Global Commodities in Early Modern Spain

  • Nadia Fernández-de-Pinedo
Open Access
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Comparative Global History book series (PASTCGH)


In this particular case study, a fiscal source had provide the information to study the effects of income distribution on consumption and demand in mid-eighteenth-century Madrid. As a result of centuries of relations between East and West, Madrid exhibits the dynamics of consumption of an imperial capital served by products from every corner of the world. Many of these overseas products played a central role as social markers, especially in urban populations. However, what we can infer from the data is the evidence of a well-defined stratified purchase where each social class underscores a particular pattern of consumption and a moderate spread of certain commodities among the middle classes.

1 Introduction

The eighteenth century exemplifies the coexistence of continuity and change, both of which can be attributed to several centuries of maritime and colonial expansion. Trade during this era revolved around food (potatoes, 1 haricot beans, sweetcorn, tobacco, sugar, bananas, tomatoes and turkeys), stimulants (cocoa, coffee and tea), 2 dyes and fabrics (cotton, cochineal, 3 indigo and brazilwood), fauna (turkeys, horses and chickens) and timber (mahogany). Over time, this abundance of commodities reached societies all over the world, thus helping to cultivate varied tastes. American commodities (chili, pepper and peanuts) were quickly adopted by Chinese society (Baghdiantz 2015: 77–78), channelled through maritime and overland routes by Portuguese and Spanish trade, and then further traded by the East Indian Companies (the EIC and the VOC). 4 Because they provided more calories per unit of agricultural land, required less water to grow and could better survive bad weather conditions than wheat or rice (Jia 2014: 93), sweet potatoes and maize were introduced rapidly in some areas of Asia. However, not all products followed the same rhythm or pace; maize and even potatoes were much slower to be adopted and consolidated as common staples in Africa (McCann 2001) and Europe (Nunn and Qian 2011; Fernández de Pinedo 1974).

Paintings reflect the social reshaping of this period. Oriental porcelain vessels, as well as the oriental folding screens that proliferated, show new beverages such as tea or chocolate being consumed (Dobado-González 2014)—a consequence of the material effects of colonialism (DuPlessis 2016). Fine, bright fabrics became desirable and were purchased not only in the cores of the empires, such as Madrid, Paris or London, but also in small towns, creating connections and new structures for shopping. As people sought to keep up appearances with these new products, luxuries (whether imports or home copies) and items that were simply new affected the demands of domestic settings not only in Europe but also all over the world.

Measuring this impact is not an easy task because there are many variables to consider. Mapping the diffusion of goods and trends is a complex challenge. We must remember that each country, and even each region, was a part of diverse, complex socioeconomic and cultural networks. A noble could take a cup of chocolate in a porcelain pot in Paris while a landowner in La Havana ate bread made from Castilian flour with cutlery from Sheffield and china from Mexico, but did these habits have the same connotations? Income availability, climate (the arrival of cold or heat), religion (holidays that affected working days, fasting and bans on food); 5 access to international networks (geographical proximity, merchants and peddlers); 6 periods of peace and war, drivers of changes in fashion (courts, ambassadors, nobility and traders), culture (shopping baskets that differed from region to region), 7 diasporas (Armenians, Jews) 8 all of these factors determined how gradually or rapidly products penetrated markets and fostered consumer habits. Whether intended or unintended, the cultural consequences of trade on consumption patterns are important.

Explaining the spread of consumption as part of the advent of industrialization in Europe is not the purpose of this chapter. In the last few decades, as mentioned by the editors of this book, we have seen the proliferation of numerous scholars and research groups seeking to measure, quantify and compare levels of income and consumption across countries, regions or societies to establish comparisons and long-term patterns. As Ogilvie has noted (2010), it does not appear that all of Europe followed the same rhythm during this process, and some economies, from East to West, could have experimented with earlier institutional, social and economic changes that allowed all social classes to foster demand (Pérez García 2017). However, this phenomenon did not necessarily occur in all countries, and neither did the so-called Industrious revolution advocated by Jan de Vries (De Vries 1994). A compelling debate is still in progress. 9 This is an ongoing field of research that requires reconstructing series of prices, nominal wages and real wages; scholars are still reporting on the evolution of these variables in different regions. Subsequently, in the near future we should have a clearer picture of this long and heterogeneous process of the globalization of consumption.

What seems beyond question is that no single pattern of consumption can be identified. In reality, the changes in each city were unique and the wealthier classes were—to a large extent—the forerunners in terms of access to new products (Fernandez-de-Pinedo and Thépaut-Cabasset 2017), at least until the mid-eighteenth century. It is precisely this last factor that we want to investigate—not so much the supply side, but rather we want to delve into the real demands of the urban classes. In this sense, Spain had the advantage of being the nexus of a broader network that had connected America, Asia and Europe since the end of the fifteenth century and had allowed the circulation of goods under an imperial structure. Its significance goes beyond the so-called Columbus exchange (Crosby 2003), the environmental impact (McNeill 1999) or the state-centred interpretations. Madrid, as the administrative centre of the kingdom, hosted a significant number of high-nobility members, top officers, and civil servants and merchants who were among the wealthiest inhabitants of the country and therefore were avid consumers of the latest fads and novelties.

