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Sale or gratuitous transfer? Conveyance of family estates in a manufacturing village: Lumezzane in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 December 2008

Department of Economics, University of Milan-Bicocca.


This article illustrates various characteristics of the real-estate market in Lumezzane, a village in the Lombard Prealps between the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries. It reveals the types of property sold, the objectives of the buyers and sellers, the prices paid and, in some cases, the credit arrangements undertaken. The research indicates the relationship between the credit market and the type of manufacture in the region. Particular institutions, most notably religious foundations known as the Luoghi Pii, as well as private individuals, provided capital to artisans in the absence of banks. This availability of credit at favourable rates allowed artisans to produce manufactured goods at a competitive price even in difficult economic times. The importance of industry in the region both influenced strategies of inheritance and limited the need for the type of out-migration that characterized most Alpine regions during the period.

Research Article
Copyright © 2008 Cambridge University Press

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1 The case of Lumezzane involves some topical subjects which were analysed in some sessions of the 14th International Economic History Congress (Helsinki, August 2006) and in the Settimane di Studi of the Istituto Internazionale de Storia Economica ‘F. Datini’, Prato, in 2003 and 2008.

2 On economic and demographic growth in the Gobbia Valley from the last decades of the eighteenth century to the middle of the nineteenth, see P. Tedeschi, ‘Aspetti dell'economia delle valli bresciane nell'età della Restaurazione’, in A. Leonardi ed., Aree forti e deboli nello sviluppo della montagna alpina (Trento, 2001), 205–12 and the bibliographical references quoted there.

3 Emigration as a ‘safety-valve’ for pre-industrial people living in the villages with poor agriculture, the emigration of people from the Alps, their recourse to ‘pluriactivity’ and their connections with the real-estate market are discussed in L. Trezzi, ‘In tema di storiografia dell'economia alpina’, in A. Leonardi and A. Bonoldi eds., L'economia della montagna in terna italiana: un approccio storiografico (Trento, 1999), 5–15; P. Tedeschi, ‘Autosufficienza economica, specializzazione e mobilità delle risorse umane nell'arco alpino italiano tra età moderna e contemporanea’, in D. Grange ed., L'espace alpin et la modernità: bilans et perspective au tournant du siècle (Grenoble, 2002), 61–78; and L. Mocarelli, ‘Tra sviluppo e insuccesso: i diversi percorsi economici di alcune vallate manifatturiere delle Alpi italiane centro-occidentali tra età moderna e contemporanea’, ibid., 79–90.

4 On the patterns of industrialization and development in Southern Europe, see A. Gerschenkron, Economic backwardness in historical perspective (Cambridge, 1962) and Continuity in history and other essays (Cambridge, 1968); R. Sylla and G. Toniolo eds., Patterns of European industrialization: the XIXth century (London, 1991); N. F. R. Crafts, ‘Patterns of development in XIXth century Europe’, Oxford Economic Papers (1984), 438–58; L. E. Davis and D. C. North, Institutional change and American economic growth (Cambridge, 1971); D. C. North, Structure and change in economic history (New York, 1981) and ‘Transaction costs in economic history’, Journal of European Economic History (1985), 557–76; and Ogilvie, S., ‘“Whatever is, is right?” Economic institutions in pre-industrial Europe’, Economic History Review (2007), 649–84CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 On the relations between the credit market and the real-estate market, see Béaur, G., ‘Foncier et crédit dans les sociétés préindustrielles: des liens solides ou des chaînes fragiles?’, in Annales, Histoire, Sciences, Société 6 (1994), 1411–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar; G. Postel-Vinay, La terre et l'argent: l'agriculture et le crédit en France du XVIIIe au début du XXe siècle (Paris, 1998); G. D. Piluso, ‘Terra e credito nell'Italia settentrionale nel Settecento: mercati, istituzioni e strumenti in prospettiva comparata’, in S. Cavaciocchi ed., Terra e mercato: secc. XIII–XVIII (Florence, 2004), 743–64; and P. Tedeschi, ‘Mercato immobiliare e mercato del credito nel Bresciano alla fine del Settecento’, ibid., 847–75.

