[Intervention] Apprenticeship of Florentine merchants-bankers (Matthieu Scherman)

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Apprenticeship of Florentine merchants-bankers: the example of the 15th century London Salviati bank.
Matthieu Scherman (EFR)

texte publié le 30 avril 2014

Communication présentée à l’European Social Science History Conference 2014 (ESSHC 2014, Vienne), Session « Learning and Training Patterns of Skilled Labour Force in Preindustrial Europe (14th-18th Centuries) ».

This paper aims to examine how Fiorentine merchants were trained to succeed in the bank business. The Salviati, from the Florence’s nobility, operated a bank in London from 1444 to 1445. After Florence and Pisa, London is the third bank to be opened, before Bruges. Thus, the network designed by the family linked Mediterranean and Northern Europe. Thanks to the documentation available, such as the accounting books and the tax declarations, it is we have gained a greater understanding of how people developed their skills as merchants-bankers.

Thanks to the network built by the Salviati around Europe, the parenthood and other alliances, the young Salviati, and children from other families, could rely on solid experience. Mobility between different cities all around Europe was an important part of the merchants’ apprenticeship. They had to know how to deal with foreign currencies and to know the merchandise that was being traded between northern Europe and the Mediterranean.

The accounting books list all the “giovani”, which means the youth, the future merchants-bankers in charge. London’s bank, like all banks in Europe, was a centre for apprenticeships.

Sending future merchants abroad was a usual practices in big merchants’ families. But, first, the young merchants obtained their principle training in Italy learning commercial and baking activities in the merchants’ manual books. We can see in an account book of an allied family, the da Uzzano, that one merchant’s manual was lent to the Salviati in 1440. So, they were able to use those manuals to gain principle knowledge of banking and merchants businesses. But the main apprenticeship for the Salviati was undertaken in Tuscany and in the firm.

Jacopo, Alamanno’s third son born in 1417, was the Salviati member sent in London in order to set up a bank at 27 years old. In 1444, he left Tuscany for London and in November 1445 the accounts books began. He first did an experience with in London before officially beginning business in England. But England, and north-west Europe were already in the Salviati business’s strategies. More members of the family were sent abroad to acclimate with north-western Europe. In effect, Francesco Salviati, born in 1412 second son of Alamanno, who, together with his brother Piero born in 1410, was the first to set up banks in Florence and Pisa. He was sent to Bruges in 1434 and was welcomed by the Borromei’s bank, which was located there. After his time in Bruges he was sent back to Tuscany, where assumed control of the Florence and Pisa banks. The Borromei were part of the family due to the marriage of Bernardo Salviati, Francesco Salviati’s uncle. During Francesco’s stay in Bruges, his uncle was in London acting as an intermediary between him and the Salviati wool factory in Florence for the purchase of wools from the Cotswolds. So that, the links between Bruges and London were already built for the Salviati before a permanent, or more lengthy, settlement was developed. It is no coincidence that the Borromei bank in Bruges bought furniture in the Bergen fair in 1445 for the Salviati’s house in London.

To go back to Jacopo, we can follow his training practice before being sent to London thanks to the accounting books from Pisa and Florence, and his father’s ledger. Jacopo, during that period was in the Pisa bank and he also held a public office, camerario of the town Volterra. The family network and power in politics permit holding a public office, that deals with accounting, even if public in that case. He became camerario at the age of 21 in 1438 and he was appointed to deal with the cash in Florence due to his experience bringing and taking money to and from customers for the family firm. Three years later, in 1441, he was working in the Pisa bank. It is not surprising that Jacopo undertook training in Pisa as it was an important school, likely to be of great benefit to a future head of office in London. Pisa was a port of Florence, especially after 1406 and its conquest by the Florentine, and it allowed Jacopo to gain important knowledge of the merchandise that transited at the port and, especially English wool.

When he first arrived in London, everything was brought from Florence. His servant, Giovanni di Prussia, who had also worked for the Salviati’s in Florence and the accounting books which were made from Tuscan’s paper were sent with the Flanders’ Florentine galleys. The successive accounting books, for the period 1448-1451, traveled less: they were bought in Flanders, demonstrating the absence of paper production in England. To assist Jacopo in his first year and probably due to his knowledge of English practices, Giovanni degli Albizzi was made a partner in the bank. It is interesting because Giovanni degli Albizzi knew the English markets well, or at least was supposed to have know, since he was a “fattore” of the Ubertino dei Bardi London bank in the early 1440’s. This bank was a regular business partner during the first years of the Salviati’s presence in London. Proof of that is in the Medici Papers. Two interests were joined in that partnership: the Salviati’s London bank allowed the confirmation of a merchant from an important family to take on greater responsibilities and the Salviati could profit from the business partners expertise. It was a way of creating thin practical commercial and business partners or clients. Like most Florentine merchants present abroad, Giovanni degli Albizzi went back, in 1455, in Florence to be the head of a wool company. He maintained commercial relations with the Salviati in Florence, buying their wool.

