products and only modest capital goods. Fellow Florentine glassmakers Lorenzo d’Orlando and Baccio Rustichelli had similarly large stockpiles, 53,000 and 32,000 items, respectively.14 Lorenzo even had a storage magazine in his house for what could not be kept in his workshop.13

Perhaps, these large inventories explain why the contemporary observer Tommaso Garzoni accused the more unscrupulous glassmakers of foisting friable glass on their customers.16 Garzoni’s monumental Universal Marketplace (1585) surveys some 150 professions, ranging from poets to prostitutes and

Table 8.1 Giuseppe Coscietti (d. 1602), value of shop inventory by category. From Gabriella Cantini Guidotti, Tre inventari di bicchierai toscanifra cinque e seicento (Firenze: L’Accademia della Crusca, 1983). My calculations

Lire Per cent

Finished goods Semi-finished Raw materials Fixed capital Total

  • 2,846 51
  • 77 1
  • 2,270 40
  • 413 7
  • 5,605 100

from merchants to chimney sweeps. It provides the best guide to the artisanal world of late-Renaissance Italy. The need to move merchandise off the shelves was one that Garzoni frequently mentioned as a source of the dishonesty of artisans in business matters. Cobblers, for instance, often lied about the kind of material their shoes contained (sheepskin instead of calfskin), fobbed off an old shoe as a new one, or performed shoddy repair jobs so that customers had to return more often. ‘Dithering and lying are common among them, as they are among all people who serve others,’ he remarked. ‘Work today is so fraudulent that we scarcely meet anybody who tells the truth.’17 Craftsmen burdened with large stocks might well be tempted to indulge in dishonest practices to move merchandise.

Historians have cautioned against inferring the business practices of any single artisan from inventories, however. While a large number of inventories may reveal something of the structure of the industry, they do not shed light on crucial dimensions of stock flow.18 One may wonder how long the wares of Coscietti, d’Orlando, and Rustichelli sat on their shelves. How much business did artisans do? How rapidly did they turn over inventory? Probate inventories, whatever they tell us about consumer demand from the point of view of the consumer, are bad at revealing what demand looked like to the producers.

I have examined the journals of five craftsmen who worked between 1570 and 1680: a glassmaker, two shoemakers, a glover, and a leather gilder. These individuals were chosen because they produced for the domestic Tuscan market and worked on their own account rather than on behalf of merchants, unlike the well-studied wool and silk artisans; because they sold primarily at the local retail level; and because their journals survive.19 The journals record transactions in chronological order and so are unusually useful for the study of businesses over the short run. Typically, transactions were recorded first in a journal and ordered chronologically to provide a continuous record of the shop’s business activities. Entries would also be listed in the ledger, the libro di creditor! e debitori, organized by individual customer. Ledgers exist in great abundance and are good for studying business relationships between an artisan and specific individuals. The journals are more useful, however, for building a chronologically nuanced picture of an artisan’s activities.

The journals enabled me to compile various measures for gauging the variability of demand such as the number and value of transactions in a given period. My figures do not necessarily express all the income a tradesman received, since only transactions that involved credit appear to have been recorded with consistency. This caveat should not distort my results, however. Scholars have shown that recourse to credit was the norm in most transactions, even if an article was ultimately purchased with cash. More importantly, there is no reason to imagine a systematic bias in favor of cash at certain times of the year.20 Finally, it is worth reiterating that this paper is less concerned with total values than with measuring variability. At stake is not how a business fared over the long haul, but reconstructing what an artisan could expect as he developed his plans in the short and medium terms. It is about imagining how artisans made predictions and judged variability.

Before examining my artisans in detail, it is useful to compare their businesses with the silk and wool manufacturers who have received more scholarly attention. The textile sector in Florence was directed toward export and organized by a handful of rich families. Unlike retail artisans, textile manufacturers did not engage in stockpiling. Capitalist entrepreneurs (lanaioli for wool and setaioli for silk) operated on a brief time horizon guided by the dictates of cash flow, seeking to maintain liquidity above all. They created a fluid, decentralized labor market wherein artisans contracted in the short or medium terms to produce a fixed quantity of goods. These workers specialized in one of many manufacturing stages: woolens, for instance, had a discrete labor force for processing, spinning, weaving, finishing, and dyeing. Such methods enabled the lanaioli and setaioli to stay responsive to demand in the international markets where they did business.21 Subcontracting was common in export-oriented industries throughout Western Europe, even in heavily guilded industries, in order to cope with volatility in distant markets.22 By contrast, retail artisans in local sectors produced and sold on their own account directly to consumers. Guilds had little authority to regulate production and trade within the city, and artisans were free to respond to business conditions as they deemed best.

Giovanni Fidani was a glassmaker active in Florence between 1640 and 1671. During the first decade of his career, he specialized in the production of wine flasks and sold to a restricted but lofty clientele. In the 1640s, his biggest and most regular customer was the Marquis Lorenzo de’ Medici. Fidani effected several sales without immediate payment, merely trusting in the promises of one of Medici’s agents. Most of his other patrons were members of the aristocratic Capponi, Magalotti, and Strozzi families.23 As substantial landowners, these families needed flasks for the wine produced on their estates. Perhaps owing to this limited base of patrons, his sales show a high degree of variability over time (Figure 8.1). For example, the only transaction recorded for August 1643 was the purchase by Battista Mancini of 90 lire worth of flasks and ‘other stuff from my shop’ - but though Mancini’s was the only transaction that August, it was the single largest purchase in the

Giovanni Fidani, glassmaker, monthly sales in lire, 1645—1648. From ASF, LCF, 2223. Mean = 37; median = 25; standard deviation = 32; average coefficient of variation = 0.86

Figure 8.1 Giovanni Fidani, glassmaker, monthly sales in lire, 1645—1648. From ASF, LCF, 2223. Mean = 37; median = 25; standard deviation = 32; average coefficient of variation = 0.86.

entire four-year period I studied.24 The high variability of the demand faced by Fidani helps explain why post-mortem inventories of glassworkers often abounded in unsold merchandise: such accumulation was necessary for meeting occasions of unusual demand.

