The third and final day of the history of economics summer school was concerned with the quality of market exchange and the mechanisms of regulating and controlling quality. We debated the sales of sick slaves in the medieval Mediterranean and crafty entrepreneurs in eighteenth-century England, female labour in late medieval Amiens, the tasting of wine on the Parisian market under the Ancien Regime, the supply of cotton and wool during the First World War, and many other exciting and curious issues.
The first two communications emphasized the role of intermediaries in enabling exchanges and ensuring qualities of exchanges in the medieval Italy and the Mediterranean (Toni Furio) and on the eighteenth-century English and French markets, including the colonial markets (Pierre Gervais).
Toni Furio underlined the pressure on the market agents to assess and ensure the quality of exchanges, which can be studied by reference to the cases of inferior quality, which were subject to judiciary exchange and documentation. In the Mediterranean region, an officer of local administration was responsible for supervising and judging market activities. The officer expedited oral judgments to carried out immediately. He was responsible, among other duties, for the quality of products: for instance, milk could not be diluted with water, vegetables had to be dry and fresh, salted and fresh fish had to be sold separately, etc.
As exchanges increased in complexity and different means of payment, crediting, investing and guaranteeing diversified, the need to document and fix transactions in writing became more pressing. Communication between merchants was carried out through messengers, who brought letters with orders to sell, buy, exchange, etc. The letters also provided information on exchange rates, political developments and market prices.
Likewise, Pierre Gervais emphasised the high degree of political awareness of the eighteenth-century intermediaries. The intermediaries were up to date with the most recent conflicts between England and France, which could sway the purchase and sales prices of such goods as sugar and wheat. For instance, Abraham Gradis, a sugar merchant (négociant) in Bordeaux 1755 (20 May-20 July) presented differentiated data to the planter and his client in order to maximise his own profits from the transaction.
Both speakers emphasised the political savviness of the market actors. To what extent does the quality of exchange depend on the quality of information, especially political information, available to the agents?
In the second session, four speakers prepared short reports on topics that varied from the quality of female labour in medieval Amiens (Julie Pilorget, Quality of Female Labour (Amiens, XV-XVI c.)) to the quality of goods delivered to Paris in the modern period (Safia Hamdi, Economic Police in Paris under the Ancient Regime: Controlling Quality, Quantity and Prices at the Gates and Markets of Paris), litigation initiated by defects of quality (Benoit Saint-Cast, At the Tribunal of Quality. Quality, Litigation and Regulation of Exchanges (Lyon, XVII c.)), and, finally, the provision of quality textiles to the French Army during the First World War (Simon Vacheron, Production of Textiles and Wool and Cotton Cloths for the Intendants during the Great War. Between Quality and the Best Price). It seems we have covered all periods, from medieval to late modern, though the final day, in difference from the previous one, tended to centre on the western Europe, and especially on France.
And, from wine tasting in the Ancien Regime Paris, through the final discussion, we went for the final dinner and wine tasting, before departing each to one’s home – to meet again, one day, one hopes.