As Belfanti (2008) has noted, the same desire for newness—and the penchant for challenging tradition through developing a taste for change—can also be found in Asia thanks to favourable economic conditions. 10 However, the process of globalization, in the sense of a gradual but permanent adoption of novelties, seems to be more evident in some regions of Europe than in Asia. Therefore, we attempt to offer a small picture of one European city, Madrid, which was characterized by high average incomes and contact with the court and new trends. With the highest per capita income among contemporary Spanish urban areas and also the most extreme differences among social groups, Madrid also helps to illuminate the preferences of the upper classes, providing the information we need to study the effects of income distribution on consumption and demand.

The source that allows us to obtain a real picture of the shopping baskets of Madrid’s wealthy is a tax that recorded a series of products that—when introduced into the city of Madrid by consumers—were duty-free. These products did not require the payment of the taxes usually levied on their consumption, the extent of which is certainly underestimated. In this sense, our fiscal source offers a new window onto the ways in which new products and fashionable goods interfered in luxury networks throughout eighteenth-century Spain. Additionally, we can explore consumers’ preferences for particular commodities linked with long-distance colonial-trade, such as sugar, luxury items such as porcelain china, or expensive and lavish commodities.

This chapter is part of a broader study on consumption in Madrid, a large city in the south of Europe. Therefore, we only can provide a brief discussion in these pages.

2 Source, Commodities and Consumers

Studies of material culture have traditionally depended on the evidence contained in probate inventories (van der Woude and Schuurman 1980), partitions of goods and a wide variety of tax documents. 11 ‘Post-mortem’ criticisms of inventories have already been described on numerous occasions (Yun-Casalilla 1999; Riello 2006). In particular, the representativeness of samples, both socially and geographically, has been discussed, as they only provide an approximation of consumption (Spufford 1999) and suffer from certain omissions, especially regarding property. They also lack detail in their descriptions of some commodities. While recognizing the relevance of inventories, in this study we have used a fiscal source that has the advantage of containing reliable data on actual purchases over a period of three years. The document is a tax called the décima (the tenth) (Fernández-de-Pinedo 2009), which was levied exceptionally 12 to finance the War of Jenkins’ Ear against England. The tax, which would end once the specified amount was fully settled, was collected in different ways according to the agreements reached in each location. 13 In the particular case of Madrid, because the Big Five Guilds advanced the king the amount expected to be collected in each town, they were in charge of collections through the entrance gates of the city. A series of items or products that were introduced for personal consumption were taxed at approximately 10% of their value. Therefore, this was an indirect tax on personal consumption and serves as a reliable and accessible source for the study of consumption and distribution.

The 3,819 persons noted on the records from 1741 to 1743 have been classified according to their status and category (Fig. 1). What percentage of the population is represented in this sample? Madrid, according to the census of outsiders, had 111,268 inhabitants in 1742, while Estrada calculated the population at 109,550 for the year 1748, which was then criticized by Velarde (1752: 272) as being inaccurate. However, Isla (1987: 169) estimated 133,677 inhabitants for the period 1740–1744, a similar figure to that given by Carbajo, who estimated 130,000 for 1740 (Nieto Sánchez 2006: 86). In view of these data, our sample covers between 2.9 and 3.5% of Madrid’s population, a considerable sample in any case. As each person was introducing not only products for himself or herself, but also goods for the whole household (wife, husband, children and servants), from textiles to furniture, the sample actually includes more people than the 3819 persons noted. If we think in terms of households instead of individuals, the sample is significant.
Fig. 1

Classification by record registered and social status

Bearing in mind the types of products that were recorded, it is doubtful that the disadvantaged classes could afford to buy many of these goods, especially the so-called colonials, furniture and silk products; therefore, it can be deduced that those who were introducing these goods were the wealthier classes and thus that this sample reflects the consumption habits of the well-to-do and middle classes of Madrid. The wealthiest are probably the best represented, as not everyone owned estates around Madrid or had the resources to go to fairs to purchase these goods. This ‘large middle class’ introduced 450 different products to the capital, including clothing, food and beverages, as well as housing.