6 The analysis is based on the notarial files of Domenico Seneci, one of the most important notaries in Lumezzane, who drew up wills and deeds during the 48 years from 1782 to 1839. Important data from 1777 to 1787 were also supplied by the notarial files of Carlo Seneci and, from 1797 to 1831, by those of Giovanni Battista Saleri. Additionally the Petizioni d'estimo (hereafter PE) were used. These were papers handed to the Registrar who had to write into the cadastral registers all the transfers of property: they allow knowledge of all conveyances of houses and land from 1813 to 1852. Finally registers of the Napoleonic and Austrian cadastres were analysed to ascertainthe location, size, quality and owners of real estate in the first half of the nineteenth century. Almost 3,000 contracts of purchase (including 100 barters), 350 contracts of livello and 140 gratuitous transfers, 210 wills and partitions of goods were processed. Note that the total number of properties traded (4,025) is not equal to the number of transactions analysed because in a lot of cases (more than a third) people traded more than one form of real estate in one sale (e.g. a house and a kitchen garden, a house and arable land, a meadow, a stable and a hayloft etc.). The sources of the data were the Archivio di Stato di Brescia, Archivio notarile di Brescia, Seneci Domenico, ff. 15014–22; Seneci Carlo, ff. 11950–3; Saleri Giovanni Battista, ff. 14552–7 (hereafter respectively SD, SC, SGB); Prefettura del Dipartimento del Mella, bb. 150–1; PE, bb. 145–8; Catasto Napoleonico, b. 18, regg. 1028, 1034; Catasto Austriaco, bb. 1099–14; Archivio di Stato di Milano, Catasto Lombardo-Veneto (hereafter CLV), cc. 9946–8. The following exchange rates were used: £v 1 (little Venetian lire)=£m 0.6667 (Milanese lire); 1 £m=£a 0.8811 (Austrian lire).

7 Unfortunately, cadastral data are available only from 1813 to 1852: for the previous years it was necessary to use only the prices indicated in the deeds analysed and so some mistakes are possible in the elaborated data for the Venetian and Napoleonic periods.

8 Whilst the use of cadastral values offers a quantitative assessment of the goods traded, their quality and nature could not often be ascertained: for example, there were many deeds in which it was impossible to understand whether people traded a house or only some rooms, or to know the real quality of land (indicated as arable although it may have been pasture or wood).

9 The first-level forges in the Trompia Valley smelted pig iron, purified it and made iron and steel ingots. Second-level forges in Lumezzane turned ingots into hand-manufactured iron goods. When people of the Gobbia Valley diversified their production some second-level forges also made brass goods.

10 The people of the Gobbia Valley were able to save their 52 workshops, 37 of them working iron and 15 working brass. Under the Kingdom of Lombardy and Venetia, they produced 3,000 blades for kitchen knives and as many forks, 2,000 pairs of scissors, 6,000 dozen saws of different qualities and thousands of other items of iron or brass. LP had 1,095 inhabitants in 1764, 1,310 in 1807 and 1,441 in 1835; the population of LSA rose from 1,144 in 1764 to 1,386 in 1807 and 1,955 in 1835.

11 In the Gobbia Valley there were three fulling-mills and some spinning-mills producing woollen cloth and silk yarns which were sold in the local market and in Brescia. In general their owners were relatives of craftsmen, but they sometimes also owned a forge: for example, Faustino Ghidini, who owned a textile workshop, bought a forge in February 1807 (see SD, f. 15018).