To produce Fidani’s graph, I compiled a table of sales in lire by totaling the amount of money paid or debited for handiwork per month. From this table, I also calculated the mean, median, and standard deviation. To gauge variability, I used a simple measure called the coefficient of variation (CV). This is the ratio of the standard deviation to the mean, thus relating the data set’s overall dispersion to the average monthly sales. A CV approaching zero indicates low variation, while a figure approaching one signifies high variation. Since the CV is a ratio, it also allows me to compare the variation in sales between my artisans. I have omitted the graphs for the other artisans to conserve space, but I list the descriptive statistics in the endnotes, and further data are available online.23

The variable demand structure was not unique to glassmakers like Fidani, but was shared by two cobblers from vastly different socio-economic worlds. Ridolfi Montini was a Florentine cobbler who specialized in quality footwear such as silver slippers and shoes in the Roman or French style.26 Almost all the shoes he sold were described with precise adjectives: purled, made of hay, made of chammy, made of cork, etc.“7 As Garzoni said:

[i]t is important for everybody to appear nimble and elegant with a beautiful pair of shoes, be they in the Spanish or Neapolitan or Savoyard style, or with a lovely pair of slippers or high-heels as are worn in our age.28

Important clients included Count Lione Nerli and his wife, the Countess Caterina, but most of his other customers were artisans or their wives. Perhaps, Montini was one of those uppity shoemakers who liked to debate about the Scriptures, ‘which is about as decorous in his mouth as a beret is on the head of an ass.’29

Shoes were not all vanity, of course. Even poor people needed shoes. They were necessary bulwarks against ‘the excessive cold of winter, the burning heat of summer, the wetness of water, the thorns of the earth, the bites of snakes, the hardness of rocks,’ and anything else that could harm one’s foot.30 Antonio Achiani, who lived in the impoverished hamlet of Chianni near Pisa, sold primarily to ‘laborers,’ as they were described in his journal. His wares were characterized simply as ‘shoes’ or ‘slippers,’ without any fancy adjectives.31 At times, he accepted payment in kind, as when one laborer bought shoes in exchange for their equivalent in rice.32 Like Montini, Achiani sold ready-made shoes, described as ‘di bottega’ or ‘of the shop’ in the journals, and also made money on repairs and second-hand sales. And though Achiani’s shoes were less refined than those of Montini and much cheaper, they both faced a highly mercurial demand environment. It seems that seventeenth-century Italians were not as shoe-crazy as their twenty-first-century descendants - or at least cobblers were not selling them shoes as often as they might have wished.33

Perhaps, not surprisingly, given the limited number of people capable of affording their goods, luxury artisans also contended with variable demand. I examined the account books of Alessandro Pesi, a leather gilder of the early seventeenth century.34 Pesi sold to the cream of Florentine society, including the high-Medici functionary Curzio Picchena, and had a few connections to markets outside Tuscany. As a gilder, his primary ware consisted of extremely expensive corami or leather wall hangings, often patterned and dyed as well as gilded. Pesi probably subcontracted key components of his business. Garzoni praised one Neapolitan master for ‘possessing the entire art,’ but his achievement was rare in such a complicated industry: it required perfectly tanned leather, silver or gold leaf, and engraved wooden stamps, and sometimes the pieces were painted as well. The final product was nonetheless ‘incredibly lucrative’ for master artisans and merchants. The average wall hanging that Pesi sold cost about 200 lire but could cost upward of 900 if he provided all the materials. Even his labor fees were steep.33 His profession was very different from the common run of leather workers described as ‘base plebs’ by Garzoni a few decades earlier:

Leather masters have an incredibly dirty, reeking, and fetid trade. For this reason they are the first to be expelled during times of plague. ... But those practitioners who discovered the art of gilded wall hangings, so noble and prized in our times, certainly merit the highest praise and honor for having shown themselves to be wise and singular men by perfecting an art which had otherwise been of little value in itself. 36

Perfecting such a noble art did not result in more regular sales, however, at least not for Pesi. Despite a general rise in sales over the two years I studied, he faced the usual highly unpredictable demand described above.

Domenico Signorini was a glover and perfumer of the late seventeenth century. ‘The principal labor of glovers consists of tanning gloves,’ Garzoni notes, ‘so that whoever knows best how to tan and perfume them earns even more money.’37 Perfume concealed the reek of tanned leather, and some of the delicate scents Garzoni recorded were jasmine, amber, musk, and bezoar oil. For all that they ‘earn even more money,’ however, these craftsmen were not blessed with more regular business: Signori’s journal shows somewhat less though still substantial variation in sales.38 Like Pesi, Signorini sold to some of the city’s richest families, such as Tornaquinci, Salviati, and Ricasoli, and he enjoyed a few ties to markets beyond the grand duchy. Signorini’s products cost less but were equally refined: calfskin gloves, fans with ivory handles, and vases of rose-scented perfume. He employed an innovative practice to woo customers by offering samples to both individual buyers as well as distributors in Rome and Lucca. Sometimes, his samples were returned, but often customers agreed to buy them outright. He also sold a greater variety of goods than my other artisans. Perhaps, these two techniques — offering samples and a greater variety of wares — helped regularize his monthly sales somewhat. It would be rash to reach this conclusion on an analysis of only 24 months of business of a single artisan, but if true would provide evidence of a gradual transition to more regular sales among late-seventeenth-century tradesmen even in as restricted a market as Tuscany.39

Recall that a CV approaching one indicates high variability in a data set. By this measure, all five of the artisans I studied contended with substantial variation in month-to-month demand (Table 8.2). It did not matter whether their sales were in general growth or decline, or whether they were producing luxury or ordinary goods. Indeed, even the durability of goods did not matter. The artisans I studied produced items ranging from the relatively durable (glassware and leather hangings) to the relatively impermanent (shoes), with Signorini’s gallantries falling somewhere in the middle. One might have expected that producers of durable goods would have faced a more variable demand than producers of ephemeral goods, since their products lasted longer and were presumably replaced less frequently. I did not find this. Perhaps, this distinction is not valid since seventeenth-century artisans did not produce objects for ‘consumption’ in the literal sense of the word. Impermanent goods such as shoes were repaired or recycled. The rag-dealers that scoured people’s closets for old clothing were the most eloquent testimony of a society that

Table 8.2 Coefficients of variation. From Figure 8.1; footnotes 26, 31, 34, and 38





  • 0.86
  • 0.81
  • 0.86
  • 0.81
  • 0.69

recycled everything it could.4*' A craft economy made reuse and repair much more viable than the modern factory system.

