jueves, 19 de marzo de 2020

Trade monopolies and silent trade

The Capture of the Spanish Galleon Nuestra Señora de Covadonga, 20 April 1743
John Cleveley, the younger. Shugborough, National Trust.
Oil on canvas, 1756. 1029 x 1518 mm (40 1/2 x 59 3/4 in).

The Spanish Empire developed a system of controlled fleets in certain ports. However, merchandise transportation requirements exceeded official shipments and their concentration in Veracruz port. Here, the authorities practiced disguised or clandestine trade, which is reflected in an apparent drop in trade  between 1600 and 1720, exploited by the Netherlands and England. In turn, Spain could not adequately supply the New Spanish market and did not import enough goods, except metals.1

Smuggling promoted by England, Holland, France, and Portugal represented the arrival of a large quantity of high-value merchandise to New Spain through the Caribbean. It was carried out through official commercial companies, forced arrivals and even threats. On the other hand, in the Pacific Ocean, trade between Acapulco and Manila or from Acapulco to Callao was carried out outside official regulations, either due to excessive tonnage or exports disguised as cabotage. Foreign agents operating in Manila and the "useless" Caribbean ports made enormous profits from the spill of Mexican metals. This dynamical trade contrasts with the rigidity of the Spanish system. The mercantile prohibition system did not stop the opening of shipyards from Callao to Acapulco, an activity only accessible to the great potentates, groups with a commercial vision and power.2
Silent trade to New Spain was supported by the numerous establishments in the Antilles: Jamaica and Barbados (English), Curaçao, Tobago and Saint Eustace (Dutch), and Saint Thomas (Danish). From where it was trafficked with Campeche wood, European manufactures and especially with slaves. 
Mexico City merchants had numerous contacts at Seville’s Trading House Casa de la Contratación. This institution had been created to defend the commerce of the metropolis, through fleets and monopolies. It also promoted nautical and geographic knowledge; instructed the teaching of navigation techniques, construction and repairing of ships, and the commercial information.3 However, the Crown soon became a predator of economic activity: it increased taxes; did not respect the rules of the game applying forced seizures and acted arbitrarily applying transportation percentages (avería); it favored certain groups by allowing informal negotiations and yielding economic power in exchange for merchant consulates influencing the decisions of the Trading House; it allowed the transfer of power to the officials in Seville, who obtained economic and social benefits through clandestine businesses and prevented free access to public offices by the sale of trades, thus promoting the rapine of the officers.4 In consequence, the fleets became less frequent during the XVII century in order to push prices up.

From Ruggiero Romano, Coyunturas opuestas, pp. 124-143.

In the 1620s, the Thirty Years' War forced King Philip IV to order the importation of quicksilver from the Idria mines in Slovenia. To achieve this, he had to resort to credit and the intermediation of Sevillian and merchants from New Spain, who count on a network of representatives in Antwerp, Venice and Idria’s mercury dealers.5 Before 1642, Spanish commercial networks used to reach Lisbon, since the union of the crowns of Castile and Portugal in 1580 had allowed the participation of an extensive network of commercial relations led by members of the Sephardic Portuguese community, who owned numerous contacts in Seville and the main European economic centers, and sufficient capital to support the Spanish Crown through numerous concessions. These activities enabled the Portuguese to link up with the English, Dutch and French ports, as well as funding from the Spanish Navy (Armada de Barlovento). In 1642, Portuguese kingdom independence, radicalized anti-Semitic positions, among which the rumor of a "great complicity". Between 1641 and 1649 the wealthiest merchants from Veracruz and Mexico City were arrested and questioned by the Inquisition.6 In the following years, other processes indicted some Mexico City merchants and staged dramatic autos de fe (religious public executions).7
Instead, another group of merchants in the city benefited from businesses that included financing the production of silver, manipulating the activities of the Mint, and credit for the acquisition of quicksilver in times of crisis. Among the most prominent were the Biscayan José de Retes Lagarcha and Luis Sánchez de Tagle, both merchants called their nephews in Spain to marry with their daughters and establish family and client relationships with the highest viceregal authorities. Their commercial networks extended to the main mining ores in Pachuca or Parral, where they operated through agents (factores), by means of which they concentrated mining equipment and the purchase of silver to coin. Their privileges at the Mint consisted of controlling the positions of treasurer, chief guard of the Mint, major carver or general metal setter. This group of merchants has been called mercaderes de la plata.8 The sale of public positions and the practices derived from their businesses, could be seen as harmful to the king and the royal institutions, however, the large sums awarded to the Crown caused that his crimes were minimized and even they obtained noble titles (Luis Sánchez de Tagle that of Marquis of Altamira and Juan Urrutia Retes that of Marquis of Villar del Águila). 
Silver traders were not the only beneficiaries of restrictive policies. The ban established in the 1640s to carry out intercolonial trade was evaded by the merchants of Mexico City through a triangular route between Acapulco, Manila and Callao for the importation of cocoa beans to New Spain, the main world consumer. The small group of merchants in Mexico City, specialized in cocoa trading, transported large quantities of the beans to optimize their costs. During the restrictive period, most imports were made through Veracruz and surreptitiously through the ports of Acapulco, Huatulco and Zihuatanejo, where shipments from Guayaquil were received. This cocoa was cheaper, which allowed its massive distribution in the thrifty market.9 

