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The Embeddedness of Inter-Merchant Relations in France, 1750–1850: A Revolution in the World of Commerce?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 March 2020

Arnaud Bartolomei
Université Côté d’Azur, EA 1193 CMMC
Matthieu de Oliveira
Université de Lille, UMR 8529 IRHIS
Fabien Eloire
Université de Lille, UMR 8019 Clersé
Claire Lemercier
Nadège Sougy


The grand narratives of modernization often describe the period between 1750 and 1850 as marking a transition from embedded economic relationships (relying on kinship or community ties) to impersonal market transactions supported by legal arrangements. This article questions these narratives by studying three corpora of tools employed by early modern and modern merchants on a daily basis: initial-contact letters, circulars, and notarized proxy forms. Systematic quantitative and qualitative analysis of these documents reveals few traces of a revolution or even a consistent linear evolution. To the contrary, it challenges the opposition between embedded and completely disembedded relationships. Indeed, there is strong evidence that personal and impersonal supports for economic transactions complemented rather than substituted one another. In addition, other types of embeddedness also played an important role: on the one hand, repeated interactions and relational chains involving intermediaries; on the other, a homophilic sociability among merchants that was partly based on the shared language of commerce.

The History of Commerce (Sixteenth to Nineteenth Century)
© Éditions EHESS 2019

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This article was translated from the French by Rodney Coward and edited by Chloe Morgan and Nicolas Barreyre.


Beside the participants in the research project cited in note 19, the authors wish to thank the following people for their valuable comments and suggestions: Jean Andreau, Luca Andreoni, Simon Bittmann, Guillaume Calafat, Serge Chassagne, Claude Denjean, Vincent Demont, Pierre Gervais, Michel Grossetti, Michel Lauwers, François Lerouxel, Silvia Marzagalli, Nadia Matringe, Nicolas Praquin, Alina Surubaru, Francesca Trivellato, Stefano Ugolini, Patrick Verley, and Mikhaïl Xifaras, as well as the other participants in the Caltech Early Modern Group meeting (April 2016), the seminar held at the Centre de sociologie des organisations (April 2016), the one-day conference entitled “Réseaux et finance dans le long terme” held at the Toulouse Business School (June 2016), and the economic history seminar organized by the research centers LARHRA and Triangle (October 2016). They would also like to thank Audrey Murat for managing the project’s finances.


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9 For instance, North, Douglass C., Understanding the Process of Economic Change (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005CrossRefGoogle Scholar), 120, highlights the centuries-long process by which “the Western world evolved from a simple world of personal exchange to the complex interdependent world that characterizes the developed economies today,” opposing “collectivist” and “informal” practices to “individualistic behavioral beliefs” and “impersonal exchange.”

10 Granovetter, “Economic Action and Social Structure.”

11 Weber, Max, General Economic History [1923], trans. Knight, Frank H. (1927; repr. Mineola: Dover, 2003Google Scholar). Weber stresses the importance of the transition from wooden to iron-based machinery, the definitive separation of retailing from the wholesale trade, the expansion of profit-oriented industry, the birth of national bourgeoisies, the emergence of the rational state, and the spread of the rational economic ethos that stemmed from Protestant asceticism.

12 Gayot, Gérard, Les draps de Sedan, 1646–1870 (Paris: Éd. de l’Ehess, 1998Google Scholar); Chapman, Stanley, Merchant Enterprise in Britain from the Industrial Revolution to World War I (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992CrossRefGoogle Scholar); Verley, L’échelle du monde ; Jean-Pierre Hirsch, Les deux rêves du commerce. Entreprise et institution dans la région lilloise, 1780–1860 (Paris: Éd. de l’Ehess, 1991); Stanziani, Alessandro, Rules of Exchange: French Capitalism in Comparative Perspective, Eighteenth to Early Twentieth Centuries (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

13 Kessler, Amalia D., A Revolution in Commerce: The Parisian Merchant Court and the Rise of Commercial Society in Eighteenth-Century France (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007Google Scholar), chap. 5.

