This is a study of the production of leather and leather products and lives of the men and women who engaged in the Bordeaux leather trades during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The book pays special attention to the importance of artisanal and local identity in one of the most fervently independent regions of early-modern France. A comprehensive study of the Bordeaux leather trades affords the opportunity to explore the details of artisan culture and to examine the realities of the early-modern craft economy and its relation to the wider French political economy in one of the most important, but under-studied, eighteenth-century French towns.1 The Bordeaux leather trade sector was illustrative of the organizational heterogeneity, diversity, and freedom that existed in the early-modern French and Bordeaux manufacturing economy. The men and women who engaged in the Bordeaux leather crafts—tanners, parchment-makers, shoemakers, cobblers, saddlers, and glove-makers—stood both inside and outside the corporate organization of work.2 Although each trade community was theoretically independent of the others, the Bordeaux leather trade guilds often acted symbiotically for mutual benefit—to suppress rebellious journeymen and those artisans engaged in the trade outside the corporate framework—and at other times were in sharp conflict with each other over privileges and prerogatives associated with their professions.


  1. 1.
    Despite the city’s prominence during the eighteenth century, the history of Bordeaux’s manufacturing economy and its artisans have received only passing coverage in works of synthesis, published scholarly articles, and unpublished thèses de doctorat and mémoires de maîtrise. Perhaps the one notable exception is Bernard Gallinato’s law thesis, published in French as Les corporations à Bordeaux à la fin de l’ancien regime: vie et mort d’une mode d’organisation du travail (Bordeaux: Presses Universitaires de Bordeaux, 1996). In fact, apart from Alan Forrest’s, Society and Politics in Revolutionary Bordeaux (London: Oxford University Press, 1975) and his The Revolution in Provincial France (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), there are very few book-length studies that inform English readers about the history of Bordeaux. Finally, with the exception of Giorgio Riello’s recent book, A Foot in the Past: Consumers, Producers, and Footwear in the Long Century (London: Oxford University Press, 2006), which is a comparative study of shoe fashion, culture, consumption, and retailing in London and (to a lesser extent) Paris, there are no comparable modern studies that explore the French leather trades and their workers.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Besides unregulated shoemakers, two other leather trades were unincorporated. The community of trunk-makers employed calf, cow, and sheep skin as well as a variety of fabrics, wood, and metals in the production of all types of chests, trunks, suitcases, and pistol holsters. The town’s collar-makers, meanwhile, were responsible for producing a variety of collars employed by the city’s tailors. The dearth of archival sources, however, prevents any meaningful analysis of the professional and social lives of those who practiced these trades (Alexandre Nicolaï, Essai statistique sur le clergé, les communautés religieuses, la noblesse, la magistrature, la bourgeoisie, les corporations et le mouvement de la population à Bordeaux au XVIIIe siècle (1700–1800) (Bordeaux: Gounouilhou, 1909), p. 101).Google Scholar

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© Daniel Heimmermann 2014

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