1. Ruggiero Romano, Mecanismo y elementos del sistema económico colonial americano. Siglos XVI-XVIII, México, Fondo de Cultura Económica, Fideicomiso Historia de las Américas, 2004, pp. 273-290 y 299 a 305.
2. Ibid, pp. 273-290.
3. Carlos Álvarez Nogal, “Instituciones y desarrollo económico: la casa de la Contratación y la Carrera de Indias (1503-1790)”, en La Casa de la Contratación y la navegación entre España y las Indias, Sevilla, 2003, pp. 21-34.
4. Ibid., pp. 34-50.
5. Renate Pieper y Philipp Lesiak, “Redes mercantiles entre el Atlántico y el Mediterráneo en los inicios de la guerra de los Treinta Años”, en Antonio Ibarra y Guillermina del Valle, Redes sociales e instituciones consulares en el Imperio Español. Siglos XVII a XIX, México, Facultad de Economía, UNAM, Instituto de Investigaciones Dr. José Ma. Luis Mora, pp. 19-39.
6. Carlos García de León Antonio, “La malla inconclusa. Veracruz  y los circuitos comerciales lusitanos en la primera mitad del siglo XVI”, en Antonio Ibarra y Guillermina del Valle, Redes sociales e instituciones consulares en el Imperio Español. Siglos XVII a XIX, México, Facultad de Economía, UNAM, Instituto de Investigaciones Dr. José Ma. Luis Mora, Fundación Carolina, 2007, pp. 41-83.
7. Gregorio Martín de Guijo  wrote in his diary about some of these trials, remarkably the one of Duarte de León y Tomás Tremiño del Campo en 1649.
8. Guillermina del Valle Pavón, Redes de negocios de los mercaderes de plata de México a finales del siglo XVII y principios del XVIII, Instituto de Investigaciones Dr. José María Luis Mora, documento de trabajo, s/f.
9. Guillermina del Valle Pavón, Tráfico de cacao de Guayaquil y apertura comercial. La promoción del comercio de cacao y azúcar a través del Consulado de México, documento de trabajo, s/f.

viernes, 21 de junio de 2019

Mexico City Cathedral

Interior of Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral, open in 1665.

The cathedral and its side chapel represent a synthesis of art in New Spain. After penetrating its imposing sun-bathed baroque and neoclassical facade, the visitor enters the ethereal half-light of this hallowed shrine, with its five separate naves, its side chapels, and its sacred religious icons. The religious ceremonies are performed against the interest of hundred of visitors but, with a little luck, it may be possible to hear the strains of one of the cathedral's monumental organs. The City's soft clay subsoil, subject to continuous movement over the years, has propitiated the gradual sinking of many building such as the cathedral, and sophisticated restoration works, partially visible, have prevented its collapse.

The transformation of the Aztec city started when Spaniards destroyed the pagan temples in 1521: the outdoor ceremonies were then celebrated in open chapels, the holy Eucharist took the place of human sacrifices, green feathers were replaced by golden thread cloths and ancient rain and wind gods took the form of Catholic saints posing on golden altar pieces.
Turquoise and pedernal stone were buried to give life to gold monstrances, and the sound of native drums to imported organs. An ancient pagan skull platform (Tzompantli), located in site was substituted by ossuaries and graves beneath the monument. Today, both words mingle just in front of the Cathedral by the means of conchero dances and chaman rites.
Mexico City Cathedral evolved through three centuries, gathering artistic stiles, devotions, lavish ceremonies and encoded bell rings, that marked the pace of time in the Viceroyalty’s capital. For this reason, the monument is not only an outstanding architectural piece, but most of all a social symbol that reveals the power of the Catholic hierarchy, a refuge for sorrowed souls, the origin of riots but also the grave or our ancestors and the centre of a nation.

