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Access to the trade: monopoly and mobility in European craft guilds, 17th and 18th centuries


  • Prak, Maarten
  • Crowston, Clare
  • De Munck, Bert
  • Kissane, Christopher
  • Minns, Chris
  • Schalk, Ruben
  • Wallis, Patrick


One of the standard objections against citizenship systems and trade organizations in the premodern world has been their exclusiveness. Privileged access to certain professions and industries is seen as a disincentive for technological progress. Guilds, especially, have been portrayed as providing unfair advantages to established masters and their descendants, over immigrants and other outsiders. In this paper the results of detailed local investigations of the composition of citizenries and guild apprentices and masters is brought together, to find out to what extent this picture is historically correct. This data offers an indirect measurement of the accessibility of citizenship and guilds that allows insight into the mechanisms of exclusion and their impact. The paper finds that guild masterships were in most towns open to large numbers of immigrants and non-family, as were training markets for apprentices. Therefore, we argue, our understanding of urban and guild ‘monopolies’, and the measure of protection and reward they supplied to established citizens, is in need of serious revision.

Suggested Citation

  • Prak, Maarten & Crowston, Clare & De Munck, Bert & Kissane, Christopher & Minns, Chris & Schalk, Ruben & Wallis, Patrick, 2018. "Access to the trade: monopoly and mobility in European craft guilds, 17th and 18th centuries," Economic History Working Papers 88365, London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Economic History.
  • Handle: RePEc:ehl:wpaper:88365

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    More about this item


    guilds; Europe; institutions; social capital; inequality; labour markets;

    JEL classification:

    • D02 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Institutions: Design, Formation, Operations, and Impact
    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior
    • L22 - Industrial Organization - - Firm Objectives, Organization, and Behavior - - - Firm Organization and Market Structure
    • N33 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • N43 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation - - - Europe: Pre-1913

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