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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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).
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
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
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
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.)
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
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
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
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
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,
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,
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).
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
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
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
'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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
To Montpellier, 44 days from drawing, but from Montpellier,
45 days from drawing.
To Barcelona, 2 months from drawing, and the same from
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
To Padua, 5 days from sight, but from Padua, 10 days from
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
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
To Barcelona, 13 days from sight, and the same from
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
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
To Barcelona, 10 days from sight, and the same from
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
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
Krueger, H. G. and Reynolds, R. L., eds. Lanfranco 1202-26. 3 vols. Notai liguri del secolo XII. Genoa and Turin,
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,
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],