Exterior harmony
This monumental structure which today dominates Mexico's main square called Zocalo, is not the same as that which initially replaced the Templo Mayor in 1572. The Archbishop Pedro Moya de Contreras laid the first stone which, after 42 symbolic years, was inaugurated by the Viceroy Duke of Alburquerque and was later re-dedicated in 1667 by the Viceroy Mancera.
Mexico City cathedral had the privilege of introducing new architectural styles that subsequently flourished throughout New Spain. Classic style evolved into Neoclassic and envelops the baroque facades without detracting from it in any way. Much of this is owed to architect Manuel Tolsa, who added the final touches to the project in 1813 with a balustrade and by enlarging the central dome.

Kings' altarpiece, 1735.

The exquisite interior
Crossing the threshold framed by the magnificent main doors carved in 1659 leads the visitor into a more subtle world, geared towards uplifting the soul with a spirituality that permeates the senses: magnificent fluted columns which soar upward and return to earth in a display of infinite motion akin to the sounds produced by the monumental organs, exquisitely carved the wooden benches crowned by a marble lectern, golden galleries of the organs and the resplendent altar pieces.
The vestry is probably the heart of the building's religious ceremonies. Priest preparing for mass are wrapped in a pictorial heaven painted by Cristobal de Villalpando and Juan Correa, who were devoted to proof in images that the Catholic institutions were the ones called to save the world, assisted by endless number of angels and directed by Archangel Saint Michael. It is difficult not to feel the bliss of movement, color and light coming from the lofty regions of this extraordinary room, a wonder of New Spain.
On one side of the cathedral the adjoining side chapel "Sagrario" can be visited. The sober interior provides a sharp contrast to its capricious exterior facade, designed to be the model of Mexican Baroque art by Lorenzo Rodriguez in 1749. The special light filtering into the naves is due to the modern stained glass, designed by Mathias Goeritz in 1968. Today, there is a difference of almost five feet between the levels of the opposing walls of the cathedral's huge structure, which stoically resists the vagaries of the urban landscape.

Roberto Escartin Arroyo, March 2019.

Information sources:

  • Benitez, Fernando, La Ciudad de México, Salvat Eds. México, 1984, vol. V,  p. 49-55.
  • Manrique, Jorge Alberto, “La catedral como monumento manierista y símbolo urbano”, en Marta Fernández (ed.), La catedral de México. Problemática, restauración conservación en el futuro, Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, UNAM, México, 1997.
  • Rubial García, Antonio, “La sociedad novohispana de la Ciudad de México”, Ensayos sobre la Ciudad de México, DDF, Universidad Iberoamericana, Conaculta, 1984, vol. II.

martes, 18 de abril de 2017

Echoes of Paris in Mexico City

Between 1875 and 1914 merchants of French origin in Mexico City experienced a boom era. In Europe, France lived the consolidation of its hegemony from the proclamation of the Second Republic and French culture became the model of the elites of Latin American societies. While France was competing with Great Britain, Austria and Prussia, French fabrics and clothing were enthusiastically received in Mexico and the constant arrival of French immigrants transformed the social life of the capital. But the beginning of the First World War marked the end of French hegemony in Mexico, the Mexican Revolution, and the infamous American attack to Veracruz led to the end of the Belle Époque.