14 Almanach du commerce, des arts et métiers des villes de Lille, Douay et Dunkerque (Lille: Vanackere, 1789), non-foliated, quoted in Hirsch, Les deux rêves du commerce, 66. On the development of almanacs, see Grand-Carteret, John, Les almanachs français (Paris: Alisie et Cie, 1896Google Scholar); Bartolomei, Arnaud, “La publication de l’information commerciale à Marseille et à Cadix (1780–1820). La fin des réseaux marchands ?” Rives méditerranéennes 27 (2007): 85108CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

15 Arnaud Bartolomei, Claire Lemercier, and Silvia Marzagalli, introduction to “Les commis voyageurs, acteurs et témoins de la grande transformation,” special issue, Entreprises et histoire 66, no. 1 (2012): 7–21; Rossfeld, Roman, “Handelsreisende – Travelling salesmen – Voyageurs de commerce: eine Einführung,” Zeitschrift für Unternehmensgeschichte 59, no. 2 (2014): 129–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

16 Xifaras, Mikhaïl, “Science sociale, science morale ? Notes sur la pénétration de l’économie dans la pensée juridique française au xixe siècle,” in Économie et théories économiques en histoire du droit et en philosophie, ed. Kervégan, Jean-François and Mohnhaupt, Heinz (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 2004), 185225Google Scholar; Pfister, Laurent, “Un contrat en quête d’identité. Jalons pour une histoire de la qualification du mandat,” in Le mandat : un contrat en crise ? ed. Dissaux, Nicolas (Paris: Economica, 2011), 138Google Scholar.

17 This material corresponds more to Granovetter’s definition of embeddedness (see his analysis of the interweaving of the mercantile and non-mercantile dimensions at the level of interpersonal social ties) than to Polanyi’s more macrosocial version.

18 A bill of lading is a document by which a maritime transport company or a captain attests to having received goods on board a ship.

19 This article describes the main questions and first results of the research project “Fiduciae. Pratiques et matérialités des relations marchandes : vers une dépersonnalisation (xviiie–xixe siècle) ?” financed by the French National Research Agency between 2014 and 2017. Besides the authors of the present article, Thierry Allain, Boris Deschanel, Mathieu Grenet, Marguerite Martin, Thomas Mollanger, Fabrice Perron, Viera Rebolledo-Dhuin, Veronica Aoki Santarosa, and Sylvie Vabre all contributed on a voluntary basis to the databases.

20 On the Roux trading house, see Carrière, Négociants marseillais; on Greffulhe, see Antonetti, Guy, Une maison de banque à Paris au xviiie siècle, Greffulhe Montz et Cie, 1789–1793 (Paris: Éd. Cujas, 1963)Google Scholar.

21 Chassagne, Serge, Veuve Guérin et fils. Banque et soie, une affaire de famille, Saint-Chamond - Lyon, 1716–1932 (Lyon: Éd. Bga Permezel, 2012)Google Scholar; de Oliveira, Matthieu, Les routes de l’argent. Réseaux et flux financiers de Paris à Hambourg, 1789–1815 (Paris: Comité pour l’histoire économique et financière de la France, 2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Maurice Begouën Demeaux, Mémorial d’une famille du Havre, vol. 1, Les fondateurs. Choses et gens du xviii esiècle en France et à Saint-Domingue, Jacques-François Begoüen, 1743–1831; vol. 2, Stanislas Foäche, 1737–1806, négociant de Saint-Domingue (Paris: Société française d’histoire d’outre-mer, 1971 and 1982); Édouard Delobette, “Ces ‘Messieurs du Havre.’ Négociants, commissionnaires et armateurs de 1680 à 1830” (PhD diss., Université de Caen, 2005).

