What follows is taken directly from the introduction in Peter Spufford, Handbook of Medieval Exchange (London, 1986). Page references have been omitted and links added to reflect the current Web environment but otherwise the material is essentially as presented by Dr. Spufford. He holds the copyright to this material and it should be used accordingly.
- Money of account
- Money changers -- Banche del giro
- Transfer or credit
- International banking
- Different sorts of exchange
- The Handbook
- Appendix I: Usance
- Appendix II: Couriers
The period covered by the Currency Exchange (Spufford) data set runs from the earliest available twelfth-century material up to the late fifteenth century. This finishing date is designed to tie in with the work that Professor F.C. Spooner of the University of Durham has in progress. He is preparing a compilation of exchanges for the whole of Europe from the late fifteenth century onwards.
In the twelfth century the currency of Europe consisted of silver penny coinages: deniers in France; denari in Italy; dineros in Spain; dinheros in Portugal; pennigen in the Low Countries; pfennige in Germany; denars in Hungary; and so on, described universally in Latin as denarii.In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries multi-denominational coinages were introduced into most parts of Europe. In the first half of the thirteenth century Italian cities north of Rome introduced new, larger, silver coins known on account of their greater size as grossi (big ones) by contrast with the pre-existing denarii, which were soon called piccoli (little ones). Although they were all of approximately the same size as each other, containing about two grams of fine silver, the early grossi were initially worth between four and twenty-six of the piccoli, depending on how little silver the local denaro contained. In the second half of the thirteenth century, larger silver coins were also introduced in Rome and southern Italy, in France (gros) and the Low Countries (groten), and in the fourteenth century in the Empire (groschen) and England (groats). Many of these later gros, for example the gros tournois in France, were twice as large as the early Italian grossi. As well as the generic name, grossi, many of these larger pieces also acquired local soubriquets. The grosso of Venice, for example, was also known as a matapan, that of Florence as a fiorino, and that of Naples and Provence as a gigliato or julhat.
In the middle of the thirteenth century regular gold coins began to be issued outside Muslim-influenced Spain and Sicily. The earliest were the Florentine fiorino d'oro or florin, worth 240 Florentine denari or 20 Florentine grossi and the Genoese genovino, worth 96 Genoese denari. Both began to be issued in 1252. These were coinages made of gold imported from Africa. In the second half of the thirteenth century the use of gold coins in Europe spread only slowly outside northern Italy. The opening up of gold mines in Europe itself in the first half of the fourteenth century, principally at Kremnica in the kingdom of Hungary, caused the use of gold coins in Europe to spread much more rapidly. By the middle of the fourteenth century gold coinages were established in France, the Low Countries, England and the Rhineland, as well as Hungary, and the gold currency of Italy and Spain had become much more abundant. See Peter Spufford, Money and its Use in Medieval Europe (Cambridge,1986) for further details of both the new larger silver coinages and the gold coinages of the 13th and 14th centuries. Meanwhile the old, smaller penny coinages continued to be struck alongside the new, larger, silver coinages and the even newer gold coinages. These penny coinages were already of varying weights and finenesses by the beginning of the thirteenth century. Some, like the English pennies and the Cologne pfennige were still of good silver; others, like the Venetian or Lucca denari, were not only much smaller, but heavily debased. The process of differentiation continued over the next three hundred years. By 1500, English pennies, although somewhat reduced in size, continued to be minted in fine silver. Most other small denari or deniers were struck in 'billon', which was silver so debased that the actual silver content was generally under a twelfth, and in extreme cases as little as a ninety-sixth, part of the whole. Billon coins always contained much more alloy, generally copper, than silver. As a consequence of their colour they were generically known as monnaie noire or black money.
Some of the new, larger, silver coinages issued from the thirteenth century onwards were still being minted of fine silver in 1500. Many others, particularly in the fourteenth century, had their silver content reduced, or were replaced by new coins of a lower silver content. Their silver content was not generally reduced below half, so that they retained a 'silver' appearance. They were consequently generically known as white money, in contrast to the black money. In France, for example, good silver gros tournois were replaced by 1400 as the standard large silver coins by blancs, which were minted half of silver and half of alloy. In the Rhineland, good silver groschen had similarly been replaced by half silver weisspfennige.
In the late middle ages most European countries were using a multi-denominational currency, effectively minted in three different metals, billon, silver, and gold. More than one denomination was frequently minted in each metal. In France, for example, black, billon, two denier pieces or doubles tournois were minted as well as black deniers tournois, and in Florence, black, four denaro pieces, quattrini as well as denari piccoli. In silver, white soldini were minted in Venice as well as grossi, and in England, silver half groats as well as silver groats. In gold as well, halves of standard denominations were frequently minted. So sometimes were quarters or doubles. The currency of most countries in Europe after 1200 was thus abundant, but also increasingly complex.
Money of account
In most parts of late medieval Europe, and in many places up to the eighteenth or even the nineteenth century, a dichotomy existed in the functions of money. On the one hand, money of account was the measure of value, whilst on the other, the actual coin was the medium of exchange and the store of wealth. Money of account derived its name from its function. As a measure of value it was used almost exclusively for accounting purposes. Most financial transactions were first determined and expressed in money of account, although payments were naturally made subsequently in coin, or surprisingly often in other goods. Coin itself was valued as a commodity in terms of money of account, and, like any other commodity, its value frequently varied. This variation of the value of coin in terms of money of account has been the cause of much confusion of thought about the nature of money of account. This confusion has resulted in the expression of a differing concept of money of account by practically every writer on medieval money.
With the decline of the denier at different rates, in different places, in the eleventh and twelfth centuries a standard of reference was needed for the wide variety of deniers that might be circulating in any region in addition to the indigenous coinage. Such a need was particularly felt in such regions as Champagne because of the international trading fairs there. With the introduction in the thirteenth century of the fine silver grosso and the gold florin in addition to the often base denaro, a common denominator became necessary to express the varying values of gold, silver and billon coins. Money of account supplied both these needs.
Although the need for money of account was not felt until the eleventh and more seriously, the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the form taken by money of account dated from a much earlier period. As early as the eighth century and probably even in the seventh, the system of pounds and shillings had been in use. With regional modifications, the relationship of twelve deniers or pennies to the sou or shilling, (also schilling, skilling, soldo, or sueldo, in Latin solidus) and of twenty shillings to the livre or pound (also pfund, pond, or lira, in Latin libra), had gradually become established throughout western Europe. This was basically a system of counting coins, rather than a system of money. A shilling meant a dozen coins, and a pound meant a score of dozens. Marc Bloch maintained that before the thirteenth century the sou and the livre were no more than unités numériques.
When using material in this data base [which has been converted to decimal equivalents] it should be borne in mind that although most of the rates were quoted in soldi or shillings, they are based on denari or pennies so that a value for the florin of 66s. 3d. could equally be expressed as 795 denari, or as 3 li. 6s. 3d. This system of pounds, shillings and pence was not, however, universal. In Bavaria, and places like Austria which were settled from Bavaria, the schilling meant thirty coins and the pfund or talent meant eight sets of thirty coins. In England the mark, which was there a weight two-thirds of the size of the pound, had been transformed into a unit of account, two-thirds of the pound sterling and was frequently used alongside it as 13s. 4d. or 160 pence. By derivation from England, the mark was also used in the southern Netherlands as a unit of 160 deniers. At Cologne and at Lubeck marks were quite independently transformed into units of account, of 12 and 16 schillinge respectively, and pounds were not used there.
In some cases the development of money of account was facilitated by a transitional stage in which the new coins of the thirteenth century neatly represented the old multiples of deniers. The grossi of Florence and Rome, the earliest gros tournois and the earliest Prague groschen were all originally intended to be soldi, sous or schillinge, containing twelve times as much silver as their respective deniers, but they soon ceased to fulfil this function. Similarly the Florentine florin and the French chaise a l'écu were originally intended to represent the Florentine lira and the French livre tournois, but both were soon raised in value. The English noble was only kept at a fixed value, half of the mark sterling or one third of the pound sterling, by altering the weight of gold that it contained from time to time.
The habit of counting coins in dozens and scores of dozens was so ingrained that when a new coin did not coincide neatly with a multiple of the pre-existing coins, a new system of pounds, shillings and pence was automatically constructed on the basis of the new coin. In Venice, after the creation of the grosso or matapan, two concurrent systems of money of account came into use. One was based on the old little denaro (piccolo), the other on the new great denaro (grosso). There was no firm relationship between the two systems of accounting, for whereas the billon denaro of the lira, soldo and denaro piccolo system sank further and further in quality, eventually becoming undisguised copper in the late fifteenth century, the good silver denaro of the li. s. d. grosso system very largely conserved its fineness and weight.
Two concurrent, and divergent, systems of money of account similarly came into existence in Florence, with the creation of the silver fiorino or grosso, and in France, with the creation of the gros tournois. In France the system of account based on the larger coin expired when the relevant grosso or gros ceased to circulate, several decades after it ceased to be issued. In Castile by contrast, although the maravedi had only an ephemeral life as a large silver coin, it survived for over two centuries as a unit of account, with the meaning of ten small castillian dineros.
In other places the newer gros ousted the older deniers so completely that methods of accounting based on the denier either ceased, or continued to be used only on the basis of a notional relationship between the defunct denier and the surviving gros.
This occurred in Flanders early in the fourteenth century when the new groot penning supplanted both the Flemish version of the French denier parisis and the Flemish version of the English sterling. The new groot was held to be worth three of the old Flemish sterlings and twelve of the old Flemish deniers parisis. The Flemish systems of account based on their groot, their sterling and their parisis were thereafter fossilized in this relationship. All three moneys of account were thus in reality tied to the groot. A similar transition to reckoning in the new great coins took place not only in neighbouring Brabant, which also had its groot, but in other places as far away as Naples and Bohemia, where accounting came to be carried out in terms of grossi gigliati and Prague groschen respectively. Initially the Prague groschen were struck at sixty to the local mark weight of silver, so that the mark was a convenient multiple of these groschen. Even when they ceased to be minted at sixty to the mark, they continued to be reckoned for convenience in multiples of sixty, each called a sexagena or schock. In neighbouring Meissen groschen were also counted in sixties. Reckoning in schocks, or sixties, occasionally spread to other denominations, and was reinforced in the mid fifteenth century when a schock of the Meissen groschen was temporarily worth an imperial gold gulden.
Not only were new systems of money of account constructed using the larger silver pieces as denari or soldi, but others were built up using the new gold pieces as lire. The Florentine gold florin, the French franc and the electoral rheingulden all became pounds of account. Unfortunately for simplicity of comprehension, all three coins became in time detached from their namesakes as pounds of account.
In Florence, the gold florin (fiorino) began as the lira in the system of money based on the denaro piccolo, whilst the grosso was still the soldo. The grosso was also, confusingly, called a fiorino. I shall distinguish it from its gold namesake as the 'silver florin'. The gold florin thus began as equal to 20 silver florins or soldi affiorino. As the denaro piccolo and the silver florin evolved differently, the gold florin came to have different values in silver florins and piccoli. This evolution came to an end in 1279 when the silver florin ceased to be struck. By that time the gold florin had become worth 29 silver florins (29 soldi affiorino). Silver florins remained in circulation until they were withdrawn in 1296. Accounting in lire, soldi and denari affiorino did not, however, vanish with the silver florin, like most other systems based on large silver coins. Instead, it continued into the fourteenth century, because it had effectively become based on the gold florin, rather than the silver florin, at the fossilized rate of 29 soldi to the gold florin.
The French case was much simpler. The gold franc was first issued at the value of a livre tournois, it then increased in value in money tournois as the silver coinage was debased, but the word franc remained as an alternative term for the livre tournois, not only when gold francs of a different, higher, value were actually in circulation, but for long after gold francs had ceased to circulate.