For Italians, England had two principal ports: Sandwich and Southampton. In those locations, galleys from Venice, Genoa and Florence arrived carrying with Italian products and they left loaded with English merchandise, especially wool. At Sandwich, it seems that the Genoese succeeded in holding a prominent position. But at Southampton, the Tuscans were present too. During the first years of Salviatis presence, Pandolfo dei Benvenuti dealt with Salviati in the port of Southampton. He was nominated “fattore”. He was the main correspondent of the London’s Salviati bank in the Southampton port and he must first have learned his skills on galleys running the journey from Tuscany to Northwestern Europe. Consulting Florence’s registers, it appears that Pandolfo was back in Florence in 1446 and resumed his monetary skills in the Salviati bank where he was cashier from November 1446 to 1448. Again, in that period, he is seen for a short time in Southampton. In a fiscal census it appears that Pandolfo was a neighbor of the Salviati’s in the Santa Croce quarter. But the link between Pandolfo did not end with his departure from England and Tuscany. In the Bruges registers, Pandolfo is still nominated as a factor but in the port of Almeria, in Andalusia in the early 1460’s. So it is reasonable to say that the Salviati banks formed and trained an intermediary, a middle man, essential in commercial activities. They continued to use his skills for several years.

Jacopo’s younger brother, Averardo born in 1424 undertook a very different training path. After being cashier for the Florentine bank at 17 years old, he was sent to England too, in 1448, at 24 years old. There he learnt to deal with products, being in charge of the purchasing of wool, moving from London to the Midlands, where the product was bought, and to Southampton and also Flanders. He received a very practical training and he continued that for a long period, always dealing with wool and moving back and forth until 1454. After that, as with his brother, he returned to Florence where he married Maddalena Neroni. In Florence, he became a cashier, at 30 years old, again for the Florentine bank before becoming a major partner in his father-in-law’s bank, that is, Francesco di Neroni e Averardo Salviati e compagnia. The examples show that a constant movement between the places of commerce was necessary in the bank and commercial business. As we can see with Averardo, it was important to learn in a variety of locations and, as the examples of Pandolfo and Giovanni degli Albizzi demonstrate, knowledge acquired in one centre of commerce could be used in different places. Averardo had to learn how to deal with local currencies, local clients and Italians who were in London and more generally in North-western Europe, especially Bruges. No further Salviati would be trained in England and Flanders after that. Giovanni, Alamanno’s forth son born in 1419, was a major partner in the Bruges branch, with Piero da Rabatta, but he was already a confirmed merchant when he arrived since he was more than forty years old. Before that, he dealt with the Florentine and the Pisan banks with he’s brother Francesco.

Their presence in London allowed Salviati to maintain and to build a network with other Tuscans families. The cases quoted earlier confirm that. In those cases Salviati, used the practical knowledge acquire by their partners and helped them reinforce their business skills. But, as with all banks present abroad and like the use of the Borromei bank by the Salviati for the training of Francesco, Salviati bank in London was a centre of training and apprenticeship for young, in other words future merchants. In effect, throughout the Salviati’s presence in London, young people from the other merchant-banker families are to be found in the Salviati’s London records: members of the della Casa, Frescobaldi, Alberti and Bardi were formed or passed through the Salviati firm.

As far as merchants-bankers are concerned, the same families, more or less, had been in business for more than a century. It’s particularly obvious with the Bardi, from the 13th century to the well-known bankruptcy of the 14th century, but present still in banking and commerce during the 15th and the 16th centuries. They were often brokers in London and Bruges. In London they succeeded in placing essential intermediaries in business. It’s true, it’s hard to understand which part of the family they were from and sixty-five Bardi households were enumerated in the florentine fiscal census. The Bardi family was extended but a few members were linked and worked for the Salviatis Banks.

Links between the two families were close, as I pointed out, Jacopo was married to a Bardi, another Bardi was cashier at the bottega d’arte della lana in Florence, headed by Alamanno in 1442. And they were in commercial business with the company in London “Rede d’Ubertino dei Bardi” in the 1440’s. Often, the Salviati dealt with brokers from the Bardi family. We can find: Antonio dei Bardi (the young and the old), Biligardo dei Bardi and, in Bruges, Bernardo dei Bardi.