Historians who have examined the short-term ups and downs of business life in the seventeenth century have pointed to the seasonal nature of production or its connection to the calendar of civic and religious holidays.41 But while my data do show some tendency toward seasonal consumption, variation within months — by comparing, for instance, May of one year to May of the following year — was almost as pronounced as variation between months. For example, the glassmaker Giovanni Fidani sold merely five lire worth of flasks in May 1645 and only eight in May 1646, but then he made an impressive 54 lire in May 1647 and 72 in May 1648. The vast difference between the first two years and the latter two years is accounted for by the decisions of a few wealthy patrons like Lorenzo de’ Medici and Filippo Magalotti to buy their flasks from Fidani in May 1647 and again the following year. Another example: in May 1616, the gilder Alessandro Pesi made a (for him) meager 59 lire. The following May, however, was his second-biggest grossing in the entire two-year period. He sold goods worth 2,700 lire thanks to three large and expensive wall hangings bought by Niccolo Asigetti as well as significant purchases by members of the Bracci and Rinuccini families. The other artisans faced similar variation within rather than between seasons.42 These considerations indicate that erratic variation, not variation according to the seasons or holidays, was the lot of the artisans I have studied.

Why was demand so unpredictable from their point of view? An undermonetized economy should probably not bear the brunt of the blame, since historians have argued that networks of credit and pawning mitigated the problems of a limited diffusion of currency.43 Instead, these data point to the real limits not of money but of credit and consumption - in other words, they reveal the general weakness of consumer demand in Florence during the long seventeenth century. This explanation seems particularly persuasive in light of the relatively few big patrons that my artisans enjoyed. Almost 40 per cent of all the glassmaker Fidani’s revenues owed to the purchases of just one customer, Lorenzo de’ Medici, and most of his other sales were shared by a handful of customers. With the exception of the provincial cobbler Achiani, who sold to laborers, the other artisans I studied depended for most of their sales on a restricted set of aristocratic patrons. This made them susceptible to the consumption patterns of a few members of the Florentine elite and probably accounts for much of the capricious demand they faced. Perhaps, their remaining, if less frequent, customers hailed from the upper rungs of the middling sort, who increasingly had wealth to put into the credit markets or to deposit with the Monte di Pieta.44

Other sources confirm that aristocratic expenditure remained erratic even as occasions for making purchases multiplied alongside the objects of the new material world. At the beginning of the fifteenth century, Leon Battista Alberti identified only four things worth hoarding: silver, tapestries, clothing, and gems. Otherwise, all value resided in a family’s lands, shops, and palazzo. By the end of the sixteenth century, however, a writer such as Sabba da Castiglione celebrated more luxury goods than he could conveniently list.45 New sumptuary legislation in Tuscany in 1562, 1568, and 1637 permitted Tuscans to lead a nobler lifestyle in accordance with the ‘de-republicanization’ of society, while also regulating specific markers of identity, particularly clothing and jewelry.46 Nevertheless, even the rich did not buy objects as often as one might expect for a society that had developed a new appreciation of material goods. Account books show that many consumption expenditures remained linked to special occasions for aristocrats deep into the seventeenth century: weddings of course, but also baptisms, funerals, travel, accession to office, and a host of public ceremonies. Gifts and tips occupied an especially important place in the account books of wealthy families, while the purchase of luxury objects for decoration or consumption remained infrequent.47 If the local Florentine market was as dependent on elite consumption as historians like Richard Goldthwaite and Paolo Malanima have argued, then it makes sense that the artisans who supplied their wants were beholden to the special occasions that characterized the consumption patterns of the nobility.48

Now, to return to the problem of artisan inventories with which this paper began, the gilder Alessandro Pesi’s records provide an unusual window into his business, thanks to an inventory that was taken of his shop when he formed a partnership in June 1617, which can be read in conjunction with his journal (Figures 8.2 and 8.3). As expected, the inventory reveals that the most valuable items consisted of raw materials and semi-finished goods: these two categories comprised about four-fifths of the value of the shop or nearly 2,000 lire (Table 8.3). That figure appears low in light of the business Pesi did: in the previous three months, he had sold goods valued at twice that figure, and in June itself, he grossed another 3,300 lire — his largest-netting month in my data set and substantially more than the appraisal of the entire shop done the same month. These facts appear especially strange in light of the glassmaker Giuseppe Coscietti’s inventory (Table 8.1): although a glassmaker who had to maintain a furnace and its associated expenses, shop capital constituted only 7 per cent of the value of his workshop. By contrast, Pesi’s amounted to more than three times that figure, 22 per cent. I would interpret these figures by suggesting that in the month of June, when Alessandro Pesi formed his partnership, his stocks were depleted due to several months of high demand. This inventory depletion is the corollary of unpredictable demand: overstocked inventories served precisely to meet demand in those fortunate though fickle moments when customers placed a lot of orders with a shop.

Over-stocking was a sensible response for an artisan facing frequent slow spells punctuated by periods of intense sales. Their large inventories were not merely a sad consequence of an inadequate market, in other words, but part of a strategy that ensured they would capture as much business as possible during sudden deluges of demand. No artisan wanted to turn away a customer who could not wait for a commission and instead sought a ready-made object. Stockpiling does not mean that artisans worked continuously, of course, or

Alessandro Pesi’s shop inventory ofjune 1617, f. 12v

Figure 8.2 Alessandro Pesi’s shop inventory ofjune 1617, f. 12v.