In the Netherlands the electoral florins or gulden from the Rhineland were commercially current in the 1440s at 40 Flemish groten. In the 1450s they were officially current at that rate. Consequently, by the 1460s they had become equated in men's minds with the pound of 40 groten. The principal silver coin in circulation in the Netherlands, the Burgundian stuiver or patard, formed a natural shilling for it, being valued at two groten. The gulden as an accounting unit remained in the sixteenth century as the name of the pound of 40 groten, even though the gold rheingulden had officially become worth 42 Flemish groten as early as 1467. By 1488, it was worth 90 Flemish groten. This was indeed a strange fossilized system, yet it continued to attach itself to monetary reality by its fixed relationship to the Flemish groot.
Similar fossilized systems existed elsewhere. In France the system of livre, sou and denier parisis, based on the denier parisis until it ceased to be struck in 1365, continued in use for at least another century and a half. It kept in contact with reality by the fossilization of the thirteenth- and fourteenth-century relationship of 4:5 with the denier tournois, i.e. 16 sous parisis always equalled one livre tournois.
In Flanders the Flemish system of livre, sou and denier parisis was similarly kept in contact with reality, through the equivalence of the Flemish sou parisis to the Flemish groot. After 1433 there was no distinct Brabançon coinage, yet the Brabançon money of account continued to be used. It was also kept in touch with reality by the fossilization of its relationship with the Flemish money of account, as it had existed in 1433. Three Brabançon groten had then equalled two Flemish groten. Thereafter Brabançon money of account was based on the Flemish groot.
The misnomer 'imaginary money' has often been applied to late medieval money of account, perhaps because the real coin on which the money of account was actually based was not always evident on first inspection, as in the cases above. To untangle the maze of moneys of account which were created in the last three centuries of the Middle Ages is beyond the scope of this introduction. Brief details of many of them are given in background texts to the quotations. It may, however, be taken as axiomatic that on closer inspection an historical explanation may be found for the existence of each money of account, and that such an historical explanation will indicate to which real coin the system continued to be attached. The real coins involved at the base of these accounting systems may mostly be looked up in either F. von Schrötter, Wörterbuch der Münzkunde (Berlin-Leipzig, 1930) which is arranged alphabetically, or in the third volume of A. Engel and R. Serrure, Traité de numismatique du moyen âge (Paris, 1905), reprinted 1964, which is arranged geographically by issuers. This is, however, outdated in many particulars and it is in many ways now preferable to refer first to the magnificently illustrated single volume by Philip Grierson, Monnaies du moyen âge (Fribourg, 1976), and to follow up the references given there, or else to Peter Spufford, Money and its Use in Medieval Europe (Cambridge, 1986).
Money changers -- Banche del giro
Before the introduction of gold florins in the thirteenth century the primary role of the money changer was to effect exchanges between small local denari on the one hand, and cast ingots of silver, or pounds of unminted gold dust on the other. The latter were only used by merchants and other travellers, and for large local payments. For payments between different localities, local denari were obviously useless. Unminted silver, provided its fineness was known, was also more convenient for large local payments than minted silver, which would have to be counted out, or weighed, in the form of thousands, or even tens of thousands, of separate coins. Unminted silver bars generally conformed to a limited number of accepted standards of fineness each used over wide areas of Europe. For a longer discussion of the use of silver in bar form see my Money and its Use.
There is some evidence to suggest that these bars or ingots of silver were also frequently of a standard weight, the mark, even though the mark weight itself, of course, varied from place to place. In the spring of 1204, Wolfger bishop of Passau set out for Rome. His chamberlain brought with them a supply of silver bars to exchange along the route into local currency to pay for the needs of the bishop's party. The weights of the bars exchanged were generally, though not always in round numbers of marks. He changed three marks at Tarvis, crossing the Alps into Italy, a single mark at Padua, four marks at Ferrara, then two more marks there, and yet another two before they moved on to Bologna where he exchanged an odd weight of silver into Bolognese denari. Across the Apennines in Florence, he exchanged a round five marks, but an odd weight in Siena. In Rome itself, on all the five occasions when he exchanged bars for currency, complete numbers of marks were involved, first eleven marks, then another eleven, then sixteen, then three and finally another three before they started the return journey.(W. Jesse, Quellenbuch zur Münz- und Geldgeschichte des Mittelalters (Halle, 1924), document 370, p. 251.) In other words, in eleven transactions out of thirteen the chamberlain was offering silver bars which weighed a complete number of marks, which strongly suggests that most of the bars that he was carrying weighed a mark or an exact multiple.
The use of uncoined gold dust for payments was limited to regions bordering on the Mediterranean. It was normally measured by the ounce.
Such exchange transactions, between unminted silver or gold and local currencies were only gradually replaced by exchanges between gold coins and local currencies, and continued in some parts of Europe until the fourteenth century. As a consequence rates for marks of silver, and ounces of gold in various local currencies survive in an appreciable number. We have not collected them systematically and they therefore do not appear in the Handbook. However we have made a haphazard accumulation and I hope that, at some future date, it maybe possible to produce a supplementary listing of exchange rates between local currencies and marks of silver, and where appropriate, ounces of gold.
As well as exchanges between mark bars of silver and local currencies, money changers must also commonly have made exchanges with the coinage of adjacent principalities, although there is surprisingly little direct evidence that they did so. At the end of the twelfth century more or less fixed relationships frequently existed between the coinages of adjacent principalities. In western France, for example, the deniers of Le Mans were taken as double those of Anjou or Tours, in southern France the deniers of Le Puy were taken as half those of neighbouring Clermont; in the Rhineland the pfennige of Cologne were taken as double those of neighbouring Aachen; in Tuscany, the denari of the principal cities were all equivalent to one another. A number of these rates appear in the listings.
By the time that gold coins replaced marks of silver and ounces of gold in the transactions of money changers, some of them had already taken considerable steps towards becoming local bankers. Within certain of the leading commercial cities some money changers extended their activities from manual money-changing to taking deposits, and then to transferring sums from one account to another on the instructions of the depositors. At the same time many money changers, even in these few cities, continued only to exchange money. Elsewhere the activities of all money changers remained limited to simple exchange.
In Genoa, the most precocious centre for such local banking facilities, the notarial register of Guglielmo Cassinese (1190-2) indicates that local payments could then not only be made by transfer between accounts with the same bank, but also between accounts indifferent banks in the city.(Raymond de Roover, 'New interpretations of the history of banking', Journal of World History, ii (1954), reprinted in his selected studies Business, Banking, and Economic Thought in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe (Chicago, 1974), pp. 213-19.) This was possible because the bankers maintained accounts in each others' banks. In this way inter-locking banking systems came into existence. The largest of these was at Florence, where there were reputedly as many as eighty banks by the early fourteenth century.
By the fourteenth century it had become customary amongst merchants within a limited number of cities to make payments as far as possible by assignment on their bank accounts (per ditta di banco). Such assignment was initially normally made by oral instruction by the account holder in person at the bank. By 1321, it was apparent that some Venetian bankers were reluctant to pay out cash, instead of making transfers between accounts, for in that year the Great Council had to legislate that bankers were to be compelled to pay out cash within three days if asked to do so.(Reinhold C. Mueller, The Procuratori di San Marco and the Venetian Credit Market (Ph.D., Johns Hopkins, 1969, printed Arno Press, New York, 1977), p. 188.) Another habit, of which the bankers' account holders complained in Barcelona and Genoa as well as Venice, was to send them to other banks to look for cash. (Reinhold C. Mueller, 'The Role of Bank Money in Venice 1300-1500', Studi Veneziani, n.s. iii(1979) p. 75.) By allowing overdrafts and thus letting their cash reserves fall below, and often well below, the total of their deposits, such local deposit-bankers were not only facilitating payments, but also effectively increasing the money supply.
In Venice, to which so much unminted silver came in the course of the thirteenth century, it had become normal practice by the fourteenth century for merchants to be paid for the bullion that they brought to the city by crediting them with its value in a bank account. Its importers could then immediately pay for their purchases of spices and other merchandise by assignment on their bank accounts.(Mueller, 'Bank money', pp. 61-7.)
As well as these current accounts, on which no interest was paid, these money-changer bankers also ran deposit accounts on which interest accumulated. These were suitable for sums of money which were not required for several years, the dowries of orphan girls, for example, and could therefore be invested by the banker in long-term enterprises. Some Venetian bankers invested directly in trading voyages. A complete round trip from Venice to the Levant, back to Venice, onwards to Flanders, and back to Venice again, took two years. To make an investment in such a voyage the banker had to be certain that his depositors would not call for their money suddenly. Such transfer banking developed in other cities much more slowly than in Genoa. In Venice, for example, the earliest direct evidence of a money changer running bank accounts is as late as 1274. Even then it is not clear if they were current or deposit accounts. Indirect evidence, however, suggests that such banking activities had by then already been going on for several years.(Mueller, Procuratori, p. 163-4.) Outside Italy the earliest evidence is a little later still. The Privilege of Barcelona in 1284 implies that current account banking, with credit transfer between accounts, already existed there at that date, and the register of the treasure of Aragon for 1302-4 shows that it then also existed at Valencia and Lerida.(A. P. Usher, The Early History of Deposit Banking in Mediterranean Europe, i (Cambridge, Mass., 1934), pp. 239 and 256-7.) The evidence for money changers acting as local bankers in Bruges also begins around 1300.(R. de Roover, Money, Banking and Credit in Medieval Bruges (Cambridge, Mass., 1948), pp. 171ff.) Later evidence suggests that they were also acting in this way in the course of the fourteenth century in Liège, Frankfurt, Strasbourg, Constantinople, and perhaps London.(R. de Roover, L'Evolution de la lettre de change (XIVe-XVIII siècles) (Paris, 1953), pp. 24ff.)
Bank accounts were quite clearly part of the money supply by the early fourteenth century and legislation was introduced to protect those who used them. In Venice a guarantee of 3000 lire was required in 1270 before a money-changer banker was allowed to set up in business. In 1318 this was increased to 5000 lire to compensate for the decline of the lira. (Mueller, 'Bank money', p. 73.) In Barcelona, from 1300, book entries by credit transfer legally ranked equally with original deposits among the liabilities of bankers. Those who failed were forbidden ever to keep a bank again, and were to be detained on bread and water until all their account holders were satisfied in full. In 1321 the legislation there was greatly increased in severity. Bankers who failed and did not settle up in full within a year were to be beheaded and their property sold for the satisfaction of their account holders. This was actually enforced. Francescho Castello was beheaded in front of his bank in 1360.(Usher, Deposit Banking, pp. 239-242.)
In the course of the fourteenth century, written instructions, or cheques, supplemented and eventually supplanted oral instructions. The earliest surviving Florentine cheque so far discovered was drawn on the Castellani bank by two patrician Tornaquinci in November 1368 to pay a draper, Sengnia Ciapi, for black cloth for a family funeral. Within a hundred years cheques were in use there by very modest men for modest purposes. In 1477, a Florentine haberdasher wrote a cheque to pay for the emptying of a cess pit.(Two Pisan cheques of 1374 are illustrated as document 155 in Federigo Melis, Documenti per la Storia Economica (Florence, 1972). See his sections on banking, pp. 75-104 and 463-496 and also his Note di storia della banca pisana nel Trecento (Pisa, 1955). On the use of cheques in 14th- and 15th-century Florence see Marco Spallanzani, 'A note on Florentine banking in the Renaissance: orders of payment and cheques', Journal of European Economic History, vii (1978), pp. 145-165. Similar written orders to pay came into use in Genoa and Barcelona, but Venetian banks continued to insist on the presence of the payer, or of an agent with a notarised power of attorney, to give oral instructions. (Mueller, 'Bank Money', pp. 47-96.)