3 Colonial Household Purchases in Madrid: From America to Asia

As households in urban areas are not self-sufficient (Overton et al. 2004), the needs of family members must be met through purchases from the market. Compared to households in rural areas, the demands of urban households are much more varied and expensive in terms of income availability. How varied and cosmopolitan were these Madrid households in the mid-eighteenth century? Thanks to this fiscal source, we can take a closer look at real demand over a three-year period and create a partial snapshot of the shopping basket of durable and semi-durable goods. If we leave out ambassadors, charitable foundations, the church and the crown, which together represent 1.4% of all persons recorded, we have three household profiles: nobility, middle upper class and middle lower class.

At a glance, two significant facts stand out (see Table 1). First, a higher percentage of members of the middle upper class 14 were avoiding shops or merchants within town, as they are highly represented in the sample. Second, ‘luxury food’ and textiles were the two most-introduced items. Although many products were of national origin, Madrid, due to its colonial history, had close ties with America and Asia, and tastes were therefore shaped by these connections.
Table 1

Per Capita/Per Year purchases by social groups in pounds (weight)

Social status































Middle upper class








Middle lower class







Source author’s own elaboration based on AGS, Tribunal Mayor de Cuentas, leg. 1862

aSpices include saffron, pepper, cinnamon, ginger, anise, clove, nutmeg or Indian rosewood oil

In the foodstuffs category, which accounts for 37.3% of all records, the dominant sub-category is confectionary, which includes all types of related foods such as honey, jellies, syrups, orange blossoms and pastries; there is an emphasis on sweets (crystallised fruit made with sugar), colonial stimulants (coffee, tea and especially chocolate), sugar in all its forms, and spices or condiments. Spain’s status as an empire and a colonial power had a clear influence on dietary changes and the standardization of the intake of certain products. In general, ambassadors ordered a variety of goods ranging from fabrics in silk, wool and linen (shirts, taffeta, velvet scarves, ready-made clothing and canvas), spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, tea, pepper and chocolate) and miscellaneous objects (glasses, glass, straps for horses and blue powder). Their shopping basket indicates nobility and probably reflects new trends in fashion and tastes, as this group undoubtedly comprised fashion leaders who were also representatives of their own domestic industry. If we look specifically at the Dutch ambassador, he bought a large volume of spices: 112 kilos (or 247 lb) of spices and beverages, which is 37.3 kilos per year. The Dutch still controlled the international spice trade, so they indirectly promoted spices through their meals, aside from the fact that using spices was one of their habits. Even if French cuisine was influencing cooking at the time, spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and pepper—which were typical of medieval cuisine—were still in use. The Comtesse d’Aulnoy (Aulnoy 1874, 1: 475) noted that the meats served in the Spanish court were flavoured or filled with peppers and spices. What is striking is that the Dutch ambassador, who was the only person buying tea (14 kilos in three years), purchased an even higher quantity of chocolate (34 kilos). It seems that the diplomat had acquired the Spanish habit of accompanying breakfast and afternoon gatherings with chocolate, which was essential in any wealthy dwelling in Madrid. As a general trend, it is noticeable that even if the sample is small in number—nine representatives from France, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Sardinia, Venice and Malta—it reflects a different pattern of consumption (Table 1). There is a clear preference for sweet things over savoury ones among the Spanish population, whereas the diplomats from abroad expressed a taste for savoury and spicy things. In this sense, culture also matters. If there was a previous preference for or familiarity with sweet things, as was the case in the Iberian Peninsula (see Table 1), it would be easier to include new sweetened foodstuffs such as chocolate than sharp or savoury products such as tea, coffee or spices. Northern European countries, in this sense, had a distinct taste for spices. The recipe for chocolate reflects this tendency: no pepper (Stobart 2013: 35) or ginger was added in Spain, but cinnamon and vanilla were gladly used to season cocoa.

Tea, coffee and cocoa (Dobado-Gonzalez 2015: 39), each originating from a different continent, were soon introduced to European diets. However, in Spain until the late eighteenth century, chocolate was the leading product. For Sophie and Michael Coe, Spain was a nation of chocolate drinkers (Coe and Coe 2007: 203), just as England was a nation of tea drinkers. 15 Some authors suggest that chocolate became popular in the seventeenth century because women and clergy in America were fond of it and quickly spread the habit to cities (Martínez Llopis 1995: 199). Chocolate spread from the Aztecs and Mayas to the elites of Europe.

According to statistical data provided by Ronald R. Hussey (1962) on ships that arrived in Spain with cocoa, it seems that there is no positive correlation between the dates of consumption of certain colonial products and the arrival of these goods in America. Few ships delivered cocoa in November or December. However, a considerable portion of colonial products was consumed around Christmas and remained stored for a long time, despite the costs of storage, the immobilization of capital and the risks of deterioration. There were multiple causes of spoilage and loss. Hence, the aforementioned reasons for the rebound in the prices of these goods were still dominant at this time.