Source: ASFi, Libri di commercio e di famiglia 3937, f. 12v. Courtesy of the Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Cultural!.

would amass as much inventory as possible. Contemporaries saw laziness as a characteristic vice of artisans. Perhaps, this ‘laziness’ was actually a function of the significant periods of slowdown that afflicted most artisans no matter what the size of their inventories. Artisans themselves certainly valued hard work and did not see themselves as sloth-ridden. A learned Florentine shoemaker wrote a playful dialog between a shopkeeper and his soul. The soul, complaining loudly of neglect, said that the shopkeeper was too busy with

Alessandro Pesi’s shop inventory, f. 14r

Figure 8.3 Alessandro Pesi’s shop inventory, f. 14r.

Source: ASFi, Libri di commercio e di famiglia 3937, f. 14r. Courtesy of the Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali.

business to tend to his spiritual needs: ‘Always afraid that you’ll lose what you have, like other greedy old men, you never give me a moment’s rest. As soon as you are done eating or sleeping, you run off to work.’49

Stockpiling served artisans in other ways, too. The goods stored in their workshops were as money- or credit-convertible as the goods accumulated in the dowries and family patrimonies that historians have studied in recent decades. Giuseppe da Modena’s account of his travails as a second-hand

Table 8.3 Alessandro Pesi’s inventory from June 1617


Per cent

Semi-finished goods



Raw materials



Fixed capital






dealer in Siena suggests that neither shopkeepers nor the larger community distinguished between shop goods and credit on the one hand, and personal wealth and credit on the other.50 A large stock served as a kind of treasury, as part of the family patrimony itself.51 As such, artisans or their heirs could use their stock of wares to pay for debts or purchase goods. At the broadest level, then, a large stock enabled a tradesman to participate more fully in the credit networks that greased the wheels of seventeenth-century commerce. But whereas families accumulated wealth for hard times, artisans stored up treasure for good as well as bad times.52

There are key limitations to this study. First, with the exception of one moment in Alessandro Pesi’s career, we do not have inventories for the five artisans studied. While my interpretation is based on the general phenomenon of stockpiling noted among artisanal inventories in early modern Italy, it is possible that these artisans did not stockpile but rather confronted their capricious demand in other ways. Second, my argument makes broader assumptions about the economic lives of these artisans drawn from the secondary literature: their embeddedness in networks of credit, the relative infrequency of (unrecorded) cash transactions, the role of shop inventories as treasury, and the relationship of their shops to family strategy. If they had survived, the diaries, wills, and ledgers of my artisans might have provided information about these topics. Above all, my interpretation offers an inductive view of craft strategy based not on the words of artisans, for they have not left us many, but on the structural conditions of their business life.

Whatever the larger contours of their economic lives, however, these artisans certainly had to confront a predictably unpredictable demand for their goods. Artisans could pursue two avenues for making revenue more regular: either they could increase the frequency with which they sold to their patrons or they could increase the number of their patrons. Probably, they sought to do both. Variable demand spurred artisans to increase the range of products they sold and to multiply their connections with other artisans in their quest to build a more regular and predictable market.53 That was as true in smaller local scenes such as Florence as in the large international markets that historians have examined. Variability also encouraged artisans to extend credit to buyers of limited means, to run informal pawnshops out of their shops, and to deal in second-hand goods as well as their own products.

Scholars have contrasted the supposedly pre-modern amassing of inventory with the more modern spread of specialization and subcontracting (in which an artisan farmed out an order to another craftsman). They have suggested that these practices were responses to a long-term, steady rise in aggregate demand. Instead, these strategies are best viewed alongside stock accumulation within the context of the short-term unpredictability that was the realtime horizon of the artisan or shopkeeper. Why did some artisans prefer inventory stockpiling rather than subcontracting for coping with uncertain demand? Subcontracting networks made sense when distant markets, though uncertain, were large enough to enable some masters to focus on marketing. Second, industries that involved a complex of disparate skills were ripe for specialization, such as coach- and watch-making.'4 Florence’s textile exports fit both those bills. Although inventory stockpiling has received less attention, it seems that many Florentine artisans were not busy enough to sustain subcontracting arrangements. They could meet demand by producing on their own account.

Although export industries have attracted the lion’s share of research, scholars should pay more attention to artisans who produced for a local market. These masters participated in the same burgeoning world of goods as the celebrated artisan—entrepreneurs who manufactured for the international scene. If their business strategies differed according to the volatility and small size of local markets, local artisans nonetheless contributed to deep changes in European production and consumption. My approach helps resolve the paradox of why even Florence, one of Western Europe’s most stagnant economies in the seventeenth century, witnessed an increasingly diverse artisanate and a host of new goods appearing on the local market. By pushing new wares onto customers and increasing the range of goods they sold, these retail artisans sought to create a more regular market for themselves. And in doing so, they played an active role in cultivating the transformation in demand that helped drive Europe toward the Industrious Revolution.


  • 1 Evelyn Welch, Shopping in the Renaissance (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005): Michelle O’Malley and Evelyn Welch, eds., The Material Renaissance (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007). Economic historians in recent decades have also sought to move beyond what Michael Sonenscher called ‘the uniformities generated by calculations of averages’ in his book on the French craft economy in the eighteenth century (Work and Wages. Natural Law, Politics, and the Eighteenth-Century French Trades [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989], 145). The rediscovery of the short term has also affected historical economists interested in game theory, as with Avner Greif, Institutions and the Path to the Modern Economy: Lessons from Medieval Trade (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006); and sociologists or anthropologists influenced by Pierre Bourdieu’s ideas about practice. Short-term strategy is having its own Renaissance.
  • 2 Neil McKendrick et al., The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-Century England (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982);

John Brewer and Roy Porter, eds., Consumption and the World of Goods (New York: Routledge, 1993); Domenico Sella, ‘Peasants as Consumers of Manufactured Goods in Italy around 1600,’ in The European Peasant Family and Society: Historical Studies, ed. Richard L. Rudolph (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1995); James R. Farr, Artisans in Europe, 1300-1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 62—66; Joel Mokyr, ‘Demand as a Factor in the Industrial Revolution: A Historical Note,’ in Escaping Satiation: The Demand Side of Economic Growth, ed. Ulrich Witt (Heidelberg: Springer, 2001); Pamela H. Smith and Paula Findlen, eds., Merchants & Marvels: Commerce, Science and Art in Early Modern Europe (New York: Routledge, 2002); Jan De Vries, The Industrious Revolution: Consumer Behavior and the Household Economy, 1650 to the Present (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