The French presence in Mexico was due to the emigration of individuals who maintained their identity with a discrete inbreeding. The consolidation of their capitals and the extension of their commercial networks allowed the diffusion of their culture among local elites. Some immigrants responded to the call of the Mexican authorities, who needed to populate the rural areas with Europeans. A first group arrived in Veracruz area, establishing themselves in ​​San Rafael and Coatzacoalcos. But most settled in the cities, highlighting a group of Alsatian Jews and the contingent of Barcelonnettes. 1

France and Mexican politics
To compensate for the external threats, the Mexican president Porfirio Diaz regime paid his debts promptly and sought to make Europe a moderating force against the United States influence, with France as its center. From the governmental point of view, French emigrants would bring prosperity to the Mexican nation. What in a few decades this became true with investments in banks, railways, mines and textile industries. The latter were linked to numerous businesses and produced their own cashmere wool fabrics. Trading these products benefited from the expansion of communication and transportation, hard policies over the masses of workers, the integration of the national market, and the reduction of the external trade deficit. The telegraphic network was of paramount importance for the improvement of business.2

The struggle for the hegemony of nations over Mexico dates back to the French presence during the Mexican Second Empire (1862-1867), which benefited certain groups. The Alsatians were placed among the elite of society, around the Societe Financière pour l'industrie au Mexique, which competed with the Rothschild organization and German interests in Mexico. Porfirio Diaz foresaw the need to import capital for infrastructure works and to give the French entrepreneurs the opportunity to manage the National Bank of Mexico, an issuing bank, government lender and finance private enterprises. The role of the Alsatians is very unique, because it is a group of Jewish origin, modernized, urban and individualistic. Their religious manifestations were very discreet because they knew that there was anti-Semitism and the French identity was a more prestigious feature than their religious background. 3

The economic liberalism was favorable to the immigration of groups that had been denied entry to Mexico, especially the case of French Jews such as Eduard Noetzlin, who was a representative of the Societé Financière, and who later directed the National Bank from Mexico. Although the railroads were the domain of Americans and British, Robert Simon and his partner Ernest Cassel participated in the Central Railroad and were shareholders of the Western Bank, based in Mazatlan. Noetzlin was a key figure in the financial agreements between France and Mexico. After the establishment of the National Bank, he returned to France to head the organization's office in Paris, leaving in Mexico several partners, all of them French Jews. 4

Other shareholders of the National Bank of Mexico were the brothers Jules, Joseph and Henri Tron, who started modest clothing business in Mexico City. Since the 1860s these shops were located in the central “Portal de Flores” whose owner was Mr. Gassier, who was associated with other merchants such as Reynaud, Tron and Leautaud. This company was called "Tron y Cía." It was decided then to create a large warehouse in 1873. This building was located in the street of San Bernardo and was designed by architects Ignacio and Lorenzo de la Hidalga. Its innovative steel structure, adjacent to the viceregal palaces, came to the public to be called “Iron Palace”. With its lavish opening in 1891, it was linked since then to the architecture and life of Mexico City. Towards 1893 the stores established the policy of fixed prices and changed status to an anonymous society, expanded the building and inaugurated a taylor’s workshop within the premises. Despite various vicissitudes (the building's fire in 1911) and the revolutionary movement, in 1921 the new building was inaugurated on the street on February 5, with Art Nouveau decoration by architect Paul Dubois and extended again in 1925. 5

The French merchants in Mexico City took advantage of the central location of their businesses in the heart of the “city of palaces”. At the junction of Plateros and Espíritu Santo streets a filigree work was built that looks more like a French toy store: “La Esmeralda”. This jewelry was founded in 1864 by David Zivy and then bequeathed to the Bloch family. The building was adorned with Parisian attics, a beautiful clock and stuccos in the interiors. The Zivy family also managed “La Parisiense” glassware and the Iturbide Hotel restaurant, with furniture produced by them. At the end of San Francisco Street, the Jokey Club was established, whose president was Ives Limantour and his vocalist the French banker Louis Lavie. Since 1904, in the comfortable armchairs of the club they could read the newspaper published in French by Max Athénosy, "L'Écho français". 6

The state monopoly of the manufacture and sale of cigarettes during the colonial era passed into the hands of businessmen during the convulsions of the nineteenth century. One of them was the French Ernest Pugibet (1855-1915). Pugibet met in Cuba the cultivation of tobacco and the techniques of manufacturing cigars. In 1884 he established in Mexico the small cigar factory “El Buen Tono”, whose production he personally distributed. Later he introduced modern machines, reorganized the plant and constituted a society with contributions of Mexican and French capitalists. Pugibet was remarkable innovator in the advertising of his products and used means such as balloons and an airship, being one of the first to sponsor comics. Together with Felipe Suberbié and other investors, he acquired Cervecería Moctezuma. He participated in the founding of the Mexican National Company of Dynamite and Explosives, was a shareholder and advisor of the National Bank of Mexico, the textile factory San Ildefonso, the Monte Alto Railroad and shareholder of  “Palacio de Hierro”. He donated the temple of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Barrio de San Juan for this factory workers, designed by engineer Miguel Ángel de Quevedo in 1912. 7

French enterprises set up a new era of business in Mexico City and spread the model over the country with successful managerial models which soon permeated over local businessmen. Today it is possible to observe some of the mentioned buildings, which added a touch of French style to the Mexican Capital. 