22 Hirsch, Les deux rêves du commerce. The complementarity of personal and impersonal arrangements in the construction of business or credit relationships is also underlined in Lemercier, Claire and Zalc, Claire, “For a New Approach to Credit Relations in Modern History,” Annales HSS (English Edition) 67, no. 4 (2012): 663–91CrossRefGoogle Scholar, esp. 680ff., and in the following articles by sociologists: Grossetti, Michel, “Réseaux sociaux et ressources de médiation dans l’activité économique,” Sciences de la société 73 (2008): 83103Google Scholar; Surubaru, Alina, “Les producteurs roumains de l’habillement à la recherche de clients. Une analyse sociologique des rencontres d’affaires,” Sociologie du travail 54, no. 4 (2012): 457–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

23 Friedman, Walter, Birth of a Salesman: The Transformation of Selling in America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004), citation p. 432.Google Scholar

24 On relational chains, see Grossetti, Michel, “Les narrations quantifiées. Une méthode mixte pour étudier des processus sociaux,” Terrains et travaux 19, no. 2 (2011): 161–82CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

25 For an economic sociology perspective, see Uzzi, Brian and Lancaster, Ryon, “Embeddedness and Price Formation in the Corporate Law Market,” American Sociological Review 69, no. 3 (2004): 319–44CrossRefGoogle Scholar. From an economic standpoint, see Kirman, Alan P. and Vriend, Nicolaas J., “Evolving Market Structure: An ACE Model of Price Dispersion and Loyalty,” Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control 25, no. 3/4 (2001): 459502CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

26 Though it is possible to read an article by Pierre Gervais from this perspective: Gervais, “Mercantile Credit and Trading Rings in the Eighteenth Century,” Annales HSS (English Edition) 67, no. 4 (2012): 693–730.

27 Trivellato, The Familiarity of Strangers, chap. 6.

28 Boris Deschanel, “Que vaut un négociant ? Prix et compétences des commerçants dauphinois, des années 1750 aux années 1820,” Les cahiers de Framespa. Nouveaux champs de l’histoire sociale 17 (2014):; Deschanel, Commerce et Révolution. Les négociants dauphinois entre l’Europe et les Antilles (Fontaine: Presses universitaires de Grenoble, 2018).