  • 3 Renata Ago, IIgusto delle cose: una storia degli oggetti nella Roma del Seicento (Roma: Donzelli, 2006) (English translation as Gusto for Things: A History of Objects in Seventeenth-Century Rome, trans. Bradford Bouley and Corey Tazzara with Paula Findlen [Chicago. IL: University of Chicago Press, 2013]); idem, Economia barocca: mercato e istituzioni nella Roma del Seicento (Roma: Donzelli, 1998). In Tuscany, the lower classes could purchase very few luxury goods until the late eighteenth century. Paolo Malanima, II lusso dei contadini: consumi e Industrie nelle campagne toscane del Sei e Settecento (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1990), esp. 36-49.
  • 4 Scholars who have considered the role of the producer in the spread of consumer culture have focused on artisan—entrepreneurs who manufactured on a large scale or for international markets. In Neil McKendrick’s original formulation of the theory of consumer revolution, eighteenth-century entrepreneurs such as Josiah Wedgwood played a critical role in manipulating the consumer demand. Cissie Fairchilds argues that the system of production and marketing that ‘pop-uluxe’ goods entailed — eluding guild regulations in production, illicit subcontracting, and black-market sales - conditioned the direction of growth in France. Neil McKendrick et al., The Birth of a Consumer Society; Cissie Fairchilds, ‘The Production and Marketing of Populuxe Goods in Eighteenth-Century Paris,’ in Consumption and the World of Goods, ed. Brewer and Porter, 228—248. Artisanentrepreneurs have come into their own as innovators in the export-oriented guilds surveyed in Stephan R. Epstein and Maarten Prak, eds., Guilds, Innovation, and the European Economy, 1400—1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008). Not by chance, a recent volume on the Italian guilds focuses almost entirely on the fate of such export-oriented guilds: Alberto Guenzi, Paola Massa, and Fausto Piola Caselli, Guilds, Markets, and Work Regulations in Italy, 16th— 19th Centuries (Brookfield, VT: Ashgate, 1998). Carlo Poni’s work has focused on the minor guilds, but deals with norms for resolving disputes rather than with business strategies or innovation. See Carlo Poni, ‘Norms and Disputes: The Shoemakers’ Guild in Eighteenth-Century Bologna,’ Past and Present 123 (1989): 80—108; idem, ‘Local Market Rules and Practices: Three Guilds in the Same Line of Production in Early Modern Bologna,’ in Domestic Strategies: Work and Family in France and Italy 1600-1800, ed. Stuart Woolf (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 69—101.
  • 5 Malanima, Il lusso dei contadini; idem, La decadenza di un’economia cittadina: I’in-dustria di Firenze neisecoli ХУІ—ХУІІІ (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1982); idem, I Riccardi di Firenze: una famiglia e un patrimonio nella Toscana dei Medici (Firenze: L. S. Olschki, 1977). For the earlier period, see Richard A. Goldthwaite, The Economy of Renaissance Florence (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009), esp. 322—340; idem, Wealth and the Demand for Art in Italy, 1300—1600 (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993); idem, The Building of Renaissance Florence: An Economic and Social History (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins

University Press, 1980); and recently, Samuel Cohn, ‘Renaissance Attachment to Things: Material Culture in Last Wills and Testaments,’ The Economic History Review 65 (2012): 984—1004. On the craft economy, see Alfred Doren, Le Arti Fiorentini, trans. G. B. Klein, 2 vols. (Firenze: Le Monnier, 1940); Goldthwaite, The Economy of Renaissance Florence, ch. 5. Brown and Goodman draw on censuses from 1631 and 1642 to demonstrate that the Florentine artisanale continued to diversify deep into the seventeenth century. They argue that women moved into the stagnating textile fields as men shifted toward more highly paid luxury fields. Judith C. Brown and Jordan Goodman, ‘Women and Industry in Florence,’ Journal of Economic History 40.1 (1980): 73—80. See also R. Burr Litchfield, Florence Ducal Capital, 1530-1630 (New York: ACLS Humanities E-Book, 2008).