Returning to the London branch, after Averardo and Jacopo left, they gave the keys to two “young”, the said Giovanni dei Bardi and Nicolò da Rabatta. The first would gain a good reputation among Italians merchants settled in Northwestern Europe at the end of the fifteenth century. He began his career at the Salviati Bank like Niccolò da Rabatta. Giovanni dei Bardi entered the London Salviati Bank young, before twenty years old, in the 1450’s. We can notice his handwriting in the accounting books and we can also consider his training period. For example, different hands can be recognized and Giovanni’s hand is very identifiable: the letters are very legible, like a young student commencing their studies, and even more when compared to his “master’s”. On the same page, even in the same registration, two hands are present, one hesitating and the other more used to write and more strongly affirmed, showing a more accustomed merchant.

The Salviati, as with all merchants, moved to go back to their home city, Jacopo and Averardo left London and Bruges around the 1450’s, and they left the two said young, Giovanni dei Bardi and Niccolò da Rabatta, who was in the Salviati Bank since 1448, alone dealing with the London bank. But, it didn’t mean that they let them make decisions, they still Dealt with letters and accounts from London.

In a 1457 tax assessment, the Salviati declare a particularly difficult time because of the two said young. It could be exaggerated since the nature of the source, but in a private letter, in 1461,written from Florence by Averardo to Piero da Rabatta in Bruges, the latter is asked to control the two young because, apparently, they didn’t manage very well a wool purchase in England. Piero da Rabatta was Salviati’s partner in Bruges, from the 1440’s. Unlike the other Tuscans families as the Medici, Borromei or Bardi, the Salviati didn’t take part directly in both sides of the shores. In Bruges they found a partnership and they waited until 1461 and the coming of Giovanni, to have their name associated with the da Rabatta Bruges Bank. Others bore the same name, for example, Ubertino dei Bardi e compagnia firm, as well as in London and Bruges. Once again, it is not surprising to find a da Rabatta training in the London branch, Niccolò was Piero’s brother. In the London branch, he begun by bringing and giving money to customers, then he held the cash desk. He was also the link between England and Flanders for the Salviati bank, more or less like Averardo Salviati during the same period. As has been demonstrated for the Borromei Banks, that was frequent for Bruges and London’s banks. One or more were in charge of moving between the two countries.

After Niccolò da Rabatta holding the front desk, another member of a renowned family substituted him, Girolamo of the Frescobaldi family. In the 1450’s, he’s part of the partnership with Giovanni dei Bardi and Niccolò da Rabatta who managed the Salviati London branch. After being trained in the Salviati bank, Girolamo opened his own London bank in partnership with another Florentine, Jacopo Paganelli. The Bruges branch dealt with that company in the 1460’s. It is worth noting that the Frescobaldi are, like the Bardi, linked by marriage with the Salviati and they are still present in London in the 1530’s.

To conclude, Florentine banks flourished abroad for centuries thanks to the constant turnover of managers and merchants within the same families. This turnover needed a European network where all the Florentine merchants would be able to learn how to deal with foreign currencies, with accounting books and the art of trading. The apprenticeship can be seen, also, as a strategy to maintain position, in the European economics. Not more than ten tuscans companies, even less, were present in England during a given period but, and that’s why the Italian presence can be understood as a “quite” institution, always renewing itself. But the renewing was always inside the same families, no places for non members of the Florentine elite. A « National » entrepreneurship, every firm participates in its way to the maintaining of Tuscans’, or better Florentine presence in different places. If Italian merchants from London and Bruges worked together, the apprenticeship is a nation exclusive deal, as far as the Florentine are concerned. In effect, in the Salviati bank only Florentine did an apprenticeship and their successors were all Florentine. Companies are centres of teaching inside the tiny group of Tuscans merchant-nobilty elite. It permits to perpetuate banks and commercial networks around Europe with exchange of personnel from one company to another. It could be said that training allows fluidity in the economics in general.

Apprenticeship is essential to build or consolidate a commercial and financial network and, especially to keep the merchants position in Europe and of course in their cities.

It was also intended to maintain economic superiority for Florentine nobility. It allows to the building of a network while maintaining superiority in the homeland, thanks to the formation of pundit inside the nobles Florentines families.

It also appears that to be a well prepared merchant, a long training is necessary: Niccolò da Rabatta and Averardo Salviati were practicing for several years before dealing with more autonomous business. Furthermore, the return of Averardo to Tuscany to take a position of cashier, again, in Florence is a proof of the long training period essential to be a “good” merchant, which means succeeding in dealing in a long range space. The constant movement between the motherland and the European economic places are fundamental to the learning of business and commerce in a European perspective.

Matthieu Scherman (École française de Rome)


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