29 The category of the “initial-contact letter” seems to have been clearly defined relatively late, in the nineteenth century. The first “letter presenting one’s compliments to a person one has never seen and with whom one needs to do business” was published in the manual by René Milleran, but no other example has been found prior to 1800. By contrast, models for initial-contact letters are fairly systematically present in business manuals published after 1800, in particular those by Paul Brée and Marie Clément, in which this type of document is named and described in considerable detail. This observation is based on the analysis of a corpus of twenty-two business manuals (established using The Making of the Modern World database published by Gale, and Gallica, the digital library hosted by the Bibliothèque nationale de France, based on the keywords “correspondance,” “commerce,” “négoce,” “épistolaire,” “marchand,” “xviiie siècle” and “xixe siècle”): René Milleran, Le nouveau secrétaire de la cour ou lettres familières sur toutes sortes de sujets, avec des réponses, une instruction pour bien écrire et dresser les lettres, les titres dont on qualifie toutes sortes de personnes, et des maximes pour plaire et se conduire dans le monde (1692; repr. Brussels: Le Gras, 1714); Jean Paganucci, Manuel historique, géographique et politique des négocians, ou Encyclopédie portative de la théorie et de la pratique du commerce, 3 vols. (Lyon: J.-M. Bruyset, 1762); de Sérionne, Jacques Accarias, Les intérêts des nations de l’Europe, développés relativement au commerce, 2 vols. (Leiden: Weidemann Erben und Reich, 1766)Google Scholar; Carl May, Johann, Lettres marchandes fort propres à s’exercer dans le stile épistolaire du négociant (Altona: D. Iversen, 1769)Google Scholar; de Felice, Fortunato Bartolomeo, Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire universel raisonné des connoissances humaines, vol. 3 (Yverdon-les-Bains: n.p., 1775), 131–33Google Scholar; Robinet, Jean-Baptiste, Dictionnaire universel des sciences morale, économique, politique et diplomatique, ou Bibliothèque de l’homme-d’État et du citoyen, vol. 14, “Con”–“Cur” (London: Libraires associés, 1780)Google Scholar; Lettres d’un négociant à son fils. Sur les sujets les plus importants du commerce (Strasbourg: A. Koenig, 1786); L’art de la correspondance, ou Modèles de lettres sur toutes sortes de sujets (Paris: Louis, 1800); Antonius Boex, Hermanus, ed., Manuel de correspondance à l’usage du pensionnât françoises d’Eindhoven (Antwerp: A. Grangé, n.d., after 1800)Google Scholar; Manuel du jeune négociant, ou Elémens du commerce, sur la tenue des livres en partie double et simple (Paris: Laurens Jeune, 1803); Le correspondant triestin, ou Lettres instructives imprimées séparément en français, en italien et en allemand (1795; repr. Amsterdam: F. C. Loeflund, 1803); Gouin-Dufief, Nicolas, Nature Displayed in her Mode of Teaching Language to Man, Being a New and Infallible Method of Acquiring Languages with Unparalleled Rapidity, 2 vols. (London: printed by the author, 1818)Google Scholar; Joseph Mozin, Abbé, La correspondance des négocians, ou Recueil de lettres sur le commerce, originales ou extraites des meilleurs épistolaires nationaux ou étrangers (Paris: Librairie du commerce, Chez Renard, 1822)Google Scholar; Peuchet, Jacques, Manuel du négociant et du manufacturier, contenant les lois et réglemens relatifs au commerce, aux fabriques et à l’industrie (Paris: Roret, 1829)Google Scholar; Celliez, Henry, Dictionnaire usuel de législation commerciale et industrielle (Paris: Librairie usuelle, 1836); August Schiebe, Correspondance commerciale, suivie de la traduction en allemand des principaux termes employés dans les lettres et terminée par un recueil explicatif des mots les plus usités dans le commerce (Leipzig: J. A. Barth, 1843)Google Scholar; Brée, Paul, Traité de correspondance commerciale, contenant des modèles et des formules épistolaires pour tous les cas qui se présentent dans les opérations de commerce, avec des notions générales et particulières sur leur emploi (Leipzig: Librairie de Baumgaertner, 1850)Google Scholar; Guillaumin, Gilbert-Urbain, Dictionnaire universel théorique et pratique du commerce et de la navigation, vol. 1 (Paris: Guillaumin, 1859–1861)Google Scholar; Degranges, Edmond, Traité de correspondance commerciale (Paris: Langlois et Leclercq, 1866); Marie Clément, L’art de la correspondance commerciale, précédé d’un traité de style épistolaire et suivi d’un vocabulaire des termes du commerce (Sens: printed by the author, 1870Google Scholar).

30 The business press only really appeared in the second half of the eighteenth century, but developed rapidly. See McCusker, John J., “The Demise of Distance: The Business Press and the Origins of the Information Revolution in the Early Modern Atlantic World,” American Historical Review 110, no. 2 (2005): 295321CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Bartolomei, “La publication de l’information commerciale.”

31 The Greffulhe records are held in the French National Archives at Pierrefitte-sur-Seine, under the reference 61 AQ; the pre- and post-Revolution sections are extremely incomplete. The Roux records are held in the archives of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Marseille (hereafter “ACCIM”), with the reference LIX. Both collections present the advantage of being classified by correspondent. We collected the first five letters in each folder, covering some twenty cities representative of the diversity of the mercantile world of the time: the six great European Exchanges (Paris, London, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Genoa, and Madrid), some major maritime trading centers (Bordeaux, Cadiz, Le Havre, Liverpool, Marseille, Naples, Rotterdam, Rouen, Smyrna, and Tunis) and continental hubs (Lyon, Geneva, and Lille), a few French manufacturing cities (Sedan, Mulhouse, and Carcassonne), as well as all the localities situated outside western Europe and the Mediterranean: the West Indian colonies, a few Asian trading posts (Batavia), ports in the United States, and some Russian centers (Riga and Saint Petersburg). For each of these localities, all the bundles were opened when the trading center comprised less than 25 correspondents; 20 bundles, selected at random, were opened for those comprising 26 to 100 correspondents; and 50 bundles were opened for those with over 100 correspondents. In all, 1,896 items of correspondence were collected, from which a representative sample of 971 correspondence openings have been analyzed so far, reestablishing the true weight of each city in each of the firms’ archives. Once the missives that did not represent initial-contact letters were set aside, the total number of relationship initiations studied came to 326.

