Social Scientist. v 11, no. 125 (Oct 1983) p. 28.


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28 SOCIAL SCIENTIST

more humble kind, which developed from the 16th century. The second concerns the extent to which monetary relationships had developed in the hinterland economies of the same period. There are indications that these had developed to a remarkable degree, surely not equalled during the 19th century.

The trade in precious metals, especially silver, is well known, not the least the international division of labour upon which it depended at an early stage in the growth of commercial capitalism, and also the steady drain of valuable payments-media into Asia, and especially India and China (e g, Vilar, 1976; Chaudhuri, 1978; Furber, 1976; Atwell, 1977). But the trade in humble payments-media, like copper and cowries, was even more remarkable, not only because they also formed a vital, long-term lynchpin of international exchanges during this period, buf also because of their implications for the receiving economies.

Copper formed one of the basic commodities of the inter-Asian trade, beginning with the Portuguese and continuing through the Dutch and English E I Companies (Glamann, 1958; Furber, 1976; Vilar, 1976;

Magalhaes-Godinho, 1969).2 Prices paid in Asian markets were remarkably high when compared to those for other industrial metals or those paid in Europe, and except for brief periods such as in the crisis-ridden 1630^ and at the turn of the 18th century, such high prices were remarkably stable. Later, we shall see how significant were those conjunctures of widespread crisis and low copper prices.

By the later 17th century, the most important Asian source of the metal was Japan. Other parts of Asia were also substantial importers of copper, while P^uropcan states also began to import or produce substantially greater quantities of the metal than they had done hitherto (the major Europen source became Sweden after Central European sources had become insufficient to meet increasing demand). The significant period of accelerated growth in these copper dealings begins in the 16th century, both in Europe and in Asia (Parker, 1974, on Europe.)

Cowries were by far the most important of a number of non-metal and base-metal currency media of much lower value than copper, and a reconstruct!^ a of international movements ,in the commodity forms a remarkable but little-known aspect of tLe development of a world market and division of labour, but one whose implications have not yet been properly appreciated.3

Produced mainly in the Maldives, they were a major commodity for both Asian and European traders, while European ports like London and Amsterdam acted as major entrepots for their exchange between company and company, and between private traders, on their way towards West Africa. By the early 18th century, the annual total shipment can be measured in hundreds of millions.4

. In the 17th cexxtjry they were found widely distributed as a means of p ivmcnt in many parts of the Indian sub-continent. By the 18th



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