Nevertheless, even at the end of the fifteenth century, most transactions inside the city, as in the country, were met by payment in coin. Only in a limited number of cities was there a sufficiently developed system of banche del giro or banche di scritte for payment to be made frequently and easily by transfer in the books of the bank, and even in these cities banking facilities were only available to a relatively restrained number of people. Around 1500, perhaps four thousand out of a total adult male population of thirty thousand in Venice had current bank accounts. That is to say that nearly ninety per cent did not have such accounts, and, of those who did, a high proportion, precisely a half, were noble.(F.C. Lane, 'Venetian bankers 1496-1533', Journal of Political Economy, xlv (1937), 187-206, reprinted in his Venice and History (Baltimore, 1966.) Robert S. Lopez, 'Une histoire à trois niveaux: la circulation monétaire', Mélanges en l'honneur de Fernand Braudel, ii(1973), 335-41 extrapolating from de Roover's work, suggested that in Bruges around 1400, only one in 40 of the total population, perhaps one in ten of the adult males, had bank accounts.) This emphasizes that, even in Venice, by far the most commercially sophisticated city in Europe in 1500, the vast majority of transactions, although not the largest ones, were still carried out with actual metallic coin. In less advanced cities, the use of coin was even more dominant. It was not until the seventeenth century that anything except coined money made a really significant contribution to the internal money supply outside a few favoured cities. Even then this was only true in England and Holland, which were by then the most advanced countries commercially. Right up to the nineteenth century the role of coined money was in many places dominant, and everywhere important. It is virtually only in the twentieth century that coin has been relegated to the role of small change in the money supply. These later developments took place in societies which were increasingly urban and industrialised. Medieval Europe was predominantly rural and overwhelmingly agricultural. In such a society the money supply was the supply of metallic coin, with only insignificant exceptions. In most places the role of the moneychanger did not develop further, but continued to be strictly limited to the exchanging of currency in one metal for that in another.
International banking was developing at the same time as local banking. The great growth in the scale of international trade in the thirteenth century led, amongst other things, to the first appearance of international banking. However, the appearance of international banking in its turn contributed to the transformation of the way in which international trade was carried on. The use of various instruments of payment, out of which the bill of exchange was gradually perfected, depended on frequent contacts and mutual confidence between merchants.
No longer did every prospective purchaser or returning vendor need to carry with him large and stealable quantities of precious metals, whether in coin, or in marks of silver, or ounces of gold, depending on the trading area. Instead a manager could send and receive remittances from his factors and agents by bills of exchange without moving around Europe himself. This transformation of the methods of trade, which enabled a merchant to manage an international business, without leaving his own home city, was so radical that de Roover christened it 'the commercial revolution of the thirteenth century'. The bill of exchange seems to have evolved into its definitive form by the end of the thirteenth century. Its evolution had begun over a hundred years earlier with the notarised instrumentum ex causa cambii. The surviving Genoese notarial registers include some such instruments from the late twelfth century, mostly involving transactions between Genoa and the Champagne fairs. In the thirteenth century, the Champagne fairs were not only the principal bullion market of Europe but also the principal money market as well, and the forcing house for the development of the bill of exchange. By the first half of the 14th century it had become normal to make commercial payments by bill of exchange between a wide range of cities in western Europe.
The normal commercial bill of exchange involved four parties. First there was the deliverer or remitter who wished to remit money to a distant place. He paid his money to a taker or drawer, who drew up a bill on that place, which he gave to the remitter. The remitter sent his bill to the payee, who presented it to the payer, who was, of course, a correspondent, or agent of the drawer. The latter normally accepted the bill, and as acceptor became bound to pay the bill on maturity. A bill became due for payment after a customary period known as usance. Custom varied. Between some places it was a fixed time after the original drawing up of a bill. Between others it was a fixed time after the acceptor had sight of the bill. If, however, the payer refused to pay, the payee had a notarised statement of protest drawn up declaring why the payer refused to pay. The protest was then sent back to the deliverer, who had legal redress against the drawer of the bill. Details of a considerable number of such protests, sent back by their agents and correspondents, remain among the Medici papers in Florence, and were published by Dr. Giulia Camerani Marri in I Documenti Copmmerciali del Fondo Diplomatico Mediceo (Florence, 1951). Until the sixteenth century, when their connotation changed, protests were relatively rare, and the whole system of international banking relied on the confident expectation that bills would normally be accepted by the payers named in them. When the payer had paid the payee, he would enter it up against the account of the drawer. This would frequently be balanced out over a period of time with other commercial or banking transactions. If the account remained unbalanced, a further bill needed to be drawn in the opposite direction to settle the balance. Sometimes such bills were drawn at once and a rechange operation followed immediately on the first exchange transaction. Although medieval bills were not discounted, as far as we can ascertain at present, they became negotiable in the last decades of the fourteenth century. However examples of such change of beneficiary are rare before the late sixteenth century. In the two earliest known examples, dating from 1386 and 1394, the change of beneficiary was written out on a separate piece of paper which was then pinned to the bill. However by 1410 'endorsement' had developed, the practice of writing the change of payee on the back of the bill itself.(Raymond de Roover, 'Le marché monétaire au moyen âge et au début des temps modernes', Revue Historique, xciv (1970), 33-4; Henri Lapeyre, 'Une lettre de change endossée en 1430', Annales Economies Sociétés Civilisations, xiii (1958), 260-4; Federigo Melis, 'Una girata cambiaria del 1410 nell'archivio datini di prato', Economia e Storia, v (1958), 412-21.)
The medieval merchant-banking network was focused on the great trading cities of north Italy, particularly of Tuscany. Inside Italy bills of exchange could be acquired very easily, for practically every city of importance was a banking place. In the fifteenth century bills could be obtained easily in Bologna, Ferrara, Florence, Genoa, Lucca, Milan, Naples, Palermo, Perugia, Pisa, Siena, Venice and 'in Apulia' presumably at Barletta. They were also sometimes obtainable at Aquileia, Camerino, Cremona, Fano, Gaeta, Padua, Pesaro, Piacenza, and Viterbo. Outside Italy fully fledged banking places were much more spread out however. The only places at which bills of exchange could certainly be purchased over long periods of time were Avignon in the Rhône valley, Montpellier in southern France, Barcelona, Valencia and Seville in the Iberian peninsula, London in England, Bruges in the Netherlands, and Paris in northern France, until it ceased to be a banking place when it stopped being a royal residence. Only the last three were outside Mediterranean Europe. Bills could also always be found at the papal curia, not only at its permanent homes in Rome and Avignon, but also at temporary residences of the pope, such as Florence, Constance or Basle. Bills of exchange could also usually be purchased during the greater international fairs. Bills could therefore be purchased at an early date at the Champagne fair towns, and later at Geneva, and then at Lyons and Medina del Campo. At a great many other cities they could sometimes be found, for example in Lisbon, or Palma de Majorca or in those cities of south Germany which were to become of such importance from the fifteenth century.(De Roover, La lettre de change, 'Le marché monétaire', 9-16; Allan Evans, manuscript notes at the American Numismatic Society, New York. Most, but far from all, the exchange-rates in the Handbook fall within the geographical area outlined above.) At the beginning of the century a small number of south German merchant-bankers were already beginning to emulate the Italian multi-branched companies. Some of them, based in Nuremberg and Prague, had branches at Krakow and Buda, as well as at Bruges, Milan and Venice(Wolfgang Stromer von Reichenbach, Oberdeutsche Hochfinanz 1350-1450 (1970).)
Even between these cities, although the majority of transactions could be carried out by bill of exchange, any eventual imbalance had ultimately to be settled up in gold or silver. When an imbalance between two banking places became too great, the rate of exchange rose (or fell) to such an extent that it passed one of the specie points. In other words, it temporarily became cheaper, in one direction, to transport bullion with all its attendant costs and risks, than to buy a bill of exchange. The net quantity of silver or gold transported from Bruges to London, or Paris to Florence, did not diminish as a result of the development of bills of exchange, but the amount of business that it represented was increased out of all proportion. The bill of exchange enormously multiplied the supply of money available for international transactions between these cities.
Although bills of exchange were developed by merchants for merchants, they very quickly came to be used by non-merchants as well. Successive popes were the most considerable non-commercial users of bills of exchange. Papal collectors in England and the Low Countries, northern France, the Spanish kingdoms and Italy normally used bills of exchange to transmit the money they had collected to the apostolic camera at Avignon in the first half of the fourteenth century.(Yves Renouard, Les Relations des papes d'Avignon et des compagnies commerciales et bancaires de 1316 à 1378 (Bibliothèque des écoles françaises d'Athènes et de Rome, cli, 1941).) Bishops travelling to the curia no longer needed to ensure that their chamberlains were loaded down with an adequate quantity of mark bars of silver. The cameral merchants to whom prelates and papal collectors frequently entrusted the transport of the money due to the 'apostolic camera' were most commonly the leading banking houses of the day. They already had a multitude of branches in many parts of Christendom, and were already managing the commercial flow of money around Europe. They were naturally accustomed to moving sums of money in the same direction with great regularity. Firms such as the Bonsignori of Siena, the Bardi, the Peruzzi and the Accaiuoli of Florence, the Malabayla of Asti, and the Alberti, and the Medici of Florence handled this business in turn. Prelates sent the 'common services' and other sums that they owed at their own expense. However papal collectors did so at the expense of the camera. The cameral accounts therefore give a clear picture of how the system worked in practice.
The papal collectors gathered a great deal of the money involved in small sums, in silver, and even in black money. They had to take what they had collected to a local money changer and exchange it for gold, since, at this point, they were moving from the circuit of silver to the circuit of gold. For example, in March 1386, Pons de Cros, the papal collector at Le Puy in France, paid 8 livres to change 400 livres tournois of silver into gold. This represented the exchange of nearly 10,000 blancs, or of even more coins if it was in smaller denominations, presumably from a great iron-bound chest in which it had been accumulated, into 400 gold francs, which one may equally presume were in a small leather bag. The rates paid by papal collectors suggest that the usual charge for such a service was 4d. or 5d. in the pound, although they were occasionally charged as little as 3d. in the pound or as much as 8d. This was, of course, the opposite operation from the service performed by money changers for manufacturers who sold their goods, cloth for example, on the international market for gold, but needed to pay their employees in silver.
The papal collectors then had the choice of carrying the gold to the camera themselves, sending someone whom they trusted with it, or else purchasing a bill of exchange. Because 'banking places' were so widely dispersed outside Italy, papal collectors had frequently to travel some distance to purchase bills of exchange. The papal collector at Toledo, for example, had to go to Seville, over 300 kilometres away. In March 1386, Pons de Cros was fortunate enough to find someone in Le Puy itself from whom he could purchase a bill of exchange with the 400 gold francs that he had obtained from the money changer. He usually had to take the risks of carrying the gold himself, but on this occasion he was able to carry a bill to Avignon instead. He was also fortunate in that this service only cost him 5 francs, just over 1% of the sum involved. Bills of exchange rarely cost as little as this. Up to five per cent of the sum transferred was commonly charged. Over long distances it could be higher. For example, at Seville, in June 1393, the papal sub-collector Miguel Rodriguez purchased a bill of exchange from the Genoese Francesco di Gentile with 400 gold doblas, payable at Avignon by Frederigo Imperiale within fifteen days of being presented to him. On this occasion the sub-collector was not going to Avignon himself, nor had he a messenger to send, so that di Gentile himself transmitted the bill of exchange to Imperiale, who, just under six weeks later, paid the sum of 480 cameral florins into the papal treasury in gold. In Seville, however, 400 doblas were worth 533 cameral florins. Rodriguez had in effect paid 53 florins, 10% of the sum remitted, for the service provided.(Jean Favier, Les Finances pontificales à l'époque du grande schisme d'occident 1378-1409 (Bibliothèque des écoles françaises d'Athènes et de Rome, ccxi, 1966), pp. 451-79.) All these were straightforward bills of exchange. They were used quite simply to remit sums of money from one place to another. A service was provided and charged for. How di Gentile and Imperiale carried out the business between them was no concern of Rodriguez. Patently they were in regular correspondence with each other, had accounts with each other, and could draw bills on each other as well as send goods to each other. From time to time, they would naturally have to settle up, but if possible they would do so by buying a bill from a third party, drawn on a fourth party, who wanted money transmitted in the opposite direction. However, there were basic imbalances between certain places. In the last resort, gold or silver had actually to be carried from place to place. Gold, for example, was commonly carried from Seville to Genoa. Before this stage was reached, a very great deal of business had passed in each direction. The combination of a great body of bills of exchange with occasional remittances in precious metals, primarily gold in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, represented an enormous commercial advance on the older pattern of carrying a vast bulk of silver in bars on practically every occasion. The overall contribution of the papacy to this business was slight, although for the limited number of firms who acted as papal bankers it was of considerable importance. However, owing to the preservation of papal records it is the papal business that is most clearly visible to us, yet the papacy was only using a system set up for commercial purposes.