Roberto Escartin Arroyo, 2017.

1. Martínez Montiel, Luz María y Araceli Reynoso Medina, "La inmigración europea y asiática,


 siglos XIX y XX, en Simbiosis de Culturas, FCE, México, 1993, p. 319-336.

2. González, Luis, "El liberalismo triunfante", en Historia General de México, El Colegio de México, 2000, p. 678-681.
3. Krausse, Corinne, Los judíos en México, Universidad Iberoamericana, México, 1987. p.73.4. Krausse, op. cit., p. 69. 
5. Martinez Gutierrez, Bertha Patricia, El palacio de hierro: arranque de la modernidad arquitectónica en la Ciudad de México, Tesis de Maestría en Historia del Arte-UNAM, Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, 2005. 
6. Krausse, op. cit., p 71 y CEMCA. La prensa francesa en México.
7. Pérez Siller, Javier, "Una contribución a la modernidad: la comunidad francesa en la Ciudad de México",  en México-Francia, presencia, influencia, sensibilidad, 2000.
8. Gouy, Patrice, "Peregrinaciones de los Barcelonnettes a México", en Artes de México, vol. 39, p. 62-67.

domingo, 14 de junio de 2015

La Sorpresa y Primavera Unidas

Mexico City: Plateros & Alcaicería st.  Figueroa Domenech, 1899.

The great clothing store “La Sorpresa y Primavera Unidas” located in the corner of Alcaicería and Plateros streets, was owned by A. Fourcade and Goupil. This elegant establishment offered French perfumes, fine linen fabrics, exquisite silk gauzes and cotton clothes, with an abundance of imported European items, and support from their headquarters at Rue de l'Echiquier 41, Paris 10.

La Sorpresa y Primavera Unidas offered its merchandise in five departments: articles for furnishing and table linen; bed sheets; fashions for ladies; lace, ornaments and gloves, and religious articles. These goods could also be sent home. In their 1891 commercial announcements proudly announced their telephone line: number 608.

In 1907, the building was transformed and modernized by architect Hugo Dorner and the engineer Luis Bacmeister, with a remarkable metallic structure, engineering marvel, finished in only three months, satisfying the requirement of speed and modernity of the owners, in addition, the new warehouse was extended one more floor for the solace of the demanding clientele. The spacious building was 30 meters in front by 40 meters deep, carved in local quarry stone.
The building you can observe today is only a section of a larger one, corresponding to the corner of Madero and Palma. The adjoining building was demolished by ignorant pickaxe developers. What survives retains delicate details, such as the stone placrads and a kind of niche, perhaps rescued from the old building. The signs that use to be under the cornices have disappeared, but its central balcony and the extraordinary iron works, mansardes which show an outstanding French neoclassical style. The excellent foundations, engineering and materials have allowed this wonder to survive.

Mexican writer Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera evokes the doors of this establishment in his poem to the Duchess Job (who was a beautiful grissette or employee), while José de T. Cuéllar was impressed by the crinolines and lingerie sold in the famous store. In other old photographs you can observe the frenzy of carriages and pedestrians coming to their purchases. The same activity occurs on Madero street today, but its doors are now open to new firms, which splendor has to do with the beauty of this heritage building.

Mexico City: Plateros & Alcaicería st. 2017.

Further reading: Historia del comercio en México

Information sources:

  • Figueroa Domenech, Guía general descriptiva de la República Mexicana, Barcelona, 1899, vol. I.
  • Paz, Ireneo y José Ma. Tornel, Guía comercial de la Ciudad de México, 1882.
  • Silva Contreras, Mónica, "Arquitectura y materiales modernos: funciones y técnicas internacionales en la ciudad de México, 1900-1910, en INAH, Boletín de monumentos históricos, Tercera época, núm. 22, mayo agosto, 2011.