12 These sections had no specific name. Normally workshops were divided into several rooms: craftsmen produced goods for the weapons market (e.g. gun-locks, edged weapons and bayonets) in the first, tools of iron (e.g. nails, flint-locks, wires, anvils and scissors) in the second and goods of brass (e.g. kitchen knives, forks, spoons and jugs) in the third. Obviously, if workshops were small and there were only a few workers, these sections did not exist and the craftsmen changed their production according to the demands of customers.

13 Note that 98 per cent of the contracts of livello for nine years were made in the Austrian period and the one that had a duration of 20 years had the same interest rate (4 per cent) as the contracts of livello that had to be repaid after only 3 years. Moreover the contracts of livello with an interest rate of 5 per cent could have a duration of from 1 to 10 years (with one case of 50 years). Finally the contracts of livello at 6 per cent could have a duration of from 1 to 9 years and their average amount is not much different from the average amount of the contracts of livello at 5 per cent.

14 In the last decades of the eighteenth century, 50 per cent of loans in the Gobbia Valley were from £v 50 to 250 and 30 per cent from £v 250 to 450. Paying £v 250 it was possible to buy raw materials, a small lot of land or stalls and a hayloft, while £v 450 were not enough for a house with a kitchen garden or an arable land with mulberry trees or vineyards. In the Napoleonic period loans increased: almost 60 per cent of all the livelli were from £m 50 to 250, almost 25 per cent were from £m 250 to 450, 10 per cent were from £m 450 to 1,000, and 5 per cent were over £m 1,000 (the highest had an amount of almost £m 1,350.) Under the Kingdom of Lombardy and Venetia more than 50 per cent of the livelli were from £a 50 to 250, almost 25 per cent were from £a 250 to 450, and the rest were from £a 450 to 1,000.

15 Luoghi Pii helped people living in the village: they gave poor people food and clothing, and they also lent money to craftsmen and landowners.

16 On the prices of land in the province of Brescia see Tedeschi, ‘Mercato immobiliare’, 785, and I frutti negati: assetti fondiari, modelli organizzativi, produzioni e mercati agricoli nel Bresciano durante l'età della Restaurazione (1814–1859) (Brescia, 2006), 82–9, 433–4.

17 In 1835, in LP there were 436 such owners out of 1,441 inhabitants, while in LSA there were 409 owners out of 1,955 inhabitants and it is probable that before the crisis the share of people having real estate was greater. See L. Faccini ed., Agricoltura e condizioni di vita dei lavoratori agricoli lombardi, 1835–1839. Inchiesta di Karl Czoernig (Milan, 1986).

18 In their wills wealthy parents always gave to ecclesiastical institutions from a tenth to a third of their total patrimony to pay for the celebration of tens or hundreds of masses. In other cases, the heirs were obliged to pay for masses. Sometimes heirs had also to give the poor of the Gobbia Valley some money or maize. Furthermore it was also possible for a small share of a debt to be remitted by celebrating masses for the creditor's parents.

19 Only 1 per cent of traders were people who changed their residence, arriving in or leaving the Gobbia Valley (women married to people of Lumezzane or other villages or sons of artisans who did not work in the workshops of their fathers). In any case, from 1777 to 1782 LP and LSA had the same number of people who bought or sold real estate (there were about ten more in LSA) and this means that in LP the share of inhabitants who traded was larger. Moreover, the commerce in real estate in LP represented 55 per cent of the total market in the Gobbia Valley.

20 Obviously, when these realtors bought real estate the deeds provided clauses that allowed an immediate re-sale. The most important speculators lived in the low Trompia Valley (near the Gobbia Valley) and were involved in more than 100 transactions. Note that some people from the Gobbia Valley were involved in more transactions than the most important speculators.

21 Notaries such as Seneci acted as intermediaries in the credit and real-estate markets because they were able to reduce transaction costs. They advised their clients (sellers, buyers, lenders or borrowers) if the real estate was already committed to other loans and collected information on the quality of the securities of additional pledges. They were also acquainted with the credit market trend and suggested appropriate interest rates in settlement by instalments. They had some relatives who had workshops and made goods of brass; obviously they also bought and sold real estate in Lumezzane.

