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I panni di lana: Nascita, espansione e declino dell’industria tessile di lana italiana, 1100-1730
[The woollen cloth industry in Italy: The rise, expansion, and decline of the Italian cloth industries, 1100 - 1730]

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Author Info

  • Munro, John H.

Abstract

This study of the Italian wool-based textile industries (woollens, worsteds, and serges) seeks to examine its rise, expansion, and ultimate decline, over a period of five centuries (from ca. 1200 to ca. 1730) in the context of both international competition and economic conjoncture, in the context of the major macro-economic and demographic changes that the European economy experienced during these five centuries. The story commences during the so-called ‘Commercial Revolution’ era of the thirteenth-century when the Franco-Flemish cloth industries of north-west European dominated the international markets in a very wide range of these textiles, even in the Mediterranean basin. From the 1290s, and then into the better know period of the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) the European economy suffered from the ravages of ever more widespread and debilitating warfare, throughout the Mediterranean basin and western Europe, and then from various factors, including plagues, that led to serious depopulation. The consequences led to a severe rise in transportation and transaction costs that gravely undermined the profitability of long-distance trade in cheaper textiles. That, in turn forced most textile manufacturers dependent on long-distance trade, and especially those who had operated as price-takers, to re-orient their export-based production to far higher priced, indeed luxury textiles, which could better sustain the burden of rising transactions costs, especially in acting as ‘price-makers’ engaged in monopolistic competition. That industrial-commercial transformation can be seen in the textile industries of northern France, the Low Countries, and England; but also those in Catalonia and above all in Italy: principally Tuscany and Lombardy. In so far as warfare and rising transaction costs limited the importation of even luxury textiles from north-west Europe, the Italian cloth industries thereby gained a far larger share of Mediterranean markets. This study focuses in particular on the ensuring history of the Florentine woollen cloth industry in the later Middle Ages. One price that all of these luxury-oriented cloth industries had to pay was steeply rising tax burdens on exported English wools; for the prime determinant of luxury quality in these textiles was the use of the finer grade English wools, the best in the world, until the development (through breeding and management) of Spanish merino wools, which finally succeeded in rivalling and then surpassing the English by the later sixteenth century. By the sixteenth century, with a reduction in European warfare and with renewed population growth, substantial economic growth, and significant innovations in transportation, transactions costs fell, and fell enough to make long-distance trade in cheaper textiles once more profitable; and that is reflected in product changes in the Florentine textile industry, which increasingly used Spanish merino wools in place of the English. But the most important events in the history of the Italian textile industries was the sudden rise of the Venetian cloth industry from the early to mid-sixteenth century, reaching a peak in the early seventeenth century, and then experiencing an equally rapid decline, in the famous of English textile competition, by the agency of the new Levant Company, which gained major advantages over the Italians in the large Ottoman Empire. The study concludes by examining the nature of those English advantages, which lay far more in the commercial (and transportation sphere) than in the industrial sphere, in terms of both traditional heavy weight woollens (made from Spanish wools) and the lighter, coarser, and cheaper fabrics of the English New Draperies (benefiting from a transformation in English wool production, from the Tudor-Stuart Enclosures). In sum: a study of comparative advantage in five centuries of international trade, in wool-based textiles, in terms of transaction costs, inputs (wools), and commercial organization.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by University Library of Munich, Germany in its series MPRA Paper with number 11038.

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Date of creation: Dec 2005
Date of revision: Sep 2006
Publication status: Published in Il Rinascimento italiano et l’Europa, vol. IV: Commercio e cultura mercantile 1.4(2007): pp. 105-141
Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:11038

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Keywords: wool; woollen cloths; says; fustians; cottons; medieval Italy; Milan; Florence; Tuscany; Venice; Levant; Ottoman Empire; English wools; merino wools; garbo cloths; Levant Company; ships; shipping; Old Draperies; New Draperies; comparative advantage;

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References

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  1. Reed, Clyde G., 1973. "Transactions Costs and Differential Growth in Seventeenth Century Western Europe," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 33(01), pages 177-190, March.
  2. Pamela Nightingale, 1990. "Monetary contraction and mercantile credit in later medieval England," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 43(4), pages 560-575, November.
  3. Munro, John H., 1998. "The symbiosis of towns and textiles: urban institutions and the changing fortunes of cloth manufacturing in the Low Countries and England, 1270 - 1570," MPRA Paper 11266, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised Sep 1998.
  4. R. S. Lopez & H. A. Miskimin, 1962. "The Economic Depression of the Renaissance," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 14(3), pages 408-426, 04.
  5. Munro, John H., 2000. "The 'New Institutional Economics' and the Changing Fortunes of Fairs in Medieval and Early Modern Europe: the Textile Trades, Warfare, and Transaction Costs," MPRA Paper 11029, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised Feb 2001.
  6. Munro, John H., 2004. "Spanish Merino wools and the Nouvelles Draperies: an industrial transformation in the late-medieval Low Countries," MPRA Paper 15808, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 22 Mar 2005.
  7. John H. Munro, 2000. "The West European Woollen Industries and their Struggles for International Markets, c.1000 - 1500," Working Papers munro-00-04, University of Toronto, Department of Economics.
  8. John H. Munro, 1998. "The 'Industrial Crisis' of the English Textile Towns, c.1290 - c.1330," Working Papers munro-98-02, University of Toronto, Department of Economics.
  9. Rapp, Richard T., 1975. "The Unmaking of the Mediterranean Trade Hegemony: International Trade Rivalry and the Commercial Revolution," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 35(03), pages 499-525, September.
  10. N. J. Williams, 1952. "Two Documents Concerning The New Draperies," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 4(3), pages 353-358, 04.
  11. Munro, John H., 2002. "The medieval origins of the 'Financial Revolution': usury, rentes, and negotiablity," MPRA Paper 10925, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised Sep 2002.
  12. Patrick Chorley, 1987. "The cloth exports of Flanders and northern France during the thirteenth century: a luxury trade?," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 40(3), pages 349-379, 08.
  13. North, Douglass C., 1984. "Government and the Cost of Exchange in History," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 44(02), pages 255-264, June.
  14. Munro, John H., 1999. "The Low Countries’ export trade in textiles with the Mediterranean basin, 1200-1600: a cost-benefit analysis of comparative advantages in overland and maritime trade routes," MPRA Paper 10924, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised Jul 1999.
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