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The Long Journey of Gracia Mendes

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Marianna D. Birnbaum

Appendix

Money, Prices, Values

Texte intégral

  • 1 William Arthur Shaw, History of Currency: 1252 to 1894 (New York, 1896), p. 62.

1The discovery of America became the monetary salvation of Europe. The imports of precious metals (first gold, followed by silver) also increased the home production. “The silver mining in the Saxon Harz, in Bohemia, and the Tyrol, had received a strong impulse towards the close of the fifteenth century, whereas gold was obtained during the same period in appreciably greater quantities in the archbishopric of Salzburg, and in Hungary, as well as from Africa.” 1

  • 2 Shaw, p. 313.

2Owing to the depreciation of silver, in Venice the silver grosso was abolished as a coin and the new silver coin, the lira (first valued at 20 soldi) was introduced. By 1578, the scudo was rated at 7 lire.2

  • 3 Carlo M. Cipolla, Money, Prices, and Civilization in the Mediterranean World: Fifth to Seventeenth (...)

3Earlier the petty coins (quatrini and the like) were used to pay for menial labor and in the retail trade of small scale. Workers were paid with small coins but the big merchants and traders were selling their ware for gold and frequently refused payment in small coins. However, during the sixteenth century there was a general increase of wages and prices, and the gold scudi and ducati as well as the large silver ducatoni appeared even in local and small transactions. The gold coins lost their character of “aristocratic money.”3

4The value of currency fluctuated: between 1517 and 1594 the relationship between the ducat and the lira changed considerably. As the following chart shows:

51517 ducat (always 100 soldi)= 6 lire 10 soldi1520 ducat= 6 lire 16 soldi

61529 ducat = 7 lire 10 soldi

71562 ducat = 8 lire

81573 ducat = 8 lire 12 soldi

  • 4 Based on Shaw, p. 316.

91594 ducat = 10 lire4

  • 5 Philip Lardin, “La crise monétaire de 1420–1422 en Normandie,” L”argent en Moyen Age: XXVIIIe Congr (...)
  • 6 For a useful work regarding Spanish economical life prior to 1492, see Miguel Gual Camarena, Vocabu (...)
  • 7 Shaw, 322.

10Much of the Mendes family’s business dealings were conducted in écus. The écu was a gold coin. In 1423 50 écus equaled 68 livres (silver), 75 sous (copper) and 6 deniers (dinars). The same year new écus were minted and the old ones became more valuable. 4 old écus were fixed as equaling 7 livres.5 A gold solidus equaled 3 and 1/3 silver solidi. Solidi (the silver coins) were also used in Castile.6 (The maravedi, originally a gold coin of the finest quality—weighing about 56 grams—was first introduced after the conquest of Toledo, designating the sueldo d’oro. It soon degenerated in value, and became a silver coin of the lowest denomination.)7

  • 8 Luciano Allegra, La città verticale: usurai, mercanti e tessitori nella chieri de cinquecento (Mila (...)
  • 9 Allegra, p. 72. See also Jonathan I. Israel, Europan Jewry in the Age of Mercantilism: 1550–1750 (O (...)

11In mid sixteenth-century Italy, the scudo equaled 8 (silver) fiorini; a fiorino = 12 grossi; a grosso= 4 quarti.8 In Florence, Jews were permitted to charge 25 percent interest, but actually the percentage fluctuated between 17 to 50 percent.9

  • 10 For a recent biography of the eleventh doge, see Karl-Hartmann Necker, Dandolo: Venedigs kühnster D (...)
  • 11 Ugo Tucci, Mercanti, navi, monete nel Cinquecento veneziano (Bologna, 1921), pp. 200–201.

12In Venice, the coining of gold began under Doge Giovannni Dandolo (1280–90).10 In 1284, the first gold ducat or sequin (zecchino) was valued at 18 grossi. By the sixteenth century, the Venetian ducat equaled 75 grossi. Antwerp’s grossi fiamminghi and Southampton’s corone were exchanged in Venice. In 1496, 135 corone equaled 100 Venetian ducats, whereas 80 grossi were worth 1 ducat. In England, 40 silver denars equaled 1 ducat. 70 ducats equaled 434 lire.11

13In Venice, the principal coin was the lira di piccioli, which endured from the tenth century until 1806 (the year in which the decimal was introduced).

14The lira di grossi was used for four hundred years; it was introduced in the thirteen century and abandoned by the end of the sixteenth.

  • 12 Florence Edler, Glossary of Medieval Terms of Business: Italian Series 1200–1600 (Cambridge, Mass., (...)