22 The value of estates (in £m) was 145,976 in LP (private 143,464; public 2,512) and 83,328 in LSA (private 61,016; public 22,312). See CLV, cc. 9946–8.

23 Note that in this analysis I have considered as ‘cousins’ people having the same grandfather (or grandmother) and as ‘uncles and nephews’ when traders were sons (or daughters) of brothers (or sisters) of their contractors. The number of sales between kinsmen may be incorrect: I may sometimes have considered as cousins people with the same name but without being kindred, but I may also not have included as cousins the sons of brothers and sisters because they had different surnames. Besides, the names were always the same: sons had the name of their father and his brothers, so in the third generation (also using Status animarum) it is very difficult to be sure if transactions occurred between brothers or between cousins or between uncles and nephews or finally between persons who had the same surname (and sometimes the same name) but were not relatives.

24 Moreover, in many deeds people did not explain if a lot was a chestnut wood or a meadow, so in many cases this land has had to be classified as arable land or wood. It was possible to obtain more information from the cadastral register, but the shares of chestnut woods and meadows may remain underestimated.

25 Meadows provided forage for cattle, chestnuts made a fundamental caloric contribution to the people's diet, while wood (coppiced and hard) was used not only for construction and heating but mainly to produce charcoal for the forges. They respectively represented 35, 2 and 51 per cent of the cadastral surface of the Gobbia Valley.

26 A wood situated near the forges of LP (in the lower Gobbia Valley) or LSA (in the high Gobbia Valley) was evaluated to three times the value of a wood in Montagnone (a hamlet in the north of the Gobbia Valley). Furthermore houses situated in LP had an average cadastral value higher than those in LSA, and real estate situated in Piatucco (the centre of the Gobbia Valley) had a cadastral value higher than in Montagnone.

27 The following were the outputs of one hectare (ha.) of cultivated land under the Kingdom of Lombardy and Venetia: wheat, from 4.5 to 9 hl.; maize, from 10.5 to 22.5 hl. One ha. of arable land with vineyards could produce from 6 to 9 quintals (q.) of grapes. People used 800 kg. of mulberry leaves for the breeding of one ounce of silkworm eggs and obtained 40 kg. of cocoons. One ha. of meadows was able to produce from 19.5 to 44.5 q. of hay; one ha. of chestnut wood could produce from 6.5 to 15 hl. of chestnuts; one ha. of coppice could produce from 148 to 320 q. of wood and from 158 to 329 hl. of charcoal. All the data concerning the production of goods were probably underestimated to elude Austrian taxes, although this does not change the ratio (from 50 to 70 per cent) compared with the productivity of lands on the plains. For more detailed information on cultivated fields and their yields in the Gobbia Valley see CLV, ‘Notizie generali territoriali del distretto di Gardone’ and ‘Distretto di Gardone. Nozioni agrarie di dettaglio dei comuni di LP e LSA’, 1826–1829, c. 12193; Tedeschi, ‘Aspetti dell'economia delle valli’, 192–9, 206–10, 213–15. On the underestimation of real estate in the cadastral data and the yields in the plain see Tedeschi, I frutti negati, 225–8, 460–3.

28 It is possible to calculate the ratio between the price of the real estate and its cadastral value for the Austrian period. If a piece of real estate, for example a house, had a ratio different from other houses, its price was considered higher (or lower) than the ‘average’ (naturally this is not an ‘effective average price’). In any case it was possible to specify some instances: in the Austrian period two mills were sold at £a 1,060 and 1,475, while the prices of forges were between £a 1,950 and £a 6,500 (including a coal cellar). Prices of haylofts were between 100 or 200 £a., whilst the prices of the most expensive houses amounted to 2,750 £a. (but at the beginning of the nineteenth century a large house was sold at a price of £v 6,650, that is more than £a 3,900).

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