The searching of cloths
CLOTHS after leaving the cottage of the weaver were the subject of up to half-a-dozen transactions between successive merchants and might travel hundreds of miles before reaching their ultimate consumer perhaps far in the interior of the continent, the itinerary taking some months. At its end, cloths were sometimes found to be imperfect in one way or another — lacking in size or weight, uneven in texture, disfigured by holes, or overstretched so that they shrank when wet. How was the distant wearer to bring home these defects to the manufacturer? One answer to the problem lay in the efficacy of the open market, where there was no lack of competition and reputations were free to rise or fall. The manufacturer might be identified by the mark which it was customary for him to put on every piece he sold or had woven. Cloth marks were made obligatory by a statute of 1536.50 They were a valuable species of property, sometimes sold or bequeathed. In the sixteenth century, broadcloths or kerseys carrying the mark of Thomas Spring of Lavenham or John Winchcombe of Newbury commanded a premium on the foreign market;51 half-a-dozen generations later pieces identified as the handiwork of a particularly skilful clothmaker were carefully noted at Aleppo by the factors of the City firm of Radcliffe, so that more might be ordered. But the chain of ownership was too lengthy to enable slipshod or deceitful workmanship easily to be brought home to the manufacturer.
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