32 ACCIM, LIX, bundle 866, letter from Cabarrus et Lalanne, Madrid, July 22, 1782; bundle 856, letter from Guillaume and Jean Tirry, Cadiz, July 22, 1782.

33 ACCIM, LIX, bundle 369, letter from Robert et Rivaud Fils, Lyon, June 2, 1772.

34 ACCIM, LIX, bundle 512, letter from Beaujour, Paris, January 8, 1788.

35 One of the half-dozen models of relationship-initiation letters proposed by Clément, L’art de la correspondance commerciale, 51.

36 Brée, Traité de correspondance commerciale, 63ff.

37 Clément, L’art de la correspondance commerciale, 1 and 2.

38 ACCIM, LIX, bundle 866, letter from La Brena, Madrid, March 7, 1790 (original in Spanish).

39 This study confirms the observation made in Meuvret, Jean, “Manuels et traités à l’usage des négociants aux premières époques de l’âge moderne,” Études d’histoire moderne et contemporaine 5 (1953): 529Google Scholar, which underlined that sixteenth-century business “manuals” were often handwritten compilations of actual documents collected from business practice. Meuvret also noted that these manuals attached much more importance to the techniques used in monetary exchange and accountancy than to epistolary norms. Therefore, commonly shared practices in letter-writing, as revealed, for instance, in studies of the Bonvisi collection, do not owe their existence to the presence of printed models: Valentín Vázquez de Prada, Lettres marchandes d’Anvers, 4 vols. (Paris: Sevpen, 1960); Anne Lambert, “Écritures du commerce. La correspondance au fondement des transactions Ruiz-Bonvisi, 1580–1590” (PhD diss., École des chartes, 2010); Matringe, Nadia, La banque en Renaissance. Les Salviati et la place de Lyon au milieu du xvie siècle (Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2016CrossRefGoogle Scholar). The increasing presence of such models in trade manuals and other publications from the end of the eighteenth century should therefore not be interpreted as the source of this commercial language. It may, however, have contributed to its standardization and its accessibility among those who had not learnt it through immersion in a commercial setting. On the limited role of manuals in the training of merchants, see Angiolini, Franco and Roche, Daniel, eds., Cultures et formations négociantes dans l’Europe moderne (Paris: Éd. de l’Ehess, 1995)Google Scholar.

40 Degranges, Traité de correspondance commerciale, 80.

41 ACCIM, LIX, bundle 855, letter from Jean-Baptiste Chillet, Cadiz, September 28, 1784. The expression “under the auspices” is used just as readily by merchants in Smyrna, Amsterdam, or Carcassonne in the 1760s as by correspondents in Basse-Terre or Madrid in the 1780s, or again in Bordeaux, Paris, or Lyon during the Empire.

42 ACCIM, LIX, bundle 367, letter from Anginieur et Hervier, Lyon, 8 Thermidor Year X (July 27, 1802). For the date of the first appearance of traveling salesmen, see the two special issues cited at note 15 above.

43 ACCIM, LIX, bundle 754, letter from Aubert et Ricaud, Smyrna, September 9, 1732.

44 In the Greffulhe records, these letters represent more than half the contact initiations in 1789, the year in which the bank changed its trading name. The proportion declined thereafter to 10 percent. In the Roux archives, the figure falls from 20 percent in the period up to 1749 to 5 percent thereafter. Here again, this development is more probably linked to the history of the Roux trading house itself than to a more general evolution in the ways contact was initiated.

45 ACCIM, LIX, bundle 367, letter from the Albane brothers, Lyon, July 30, 1731.

46 On the acceptance, as proof, of a great variety of written documents used by merchants, see Kessler, A Revolution in Commerce, chap. 2.