Noblemen, whether on pilgrimage or representing their princes on embassies could also avail themselves of bills of exchange. There were, however, limits. Certain international political payments, such as wages to keep whole armies in the field for protracted periods, subsidies for expensive allies, or royal ransoms and dowries, could easily prove too large for the normal commercial system to handle, and so had to be transmitted largely, or wholly, in silver, or gold. For example when John XXII needed to pay 60,000 florins to the papal army in Lombardy in the summer of 1328 he had to send it in coin. It is an excellent example of the risks involved in carrying coin, for despite a guard of 150 cavalry, the convoy was ambushed and over half the money lost on the way. (Giovanni Villani, Cronica, bk. x, ch.91.) Nevertheless, a very large proportion of normal payments was made by bill of exchange by the early fourteenth century between the cities in which the medieval merchant banking network then operated.
However, outside this range of banking places, even ordinary international payments had still to be made primarily in bullion. Where there was a large and continuous imbalance of trade, as there was between the mining centres of Europe and the commercially advanced areas, a bill of exchange system had little chance of developing and bills were very rarely to be purchased. In the fourteenth century, papal collectors in Poland normally had to take bullion to Bruges or Venice before they could make use of the west European banking system by acquiring bills of exchange to remit to the curia. Pope Benedict XII was unable to persuade the Bardi to set up a branch in Krakow. (Armando Sapori, 'Gli Italiani in Polonia fino a tutto il quattrocento', Studi di Storia Economica, iii (Florence, 1967), 149-76.) Until the fifteenth century even the most prominent trading cities of northern Germany, such as Lübeck, basically remained outside this network of exchanges.
Between Christian Europe, Muslim north Africa, and the Levant, the use of bills was little developed, although the scale of trade was very large, and the division of labour between manager, carrier and factor developed early. This was so because there were not only chronic imbalances of trade here, but also decided differences in the values given to gold and to silver in the three areas concerned. Since Europe was a silver producer, silver was less valued in Europe than Africa, and gold less valued in Africa than Europe. When this disproportion in value was sufficiently great to overcome the risks and costs of the voyage across the western Mediterranean it occasionally became worthwhile to take European silver to Muslim north Africa (the Maghreb) in order to purchase African gold. Much more frequently it was common sense to carry additional silver southwards and gold northwards along with other more ordinary merchandise. (Andrew M. Watson, 'Back to gold - and silver', Economic History Review, 2nd ser., xx (1967), 1-34 and R.S. Lopez, 'Back to gold, 1252', Economic History Review, 2nd ser., ix (1956), 219-40.)The balances both between Christian Europe and the Levant, and between the Maghreb and the Levant were strongly in favour of the Levant, and were consequently settled by sending enormous quantities of European silver and African gold. As a consequence of this chronic imbalance between the Maghreb and the Levant, payments from one to the other were normally made in coin, although a number of banking instruments had already evolved within the central countries of the Muslim world. The suftajda there was the equivalent of the European bill of exchange, and the akk of the cheque. Although the suftajda and akk evolved some two centuries before their western counterparts, there is no convincing evidence that they had any direct influence on European developments, apart from the possible derivation of the word 'cheque' from akk. Indirect influence is probable, but too nebulous to pin down, for considerable numbers of 11th and 12th century Italian merchants must have become aware of the banking instruments used by the Muslim merchants with whom they traded in the cities of the eastern Mediterranean. (Eliyahu Ashtor, 'Banking Instruments between the Muslim East and the Christian West', Journal of European Economic History, i (1972), 553-73.) The near east itself had a generally unfavourable balance with the middle and far east, so that much African gold and European silver continued further into Asia.(Eliyahu Ashtor, Les métaux précieux et la balance des payements du proche-orient à la basse époque (Paris, 1971).) Such circumstances were the very antithesis of the more balanced trading conditions in which the bill of exchange evolved. Bills between European cities and those in the Maghreb or the Levant, or even Byzantium were therefore relatively rare. Nevertheless in the early fifteenth century bills could sometimes be obtained at or for Constantinople or Pera, for Alexandria, for Caffa in the Crimea, for Famagusta in Cyprus, and for Rhodes and Chios.
International banking and local banking soon came to be combined, where that was possible. Thus bills of exchange could be bought by debiting a bank account and their proceeds credited to a bank account. Raymond de Roover has described how this was done in Bruges and Barcelona; Reinhold Mueller in Venice, and Jacques Heers in Genoa. Heers gives a late but vivid example of how important this combination of the two forms of banking became. Between 1456 and 1459 an account book of the Piccamiglio records the receipt of payments from abroad by bills of exchange totalling 159,710 Genoese lire. Of these only 11,753 lire worth of bills were paid to them in cash. All the rest, over 92.5 per cent of them, were met by crediting their accounts in local giro banks.(Mueller, 'Bank money', pp. 57-9; Jacques Heers, Gênes au Xve siècle (abridged edition, Paris, 1971), p. 90.)
Transfer or credit
All normal bills of exchange involved a transfer element, since their function was to transmit money from one place to another. They normally also involved an exchange operation, unless the two places concerned were using the same currency, like Pisa and Florence. However, one of the principal problems presented by bills of exchange is the problem of how much there was a credit element in such bills, over and above the exchange and transfer elements. The late Raymond de Roover, whose expertise on medieval exchange was unrivalled in his lifetime, was by far the most eloquent protagonist of the view that every bill of exchange involved a credit element. He quite rightly pointed out that every deliverer was deprived of the use of his money until his agent, the payee, received payment in another place at a later time. From this he assumed that the deliverer always demanded an interest payment from the drawer to compensate for the inability to use the money himself in the meanwhile. I would agree that on certain occasions the credit element was indeed vital to the bill, as, for example when a merchant who wished to purchase goods for transmission to another place, went to a 'banker' and effectively asked him to invest in his enterprise. In return he would offer a bill of exchange drawn on his agent in the place to which the goods were destined, which ordered his agent to pay the banker's agent a sum which passed on some of the profit of the enterprise to the 'banker'. In such cases the 'banker' was clearly investing in an enterprise and depriving himself of the use of money which he might have used directly in trade himself. A well-known hypothetical narrative ostensibly presented by the merchants of Antwerp to the doctors of Paris in 1530 eloquently describes the procedure:
The diligence and vigilance of merchants has brought them to such great subtlety and art that they have found a way to make of money a merchandise like cloth, silk, spices, pearls, or wool, wherein there is profit and loss, risk and venture. This business is very profitable to traders, some of whom would often be unable to send their goods abroad, to dispatch their cargoes, or to meet their commitments from day to day, were it not for this new found commerce of money, by which a man who has money gains and another who has none and who takes it from him gains likewise, since he is in a stronger position to carry on his business than if he had no such remedy.
When the time came to baptise this business of the merchants they called it 'exchange', because it bears some resemblance to real exchange (my italics). The manner of dealing is as follows: Certain merchants are rich and powerful (though some more than others, for even those who have little deal in this way) and keep their money in cash and will not lay it out on merchandise unless it be for some good and plainly profitable stroke of business which according to the common opinion and judgement of merchants is bound to succeed. They believe that their profit will be neither so great nor so certain if they deal in merchandise as it is in this other business which they call 'exchange', and therefore they keep their money in coin in their strong-boxes, and earn their bread with it. And they do so as follows:
There comes the time of the 'fair', as the merchants say, which is held at certain times of the year such as Christmas, Easter, June, and September, according to the places where the merchants are. In these fairs they pay one another what they owe, and sell their merchandise, and dispatch their cargoes to other parts. Now it so happens that at the time of the fair the merchants sometimes find themselves with a great deal of money, and sometimes with less, and then there are great rises and falls; and according to whether money is plentiful or scarce among merchants so do those who have money give it at more or less interest to those who are in need of it. This price, be it cheap or dear, is fixed by the merchants themselves according to the need which they know others feel for their money and according to the scarcity or abundance of money which they see prevails at a particular fair. This price which they set upon money they call the 'market-rate' (?precio de la bolsa) since no one claims for himself the power of fixing the rate but it is attributed to the community of the bourse, which is the place where the merchants meet.
So much being understood, let us take the case of Anthony, a merchant who owes a thousand ducats at the current fair of mid-Lent, and who has not got the money. Anthony goes to a broker (the person who acts as go-between among the merchants) and says to him:
'I need a thousand ducats. Let someone give them to me in cash, and I will repay them at the May fair at Medina del Campo in Spain.'
The broker replies: 'Very well, I will undertake to procure the money.' And he goes to one of the merchants who announces that he keeps his money in cash to earn his living with it and says:
'Will you give me a thousand ducats, to be repaid at the May fair in Spain in six weeks' time?'
Ferdinand replies: 'What is the market-rate?' which means 'how many plaques must I give here to receive a ducat in Spain?'
The broker answers: 'Sir, you must give 36 plaques here and you will receive a ducat there, which is worth 37 1/2 plaques. This is the current market-rate, which is sometimes higher, sometimes lower.'(Plaques, patards or stuivers were coins of two gros or groten current in the Netherlands.)
If Ferdinand is satisfied with the rate, he asks who requires the money. The broker replies: 'Anthony, whom you well know.' If Ferdinand thinks that Anthony is a solid, honest man who will repay the money he answers: 'Very well, I am satisfied, and will give him one thousand ducats at the rate of 36 plaques to the ducat.' Anthony gives him a letter or a bill requesting Anthony's factor or partner in Spain to pay Ferdinand's factor or partner there 1,000 ducats for the May fair at the rate of 37 1/2 plaques to the ducat.
This transfer of money, so much more being paid afterwards at the fair on each coin, is what is known as 'exchange'.
It should be noted that Ferdinand, who gives the money to Anthony on the understanding that he shall repay it with the agreed increment to his partner or servant at the May fair at Medina del Campo in Spain, intends that the said partner or servant shall in his turn give the money to some other person who is similarly in need of it, so that at the June fair Ferdinand here in Antwerp may recover his thousand ducats together with whatever increment he may have gained on the two occasions when he and his servant have given them -- the first time, Ferdinand here in Flanders, and the second, his servant at Medina del Campo.
But it sometimes (though rarely) happens that when the money is sent back from Medina money is very plentiful among the merchants, and no one will take it except at a market-rate, which is so low that when Ferdinand recovers his money in Antwerp he has been without it for three or four months and has gained nothing. Indeed, he may even have lost. For although he sent the money to Spain with the intention of gaining the same increment on the rechange back to Antwerp, it may happen that money is so abundant in the place to which it was sent that he loses on the return transaction, and this loss may be greater than the profit on the first occasion.
It is a contract which is most necessary to the Christian republic, in that it supplies the diverse countries with merchandise. For the merchants often keep their fortunes laid out in such a manner that they could not dispatch new cargoes, send goods to countries where great need and shortage might be felt, meet their daily commitments or maintain their credit, were it not for this instrument of exchange.