The leading purchasers of cocoa were the nobility (6.5 lb/3 kilos), and especially noble women, who purchased 8.9 lb (or 4 kilos) of cocoa per capita per year, followed of course by the clergy 16 (4.94 lb/2.3 kilos) and the middle upper class (3.19 lb/1.5 kilos). The combination of cocoa’s psychoactive qualities, its status as a great source of energy and heat, and its close relationship with leisure 17 undoubtedly had much to do with its spread compared to coffee or tea. Although compared to coffee or tea, chocolate 18 has fewer stimulating effects, it also has a strong nutritional profile, which made it very appealing to the whole Catholic world. As liquids did not break the fast, chocolate substituted for food during Lent. In this way, it became the indispensable drink in Catholic countries such as Spain and Italy (Schivelbusch 1995: 110–111), just as coffee was for the Islamic world. 19 Banning certain aliments in the Catholic (meat during Lent) or Muslim (alcohol and pork) worlds had important consequences for the shopping basket and promoted substitutions and mixed menus. In any case, our data highlight that the clergy took the lead in chocolate purchases, followed by the middle upper class.

Kinship and gift 20 exchanges jointly played an important role. Giving gifts of food was standard practice, such as delivering food to a monastery, to congregations or even to individuals during certain festivities—these practices were not unusual among royalty. Giving food was also common at weddings or religious professions. According to our source, Don Francisco Gonzalez gave 1,453 lb of cocoa as gifts 21 and Don Joseph Larrategui gave 9,000 lb of chocolate, one-third being a gift from the Consulate.

According to the recipes of Didier (Coe and Coe 2007: 163), preparing chocolate in Spain required one pound of fine sugar for every two pounds of cocoa. In the Seminario de Nobles of Madrid, 22 similar proportions of cocoa and sugar were used: for each pound of cocoa, 0.477 lb of sugar were added. At the end of the eighteenth century, Antonio Lavedan (1796: 217 and 219) noted that one-third or half a pound of sugar must be added.

On the streets of Madrid, a wide variety of stalls proliferated that sold chocolate in bowls. This was particularly true after 1730, when the Real Compañía Guipuzcoana de Caracas began to ship cocoa from the port of La Guaira to Spain. Philip V argued that one reason to grant the monopoly to this company was to crack down on smuggling and to remedy the shortage of cocoa the metropole was suffering, as it had become very fond of chocolate. 23 At that time in Spain, Madrid had more chocolate grinders 24 than any other city in the country; in 1772 there were approximately 150. As Norton notes, ‘the migration of the habit of consuming chocolate led to the transmission of intercultural tastes’. 25 Some spices, such as vanilla, cinnamon and pepper, also spread rapidly, as they were linked with chocolate consumption and its varied recipes. Chocolate was not only consumed as a drink but also as a condiment in dishes, as seen in Brian’s Dictionnaire. 26

Estimating sugar consumption 27 is difficult because we must take into account not only imports of sugar in all its forms but also the amount of sugar added to chocolate and other products. Sugar had long been used as a condiment in the kitchen: in beverages, in confectionery industries, in pastry, in distilleries, in the manufacture of rum and beer, and as an adulterant of snuff. Although Spain grew sugar cane in the metropolis, Spanish tariff policy favoured sugar production in the colonies over national production until 1862. Our source helps us appreciate the range of types of sugar used in the early eighteenth century, as it specifically lists ten different forms, including sugar candy, sugar crust, pink sugar, rock sugar, sugar foam, sugar loaf and sugar foil. As in the case of cocoa, sugar was in demand, especially among ecclesiastics, nobles and the middle class, and was imported mainly from Cuba. Only small amounts were recorded from southern Spain and from France.

Because Spain lacked refineries, once sugar as a commodity was developed in Cuba, there was no choice but to install refineries soon afterwards. This lack of interest on the part of the metropolis in imitating its direct competitors (Britain and France) and the lack of initiative to promote the cultivation of sugar cane in Spain are both surprising for two reasons. 28 First, of all European countries, only Spain, along with neighbouring Portugal, had an adequate climate for cultivating sugar cane in the metropolis itself (Hugill 1993: 59). Second, fiscal policy governed metropolitan agriculture. Since 1719 (Canga Argüelles 1826: 144–145), the tax affecting sugar from southern Spain had increased, making the crop unprofitable, while imports of West Indian sugar were favoured. The Spanish tariff policy was designed to promote domestic agriculture for exportation to the colonies, and perhaps for that reason it did not sufficiently support the development of a domestic sugar industry until the 1862 tariff, by which point a barrier had been established against colonial sugar in favour of peninsular sugar. Another important fact to consider when studying sugar consumption is the presence of competitors such as honey. 29 In Catholic countries, where the amount of wax required to illuminate churches, in addition to homes, was significant, honeycomb proliferated. Consequently, honey abounded and the lower classes probably took longer to include sugar in their habits; at least until the price decreased enough for the lower classes to purchase it, sugar was not a basic food. 30 Table 1 shows the differences among social classes, from the 14 lb/6.3 kilos per year of the clergy to the 6.8 lb/3 kilos of the nobles or even the 4.2 lb/1.9 kilos of the middle upper class to the barely 0.8 lb/0.4 kilos of the middle lower class.

