Alternative currencies. Commodities and services as exchange currencies in the monetarized economies of the 13th to 18th centuries

Maryanne Kowaleski Announcement
Subject Fields
Atlantic History / Studies, Early Modern History and Period Studies, Economic History / Studies, European History / Studies, Medieval and Byzantine History / Studies

54th Study Week (May 14th-18th, 2023) of the “F. Datini" International Institute of Economic History (Prato, Italy)

Funding for travel, hotel, and meals will be made available for speakers, depending on the Institute’s financial resources. Papers that successfully pass the peer review process will be published. To submit an abstract (due 15 April 2022), go to and click on “Format for Abstract Submission”.

This conference will be devoted to the study of the importance and exact place of alternative trade practices in the pre-modern economy, concentrating attention on payments in kind or commodities and services employed as means of barter in the monetarized economies of the 13th to 18th centuries. Although monetary theory has focused mainly on credit, money of account, and real money, a striking feature of the circulation of money is that coins or paper money have not prevented payments in kind, partial or not. While this perspective on barter has been interpreted as evidence of the existence of a world of “scarce money” limited to the countryside and periods of money shortage, or as reflecting the desire of authorities to fix the value of goods, these arguments have been refuted by researchers like Laurence Fontaine (2008), Craig Muldrew (2001), and Jean-Michel Servet (1988; 1994).

These payments, partly or entirely in kind, are found in all economic activities, whether in production, markets, wages, or consumption. Production. In contracts, it was not uncommon, for example, for reused raw materials to be included and given a value, whether the materials were the rubble of the previous building or the metal of an old bell that helped to pay for making a new one. Wages. A part of many salaries could be given in food, lodging, clothing, and even tools. Some occupations were accustomed to this kind of remuneration, such as domestic servants who received clothes from their masters on top of food and lodging. In the textile and coal industries, production residues might be passed on to workers. Administrators were also be expected to pay with – and to receive - gifts, creating tensions between gifts and corruption.

Services. The aristocratic economy could fuel payments in alternative currencies because so many services were remunerated by gifts: for example, in the Grand Tour, aristocrats carried objects with them to pay for most services. In both rural and urban areas, rents could be paid in labor, transport, or by means of some maintenance work. Exchanges. In the city as in the countryside, a lack of cash could preclude the use of money, but “reciprocal exchanges” (Lambrecht, 2003) could involve partial payments in money, materials, or products. A better understanding of these practices will help craft a more nuanced economic history in which the essential role of money is balanced by a consideration of “quasi-currencies” (Lopez 1981).

Contact Information

Fondazione Istituto Internazionale di Storia Economica "F. Datini"
Via Ser Lapo Mazzei 37, I 59100 Prato - Tel. (39) 0574 604187

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