Both he who gives and he who takes in exchange have every intention of making use of each other, and both understand the business equally, and freely agree upon the rate, and both are gainers and thereby serve the republic. (Extract translated by Marjorie E. H. Grice-Hutchinson in The School of Salamanca: readings in Spanish monetary theory 1544-1605 (Oxford,1952) from text printed in full by J. A. Goris, Etudes sur les colonies marchandes méridionales à Anvers de 1488 à 1567 (1925),pp. 510-45.)
In this long narrative the credit element is as clearly evident as the transfer and exchange elements. Professor de Roover provided numerous illustrations of occasions of this type. He maintained that, as in the hypothetical case made out at Antwerp in 1530, the interest rate was represented by the difference between the exchange rates in the two places. From the reports sent by Datini's correspondents in Bruges and Barcelona he was able to draw a graph of the rates quoted in the two places for exchanges between them and demonstrate the continuing difference in the rates in the two places. At almost anytime between 1395 and 1405, a bill drawn at these rates either from Bruges on Barcelona, or from Barcelona on Bruges, and then rechanged by the payee, would have brought a profit for the deliverer. The figures on which de Roover based his calculations are not included in the Handbook, although a representative selection of the rates of exchange both from Barcelona to Florence and from Bruges to Florence are included. An exchange and rechange which began in May 1404 would, for example, have brought the deliverer a profit of just over 5 per cent in something under four months.(Raymond de Roover, Bruges Money Market c. 1400 (Brussels, 1968),pp. 24-5, 35. Usance was thirty days from sight, and the courier between Bruges and Barcelona normally took 19 or 20 days according to Uzzano's notebook.) Professor de Roover believed that the size of the profit, as well as being a function of the length of time for which the money was tied up, naturally fluctuated, like other interest rates, with the availability of investment funds. Hence the merchant notebooks regularly contain notes of when there was larghezza or strettezza in the key places.
This is indeed the de Roover orthodoxy, backed with an immense amount of information. Unfortunately not all rates for bills will fit the pattern. Were an apparently similar graph drawn from the Borromei papers, it would show, on the contrary, that between 1436 and 1439, a bill drawn either from Venice on London, or from Venice on Bruges, and then rechanged by the payee, would almost always have brought a loss to the deliverer.(G. Biscaro, 'Il banco Borromei e compagno di Londra 1436-1439', Archivio Storico Lombardo, 4th ser., xix (1913), 37-126.) This is quite patently unbelievable. The Borromei bills do not fit the de Roover pattern. Quite patently they cannot be investment bills. If they are regarded as straightforward transfers of funds, they become much more comprehensible. Deliverers who actually needed their money in another place were paying for its transfer. In November 1439 the two rates were under 6% apart, which would imply a charge of just under 3% to a deliverer wishing to have his money transferred either from London or from Venice. There would be no rechange, since the deliverer actually required the money sent to remain in the payee's hands. There were many such occasions when a deliverer mainly wished to transfer funds to another place, and was prepared to pay for the transfer. He did not lose the use of the money, because he had no use for it where it then was. His advantage was to have the use of the money in another place as rapidly and as cheaply as possible.
There were thus two quite different types of occasion when bills of exchange were used. On the second type of occasion the transfer element was of primary importance. A merchant, papal collector or travelling nobleman simply wished to transfer funds from one place to another and the bill of exchange was the means of doing so. He delivered his money to a 'banker' who drew a bill instructing his own agent in the relevant place to pay the deliverer's agent, or even the deliverer himself, the equivalent sum. The 'banker' performed a service and explicitly charged for it. De Roover failed to see that the second type of occasion could exist as well as the first. Numerous examples show that it did.
One of the earliest transfer transactions, for which evidence survives, took place in 1161. On this occasion Domenico Centocori delivered 40 perpers in Constantinople to Stefanno Mozzorbo, to be repaid by Mozzorbo's agent, Fantinum da Mulinum, at 'Armiro' in Negroponte, michi vel meum missum. The notarized instrument survives, and the receipt, which shows that this turned out to be a three party transaction not a four party one, for Centocori travelled to 'Armiro' and was himself paid by da Mulinum. He avoided the risk of carrying gold.(E. Ashtor, 'Banking instruments between the Muslim east and the Christian west', Journal of European Economic History, i (1972),571.)
It was this evolving system of transfers that Giraldus Cambrensis used as early as 1203 when he arranged for money to be sent to him at Troyes from England.(George B. Parks, The English Traveller to Italy, i (Rome, 1954), 209ff.)
It was for the purpose of transferring money, received from the sales of finished cloth, back to Florence at the beginning of the fourteenth century that the Del Bene agent in Naples regularly bought bills of exchange with the proceeds. The Del Bene themselves similarly bought bills in Florence to transfer money to their agent in Champagne to enable him to purchase fresh supplies of unfinished French and Flemish cloth. (Armando Sapori, Una compagnia di Calimala ai primi del Trecento (Florence, 1932).)
Throughout the later middle ages papal collectors were always faced with the problem of whether it was cheaper to arrange to travel, or to send their servants to travel, with what they had collected, or to purchase bills of exchange which obviated both the necessity, and the risk, of travelling with large sums of money. For them the transfer function of the bill was paramount. Papal collectors commonly paid up to 5% of the sum involved for its transfer at the end of the fourteenth century. (Jean Favier, Les Finances pontificales, pp. 451-479.)
It would seem then that there were two sets of rates for bills of exchange, one for what the Antwerp narrative called real exchange, for those who wished to transfer funds, and the other for 'exchange',for those who wished to invest funds.
Each type of source naturally provides evidence of only the rates of exchange that were relevant to its author. Papal collectors only wrote down what it actually cost them to transfer money. On the other hand de Roover's Datini evidence was very largely drawn not from the bills themselves, but from the rates reported by correspondents. Since these correspondents were on the inside of the merchant-banking network it would have been natural for them to quote the investment rate, since the object of the information was to inform the recipients whether or not a profitable rechange could be made and so to encourage, or to discourage, them from investing money in bills of exchange. The Borromei information, on the contrary, is drawn from actual bills, and would seem therefore to represent simple transfers of funds without any credit element.
One can hypothesize a little about the sort of credit structures that would make one sort of bill more common for different purposes at different times and in different places. In England around 1300, for example, credit in the wool trade was primarily credit from buyer to seller; in 1450, it was primarily from seller to buyer. The buyer paid only one third of the purchase price at once. In 1300 an Italian merchant buying wool in England needed to raise investment funds before he could purchase English wool. He could do this by selling a bill of exchange to an investor, at the investment rate. In 1450 an English merchant selling wool in the Netherlands would want to buy a bill of exchange at the transfer rate with the proceeds of his sales, so that his money could be transferred back to England to pay in arrears for the wool he had just sold.
As well as the investment bill which de Roover took to be normal, he also concentrated on a special sort of investment bill. He pointed out that bills of exchange were also used by those who did not wish to transmit money from one place to another at all. Such a person would sell a bill of exchange to an investor, drawn on a third party in another place, without any intention of sending his goods there or despatching any cargo thither. When the payer was presented with the bill, he would meet it with another bill, drawn on the original seller of the first bill, who would have to meet it by repaying the investor the investment with accrued charges. These might be the normal charges for the double exchange, based on the difference in the investment rates for bills between the two places, in which case there was a slight risk for the investor, or the charges might be specified in advance, in which case the investor was certain of his profit. This sort of 'dry' exchange in which no money was transferred was a thinly disguised loan especially if the rates were fixed. The disguise became even thinner if the third party was another branch of the same bank, or did not even exist. The pre-adjusted rates make yet a third group of rates to add to straightforward transfer rates and investment rates.
Such non-transferring bills of exchange, used purely as credit instruments, may have developed by the mid thirteenth century. Sivéryhas recently suggested that an associate of the Bonsignori obtained 11 1/2% from such a bill in 1252.(Gérard Sivéry, 'Mouvements de capitaux et taux d'interêt en occident au XIIIe siècle', Annales Economies Sociétés Civilisations, xxxviii (1983), 143.) By the early fourteenth century, they certainly existed and were frowned upon. In 1301 the Venetian government clamped down on such bills, and only permitted bills of exchange if the money involved was actually to be used in the place to which the bill was to be sent. The consuls of the merchants were instructed not to register any except licit exchanges. (Mueller, Procuratori, p. 367.) It is not entirely clear why they should have been regarded in this way, or indeed why such subterfuge should have been necessary in an environment where money could be borrowed, and interest paid on it, quite overtly both for commercial and civic purposes.
De Roover read widely in the scholastic writings of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, many of which disapproved of loans as usurious. Another strand of scholastic writing, going back at least to the late thirteenth century relied on the doctrine of lucrum cessans to justify commercial loans. Lucrum cessans was the profit that the lender might have made, if he had traded with his money himself, instead of lending it to another to do so. In 1271 Hostiensis wrote 'If some merchant, who is accustomed to pursue trade, and the commerce of the fairs and there profit much, has ...lent (me) money with which he would have done business, I remain obliged from this to his interesse'. (J. T. Noonan, The Scholastic Analysis of Usury (Cambridge, Mass.,1957).)
A quite specific example of loans being available overtly and separated from exchange is provided by the Sienese Vincenti firm in 1260. They needed money to invest in their export business. They obviously had the option of borrowing in Siena. They quoted two interest rates for loans in Siena, one between merchants and one for non-merchants, i.e. for consumption loans. They regarded even the rate for loans between merchants as too high. It was high because investment funds were very short in Siena on account of the heavy taxation for the war with Florence. They then considered whether they would do better to borrow in London or at one of the Champagne fairs, and concluded that, for the time being, it was cheapest to borrow it in Champagne. They therefore instructed their agent in Provins to borrow money to be ready to pay bills that they had drawn on him. These bills were not themselves instruments of credit, they were merely the means of transferring overtly borrowed money.(C. Paoli and E. Piccolomini, eds., Lettere Volgari del secolo XIII scritte da Senese (Siena, 1871), p. 16.)
Some people even continued to regard all investment in bills of exchange, not merely in dry exchange, with suspicion. In March 1390 Domenico di Cambio wrote to Francesco Datini 'I would rather earn 12% with merchandise than 18% on exchange dealings'.(Iris Origo, The World of San Bernardino (London, 1963), p. 88.) Others regarded it as a perfectly ordinary form of investment. The Florentine nobleman, Buonocorso Pitti, by turns adventurer, cloth manufacturer and politician, who invested at one time or another in saffron, horses, wine, wool and land, in 1391 also invested 5000 florins, the proceeds of wool sales and successful gambling for high stakes, with Luigi and Gherardo Canigiani, and accepted bills of exchange in return. He made no comment in his private notebook on the morality of what he was doing, but merely congratulated himself 'this money greatly improved the credit enjoyed by the Canigiani'.(Gene Brucker, ed., Two Memoirs of Renaissance Florence (New York, 1967), p. 47.) Nevertheless the whole problem of how licit it was to deal in exchange remained open for some tender consciences. It was this problem which exercised the writer of the long narrative supposedly presented by the merchants of Antwerp to the doctors of Paris in 1530. Consciences may in fact have been growing tenderer at this time. The picture drawn there is not of dry exchange, but of investment in moving goods from place to place. It is not clear how common dry exchange, cambio con la ricorsa as it was then known, was in the sixteenth century outside the pages of scholastic writings. Wilfred Brulez, for example, found no single case of such exchange and re-exchange in the della Faille papers.(Wilfred Brulez, De Firma della Faille en de internationale handel van vlaamse firmas in de 16e eeuw (Brussels, 1959), pp. 194-7, quoted by Eric Aerts, 'Prof. R. de Roover and medieval banking history', Revue de la Banque (Brussels, 1980), pp. 265-6, who concluded that de Roover had been too much influenced by reading the treatises of scholastics and their arguments about morality.) However, this may have been because by the middle of the sixteenth century the notarized protest was becoming increasingly used as a cumbersome substitute for dry exchange. Another sixteenth-century way of getting round objections to exchange as a risky way of taking interest, was to make the interest element more overt. In other words, the investor delivered a round sum, of let us say three hundred ducats, but the drawer wrote out a bill asking the payer to pay the foreign currency equivalent of a slightly higher sum, let us say three hundred and four and a half ducats. A surprisingly large number of surviving sixteenth-century bills from Spain are for such sums. Such bills could then proceed as if only performing transfer and exchange functions.(F. H. abed al-Hussein, Trade and Business Community in Old Castille, Medine del Campo 1500-1575 (Ph.D. thesis, University of East Anglia, 1982), pp. 82 and 93, relying on his own researches and those of Lapeyre.)
