Evidence from the Piovego, the fraud magistracy of early modern Venice, offers a critical perspective on the documentary record of credit and the ways in which this was used in practice. Although it was formally illegal to charge interest on personal loans, a variety of legal fictions were employed to evade the ban. Such fictions significantly reduced the transparency and certainty of exchange, pushing personal loans into a world of semi-legality. This was a ‘baroque economy’, in which people were aware of the potential discrepancy between surface form and underlying substance, and private agreements might be contested on grounds of substantive fairness. The ‘hidden transcripts’ presented by litigants indicate that the formal record must be interpreted through a ‘thick description’ that considers its role as a resource in a broader process of negotiation. Far from being a ‘market’, characterized by price competition, choice, and transparency, the informal economy of credit was embedded in long-term power relationships. Rather than celebrating intermediaries such as brokers and notaries as facilitators of ‘market’ relations, we need to understand them as part of a hierarchical network of power and wealth, embedded in long-term relationships.