15The Medici accounts during the fifteenth century show that a fiorino largo, a large gold first appeared about 1450. The fiorino largo grossi, a large florin of groats (grotes), was a money account for silver. The fiorino largo d’oro in oro, a large gold coin, was used from ca. 1482 –1530. It was 19 percent more valuable than the fiorino largo di grossi. 1 petty lira (lira di piccioli) = 20 petty soldi = 240 petty denari. 1 lira a fiorino = 20 soldi a fiorino = 240 denari a fiorino. Any gold florin = 29 soldi a fiorino = 348 denari a fiorino. Any gold florin = 20 soldi a oro = 240 denari a oro. 1 quattrino equaled 4 denari. 1 grosso equaled 1/24th of a gold florin (although that was variable.12

16Most businesses kept a “memoriale,” a daybook in which accounts were entered. Debits and credits were usually entered in separate sections of the book. The Medici and the Fugger account books were especially sophisticated but all larger enterprises relied on a meticulous bookkeeping.

  • 13 Jose Ignazio Gomez Zorraquino, La burguesia mercantile en el Aragon de los siglos xvi y xvii (1516– (...)
  • 14 By the ordinance of November 23, 1566.

17The mere fact that the Mendes family had business dealings with royalty testifies to their wealth and influence. However, to gain an insight into the immensity of their assets, it should be noted that while Diogo lent 200 thousand ducats to the emperor, a well-to-do merchant in sixteenth-century Aragon had 10-50 thousand sueldos (gold) capital.13 There were also silver sueldos. Under Philip II the equivalence of gold coins was increased but the silver money was left unchanged.14

  • 15 Tucci, pp. 62ü63. At that time 1 ducat = 6 lire 4 soldi, 1 lira di grossi = 10 ducats, 124 lire = 2 (...)
  • 16 Tucci, p. 199.

18In Venice, a reputable merchant had about 100 thousand ducats but for an initial investment 500–1,000 ducats were considered sufficient.15 A scribe/ secretary received 30 ducats for his services during a sea voyage from Alexandria to Syria. The same job, from Flanders to Syria, earned him the double.16

  • 17 Sevket Pamuk, The Monetary History of the Ottoman Empire (Cambridge, 200), p.64. I am grateful to P (...)

19In a recent work, Professor Sevket Pamuk provides us with the exchange rate of some European coins expressed in akçes (1477–1482): in 1479, a Venetian gold ducat equaled 45–46 akçes, whereas a Hungarian gold ducat was worth 42–43 akçes. By the third quarter of the next century (1582) their value increased to 60 and 58 akçes, respectively.17

20One must not forget that the total number of millionaires in early modern times was much smaller than it is today. The Mendes family took advantage of those years when the center of European monetary exchanges passed from Italy to the Netherlands, when Antwerp took the place of Venice and Florence. Later, with excellent timing, they moved their wealth to the Ottoman Empire but retained all their contacts with European trade. Yet, after the death of Joseph Nasi, who passed away without immediate heirs, in less than 20 years, the Mendes-Nasi business empire disappeared without a trace.

Notes

1 William Arthur Shaw, History of Currency: 1252 to 1894 (New York, 1896), p. 62.

2 Shaw, p. 313.

3 Carlo M. Cipolla, Money, Prices, and Civilization in the Mediterranean World: Fifth to Seventeenth Century (New York, 1967), p. 37.

4 Based on Shaw, p. 316.

5 Philip Lardin, “La crise monétaire de 1420–1422 en Normandie,” L”argent en Moyen Age: XXVIIIe Congrès de la Société des Historien Médiévistes de L’Enseignement Superieur Public (Paris, 1988), p.105, footnote 16 and p. 106, footnote 19, respectively.

6 For a useful work regarding Spanish economical life prior to 1492, see Miguel Gual Camarena, Vocabulario del comercio medieval: Coleccion de aranceles aduaneros de la Corona de Aragon (Siglos xiii y xiv) (Barcelona, 1976). Biblioteca de historia hispanica monografias. Serie minor, 1.

7 Shaw, 322.

8 Luciano Allegra, La città verticale: usurai, mercanti e tessitori nella chieri de cinquecento (Milan, 1987), front chart.

9 Allegra, p. 72. See also Jonathan I. Israel, Europan Jewry in the Age of Mercantilism: 1550–1750 (Oxford, 1985).

10 For a recent biography of the eleventh doge, see Karl-Hartmann Necker, Dandolo: Venedigs kühnster Doge (Wien, 1999).

11 Ugo Tucci, Mercanti, navi, monete nel Cinquecento veneziano (Bologna, 1921), pp. 200–201.

12 Florence Edler, Glossary of Medieval Terms of Business: Italian Series 1200–1600 (Cambridge, Mass., 1934), p. 317.

13 Jose Ignazio Gomez Zorraquino, La burguesia mercantile en el Aragon de los siglos xvi y xvii (1516–1562) (Zaragosa, 1987), p. 109 and passim.

14 By the ordinance of November 23, 1566.

15 Tucci, pp. 62ü63. At that time 1 ducat = 6 lire 4 soldi, 1 lira di grossi = 10 ducats, 124 lire = 20 ducats, 99:4 lire = 16 ducats (Tucci, pp. 186 and 199).

16 Tucci, p. 199.

17 Sevket Pamuk, The Monetary History of the Ottoman Empire (Cambridge, 200), p.64. I am grateful to Professor Gabriel Piterberg for having called my attention to this work.

© Central European University Press, 2003

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