Although for long aware of the pitfalls of dry exchange as written up by de Roover, I have only recently become aware that the two types of occasion for sending other bills of exchange, which I have called here, transfer bills and investment bills, led to two different sets of rates, vaguely analogous to those existing today as 'Bank buys' and 'Bank sells'. I did not realize the difference early enough to distinguish them in the Handbook. All are simply labelled as 'Bills of exchange', as opposed to rates for manual exchange, official rates, rates used in accounts and so forth. I cannot yet see how the investment rate and the transfer rate relate to one another. The merchants' notebooks stress that larghezza and strettezza were brought about by real trading situations and hence real transfers of funds, which would suggest that the investment rate was dependant upon the transfer rate, but I leave this as an open question.
As the long Antwerp narrative suggested, exchange rates were not negotiated individually, but fixed at regular and frequent intervals by 'the community of the bourse, which is the place where the merchants meet'. It was so called in Antwerp by analogy with Bruges, its predecessor as the principal banking place of north-western Europe. At Bruges in the fifteenth century the international merchant-banking community had met regularly and frequently in the Place de la bourse, so called from the Beurze family, probably in the loggia of the Florentine consular house there. In Barcelona they met in the Llotja de cambis, the loggia of the money changers, in London somewhere in Lombard Street, and in Paris somewhere in the Buffeterie, later called rue des Lombards, possibly in the cloister of St Merri.(Raymond de Roover, opera cit., and for Paris, 'Le Marché monétaire àParis du règne de Philippe le Bel au début du XVe siècle', Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres, Comptes Rendus (1968), pp.553-4.) The rates fixed by the merchant community in each of these places were then available in written form, listini, which brokers had ready to hand for their clients.
Exchange brokers, whose function is so clearly described in the Antwerp narrative, are attested as early as the beginning of the fourteenth century, and are no more than a specialized case of the general use of brokers for bringing buyer and seller together. Brokerage charges (senseraggio), according to Pegolotti's notebook, were moderate. In Bruges two groten per hundred reals of 24 groats were normally paid, less than one per mille. In Constantinople and Pera two carats per hundred perpers were paid, effectively the same scale of charges as in Bruges. (F. B. Pegolotti, La Pratica della Mercatura, ed. Allan Evans (Cambridge, Mass., 1936), p. 45.) In Pisa however, only two soldi were due per hundred florins, according to an ordinance of 1323, at a time when the florin was worth just over sixty soldi, in other words 1/3 per mille. This brokerage fee was paid both by the deliverer and the taker. The broker's fee for manual exchange between silver money and florins was even smaller, only one soldo per hundred florins. In sixteenth-century Valladolid, there were fifteen exchange brokers, all licensed by the city, and in Medina del Campo there were twenty-six.(Al-Hussein, Medina del Campo, p. 92.) It is not now clear how widespread or how early such a system of licensing was for exchange brokers.
Raymond de Roover presumed that the listini of the brokers lay behind the rates reported by Datini's correspondents. He was able to use these reports to reconstruct the way in which the money market changed, and in doing so revealed the speed of that change. For 8 January 1399, de Roover collected from papers no fewer than four separate reports of the rates fixed that day in Bruges. The evolution of the rates can thus be traced over a very few hours. The rate for bills to London was at 26 pence sterling to the écu or schild of 24 Flemish gros or groten all through the day. Other rates, however, changed very slightly during the day. For example the first correspondent reported the rate for bills to Barcelona as 10 sueldos of Barcelona per écu or schild of 22 Flemish gros or groten. The second reported the same rate, but the third reported 10s. to 10s. 1/2d., and the fourth 10s. 1/2d. to 10s. 1d. In the same way the first correspondent reported the rate for bills to Paris as 34 groten and 2 miten per gold franc, the second and third correspondents reported 34 groten and 3 miten per franc, and the fourth 34 groten and 4 miten.(Raymond de Roover, 'Renseignements complémentaires sur le marché monétaire à Bruges au XIVe et au XVe siècle', Handelingen van het Genootschap 'Société d'Emulation' te Brugge, cix (1972),p. 69.) In other words, exchange to Paris was gradually growing dearer during the day, whilst that to Barcelona was gradually growing cheaper.
If change on the money market was as rapid as that, we do well to be suspicious of the pretended accuracy of any attempts at statistical analysis of the money market. Only for the period of the Datini papers can anything approaching a safe statistical analysis be attempted. Raymond de Roover, in conjunction with Hyman Sardy, made such an analysis from the reported figures from Bruges and Barcelona. Frederic Lane and Reinhold Mueller have abstracted the comparable reports from Venice, which will appear in the second volume of their Money and Banking in Medieval-Renaissance Venice. [Website editor's note: the materials prepared by Lane and Mueller to which Spufford refers are available at this website via the link to "Reinhold Mueller - currency exchanges."] Otherwise no close enough international series are available. For the evolution of local exchange an analysis of the rates registered daily in Florence by the proveditori degli cambiatori would be possible. They survive from 1389 to 1432.(The rates listed in the Handbook were abstracted by me for the Interim Listing directly from the Archivio di Stato in Florence, Miscellanea Repubblica Box 33. The complete series has since been published by Mario Bernocchi, as the fourth volume of his Le monete della Repubblica fiorentina (Florence, 1978). The quantity of surviving material may be judged by the fact that that is a larger volume than the Handbook.) Such analysis as de Roover and Sardy did confirmed that there were indeed seasonal changes in international rates, just as merchants noted down in their notebooks. These were geared to patterns of trade which followed a regular calendar, such as cycles of fairs, or the arrival or departure of galley fleets. However, they also reveal that such regular seasonal patterns of change were frequently cut across by uncalendarable political events or natural calamities.
Lane and Mueller's rates for investment bills from Venice to Pisa between 1384 and 1392, according to the Datini correspondents, show that rates were generally low between March and May, that they were rising in June, high in July and August, suddenly dropping at the beginning of September, and low again from September to December, with a slight rise in January and February. At this time high meant 104 florins at Pisa for 100 ducats in Venice, and low meant 101 florins in Pisa for 100 ducats in Venice.(Lane and Mueller, op. cit. vol. i. These rates are not reprinted in the Handbook.) In the summer months of stringency, strettezza, when investment funds were hard to find, lenders could thus command much higher interest rates, than at other times of the year, particularly the months of abundance, larghezza, in the autumn when investment funds were easy to find. Half a century later Uzzano in his notebook recorded:
Vinegia ae caro di denari da Maggio a di 8. di Settembre perl'andata delle galee, che partono di Luglio, e d'Agosto, e di Settembre, il perchè comincia a migliorare, perchè ogn'uno sicomincia a mettere in punto, e più vi rimettono volontieri, e questa carestia viene per gli assai contanti portano le galee, perchè molte mercatantie vi si vendono al tempo delle galee che bisogno si paghino in quel tempo annovi a essere molti bisogni, e molti danari escono di banchi contanti, il perchè v'è sempre caro de' contanti da un per cento più che l'usato.
Il perchè l'argiento vi ritocca, e quelle d'Alessandria portano oro, e simile le nave di Soria portano oro, il perchè ogni contanti v' à buona condizione in questi tempi; stannosi poi insino a Gennajo, e al Gennajo vi si ricominciano a sentire perchè vi si fà più dimercatantia, e partonsi le navi di Catalogna, che portano contanti, e argiento assai, e vi è richiesta di denari di Catalogna: alquanto cominciasi ariscaldare a mezzo Dicembre per li termini del Natale, e dura tutto Gennajo, tanto si partino tutti navili di Soria. (Published in G. F. Pagnini della Ventura, Della Decima e delle altre gravezze, iv (Lisbon-Lucca, 1766), 156-7.)
As with other merchant notebooks, this need not have been up to date information, but it suggests that the pattern evidenced by the Datini correspondents continued for some time. It was moreover a pattern that was evident at the time, and explicable in terms of a calendar of sailings.
All commercial rates of exchange, however much they might vary seasonally, or from day to day, or even from hour to hour, were ultimately based on a par value. The par value was determined by the precious metal content of the two coinages on which the moneys of account to be exchanged were based. If all moneys of account had been either silver based or gold based this would have been relatively easy to calculate. Unfortunately, they were not all silver based or all gold based and the intrinsic values of the precious metals involved were also free to vary in relation to each other with the preferences of the market. Par values were thus frequently neither easily calculable nor static. Local exchange naturally always involved two metals. However exchange between two places need not do so. The par value was of course most evident when the same currency was used in both places. In these cases, quotations of rates of exchange were frequently actually quoted as a percentage above or below par. Gradual fluctuations in par values were continually brought about by change in the market's preferences between silver and gold and the consequent changes in the ratio of the values set on them. Sudden changes in par values on the other hand were usually brought about by government decisions to change the precious metal content of coins. Exchange rates normally reacted as soon as such changes were known.
Par values then provided a central rate about which actual exchange values fluctuated. There were also outside limits to such fluctuations, beyond which it was foolish to buy a bill of exchange to transfer money. When the actual rates quoted for bills reached these limits, it had become not only cheaper to send specie instead of a bill to the required destination to be reminted into local currency there, but worth the risks involved to do so. John Munro attempted to determine what these limits, or specie points, were between England and the Netherlands from 1385 to 1476.(Wool, Cloth and Gold. The Struggle for Bullion in Anglo-Burgundian Trade 1340-1478 (Brussels-Toronto, 1973).) To do so he deliberately did not compare, as had hitherto been usual, either the relative prices at which the mints bought silver and gold, or alternatively, the relative values of coin minted from similar weights of silver and gold. Instead he made a series of cross-calculations between the mint-prices for a mark of gold and the value of coin minted from a mark of silver; and between the mint-prices for a mark of silver and the value of coin minted from a mark of gold. He argued persuasively that these ratios were the vital ones in determining whether at any time merchants chose to bring gold or silver to be minted in either country and if so which.
Historians are already well served for general comment on the mechanism of exchange by the works of the late Raymond de Roover, L'Evolution de la lettre de change (Paris, 1953), his introduction to The Bruges Money Market circa 1400 (Brussels, 1968), and the relevant sections of The Rise and Decline of the Medici Bank 1397-1494 (Cambridge, Mass., 1963), and Money, Credit and Banking in Medieval Bruges (Cambridge, Mass., 1948), and by a large number of pertinent articles in both French and English. Many of his English papers were posthumously collected by Julius Kirschner and published as Business, Banking and Economic Thought (Chicago, 1974). His French papers have not yet been collected. For a commentary on one country there is Carlo Cipolla's masterly introduction to I movimenti dei cambi in Italia (Pavia, 1948). Tommaso Zerbi, Moneta effective e moneta di conto (Milan, 1953) and Antonia Borlandi ('Moneta e congiuntura a Bologna 1360-1364', Bulletino dell'Istituto Storico Italiano per il Medio Evo e Archivio Muratoriano, lxxxii, 1970, pp.371-478) have shown what can be done for the cities of Milan and Bologna. Although José Gentil da Silva's Banque et crédit en Italie au XVIIe siècle (two volumes, Paris, 1969) refers to a later period, there is also much to be learnt from it, as from John McCusker's Money and Exchange in Europe and America 1600-1775 (New York, 1978).