47 de Oliveira, Matthieu, “Circulaires commerciales et réseaux négociants en Europe, fin xviiie–début xixe siècles,” in L’information économique, xviexixe siècle, ed. Margairaz, Dominique and Minard, Philippe (Paris: Cheff, 2008), 93113CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Bartolomei, “La publication de l’information commerciale.” In the United Kingdom a few studies have been undertaken on the similar subject of trade cards: Scott, Katie, “The Waddesdon Manor Trade Cards: More than One History,” Journal of Design History 17, no. 1 (2004): 91100CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

48 Of the 1,672 circulars collected, 358 are in fact two separate letters dispatched together in a single item of correspondence, thus bringing the corpus to a total of 2,036 letters. Circulars seem to have been carefully preserved by their recipients, resulting in a number of fine collections, five of which were retained for the present study: the records of Foäche of Le Havre (Archives nationales du monde du travail, hereafter “ANMT,” 69 AQ), Veuve Guérin of Lyon (Rhône Departmental Archives, hereafter “ADR,” 4 J 387), and Briansiaux of Lille (ANMT, 3 AQ), as well as the Roux and Greffulhe collections mentioned above. With the assistance of Boris Deschanel, Guillaume Foutrier, and Thomas Mollanger, collections belonging to other firms were identified: Pinet (Isère Departmental Archives, 4 J, 1746–1816), Dupont-Boisjouvin (Seine-Maritime Departmental Archives, 1 ER, 2339–2340), and Hennessy (private archives). The percentages given here are based on a random sample of 378 circulars studied in greater detail.

49 The earliest circular in the corpus was received by Roux in 1739 from Robiou Frères et Cie in Cadiz (ACCIM, LIX, bundle 842, April 7, 1739).

50 For the Greffulhe records, we collected all the circulars sent from cities for which we studied initial-contact letters; for the Roux records, we considered only correspondents selected at random from these towns. It must be noted that, although the Greffulhe collection contains some bundles beginning in the 1810s, or even the 1830s, it is extremely incomplete outside the period 1789–1795. While we looked for all the circulars in the Foäche and Briansiaux collections, a systematic examination of data from the Veuve Guérin collection (limited to our sample of cities) has so far been undertaken only for the period 1773–1814. Only occasional surveys have been carried out for the 1814–1850 period (hence the numbers in brackets given in fig. 1). Serge Chassagne, whom we thank for sharing this data, has counted a total of 1,344 circulars for this period.

51 ANMT, 3 AQ 241, circular from Charles Choiseau, Boulogne-sur-Mer, 13 Frimaire Year X (December 4, 1801); 3 AQ 341, circular from Antoine Combe Père, Fils et Cie, Trieste, 5 Germinal Year X (March 26, 1802). On this historical moment, see de Oliveira, Matthieu, “Le négoce nordiste d’un traité franco-anglais à l’autre. Attentes, réception et aménagements (1786–1802),” in Le négoce de la paix. Les nations et les traités franco-britanniques (1713–1802), ed. Jessenne, Jean-Pierre, Morieux, Renaud, and Dupuy, Pascal (Paris: Société des études robespierristes, 2008), 165–87Google Scholar.

52 In the corpus of initial-contact letters received by this firm during the eighteenth century, thirty or so close with an offer of sample signatures, and some of these letters are phrased according to the same conventions as printed circulars. This is evidenced in, for instance, the fine handwritten double circular dispatched by Magon Lefer Frères of Cadiz in 1729, which first announces the closure of the former company, and then the creation of its successor (ACCIM, LIX, bundle 330, May 31, 1729).

53 Antonetti, Une maison de banque à Paris, 100.

54 Petit, Nicolas, L’éphémère, l’occasionnel et le non livre à la bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, xve–xviiie siècles (Paris: Klincksieck, 1997)Google Scholar; Charon, Annie and Parinet, Élisabeth, eds., Les ventes de livres et leurs catalogues, xviie–xxe siècle (Paris: École des chartes, 2000)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. In eighteenth-century public administration, the instructions addressed to consular officials in particular adopted the form of circular letters, first handwritten, then printed (see the “Personnel” section of the archives of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs). Soldiers’ furloughs were printed from 1716, followed by wanted-persons notices, before the Revolution and the Empire systematically extended this usage to include and furnish other means of identification: About, Ilsen and Denis, Vincent, Histoire de l’identification des personnes (Paris: La Découverte, 2010Google Scholar), chap. 2.

