<italic>Het Tapissierspand</italic>: Interpreting the Success of the Antwerp Tapestry Market in the 1500s
During the 1550s, a warehouse was constructed in Antwerp with funds from both the city government and a private investor. This building, the Tapissierspand, became the global center for selling and distributing tapestries of extraordinary beauty, exquisite craftsmanship, and exorbitant cost. The construction of the building indicates that the very nature of how tapestries were made and purchased was changing in the 1550s. Although Antwerp's fairs had long been convenient locations for agents to find luxury items that might please their wealthy clients, like with many luxury trades, tapestry sales were shifting from strictly commissioned sales to include on spec sales. The Tapissierspand was the ideal place for a dealer to purchase multiple already-made tapestries and load them onto the waiting ships in Antwerp's busy harbor for export and resale abroad. The city's export registers document that thousands of yards of tapestry were shipped this way.
The regulatory environment in Antwerp was much less strict than in other cities and this permitted freer interactions within guilds and across industries. The city was for this reason a desirable location for craftsmen to work and sell. But because the strict royal ordinances delivered throughout the 1530s and 1540s were frequently uninforced, workers in the industry were forced to find other ways to manage the large risk inherent in the tapestry trade. The development of the Tapissierspand in Antwerp was an effort on the part of merchants and the city to abate risk. The city could continue to entice merchants if it could provide the right opportunities and environment. However, by the sixteenth century, the constant hyper-vigilance the city had experienced throughout the fifteenth century during frequent times of war and financial difficulty shaped the way the city and its occupants viewed business. In a large sense, everything came down to risk, and how to manage it and minimize it.
At a time of upheaval and mismanagement, survival and financial success through the reduction of risk became of primary importance. Tapestry weaving carried inherent--and large--risks. Raw materials were expensive, and workshops often did not have the capital needed for on spec weaving. The purchase of on spec tapestries without any guarantees of quality or origin was risky for buyers. Thus the Tapissierspand's story is one of people seeking to maximize economic advantage and minimize risk. The Tapissierspand allowed buyers and sellers to minimize risk by facilitating exchange of knowledge, assessment of quality, negotiation of prices and commissions, and extension of credit.
This dissertation will examine the historical precedents in Antwerp that allowed the Tapissierspand to develop, and the ways in which the Pand functioned to expand trade while reducing risk for both buyers and sellers by reducing the risks inherent in the industry.
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