Different sorts of exchange
In this Handbook rates of exchange for various different sorts of transactions have been listed together. However in very many cases it has only been possible to guess at the nature of the transactions involved.
'Accounting': The simplest form of exchange was that used in making up accounts, when a merchant, or government official, translated a sum in one currency into another for his own convenience. Whether or not any actual exchange of currencies took place was not the immediate concern of the man preparing his accounts. Such evaluations need not be the market rate for the day, for conservatism and convenience conspired to keep rates unchanged at round figures. On the other hand accounts in the same place at the same time might use different rates for different purposes. The term 'Accounting' has also been used to cover the occasions in which a stipulated payment could be made either in one currency, or in another. In these circumstances the documents implicitly, if not explicitly, give an equivalence between the two currencies.
'Manual': The simplest and most common form of actual exchange of currencies was straightforward manual exchange of one currency for another. This was most commonly the exchange of the gold coinage of a particular locality for the 'silver' or 'billon' coinage of the same place. Money changers had to make a livelihood, however. They therefore either made a charge for their services, or else ran two slightly different rates: one for those who wished to exchange gold for 'silver'; and the other for those who wished to exchange 'silver' for gold. In addition, such money changers would also exchange the silver coinages of neighbouring territories and gold coins from a considerable distance, into local currencies.
'Official': In most places the activities of such money changers were constrained by government regulations which usually required them to bring to the mint all the foreign coins that they acquired, except for those specifically exempted, and permitted to be put back into circulation. Government regulations often then went on to specify official exchange rates not only between the gold and silver currencies that they had themselves issued but also for such foreign currencies as they permitted to circulate. They frequently added the rates at which the mint would take in such forbidden foreign currencies as they thought the money changers might meet and withdraw from circulation. These official rates of exchange usually bore some relationship to market rates when they were first promulgated. However, with daily fluctuations in the market rates, the official rates frequently came to be quite out of touch with the commercial rates in a surprisingly short time. Such fixed official rates could take no account of seasonal changes in money supply, of fluctuations in the gold:silver ratio, or the market's relative preference for gold or silver.
'Loans': The really considerable fortunes built up in many places by some money changers did not, however, derive from their direct function as exchangers of money, but from their use of their substantial sums of ready cash to make loans to their customers. This could be done in the guise of an exchange contract. The money changer disbursed a sum in one currency, let us say in 'gold'. Instead of at once receiving an equivalent sum in another currency, let us say in 'silver', he allowed the customer to delay completing the exchange operation for a specified period of time. The exchange rate quoted on such an occasion was obviously not the daily market rate, but included an interest element. The term 'Loan' is used for the few cases on which such loans can be detected under the guise of manual exchange. They were forbidden in Venice in 1317.(The transaction had to be completed within 8 days. In 1359 a changer was fined for allowing a customer a month to complete the transaction. (Mueller, Procuratori, pp. 316-17.)
'Bills of Exchange': As well as manual exchanges on the spot, there was also long-distance exchange between places, as well as between currencies. Manual exchange involved only two parties, but long-distance exchange involved more. A letter of credit for a businessman, a pilgrim, or an envoy travelling to another place involved three parties, whilst the normal commercial bill of exchange involved four parties. The term 'Bill of Exchange' has been used to indicate rates for Bills of Exchange and similar instruments, like the Instrumentum ex causa cambii or the Cambium Maritimum.
The value of exchange rates derived from bills of exchange is further complicated by the various ways in which medieval businessmen used bills of exchange. Bills of exchange were of course developed, and went on being used, primarily for the transfer of money from one place to another, but they could also function as a cloak for loans, by the system of exchange and re-exchange. The price of bills could also be affected by those who played the exchanges in the hope of making a profit from alterations in the exchange rates which had been foreseen and on which they speculated. Most of our knowledge of the rates for such exchanges comes from commercial correspondence in which factors and branch managers quoted the going rates in their reports to head office, or in letters to other branches and correspondents. In the major banking centres such rates of exchange were fixed daily by the bankers meeting together. Very few of the bills of exchange actually survive, but we know of the contents of other bills from entries in a limited number of account books, and from notarized protests when the payer refused to pay.
The rates for exchange between two places were not of course the same in both of them, the difference being related to the overall balance of payments between them. For example, between London and Venice there was very little difference because of the near equilibrium in the balance of payments between them.
Where the names of two places are given for bills of exchange, the first is that of the place from which the money was sent, and the second is that of the place to which it was transferred. When only a single place name is given it is generally that of the place of origin of the transfer.
'Commercial': Where the nature of the original rate was not clear when the Handbook was compiled, the term 'Commercial' is used to indicate some sort of commercial rate as opposed to an official one.
'Recalculated': Most rates have been found in printed sources, quoted directly by historians in a form which makes the original source recognizable. However, some rates quoted by historians have been so transformed by them for their own purposes that it has not always been clear what was the original rate. An attempt has been made to recalculate back to the original rates, and the term 'Recalculated' has been used to indicate such entries.
Quite often, exchange arrangements quoted the rate of exchange as well as the sums involved. Where only the actual sums were given, they have been reduced to a rate in the form most commonly given in other documents. For example, 91 li. 4s. imperiale for 57 florins, appears as 1 florin to 32 soldi imperiale. For certain, very limited, periods and for certain particular exchanges, there is a very great deal of material available in almost daily series. It was not thought proper, in a Handbook which attempts to cover over three centuries, to include daily quotations. In these cases a quotation for only one business day of each month has normally been selected. When such frequent quotations survive it is possible to discern the seasonal cycles of larghezza and strettezza, of easy money and tight money, as noted by medieval merchants in their manuals or notebooks. Half a dozen notebooks, those named after da Canal, Pegolotti, Datini, Ricci, Uzzano and Chiarini, have been used extensively for preparing the background texts appended to the data entries. They are also of enormous value in understanding how the medieval money market actually worked.
For transactions inside any one 'country', accounting naturally took place in one of the local moneys of account, and payment unless made by assignment on a bank, was made in coins available on the spot, in gold, silver or billon according to the scale of the transaction. For transactions across 'national' boundaries, however, this was not adequate. The different moneys had to be reduced to a common denominator. Since the people most frequently concerned in such inter-'national' transactions were papal officials and Italian merchants, it was natural that it should be Italian money that was used as the common denominator, and it was most frequently the Florentine florin that was so used. The Florentine florin was the gold coin par excellence of Tuscany, and it was Tuscan merchants, above all others, who provided the multi-branched commercial and banking network, within which so many of these transactions took place. Papal treasurers and even papal collectors only rarely used cameral merchants from outside a charmed circle of Florentines, Lucchese and Sienese for the transmission of funds across Europe, whether from collectors in fourteenth- century England to the papal curia at Avignon, or onwards from Avignon to paymasters in Perugia for papal troops in central Italy. The amount due from a new archbishop of York was thus fixed in florins, although of course paid over to the transmitting bankers in sterling. In noting the cost of transmitting English wool to Porto Pisano for cloth manufacture in Tuscany, Pegolotti expressed the various sums actually to be paid out along the way in the relevant local moneys of account, but then summarized the costs by conversion into Florentine florins.
The material on exchange rates has therefore been organized around the Florentine gold florin. The coinage of the Florentine republic, and in particular the florin, has recently been made the object of a detailed study by Mario Bernocchi (Le monete della Repubblica fiorentina, iii and iv, Florence, 1976 and 1978). Detailed information on the minute transformations in weight and fineness of the standard coin over two and a half centuries can be found there.
For historians wishing to make comparisons between prices, wages, rents or taxes in two or more different currencies the natural procedure is therefore to follow the medieval example and convert them into Florentine florins. In the case of less important currencies it may be necessary to make a double calculation, first converting the given sums of money from a minor currency to a major one, and then converting that into Florentine florins.
The gold genovino, sometimes called the Genoese florin, was also used as a common denominator for inter-'national' transactions. Its issue began in 1252, the same year as the Florentine florin. The two coins were almost identical in weight and fineness.
The Venetian gold ducat was also used in this way. It was not issued until 1284, and was initially marginally heavier than then the contemporary Florentine and Genoese florins. In modern, metric, terms it weighed 3.56 grams against 3.54 grams. In transactions between western Europe and the outside world, the genovino and particularly the ducat were more important than the Florentine florin. However, inside western Europe the Florentine florin was clearly of more importance until the fifteenth century, when the ducat achieved such a position of prominence that 'ducat' came to replace 'florin' as the generic name for gold coins of the same size and fineness.
Apart from these, the Aragonese gold florin had a certain vogue for transactions between the Spanish kingdoms, whilst the gold florin or gulden of the Rhineland electors was similarly much used for transactions between German states, and the Hungarian florin (or ducat) for transactions in central Europe. However, outside their own regions none of these could bear comparison with the Florentine florin and its Genoese and Venetian counterparts.
When separate rates for both ducats and for florins have survived inadequate numbers, the series of exchange rates to the florin has been supplemented by a listing of exchange rates to the Venetian ducat and the Hungarian ducat. In order to extend the usefulness of the Handbook, many of the series of exchange rates between florins and major and minor local currencies have been supplemented by one or more series giving what is known of the rates between major local currencies in the same general area. For example, the series of exchange rates between the florin and money tournois has been supplemented by exchange rates between money tournois and the moneys of Anjou, Agen, Artois, Bordeaux, Brittany, Clermont, Maine, Metz and Poitou. Direct rates of exchange between florins and many of these less important currencies could not be found, and have probably not survived. Indeed, exchanges between florins and these currencies may well have taken place very rarely, or not at all.
Other series have been used for transactions which took place before the introduction of the florin. The most important secondary series of this sort concerns money provinois, the money of the Champagne fairs. The source of many of these entries is to be found in the notarial registers of Genoa. Many of these are derived from the series Notai liguri del secolo XII (Note 1) and the work of Mme. R. Doehaerd (Note 2), Mme. L. Liagre-de Sturler (Note 3) and H. L. Misbach (Note 4). Other, as yet unpublished, notarial records, should yield some further material for this early period. However a great many items in these registers are profoundly disappointing for this purpose, since they merely state that an exchange had taken, or should take, place without in any way specifying the rate involved.
In order that users of the Handbook may know whether any exchange rate quoted is reliable or not, I have given a reference for each of them that can be followed up. Following up my references is particularly necessary when two or three very different rates are given for a relatively short space of time. Such differences may reflect radical changes in actual conditions, but they may equally reflect modern scholars' inability to read medieval figures aright, or their carelessness in transcription or proof-reading. The Handbook cannot be any more reliable than the work of the hundreds of different scholars on which it is based.
The comparison of the finances of different cities and of the prices of iron in different countries are only two of the many uses to which it will be possible to put the Handbook. It can be used as much for the comparison of royal finances as of civic finances. It can be used as much for the comparison of the prices of cloth, or of grain, as of iron. It can therefore be used to elucidate profits on commodities transported from one region to another. It can equally be used for the comparison of wages or of rents.
A detailed example of its use can be provided by a consideration of the information that it gives on the extent of debasement in the later middle ages. Since international exchange rates were always ultimately based on the precious metal content of currency, they can be used in the long term as measures of the deterioration or improvement of various currencies, at least as perceived by the merchant community. For example, throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the Florentine florin remained essentially the same in weight and fineness. When first struck in 1252 new florins were supposed to weigh 3.54 grams. In the course of the 14th and 15th centuries they never dropped lower than 3.33 grams. This was less than 6% below the original weight, and they were generally struck within 2% of it. In 1500 they were being issued at 3.53 grams. (Bernocchi, Le monete della Repubblica fiorentina, iii, Florence, 1976.) It is, therefore, an effective yardstick against which to measure the deviations in other currencies.