What is striking is that there is a market seasonality in the purchase of foodstuffs, especially in November and December. Of all annual holidays, Christmas is the most important (from 24 December), and the various social classes made great efforts to purchase the typical foodstuffs, especially sweets, available at that time of year. If we include consumption during January (Epiphany is 6 January), which represents 7.6% of purchases, three months accounted for more than half of the purchases of colonial products during the entire year.

4 Content and Containers

The high degree of social contact between the Spanish peninsula and the Spanish colonies favoured not only the transmission of new staples but also new forms of crockery and table manners. Each beverage is associated with its own material culture (Sherratt 2007a: 13). For example, accompanying imported cocoa we find lacquered gourds or pumpkins that were customarily used to drink it. Gradually, Europeans substituted American gourds for Spanish ceramics and Chinese porcelain (Table 2). Imitations spread, as Mexican porcelain imitated ‘China’ teacups, although with limited success.
Table 2

Items from China introduced in Madrid for personal consumption, 1741–1743














2 (a)


Ebony small box









Gourd with plates







Large bowl/taza grande



Large earthenware jar with top/tíbor con tapas



Monicongos de Chinac



Saucer (common, small)/platillos



Saucer and gourd




Several items/piezas

72 (b)


Small earthenware jar/orzas



Small bowl/pocillos



Sugar bowl













Source author’s own elaboration based on AGS, Tribunal Mayor de Cuentas, leg. 1862

Note (a) 1 set was introduced by the Marquis of Ensenada, 1 set was a coffee set bought by Francisco Barquinero; (b) two entries did not mention the amount or quantity

cWe cannot be certain what items are referred to here. Some definitions in Pariente (1973: 93–94) and even Cervantes in his masterpiece Don Quixote mentioned monicongo as: ‘Nombre del soberano y los súbditos del Reino Congo, en las orillas del Zaire; frente a los otros negros africanos, se decía que eran muy agudos y hablaban “por metáforas y circunloquios exquisito”. Sin embargo no se deben descuidar las resonancias del moni- inicial.’

The demand for stimulant beverages was also accompanied by the purchase of at least 252 bowls and dishes for drinking hot chocolate, as well as 24 crystal glasses. The purchase of chocolate pots and utensils, such as bowls (jícaras), was dominant in Spain compared to tea and coffee pots due to the non-existent, or at least limited, culture of tea-drinking during this period.

Changes in diet implied changes in social customs and tastes (Overton et al. 2004: 120). Decorative elements used to serve new beverages began to proliferate among the upper classes, including linen tablecloths (Weatherill 1796: 159) and table napkins. 31 In Madrid, we can find, above all, tablecloths from La Maestranza and also from France. These were required only by the nobility and middle upper class, as no member of the middle lower class introduced any of these goods. Therefore, we can appreciate that the two middle classes had different shopping baskets. Also striking is the role of gender in these types of purchases. As a general trend, women tend to concentrate their purchases a bit more than men, especially in category of ‘Clothes and Articles for personal use’. Looking at the nobility, only noble women introduced tablecloths or table napkins because no men demanded them, in contrast to the middle upper class, whose men introduced the greater proportion of table linens. Moreover, women from the middle lower class only introduced items from three categories—‘Food’, ‘Clothes and Articles for personal use’ and ‘Household goods’—while among the nobility there seems to be a certain equality in the products that both sexes introduced. Depending on their social class, women seem to exercise a greater or lesser influence on shopping, which is probably linked to income availability or access to their dowries, particularly among the nobility.

America provided sugar and chocolate and Asia provided a complete set of dishes (see Table 2). The attraction of Asian porcelain not only gave a boost to imports but, as Dobado-Gonzalez notes, also fuelled imitation—from the lowest to the highest quality—under the auspices of almost every European state (Dobado-González 2014: 19–20) until the eighteenth century.

In general, the products of Chinese origin in our source that were demanded by the nobility and middle upper class seem to be utilitarian items for domestic use (crockery, bowls, plates and even cutlery), for the consumption of chocolate (gourds) or for storage, display or drinking from jars and vases (búcaros and tibores). The latter were highly appreciated in Spain for their technical and decorative qualities. 32

The large earthenware items with tops (tíbor) 33 were made of high-quality porcelain and came in sets. They were widely used to decorate rooms, corridors and chapels, and ranged in size between 12 cm and 1.2 m high (Obregon 1964: 294). Those entering Madrid might be from the K’ien Lug period (1735–1795). The (búcaros) ceramic ware or so-called Indian earthenware ‘of an extremely fine and light paste, brown, red or chocolate colour’ (Burty 1869: 132) was highly appreciated by the elites in Spain. A display of elite through Chinese porcelain (Burty 1869, 131–173) was used not only as mere decoration but also in daily life, in gathering afternoons or dinners (Riello and Gerritsen 2015: 112). Inviting guests to one’s home allowed the owner to show off not only the quality of one’s food but also how it was served and where; all of this revealed the status and educational level of the host.