55 Gayot, Les draps de Sedan, 403.

56 Vielfaure, Claude, “Spectrographie de la publicité directe,” Communications 17, no. 1 (1971): 99105CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

57 The percentages given in the present paragraph relate to the overall corpus. The other percentages presented in this subsection relate to the sample of 378 circulars.

58 On the history of these fonts, see Jimenes, Rémi, Les caractères de civilité. Typographie et calligraphie sous l’Ancien Régime, France, xviexixe siècles (Gap: Atelier Perrousseaux, 2011Google Scholar).

59 See the remarks by Otto S. Lankhorst, “Les ventes de livres en Hollande et leurs catalogues (xviiexviiie siècles),” in Charon, Les ventes de livres et leurs catalogues, 11–26, here p. 12. To the same end, some present-day sales representatives archive the visiting cards they receive: Mallard, Alexandre and Ville-Eber, Sandrine, “‘Je vous laisse ma carte de visite.’ Analyse d’un artéfact relationnel,” Sciences de la société 73 (2008): 123–44Google Scholar.

60 This paragraph is based on the sample of 378 circulars (whether or not they were sent to a recipient in the same city or located in the middle of a bundle).

61 For instance, ANMT, 69 AQ 3, letter from Pinel, Veuve Colombel Aîné et Fils, Le Havre, January 1, 1822.

62 ACCIM, LIX, bundle 375, letter from Veuve Barras et Fils, Marseille, July 15, 1830.

63 The phenomenon was long-lasting and seems to have affected Europe as a whole. The thirty circulars collected in languages other than French adopt an identical rhetoric. On the medieval theological origins of this vocabulary, see Todeschini, Giacomo, “Investigating the Origins of the Late Medieval Entrepreneur’s Self-Representation,” Imprese e storia 35 (2007): 1337Google Scholar.

64 See for instance, ACCIM, LIX, bundle 513, circular from Denneville (an individual, not a company), June 10, 1829. The document is more of a prospectus than a circular conforming to the above-mentioned models, in that the activity is described in some forty lines.

65 Poisson, Jean-Paul, “Introduction à une sociologie statistique des actes de procuration,” Journal de la société statistique de Paris 109 (1968): 263–65Google Scholar, here p. 263. This type of interpretation remains predominant among jurists: Pétel, Philippe, Le contrat de mandat (Paris: Dalloz, 1994Google Scholar). It reappears in a recent series of articles which, independently of one another, observe and analyze the presence of powers of attorney granted by a husband, often a merchant, to his wife: see, for instance, Grenier, Benoît and Ferland, Catherine, “‘As Long as the Absence Shall Last’: Proxy Agreements and Women’s Power in Eighteenth-Century Quebec City,” Clio. Femmes, genre, histoire (English Edition) 37 (2013): 197225Google Scholar.

66 Xifaras, “Science sociale, science morale.”

67 Désiré and Dalloz, Armand, “Mandat,” in Répertoire méthodique et alphabétique de législation de doctrine et de jurisprudence en matière de droit civil, commercial, criminel, administratif, de droit des gens et de droit public (Paris: Bureau de la Jurisprudence générale, 1853), 30:624765Google Scholar.