When the debasements or strengthenings of a currency were very large, the exchange rates, as with modern devaluations, altered radically within weeks or even days. Nevertheless, some general indications of the variety of experience in different countries maybe gathered. The experience of Castile, where the maravedi in 1500 only retained one sixty-fifth of its 1300 value, against the Florentine florin, was patently very different from the experience of its neighbour Aragon, where the money of Jacca was still worth over half of its value for two hundred years earlier.
Professor Warren Van Egmond of the centre for the study of medieval mathematics at the University of Siena used the Interim Listing for checking the verisimilitude of the examples cited in late medieval Italian 'merchant arithmetics' or abbaci from the late thirteenth century onwards, when they dealt with problems involving the exchange of currencies. Unfortunately his results were highly variable. Sometimes his manuscripts gave realistic rates in the problems they posed, and sometimes utterly unrealistic ones. There was, however, a complete lack of consistency in their choice. He even found realistic and unrealistic rates for the same exchange on the same folio. As a consequence Professor Van Egmond could not use the Listing, as he had hoped, as a means of dating his manuscripts. His examples do, however, offer an insight into the complexity of the commercial arithmetic at the disposal of late medieval merchants and bankers, and the nature of the choices that might be involved before a bill of exchange was drawn. For example, a merchant arithmetic of 1328 poses the problem:
Io sono a Monpeslieri e voglio fare uno cambio a Parigi ed o fiorini ed agnelli e reali d'oro. Siche lo firino vale a Monpeslieri soldi 12 denari 8 tor. e l'agnello vale soldi 14 denari 8 tor. e l'reale vale soldi 15 denari 2 tor. e a Parigi vale el fiorino soldi 10di parigini e l'angenello vale soldi 11 denari 4 di parigini e 'lreale vale soldi 11 denari 8 parigini. Or voglio mandare a Parigi e tornare ad Monpeslieri libre 1000 tor.
Other correspondents have remarked that they have already used the figures in the Interim Listing to convert incomes, duties, revenues, etc. to a meaningful common denominator. I trust that in future not only economic history textbooks, but also political history textbooks will be able to make such comparisons on the basis of figures in the Handbook. It should be therefore a tool of very wide use for a whole range of historians.
Appendix I: Usance
Usance was the customary term at which letters of exchange from one place to another became due for payment. The terms most commonly specified were of two sorts, either, 'alla fata', from the original date when the bill of exchange was drawn up, or 'vista la lettera',from the date when the payer had sight of the bill presented to him by the payee for acceptance. The following table of terms is based on chapters 8 and 9 of the notebook compiled up to 1442 by Giovanni da Uzzano (Note 5). Uzzano also took the trouble to note down the length of time normally taken by couriers between various places as this gives some idea of the length of time between the drawing of a bill and its presentation.
To Pisa, 3 days from sight, and the same from Pisa.
To Genoa, 8 days from sight, and the same from Genoa.
To Avignon, 30 days from drawing, but from Avignon, 45 days from drawing.
To Montpellier, 44 days from drawing, but from Montpellier, 45 days from drawing.
To Barcelona, 2 months from drawing, and the same from Barcelona.
To Paris and Bruges, 2 months from drawing, and the same from Paris and Bruges.
To London, three months from drawing, from London, it depends on what arrangement is made ('secondo i patti').
To Siena, 2 days from sight, and the same from Siena.
To Perugia, 5 days from sight, and the same from Perugia.
To Rome, 10 days from sight, and the same from Rome.
To Naples and Gaeta, 20 days from drawing, and the same from Naples and Gaeta.
To Venice, 5 days from drawing (sic), but from Venice, 20 days from drawing. (However note that under Venice, the term to and from Florence is 5 days from sight).
To Bologna, 3 days from sight, and the same from Bologna.
To Milan, 10 days from sight, and the same from Milan.
To Palermo, 15 days from sight, but from Palermo, 30 days from drawing.
To Padua, 5 days from sight, but from Padua, 10 days from sight.
To Ferrara, 5 days from sight, and the same from Ferrara.
To Camerino, 8 days from sight, and the same from Camerino.
To Aquileia and Cremona, 10 days from sight and the same from Aquileia and Cremona.
To Fano and Pesaro, 5 days from sight, and the same from Fano and Pesaro.
To Viterbo, 10 days from sight, and the same from Viterbo.
To Lucca, (blank).
To Genoa, 5 days from sight, and the same from Genoa.
To Avignon, 30 days from drawing, and the same from Avignon.
To Barcelona, 30 days from sight, and the same from Barcelona.
To Montpellier, 40 days from drawing, and the same from Montpellier.
To Paris and Bruges, 2 months from drawing, and the same from Paris and Bruges.
To Siena, 3 days from sight, and the same from Siena.
To Perugia, 8 days from sight, and the same from Perugia.
To Rome, 10 days from sight, and the same from Rome.
To Naples and Gaeta, 10 days from sight, and the same from Naples and Gaeta.
To Palermo, 15 days from sight, and the same from Palermo.
To Bologna, 5 days from sight, and the same from Bologna.
To Venice, 20 days from drawing, and the same from Venice.
To Milan, 10 days from sight, and the same from Milan.
To London, 3 months from drawing, and the same from London.
To Lucca, one day after sight, and the same from Lucca.
To Alexandria, 30 days from sight, and the same from Alexandria.
To Barcelona, 13 days from sight, and the same from Barcelona.
To Paris, 30 days from drawing, and the same from Paris.
To Bruges, 40 days from drawing, and the same from Bruges.
To Bruges, 10 days from sight, and the same from Bruges.
To London, 1 month from drawing, and the same from London.
To Barcelona, (blank, but note, under Barcelona, term to and from Paris is 30 days from sight).
To Venice, 10 days from sight, and the same from Venice.
To Avignon, 10 days from sight, and the same from Avignon.
To Barcelona, 20 days from sight, and the same from Barcelona.
To Valencia, 30 days from sight, and the same from Valencia.
To London, 3 months from drawing, and the same from London.
To Bologna, 15 days from sight, and the same from Bologna.
To Milan, 5 days from sight, and the same from Milan.
To Rome, 10 days from sight, and the same from Rome.
To Pisa, 5 days from sight, and the same from Pisa.
To Naples and Gaeta, 10 days from sight, and the same from Naples and Gaeta.
To Palermo, 15 days from sight, but from Palermo, 15 to 20 days from sight.
To Montpellier, 10 days from sight, but from Montpellier, 30 days from drawing.
To Paris and Bruges, 10 days from sight, but from Paris and Bruges, 2 months from drawing.
To Seville, 20 days from sight, but from Seville, 30 days from sight.
To Caffa, Famagusta and Pera, 30 days from sight, and the same from Caffa, Famagusta and Pera.
To Rhodes and Chios, 30 days from sight, and the same from Rhodes and Chios.
To Avignon, 10 days from sight, and the same from Avignon.
To Paris and Bruges, 2 months from drawing, and the same from Paris and Bruges
To Rome, Montpellier, Bologna, Siena, and Perugia, 10 days from drawing, and the same from Rome, Montpellier, Bologna, Siena, and Perugia.
To Milan, 20 days from sight, and the same from Milan.
To Florence, 5 days from sight, and the same from Florence (but see under Florence).
To Barcelona, Paris, and Bruges, 2 months from drawing, and the same from Barcelona, Paris and Bruges.
To Naples, Barletta and Gaeta, 10 days from sight and the same from Naples, Barletta and Gaeta.
To Rome, 10 days from sight, and the same from Rome.
To London, 3 months from drawing, and the same from London.
To Pisa, 20 days from drawing, and the same from Pisa.
To Perugia, 10 days from sight, and the same from Perugia.
To Bologna, 15 days from drawing, but from Bologna, 5 days from sight (but see under Bologna).
To Paris and Avignon, 2 months from drawing, and the same from Paris and Avignon.
To Venice, 15 days from sight, and the same from Venice (but see under Venice).
To Milan, 10 days from sight, and the same from Milan.
To Barcelona, Paris and Bruges, 2 months from drawing, and the same from Barcelona, Paris and Bruges.
To Siena, 5 days from sight, and the same from Siena.
To Perugia, 8 days from sight, and the same from Perugia.
To Rome, 10 days from sight, and the same from Rome.
To Ferrara, 3 days from sight, and the same from Ferrara.
To Lucca, 5 days from sight, and the same from Lucca.
To London, 2 months from drawing, and the same from London.
To Paris and Bruges, 30 days from sight, and the same from Paris and Bruges.
To Valencia, 8 days from sight, and the same from Valencia.
To Montpellier, 3 days from sight, and the same from Montpellier.
To Barcelona, 10 days from sight, and the same from Barcelona.
To Bruges and Paris, a month from drawing, and the same from Bruges and Paris.
To London, a month from drawing.
To Barcelona, 30 days from sight, and the same from Barcelona.
Appendix II: Couriers
The expected length of time taken by couriers to travel from one place to another, from da Uzzano's notebook, chapter 10.
Genoa to Avignon, 7-8 days.
Genoa to Montpellier, 9-11 days.
Genoa to Barcelona, 18-21 days.
Genoa to Bruges, 22-25 days.
Genoa to Paris, 18-22 days.
Avignon to Barcelona, 7-9 days.
Avignon to Montpellier, 2-3 days.
Avignon to Paris, 15-16 days.
Avignon to Florence, 12-14 days.
Barcelona to Bruges, 19-20 days.
Barcelona to Paris, 22-24 days.
Barcelona to Montpellier, 8-9 days.
Barcelona to London, 16-18 days.
(Note that these times from Barcelona are mutually inconsistent)
Florence to London, 25-30 days.
Florence to Bruges, 20-25 days.
Florence to Milan, 10-12 days.
Florence to Rome, 5-6 days.
Florence to Brescia, 10-11 days.
Florence to Naples, 11-12 days.
Florence to Seville, 29-32 days.
Florence to Paris, 20-22 days.
Florence to Barcelona, 20-22 days.
Florence to Montpellier, 15-16 days.
Florence to Avignon, 12-14 days.
Florence to Genoa, 5-6 days.
Florence to Fabriano, 6-7 days.
Florence to Aquileia, 5-6 days.
Florence to Cremona, 5-6 days.
Chiaudano, M. and Morozzo della Rocca, R., eds. Oberto Scriba de Mercato, 1190, 1186. 2 vols. Notai liguri del secolo XII. Vols. 1 and 4. Turin, 1938-40.
Hall, M. W., Krueger, H. G., and Reynolds, R. L., eds. Guglielmo Cassinese 1190-92. 2 vols. Notai liguri del secolo XII. Vol. 2. Genoa, 1938.
Hall-Cole, M. W., Krueger, H. G., Reinert, R. G., and Reynolds, R. L., eds. Giovanni di Guiberto 1200-1211. 2 vols. Notai liguri del secolo XII. Vol. 5. Genoa and Turin, 1939-40.
Krueger, H. G. and Reynolds, R. L., eds. Lanfranco 1202-26. 3 vols. Notai liguri del secolo XII. Genoa and Turin, 1951-3.
Doehaerd, R. Relations commerciales entre Gênes, la Belgique et l'Outremont d'après les archives notariales génoises. Études d'histoire économique et sociale. Vols. 2-5. Institut Historique Belge de Rome. Brussels-Rome, 1941-52.
Liagre-De Sturler, L. Les relations commerciales entre Gênes la Belgique et l'Outremont, 1320-1400. Études d'histoire économique et sociale. Vols. 7 and 8. Institut Historique Belge de Rome. Brussels-Rome, 1969.
Misbach, H. L. "Genoese Trade and the Flow of Gold 1154-1253." Ph.D. Thesis, University of Wisconsin, 1968.
Pagnini della Ventura, G. F., ed. "'La pratica della mercatura' scritta da Giovanni di Antonio da Uzzano." Della decima e di varie altre gravezze imposte dal comune di Firenze. Vol. 4. Lisbon and Lucca [Florence], 1766.