The majority of the products noted as coming from the East were linked to the kitchen-household. Only toys, an ebony box, and fans are not enshrined in the crockery framework. Only two fans from Asia are recorded, even though these accessories were in ever-increasing demand for everyday use. Although in Chinese culture both sexes used fans, in Europe only women utilized these precious accessories, especially up to 1660, due to their rich decoration and materials. Print culture in fan decoration was in vogue, and artists signed their paintings. In Spain, fan iconography used decorative motifs inspired by the Bible or mythology, although rustic scenes and exotic designs were also gaining ground (Restauración 2015: 112 and 115).

Therefore, fans were very popular gifts (Avery, Calaresu and Laven 2015: 135). Until the eighteenth century, fans 34 were more of an upper-class item, essential at any social event. As demand rose in Europe and America, China started to produce fans specifically for exportation, thus competing with the European fan-making industry (Werlin 2016: 98). Chinese common fans had leaves made of paper or fabric and sticks of bamboo or other fragrant woods, while the most luxurious fans were made of ivory, nacre or whalebone sticks. Fans are a traditional cross-cultural and global item; they could combine East and West when the ivory of the sticks came from Asia and the leaves from European textiles or paper. Fans could have several lives due to their construction, as the paper, silk and taffeta could be replaced when the sticks were made of high-quality materials such as ivory or bone (one exception was a type of folding fan, the folding brisé fan, in fashion in the early eighteenth century—Blanco and Doering 2016: 1:8). Consequently, as Maxine Berg (2004: 126) pointed out, ‘Asian commodities were especially admired as luxuries’, the craftsmanship being skilfully appealed and imitated profusely.

5 Concluding Remarks: Global Products

Trading networks among Europe, Asia and America modified the habits of Europeans. Exotic luxuries were selectively adopted, and they spread with varying degrees of intensity depending on a series of factors, as discussed above. In this sense, the colonizers of territories determined the distribution of certain products. In the words of Bartolomé Yun-Casalilla (1999), this cross-cultural exchange was not always peaceful; it could be violent, sometimes leading to the imposition of hybrid habits and societies (Gruzinski 2001: 113). Most of the so-called colonial products were promoted by their respective governments in the form of monopolies and later by fiscal 35 incentives or disincentives, not only in the metropole or the empire itself, but also outside the former home network. Psychoactive substances in general—wine, tobacco, opium, tea, coffee and cocoa—were socially and economically important, from their indigenous origins to their worldwide consumption. Early on, states discovered the significant value of these products in terms of fiscal revenue and establishing monopolies (Sherratt 2007b: 8). Such products were first received with hostility and suspicion, as they were associated with vices and bad habits. Therefore, taxing these goods was—up to a certain point—seen as natural and understandable.

The diffusion of new commodities in Europe followed two distinctive routes. The first was related to half-finished products such as silk, cotton, cocoa and sugar—that is, products that required a second transformation in order to be consumed (refining, grinding or stamping) and for which the cost of transport affected final prices. The diffusion of these commodities was generally linked to a trickle-down effect, taking into account that their spread was more correlated with price than with need. The second group included products such as seeds (maize, potato, tomato, wheat and pepper) and animals (horses, chickens and turkeys), which were linked to the diets of the lower strata of society and were easily adapted to the climate and soils of Europe. Here, the freightage and cost of transport had a limited impact, but the products had a wide impact from an economic point of view.

Throughout the eighteenth century, many of these overseas products played a central role as social markers, especially in urban populations (Thépaut-Cabasset 2010). Madrid offers a good example of changes in material practice and cultural dynamics. Looking at tastes, clothing and household goods, we can map the origins of products that were in demand in Madrid. Cocoa was imported specifically from Caracas 36 and sugar from Cuba, while chocolate quickly became fashionable in the high society of the Iberian Peninsula. Coffee and tea took much longer to become popular in comparison to Northern Europe. From China especially, crockery such as teapots, vases, plates, cups and drinking bowls, as well as fans and bedspreads, were integrated into sociability and fashionable displays. Domestic rituals of drinking chocolate, dressing fashionably and showing off particular objects such as table clocks or porcelain and gourds framed social life and hierarchies, and were symbols of respectability.

