University of Cambridge > > Graduate Workshop in Economic and Social History > The Spinelli Family: A mid-sized Florentine firm’s response to the opening of the Americas and Cape Route trade, 1450-1520

The Spinelli Family: A mid-sized Florentine firm’s response to the opening of the Americas and Cape Route trade, 1450-1520

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This paper will ask how much trade and finance changed for smaller companies between the later fifteenth and the mid-sixteenth centuries. Extensive research has been performed upon the activities of the great companies, but the lesser ones remain neglected. To address this deficit, this paper will examine the activities of the Spinelli family, a mid-size Florentine company that has left extensive records but has received fairly little attention in the literature. To what degree did they trade in overseas goods? How involved were they with the great companies, particularly the non-Italian ones? Did they become more engaged in European trade beyond Italy, and did their European trade items change? Regarding finance, the paper will question how much the smaller companies mimicked the great firms’ increased lending to rulers and diplomats beyond Italy, and whether any such loans suggest long-term financial involvement.[new para]This paper will largely rely upon an analysis of the mid-fifteenth to mid-sixteenth century inventories, correspondence, tax records and account books in the Spinelli archive at Yale University. The scanty and inconsistent nature of the sources makes it risky to rely upon statistical analyses. The tax and census records are more complete than the account books, but since merchants sought to conceal their wealth to lower taxes they are also not reliable. Thus, while the paper will seek to provide statistics where possible, this will be done with a great deal of caution and it will largely make more general conclusions, noting if new items of trade occur, if places of trade and banking change, and if new companies and borrowers are involved. In tracking the Spinelli’s locations of trade and the people with whom it traded and dealt in banking, this paper will also draw upon the methods of network theory.[new para]I anticipate that this paper will demonstrate that the Spinelli changed to having far more involvement in the trade of non-Italian goods, especially Flemish cloth, in the sixteenth century, and had long-term involvement with companies directly engaged in large-scale colonial trade. I believe that the paper will also show that they had extensive trade and financial dealings with Spain and Portugal, a point that is rarely addressed in analyses of the mid-tier Florentine companies, and that, like the great Florentine companies, they worked closely with German firms and also the court surrounding Charles V.

This talk is part of the Graduate Workshop in Economic and Social History series.

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