Cambridge University Press
978-0-521-88717-5 - Guilds, Innovation, and the European Economy, 1400–1800 - by S. R. Epstein, Maarten Prak

Guilds, Innovation, and the European
Economy, 1400–1800

Since the time of the French Revolution guilds have been condemned as a major obstacle to economic progress in the pre-industrial era. However, this re-examination of the role of guilds in the early modern European economy challenges that view by taking into account new research on innovation, technological change, and entrepreneurship. Leading economic historians argue that industry before the Industrial Revolution was much more innovative than previous studies have allowed for and explore the new products and production techniques that were launched and developed in this period. Much of this innovation was fostered by the craft guilds that formed the backbone of industrial production before the rise of the steam engine. The book traces the manifold ways in which guilds in a variety of industries in Italy, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Britain helped to create an institutional environment conducive to technological and marketing innovations.

S. R. Epstein (1960–2007) was Professor of Economic History and Head of the Economic History Department at the London School of Economics. His numerous publications include Freedom and Growth: Markets and States in Europe, 1300–1750 (2000), and, as editor, Town and Country in Europe, 1300–1800 (2002).

Maarten Prak is Professor of Social and Economic History at Utrecht University. He is author and editor of several books, including The Dutch Republic in the Seventeenth Century (2005).

Guilds, Innovation, and
the European Economy,

Edited by

S. R. Epstein
London School of Economics and Political Science

Maarten Prak
Universiteit Utrecht, The Netherlands

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© Cambridge University Press 2008

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First published 2008

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Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Epstein, Stephan R., 1960–
Guilds, innovation, and the European economy, 1400–1800 / edited by
S. R. Epstein, Maarten Prak.
   p. cm.
Includes index.
ISBN 978-0-521-88717-5 (hardback)
1. Guilds – Europe – History.  2. Industrialization – Europe – History.
3. Europe – Commerce – History.  I. Prak, Maarten Roy, 1955–  II. Title.
HD6473.E85E67   2008
338.6′320940903 – dc22         2007039063

ISBN    978-0-521-88717-5 hardback

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  Acknowledgments page vii
  List of Contributors viii
  Introduction: Guilds, Innovation, and the European Economy, 1400–1800 1
  s. r. epstein and maarten prak  
  1 Craft Guilds, the Theory of the Firm, and Early Modern Proto-industry 25
  2 Craft Guilds, Apprenticeship and Technological Change in Pre-industrial Europe 52
  3 Subcontracting in Guild-based Export Trades, Thirteenth–Eighteenth Centuries 81
  4 Circulation of Skilled Labour in Late Medieval and Early Modern Central Europe 114
  5 Painters, Guilds and the Art Market during the Dutch Golden Age 143
  6 Craft Guilds and Technological Change: The Engine Loom in the European Silk Ribbon Industry in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries 172
  7 Guilds, Technology and Economic Change in Early Modern Venice 199
  8 Inventing in a World of Guilds: Silk Fabrics in Eighteenth-century Lyon 232
  9 ‘Not to Hurt of Trade’: Guilds and Innovation in Horology and Precision Instrument Making 264
10 Reaching beyond the City Wall: London Guilds and National Regulation, 1500–1700 288
11 Guilds in Decline? London Livery Companies and the Rise of a Liberal Economy, 1600–1800 316
  Index 343


This book originated in a small workshop which the editors organised in Utrecht in January 2000, funded by the Dutch National Research Council NWO, and the Utrecht Research Institute for Culture and History OGC. The editors are grateful for the support of both institutions. We also wish to thank Utrecht University for hosting the conference, and all the participants for their intellectual contributions. Since then, the conference programme took a very long time to transform into this book; the outcome also has only a superficial resemblance to the original programme. Four chapters in this book were presented at the 2000 conference. All the others have been added since. The editors owe a huge debt of gratitude to all our authors, for the immense amount of work they invested in this project, and for their patience; this applies especially to Michael Berlin, Catharina Lis, Ulrich Pfister, Reinhold Reith, and Hugo Soly, who were all there in 2000.

In the night of February 3, 2007, S. R. (Larry) Epstein passed away, completely unexpectedly, as the result of injuries to the head sustained in a motorcycle accident almost thirty years before. At the time of his death all the chapters in this book had been completely revised, and Larry was about to start writing a first draft of the introduction. As it was, he left behind only 19 PowerPoint slides, which he presented in another conference on guilds in Utrecht, on October 6, 2006.1 On that occasion, he stated in so many words that this was indeed the outline of the introduction for this book as he imagined it. Utilising some research notes and photocopies found in Larry’s study, as well as my own material, I have put words to the structure outlined in that PowerPoint presentation.

Maarten Prak

Spring 2007

List of Contributors

MICHAEL BERLIN is lecturer in History, Birkbeck College, University of London.

S. R. EPSTEIN (1960–2007) was professor of Economic History at the London School of Economics.

IAN ANDERS GADD is lecturer in English Literature at Bath Spa University.

CATHARINA LIS is professor of Social History at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium.

LILIANE PEREZ is lecturer in the History of Technology at the Conservatoire national des Arts et Métiers in Paris and member of the Centre d’Histoire des Techniques et de l’Environnement.

ULRICH PFISTER is professor of Social and Economic History at the Westfälische Wilhelms–Universität in Münster, Germany.

MAARTEN PRAK is professor of Economic and Social History at Universiteit Utrecht, The Netherlands.

reinhold reith is professor of Economic and Social History at the Universität Salzburg, Austria.

HUGO SOLY is professor of Early Modern History at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium.

FRANCESCA TRIVELLATO is professor of History at Yale University.

ANTHONY TURNER is an independent historian based in Le Mesnil-le-Roi, France.

PATRICK WALLIS is lecturer in Economic History at the London School of Economics.

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