Many patterns of consumption in the first half of the eighteenth century were the result of centuries of relations between East and West. In the words of Gruzinski, they were a result of ‘les mondes mêlés de la monarchie’ in the case of the Iberian World (Gruzinski 2001: 113). European cultural patterns were no longer exclusively European, but rather global, as nations were part of international networks and were agents and representatives not only of their domestic industries but also of colonial industries, reflecting national consumption. However, the consumption of certain commodities 37 was higher in urban areas due to contact with other influences and the cultural habits of travellers, merchants and foreigners (Pérez-García 2013). According to our source, in early eighteenth-century Madrid, each social class highlights a particular pattern of consumption. Even within the upper class, some purchasing differences can be noted according to income levels, as shown in our comparison of the middle upper class and middle lower class. Therefore, we cannot confirm that colonial products such as chocolate, sugar or porcelain were consumed at a global scale in Madrid in the first half of the eighteenth century. Even if cultural models of consumption privileged some exotic commodities over others, Madrid exhibits the dynamics of consumption of an imperial capital served by products from every corner of the world (Fernández de Pinedo and Fernández de Pinedo 2013).


  1. 1.

    The potato was not widely traded until the end of the eighteenth century.

  2. 2.

    Tea was imported to Europe from China and the most reputed and expensive cochinchin was imported from Japan Savary Des Bruslons, Dictionnaire universel de commerce, contenant tout ce qui concerne le commerce qui se fait dans les quatre parties du monde. (A–E), 1: 1118.

  3. 3.

    See Marichal Salinas’ chapter in this book.

  4. 4.

    Berg 2004; Parthasarathi 2001; Prakash 1998; Riello and Parthasarthi 2009; Riello and Gerristsen 2015; Souza 2005.

  5. 5.

    García-Zuñiga, ‘Fêtes Chômées et Temps de Travail En Espagne (1250–1900)’

  6. 6.

    Pérez-García, ‘Vicarious Consumers’. Trans-National Meetings between the West and East in the Mediterranean World (1730–1808), 196.

  7. 7.

    Robert C. Allen has reopened a line of investigation by constructing several standardized consumption baskets, taking into account daily caloric and protein intake that can facilitate international comparisons (Allen, Bengtsson, and Dribe 2005). In Spain, numerous studies have revealed patterns of consumption, life styles and standards of living that are allowing precise comparisons within the European framework. These studies fall along a broad spectrum and analyse many different themes. We can only point out a small sample of all the works and topics being done in recent years such as the influence of taxation on consumption and prices, standards of living as reflected in shopping baskets and wages (Calderón et al. 2017; Llopis and García 2011; Llopis Agelán et al. 2009; Dobado-González 2015; López Losa 2013; Feliu 2014), consumption of textiles (Yun-Casalilla and Torras Elias, 1999), tobacco (Meléndez, Ferri, and Laforet, 2000), fish (López Losa and Piquero 2006), wheat (Bernardos 2003), distribution and commercial networks (Pérez-García 2013; Fernandez-de-Pinedo and Fernández de Pinedo 2013), meat (Bernardos 1997; Hernández Franco 1981), bread (Caro López 1987) or the second hand markets (López Barahona and Nieto Sanchez 2012) and much more.

  8. 8.

    Baghdiantz McCabe, Harlaftis, and Minoglou, Diaspora Entrepreneurial Networks; Baghdiantz McCabe, A History of Global Consumption, 129; Ogilvie and Carus, ‘Institutions and Economic Growth in Historical Perspective’; Baena Zapatero and Lamikiz, ‘Presencia de Una Diáspora Global’.

  9. 9.

    For example, the volume 33(1) of the Revista de Historia Económica/Journal of Iberian and Latin American Economic History, March 2015.

  10. 10.

    This holds true even though differences between East and West can be found, such as changes in style of clothing or a broader diffusion trickle-down and even trickle-up effects in the case of Europe. (Belfanti 2008: 442).

  11. 11.

    The interpretation of that data is another matter altogether (Riello 2006: 16, note 10).

  12. 12.

    For more detail, see Fernández-de-Pinedo 2012; AGS, Tribunal Mayor de Cuentas, leg. 1862.

  13. 13.

    Copia de la instrucción dada, en consecuencia de lo que mandó S. M. por el Ilustrísimo Señor Don Joseph del Campillo, a todos los Superintendentes del Reyno, para la cobranza del Diez por Ciento, BNE, Mss. 11.259 (39) Aranjuez, May 31st of 1741.

  14. 14.

    All persons included in these social strata had the ‘Don/Doña’ distinction, which, although open to interpretation, denotes certain social and economic characteristics; we believe that certain noblemen, as well as traders, merchant bourgeoisie, officials of the administration, senior officials or property owners might belong to this category. Although members of this category would not have had a homogeneous level of income, they could all be considered as middle upper class. The middle lower class group encompassed those people who did not have any distinctive title, which does not necessarily mean that they were poor.

