Unpaid Diamonds: Trust, Reputation and the Merchants’ Style in Eighteenth-Century Europe

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Abstract

In 1727, Christian merchant Edward Fenwick sold two small bags of uncut diamonds to the Ashkenazi Jewish trader, Andrew Levy. Having failed to pay his debt, Levy fled to the United Provinces. In Amsterdam, a correspondent of Fenwick received permission to take necessary legal steps to arrest the thief. In London, Fenwick sought the aid of his business partner, Francis Salvador, one of the world's foremost Sephardic diamond traders. The interaction between these three men, traced through the story of unpaid gems, confirms that early modern diamond trade occurred through cross-cultural networks, despite differences in ethnicity and religion. Rather than basing one's trust on shared kinship or religion, international merchants in the early modern period combined informal customs and formal institutions, developing the so-called merchants' sole. This commercial practice required careful assessments of reputation and record, obtained through shared information. The merchants' style, used to nurture trust in cross-cultural trade, proved crucial in cases of cheating. Attempting to reclaim his money from Andrew Levy and to protect his reputation, Edward Fenwick resorted to this practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-45
Number of pages33
JournalShofar. An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies
Volume38
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Keywords

  • early modern commerce
  • economic history;
  • diamond trade
  • diaspora
  • reputation
  • theft

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