68 For more detailed figures, see Fabien Eloire, Claire Lemercier, and Veronica Aoki Santarosa, “Beyond the Personal-Anonymous Divide: Agency Relations in Powers of Attorney in France, 18th–19th Centuries,” Economic History Review (forthcoming; online version of record, 2018), This study is based on an examination of all the proxy forms for the years 1751, 1800, and 1851 collected from various notaries, generally three in each of the cities of Lille, Lyon, Marseille, and Paris, chosen as far as possible from those who had the most merchants in their client base. Almost all this numerical data refers to the entire corpus of 2,831 proxy forms, while analysis of particular clauses is based on a representative sample of 870 documents. In both instances, these include proxy forms drawn up in the notary’s offices (in the presence of the principal) and those drawn up in another city, sometimes en brevet (as countersigned originals) or as private deeds (actes sous seing privé )—in these cases the notary among whose records the acts were collected was that of the appointed proxy. Thus, a sixth of the proxy forms were drawn up outside the four cities featured in the study (11 percent in France and 5 percent in a foreign country). The presence of a certain number of en brevet documents and private deeds underscores that a notarized document was not obligatory when granting power of attorney: the power could be included in other correspondence, or even be of a purely verbal or tacit nature. However, the jurisprudence in such cases could be extremely unpredictable, a factor that may explain why many proxy forms were notarized. Indeed, these forms represent a considerable proportion of the notarial archives for the entire period: the French National Archives’ ARNO database, which brings together all the acts of Parisian notaries, shows that proxy forms represent 18 percent of the entries in 1851, that is, almost 8,500 acts, compared with 11 percent, or 6,300 acts, in 1751. In Marseille, estimates based on a sampling of fiscal registration records for 1751 and 1800 suggest that proxy forms represented 18 percent of notarized documents overall (respectively 2,000 and 2,800 acts).

69 Poisson, “Introduction à une sociologie statistique.” The percentages are calculated after exclusion of blank proxy forms.

70 These remarks broadly outline the reasoning behind the theory of agency presented, for instance, in Boyer, Robert, “Historiens et économistes face à l’émergence des institutions du marché,” Annales HSS 64, no. 3 (2009): 665–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

71 Pothier, Robert-Joseph, “Traité du contrat de mandat,” in Œuvres complètes de Pothier (Paris: Thomine et Fortic, 1821Google Scholar), 9:47. Practically the only power of attorney resembling what Pothier had in mind is that granted in Marseille on 22 Pluviôse Year VIII (February 11, 1800) by a minor, Pierre Barnabé Germain of Aix, to the clerk Marc Antoine Cauvet of Marseille, entrusting the latter with auctioning, in the context of a succession, a property “with such clauses and conditions as will be considered most advantageous and at a price over and above the upset price of ten thousand francs announced in the bills posted” (Departmental Archives of the Bouches-du-Rhône, 370E/84). The fact that the principal was a minor may explain this exception.

72 ADR, 3E/12868, proxy form dated 13 Ventôse Year VIII (March 4, 1800) granted by a widow from Lyon, Françoise Ocel, to Claude Perrand, a property-holder residing in the same city, in order to manage the succession of her husband’s estate, in particular the recovery of various sums of money owed.

73 This would be consistent with their other functions as intermediaries, already pointed out by historians: Hoffman, Philip T., Postel-Vinay, Gilles, and Rosenthal, Jean-Laurent, Priceless Markets: The Political Economy of Credit in Paris, 1660–1870 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000)Google Scholar.

74 ADR, 3E/12868: the proxy form was deposited on 1 Ventôse Year VIII (February 20, 1800), having been granted on 28 Ventôse Year VII (March 18, 1799).

75 The threshold of four proxy forms (during any one civil year) was chosen to avoid the inclusion of persons receiving several successive powers of attorney linked to a single matter (the same inheritance settlement, for instance). This count potentially underestimates the part played by proxies whose names recur, insofar as they might be present in the records of several different notaries. Apart from a few rare exceptions, however, the cases that we found only appear in the records of one of the three notaries in each town included in the corpus.

76 For an outline of the question, see Boigeol, Anne and Dezalay, Yves, “De l’agent d’affaires au barreau. Les conseils juridiques et la construction d’un espace professionnel,” Genèses 27 (1997): 4968CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and Claire Lemercier, “Un modèle français de jugement des pairs. Les tribunaux de commerce, 1790–1880” (postdoctoral habilitation diss., Université Paris 8, 2012), 193–95 and 420–24.

77 This claim is based on a regression that takes into account the object of the power of attorney, the date, the city, and the number and sex of the principals. The same considerations apply to the results in the following paragraph. See Eloire, Lemercier, and Santarosa, “Beyond the Personal-Anonymous Divide.”

78 Uzzi, Brian, “Social Structure and Competition in Interfirm Networks: The Paradox of Embeddedness,” Administrative Science Quarterly 42, no. 1 (1997): 3567CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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