  15. 15.

    Shammas and McCants point to the decades of the 1730s and 1740s as the beginning of mass consumption of tea in England and the Netherlands, respectively (Shammas 1990; McCants 2007).

  16. 16.

    ‘As usual the Jesuits in Spain were great imbibers (and importers) of chocolate’ (Martínez 1995: 210–211). It should not be forgotten that chocolate was also the ideal drink to mask poison.

  17. 17.

    ‘Urban life and culture focused on display and on the concentration of leisure and other facilities for people to meet each other’ (Weatherill 1988: 81).

  18. 18.

    Among other references, see Foster 1992; Coady and Wright 1993; Markle and Harper 2004; McNeil 2006; Coe and Coe 2007; Norton 2008; Hackenesch 2011; Fattacciu 2012; McCabe 2015.

  19. 19.

    Coffee was, for example, very important during Ramadan, according to Ina Baghdiantz McCabe (2015: 125).

  20. 20.

    Let us not forget that a gift was always something expensive and/or exotic. It was frequent to give exotic animals, jewellery, tapestries, etc.

  21. 21.

    ‘Razón por la cual solo pago los 2/3 y no el 100%’.

  22. 22.

    Archivo Histórico Nacional, Universidades, 1797, legajo 641. Documento facilitado por Santiago Piquero.

  23. 23.

    Real Cedula de S.M. para el establecimiento de la Real Compañía Guipuzcoana de Caracas; Imprenta Real, Madrid, 1765.

  24. 24.

    On problems of creating a Chocolate Guild, see Fattacciu’s account in Madrid 6 mills in 1772: Fattacciu 2011.

  25. 25.

    (Norton 2008: 43)

  26. 26.

    For example, chocolate was used to cook the ‘crème de chocolat au bain-marie’ or the ‘crème veloutée au chocolat’ by adding lemon, cinnamon, coriander, milk and six chocolate bars (Briand 1750: 1:369).

  27. 27.

    Spain did not reach a consumption level of two kilos per person per year until the mid-nineteenth century (Fernandez-de-Pinedo 2003: 79).

  28. 28.

    Martín et al. 1992. See especially Chap.  6 regarding the cultivation of sugar on the Andalusian coast.

  29. 29.

    Medieval cuisine was influenced by the Muslims, who incorporated sweets made with a mixture of honey, nuts and dried fruit (Prats and Martín 2003: 54).

  30. 30.

    Sugar was not only a commodity, as noted by Sidney Mintz (1986). A whole ‘sugar-world system’ emerged in which transfers of forced migration from Africa and Asia, financial systems, taxes, agricultural plantation systems, state monopolies and technology were entangled in a complex worldwide network with significant long-term consequences. This was far more important than the consumption of sugar.

  31. 31.

    This is also associated with the fact that ‘simple-knives, forks, and napkins had begun to appear in the homes of the more wealthy by 1725’ (Martin 1993: 153).

  32. 32.

    Fournier and Moynahan (2014) notes 2 and 3.

  33. 33.

    To see some samples, visit the Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas de Madrid Tabar de Anitua, Cerámicas de China y Japón en el Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas, 156/XXXII.

  34. 34.

    For more details, see, among others, Ribeiro 1985; Cumming, Cunnington and Cunnington 2010; Ribeiro and Cumming 2014.

  35. 35.

    Spain was one of the nations able to reconcile its colonial and fiscal objectives, e.g. Cuba. See Pretel and Fernandez-de-Pinedo 2015; Fernández-de-Pinedo, Saiz and Pretel 2011.

  36. 36.

    Cocoa from Caracas was preferred to that from the British islands, such as Barbiche Island, due to its less bitter flavour: Buc’hoz 1812: 29. ‘Cocoa of Caracas’ commonly referred to all cocoa grown in Venezuela because the main shipping port to Europe was the port of Caracas. The Spanish crown gave the monopoly to the Real Compañía Guipuzcaona de Caracas on 17 November 1728. A total of 80.25% of Spanish imports of cocoa in 1792 were Caracas cocoa, Guayaquil followed with 14%, while cocoa from Soconusco represented only 0.03 per cenrt. In 1827, these proportions persist: 79.53% came from Caracas, followed by Guayaquil with 17%. Balanza del comercio de España con los dominios de S.M. en America y en la India en el año de 1792 y 1827.

  37. 37.

    Initially, novelties could only be obtained through traders or diplomats who had easy access through their professions. In the medium term, the rest of the population would benefit from a greater variety of products, even if some commodities would never be accessible to the overall population, and a trickle-down effect would always be a reality in this sense.



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Authors and Affiliations

  • Nadia Fernández-de-Pinedo
    • 1
  1. 1.Universidad Autónoma de MadridMadridSpain

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