  • 6 James S. Amelang, The Flight of Icarus: Artisan Autobiography in Early Modern Europe (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998), 119—126, 214.
  • 7 Bernard Palissy, Discours admirable de l’art de terre (Geneva: Jules-Guillaume Fick, 1863), 2—3; this translation is from The Admirable Discourses of Bernard Palissy, trans. Aurèle La Rocque (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1957), 188—189. Secrecy functioned to prevent the spread of techniques beyond the local community; individual artisans in the same town or guild did share their practices. See Pamela O. Long, Openness, Secrecy, Authorship: Technical Arts and the Culture of Knowledge from Antiquity to the Renaissance (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001); Stephan R. Epstein, ‘Property Rights to Technical Knowledge in Premodern Europe, 1300—1800,’ American Economic Review 94.2 (2004): 382—387; and Francesca Trivellato, ‘Guilds, Technology, and Economic Change in Early Modern Venice,’ in Guilds, Innovation, and the European Economy, ed. Epstein and Prak, 221-227.
  • 8 For instance, the Pratica della mercatura of Francesco Balducci Pegolotti (c. 1340) originated as an in-house manual for merchants of the Bardi banking company; see the edition edited by Allen Evans (Cambridge: The Mediaeval Academy of America, 1936). Gunnar Dahl, Trade, Trust, and Networks (Lund, Sweden: Nordic Academic Press, 1998) provides an analysis of this literature during the Renaissance. The seventeenth century saw the culmination of this tradition throughout Europe with the publication of works such as Gerard Malynes, Consuetude, vel, Lex Mercatoria (London: Adam Islip, 1622), Giovanni Domenico Peri, Il negotiante (Genova: P. G. Calenzano, 1638), and Jacques Savary, Le parfait négociant (Paris: Jean Guignard fils, 1675). On the importance of common business practices and a shared discursive language, see Francesca Trivellato, The Familiarity of Strangers: The Sephardic Diaspora, Livorno, and Cross-Cultural Trade in the Early Modern Period (New Haven, CT: Yale, 2009), ch. 6—7.
  • 9 Leon Battista Alberti, I libri della famiglia, ed. Girolamo Mancini (Firenze: Carnesecchi e Figli, 1908), 185; the translation is from The Family in Renaissance Florence, trans, bv R. N. Watkins (Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 1994), bk. 3, 61.
  • 10 Paolo da Certaldo, ‘Libro di buoni costumi,’ in Menant! scrittori: ricordi nella Firenze tra Medioevo e Rinascimento, ed. Vittore Branca (Milano: Rusconi, 1986), 30 n. 139.
  • 11 Benedetto Cotrugli, II libro dell’arte di mercatura, ed. Ugo Tucci (Venezia: Arsenale, 1990), 178.
  • 12 Armando Sapori, Il menante italiano nel medio evo (Firenze: Universitaria editrice, 1945), 31—32. We may wonder how effective such work prohibitions were. On January 1, 1403, the merchant Gregorio Dati confessed that for 40 years, he had failed to abide by the commandments of the Lord and resolved to be more pious in the future: ‘I resolve from this day forward to refrain from going to the shop or conducting business on solemn Church holidays, or from permitting others to work for me or seek temporal gain on such days.’ If urgent business required him to work even on holidays, Dati promised to give a florin to the poor the following day. Il libro segreto di Gregorio Dati, ed. Carlo Gargiolli (Bologna: Gaetano Romagnoli, 1869), 69; the translation is from Gene Brucker, ed., Two Memoirs of Renaissance Florence, trans. Julia Martines (Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 1991), 124. In any case, after the Council of Trent, the Church began to curtail the number of holidays from about 90—60 (in 1568—1570) and finally to 35 in 1642, although communities long maintained feast days for their local saints. Overall, while the number of feast days may have declined during the long seventeenth century, artisans’ compliance with work prohibitions probably increased. See Arnaldo D’Addario, Aspetti della Controriforma a Firenze (Roma: Pubblicazioni degli Archivi di Stato, 1972); and Robert Bireley, The Refashioning of Catholicism, 1450—1700 (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1999). I am grateful to Brad Bouley for his expertise on the Catholic Reformation.
  • 13 Apart from the textile industries, the relationship between guilds and the arti-sanate in early modern Florence remains to be studied. But there is good reason to doubt the older historiography that stressed the vincolismo or corporate constraints of Medici political economy. For the traditional view, see Furio Diaz, Il Cranducato di Toscana: i Medici (Torino: UTET, 1976), 127—148. For work that has redefined our sense of the flexibility of Medici industrial policy, see Malanima, La decadenza di un’economia cittadina; idem, ‘L’economia toscana nell’età di Cosimo III,’ in La Toscana nell’età di Cosimo III, ed. F. Angiolini, V. Becagli and M. Verga (Florence: Edifir, 1993), 3—38; idem., ‘La Firenze degli artigiani nell’economia Toscana,’ in La grande storia dell’ artigianato, ed. Franco and Gloria Fossi Franceschi (Florence: Giunti, 1998—2002), 5: 25—35; and Luca Moià, ‘Artigiani e brevetti nella Firenze del Cinquecento,’ in La grande storia dell’ artigianato, ed. Franceschi, 3: 57—79. See also n. 4 above.
  • 14 Antonio Neri, Arte vetraria, ed. Rosa Barovier Mentasti (Milan: Il Polifilo, 1980 [1612]); Guido Taddei, L’arte del vetro in Firenze e nel suo dominio (Firenze: Le Monnier, 1954); Francesca Trivellato, Fondamenta dei vetrai: lavoro, tecnologia e mercato a Venezia tra Sei e Settecento (Roma: Donzelli, 2000). On the growth in the local glass industry between 1561 and 1642, see Litchfield, Florence Ducal Capital, para. 267. On the diversification of glass products and the creation of ‘mass consumption’ in the seventeenth century, see Trivellato, Fondamenta dei vetrai, 138—142. Economic historians have explained the ‘inventory gap’ in several ways. They have noted that pre-modern manufacturing was labor rather than capital intensive. As a result, fixed capital played a small role in their inventories because shops’ assets consisted mostly of stock-in-trade rather than capital goods. Scholars have also argued that big stocks were symptomatic of a weak demand environment: goods accumulated in shops because nobody was buying them. Accordingly, Trivellato found that annual expenditures on shop capital by Murano glassmakers accounted for about 6 or 7 per cent of ongoing expenses (ibid., 210—224); cf. Jan De Vries, Economy of Europe in an Age of Crisis, 1600-1750 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976), 86—90.
  • 15 Storing wares in the home was a common practice among early modern shopkeepers. Rosa Tamborrino and Evelyn S. Welch, Shopping and Housing: Shops, Merchants’ Houses and the Market Place in Europe in the Early Modern Age (Roma: Università Roma Tre, 2008).
  • 16 Tommaso Garzoni, La piazza universale, ed. Paolo Cherchi and Beatrice Collina, vol. 2 (Torino: Einaudi, 1996), Discorso LXIV, 869—873. See George W. McClure, The Culture of Profession in Late Renaissance Italy (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004).
  • 17 Garzoni, La piazza universale, Discorso CXXXI, 1348.

On the Italian inventories, see Maria Serena Mazzi, ‘Gli inventari dei beni: storia di oggetti e storia di uomini,’ Societa e storia 3 (1980): 203—214; on the stockflow problem, see in particular Jan De Vries, ‘Between Purchasing Power and the World of Goods: Understanding the Household Economy in Early Modern Europe,’ in Consumption and the World of Goods, ed. Brewer and Porter, 104—106. This paper exploited the records found among the Libri di Commercio e di Famiglia (LCF) in the Archivio di Stato di Firenze (ASF). This large collection comprises letters, journals, and ledgers as well as ricordanze.

This would not have been true for cities like Livorno, Genoa, and Venice, where the rhythms of the sailing season might have created a bias in favor of cash at certain times of year.

Goldthwaite, The Economy of Renaissance Florence, ch. 4.

