Trade Statistics for Trieste in 1783

Handelsflagge_1749-1786_OeHun

Trieste at the start of the eighteenth century was a sleepy trading village nestled along the northernmost end of the Adriatic Sea but, by the end of the century, transformed into a vibrant cosmopolitan centre of interregional and international commerce. Charting the rise of an economic hub is often difficult without data.

In the case of Trieste, trade statistics already exist which outline the volume of international trade earlier in the eighteenth century and after the turn of the nineteenth. However, our concrete knowledge of trade flows in/out of the port in the 1780s are rather limited.

Fortunately and thankfully due to a recent find by myself at the HFKH archive in Vienna, we are now able to know the exact quantities and values of these commercial transactions for 1783. In that year the new Governor of Trieste, Count Pompeo de Brigido compiled a table for the Hofkammer which detailed the entire imports and exports of the port.

The large multipage document shows the origins/destinations of goods as well as amounts and values of each product. The tabulation accrues to seventeen manuscript pages in a fine hand and features a total of 760 unique products each which must have required an extraordinary effort to complete.

However in the period when Habsburg authorities pursued the meticulous enumeration of the Monarchy, it is little wonder that such a table was produced.55 Such an impetus arose from the Cartesian logic of the Enlightenment that drove the obsession with record-keeping and statistical accounting in the financing of the state.

In order to fully contextualise the importance of the table’s data and the trade patterns which it demonstrates, I have begun collaboration with my friend Dr. Klemens Kaps who works at the Institute for Economic and Social History at the University of Vienna.

To date we have digitised the table entries into a workable format and have started work on two article-length pieces from the resulting information. Our hope is to disseminate knowledge and a full edition of the 1783 statistics in order to better facilitate the research of others on the vibrancy of Trieste as a interregional and international hub.

For my own main research agenda the discovery of the table has enabled me to detail the exact trade between Trieste and Philadelphia during the War of American Independence. Since my relevant chapter in Empires on the Edge – The Habsburg Monarchy and the American Revolution discusses the petitions of local merchants to trade with the United States and some of the earliest (illicit) endeavours, we are now able to fully understand their motivations.

One of the most profound observations from this source is that already in 1783 trade with the United States from Trieste reached 96,177fl, which combined with the total trade going to North America (including the Antilles) amounted to a total of 165,702fl. This represented an overall total of 1.20% of the total exports from the city of Trieste that year.

Although this sum may not sound very high, it is worth noting that this had already overtaken the total value and export share of the Habsburg trade to British possessions at 151,764fl (1.07%) and the Habsburg trade with India and China at 122,338fl (0.86%). I was also able to do detailed analytical work on the exact goods, their market value, and the overall proportion of goods from Trieste to North America they represented, as the table below demonstrates:

Product Name (Orig.)

Product Name (Eng.) Quantity (Tonnes) Market Value (Gulden)

% of Trieste-US Export

Acciaro

Steel 26 2,600fl

0.8%

Ferramenta lavorata

Agricultural equipment/ tools 21 6,750fl 7.0%

Ferro in ancore

Iron weights 4 480fl

0.5%

Ferro in fasci

Iron straps/strips 17.50 1,575fl

1.6%

Ferro in filati Iron rods 5.25 499fl

0.5%

Ferro in vomere e badilla

Iron ploughs and shovels 9 1,344fl 1.4%
  Total: 82.75 13,248fl

11.8%

Since the statistics are compiled already, I am hoping to expand this section into a article-length piece myself on US-Trieste or Trieste commercial activity with the Atlantic in the near future. The trade statistics have opened up a rich window into not just Triestine history but also the development of wider Mediterranean, cross-Atlantic, and even global reaches of the Habsburg Monarchy’s vital trading port. The exact listing of various goods, including for example numerous types of woods, also indicates the political economy behind such trade flows both in the Istrian region and further across Europe.


Please feel free to contact either myself or Dr. Klemens Kaps in Vienna about any questions, suggestions, or potential publication avenues related to this project.

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