See Catharina Lis and Hugo Soly, ‘Subcontracting in Guild-Based Export Trades, Thirteenth-Eighteenth Centuries,’ in Guilds, Innovation, and the European Economy, ed. Epstein and Prak, 81—113.

ASF, LCF, 2223.

Ibid., 3v.


ASF, LCF, 3531. Sales in lire from June 1616 through December 1617: mean = 61; median = 39; standard deviation = 53; coefficient of variation = 0.86.

The terms are rovesciato, pagliato, di coniosco, and sugerato.

Garzoni, La piazza universale, Discorso CXXXI, 1346.

Ibid., 1348.


ASF, LCF, 9. Sales in lire from January 1572 through December 1573: mean = 25; median = 22; standard deviation = 21; coefficient of variation = 0.81. The economies of Chianni and nearby Rivalto for a somewhat later period (beginning in 1629) are discussed in Malanima, I Riccardi di Firenze, 144-153.

ASF, LCF, 9, 93r.

Most people among the middling classes did not own more than one or two pairs of shoes. Ago, II gusto delle cose, 101; Daniel Roche, The People of Paris: An Essay in Popular Culture in the Eighteenth century (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1987), 166; Giorgio Riello, A Foot in the Past. Consumers, Producers and Footwear in the Long Eighteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 18—29. Riello also argues that some shoemakers amassed substantial inventories of shoes (165). On the diffusion and appearance of shoes, see also Carlo Poni, ‘Norms and Disputes’; and Andrea Vianello, ‘Maglie e calze,’ in Storia d’Italia, Annali, ed. Carlo Marco Belfanti and Fabio Giusberti (Torino: Einaudi, 2003). ASF, LCF, 3937. Sales in lire from January 1616 through December 1617: mean = 1126, median = 774, standard deviation = 914, and coefficient of variation = 0.81. On the decorative role of leather hangings in wealthy seventeenth-century households, see Ago, Il gusto delle cose, ch. 3.

Garzoni, La piazza universale, Discorso LXXXV, 1038-1040. The brief quotations earlier in the paragraph are from the same source.

Ibid., Discorso LXXXVI, 1041.

ASF, LCF, 4765. Salesinlirefromjanuary 1677 through December 1678: mean=442, median = 446, standard deviation = 305, and coefficient of variation = 0.69. I counted only deve dare entries, that is, ordinary payments or extensions of credit. This misses some of the samples he sent out and later marked as ‘paid’ {pagatdf, but such transactions were both less frequent and of smaller value than other transactions. Interestingly, Signorini seems not to have given a price to the samples ahead of time.

Signorini’s business strategies resemble those found among luxury artisans in Paris and London during the well-studied eighteenth century, despite a fluctuating demand that belies the seasonal regularities observed in those contexts. Sonen-scher suggests that artisanal enterprises grew as much by diversifying products and markets, like Signorini, as by sheer market expansion (Work and Wages, 146).

  • 40 Patricia Allerston, ‘Clothing and Early Modern Venetian Society,’ Continuity and Change 15.3 (2000): 367—439; and Laurence Fontaine, ed., Alternative Exchanges: Second-Hand Circulations from the Sixteenth Century to the Present (New York: Berghahn Books, 2008).
  • 41 Karl Gunnar Persson, Crain Markets in Europe, 1500-1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 65—72; L. D. Schwarz, London in the Age of Industrialisation: Entrepreneurs, Labour Force and Living Conditions, 1700-1850 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), ch. 4. In Work and Wages, Michael Sonenscher speaks in ch. 5 of the ‘generally erratic rhythms of employment’ in the Rouen tailoring trade, typical for other crafts as well (163), and his account of wage variations in ch. 6 tells a similar story. Riello likewise discusses the seasonality of shoe production (A Foot in the Past, 188), although his monthly averages for the number of shoes produced by John Edwards between 1751 and 1757 provide evidence for more erratic than seasonal variation (180). I am indebted to Cameron Hawkins for some of these references. His book, Roman Artisans and the Urban Economy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), models the ancient Roman craft economy through a sensitive reading of industry and craft in eighteenth-century Europe.
  • 42 See my webpage, currently,, for the evidence.
  • 43 In Florence, credit was provided by pawnbrokers such as the Monte di Pieta and by the ubiquitous practice of ‘offsetting’ in which tradesmen extended small loans to their customers and thereby served as sources of microcredit on the market. Goldthwaite, The Economy of Renaissance Florence, 462—463. For Rome, Ago, Economia barocca, 57—60, 108—109; for England, Craig Muldrew, The Economy of Obligation, The Culture of Credit and Social Relations in Early Modern England (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998). The articles in Quaderni storici 136.2 (2011) are also devoted to credit.
  • 44 On the increase of wealth among the middling sort in the sixteenth century, see Goldthwaite, The Economy of Renaissance Florence, 574—582. The seventeenth century is less certain. The development of the silk industry and new luxury production on the one hand, and the decline of the wool industry on the other, probably led to further stratification within the middling class, with some artisans becoming wealthier and most becoming poorer.
  • 45 Ago, Il gusto delle cose, 53-54.
  • 46 Diane Owen Hughes, ‘Sumptuary Law and Social Relations in Renaissance Italy,’ in Disputes and Settlements, ed. John Bossy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 69—99; Giulia Calvi, ‘Abito, genere, cittadinanza nella Toscana moderna (secc. XVI—XVII),’ Quaderni storici 110 (2002): 477—503; Franco Franceschi, ‘La normativa suntuaria nella storia economica,’ in Disciplinare il lusso: la legislazione suntuaria in Italia e in Europa tra Medioevo ed Eta moderna, ed. Maria Giuseppina Muzzarelli and Antonella Campanini (Roma: Carocci, 2003). Franceschi makes the point that our understanding of the economic effects of sumptuary legislation, particularly on artisans and shopkeepers, remains in its infancy (171—174). Perhaps, the laws that regulated public display served to promote investment in interior spaces?
  • 47 Ago, IIgusto delle cose, 37—44. The festivities of the Medici court probably stimulated demand once the court’s schedule became known. Not all dealers benefited, however. For example, when the grand duke visited Siena in 1625, his officials ‘requested’ a donation of goods from the community’s Jewish shopkeepers.

Giuseppe da Modena had to fork over a pair of sheets, a bed-canopy, a blanket, and a pillow. He claimed that these articles amounted to more than ten scudi — ‘twice as much as they imposed upon any one else’ — for which he was not compensated. Cecil Roth, ‘The Memoirs of a Siennese Jew,’ Hebrew Union College Annual 5 (1928): 361, 379.

  • 48 Sales were highly variable, but does that mean they were unpredictable? It is unlikely that the spending sprees of aristocrats or the movements of the Medici court were known far enough in advance to have enabled Florentine artisans to plan their production schedules ahead of a purchase. Those scholars who have acknowledged the fluctuations of short-term demand have rightly insisted on the importance of information for artisans. Collegial relations, whether through guilds or less formal institutions, helped craftsmen stay abreast of‘fleeting opportunities,’ to use Sonenscher’s phrase, and possibilities for subcontracting. Nevertheless, although Italian artisans were notorious gabbers, it is doubtful that they could transform rumors of aristocratic spending into definite business plans. Information swapping was more useful in fulfilling recent orders than in anticipating new ones. Sonenscher, Work and Wages, 138. Epstein and Prak emphasize the role that corporate bodies played in providing information about business opportunities and in spreading innovative practices in their introduction to Craft Guilds.
  • 49 Giambattista Gelli, La Circe e i Capricci del bottaio, ed. Severino Ferrari (Firenze: Sansoni, 1957), 157. The Piedmontese blacksmith Giovan Battista Fongio (1631—1694) did not let severe gout get in the way of his trade but worked without letup during an illness that beset his last 12 years of life. Bice Mortara Garavelli, ‘Scrittura popolare: un quaderno di memorie del XVII secolo,’ Rivista Italiana di Dialettologia: scuola societa territorio 3—4.1 (1979—1980): 172.
  • 50 For instance, when Giuseppe purchased a piece of muslin for 23 lire from a Donna Fiore Galletti, his lodger Raffaele Nepi stood surety for him. Later, when Raphael went on a trip to Grosetto, Giuseppe gave him some goods from his shop to sell ‘at fixed prices.’ Raphael sold the goods while he was away, but when he returned to Siena, he refused to turn over the money until Giuseppe had paid back Donna Fiore (thus releasing Raphael from the surety). The lodger’s move appeared idiotic to Giuseppe: ‘I replied that it was not right for him to do such an affront to me and to avenge himself on me, seeing that he had not yet received either harm or insult from me and that, even though he were to have to pay, he was lodging in my house and could anyhow have deducted what he paid from the rent.’ Whatever Raphael’s motivations in this episode, it is clear that neither Giuseppe nor Raphael clearly distinguished between shop accounts and personal accounts. Cecil Roth, ‘The Memoirs of a Siennese Jew’: 367, 385.
  • 51 Welch, Shopping in the Renaissance, 147; Paula Hohti, ‘“Conspicuous” Consumption and Popular Consumers: Material Culture and Social Status in Sixteenth-Century Siena,’ Renaissance Studies 24.5 (2010): 654—670. For England, see Peter Earle, The Making of the English Middle Class: Business, Society and Family Life in London, 1660-1730 (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1989), 112-114, 120—122. Earle calculates that about 20 per cent of the assets of English manufacturers, wholesalers, textile retailers, and artisans came from stock-in-trade in the period 1665—1720. He suggests that the convertibility of their inventory may have been a problem in periods of slack demand, although it seems that it could still have served as collateral for loans, albeit at reduced prices.
  • 52 It is worth contrasting the inventory strategies of these Florentine artisans with modern firms. ‘Inventory theory’ enables companies to optimize the size of their stocks by minimizing the costs of keeping more goods on hand than necessary (storage costs, lost investment opportunities), on the one hand, and not having enough on the other (lost sales). A key dimension of inventory control is forecasting future demand, however. Although there are methods for predicting demand under uncertain conditions, the certainty of the erratic demand faced by my Florentines is not common enough in the modern world to have merited extensive research; on the contrary, the refrain among inventory scholars is that it is often possible for companies to make educated guesses about future demand. In addition, a critical assumption in most inventory theory is the separation of the finances of the firm from that of the executives. This assumption helps guard against excessively risk-averse decisions by firms, but it does not describe the situation faced by pre-modern artisans. For inventory theory, see the influential textbook by Martin K. Starr and David W. Miller, Inventory Control: Theory and Practice (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1962).
  • 53 On the active role played by clothiers in developing demand, see Elizabeth Currie, ‘Diversity and Design in the Florentine Tailoring Trade, 1550—1620,’ in The Material Renaissance, ed. O’Malley and Welch, 154—173; idem, ‘Fashion Networks: Consumer Demand and the Clothing Trade in Florence from the Mid-Sixteenth to Early Seventeenth Centuries,’ Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 39.3 (2009): 483—509. This was a problem that even the export-oriented textile industry had to cope with. Goldthwaite notes that the chief advantage of large size for the silk weaver Jacopo di Tedesco was in being able to offer his clients (setaioli) a greater range of products. Goldthwaite, The Economy of Renaissance Florence, 333.
  • 54 See Lis and Soly, ‘Subcontracting in Guild-Based Export Trades’; Giorgio Riello, ‘Strategies and Boundaries: Subcontracting and the London Trades in the Long Eighteenth Century,’ Enterprise and Society 9.2 (2008): 243—280. Riello argues that subcontracting developed not so much with a rise and diversification of demand in general, but with an increase in the frequency of transactions. One may wonder whether some subcontractors also stockpiled. Subcontracting networks developed to cope with volatility in international markets by allowing a masterentrepreneur to subcontract with other masters during times of great demand. Perhaps, he sloughed the problem of volatility onto the shoulders of the lesser artisans who produced for him, some of whom may have faced an environment similar to that of my Florentine artisans: a small number of buyers, an unpredictable demand structure, and a limited range of wares. What did the subcontractor do when business was slow?

Part IV

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