Congdon (2022 Congress)

Eleanor Congdon
(Youngstown State University)

“Venetian Merchants’ Preference for Italian Paper While Working Abroad during the Fifteenth Century”

Abstract of Paper
57th International Congress on Medieval Studies
(Online, 2022)

Session on
“Medieval Writing Materials:
Processes, Products, and Case-Studies”

Sponsored by the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence
Organized by Mildred Budny
2022 International Congress on Medieval Studies Program



This paper will examine the habits of Italian merchants working abroad in their choice of writing medium during the fifteenth century. Two groups of primary documents exhibit the choices for conducting business.

The first is a privately-owned collection to which I have been given access. The materials date from the 1450s to about 1530, with a majority dating to the 1480s. Most of them were sent to the Venetian consul in Tripoli, Lebanon, from Venetians working to the north (principally in Aleppo), from the east and the Syrian capital of Damascus, and from the south, from the port of Beirut. These are related to a large collection of merchant letters in the Venetian archive including letters to the Vice consul Ambrogio Malipiero, to Marco Bembo from Aleppo while he was resident in Constantinople and Venice, and between Zuan Alvise Morosini (working in Aleppo) and his brother Marin (resident in Venice). Analysis of the wire impressions and the watermarks in the paper show that the writers of these letters — about twenty people — all used Italian paper (mostly originating in Fabriano).

A second collection of letters are the letters from the Datini collection (Fondo Datini, Archivio di Stato, Prato), written in Aragon/Catalonia to Datini offices in Barcelona, Valencia, and Maiorca. These also use Italian-made paper.

In both cases, the merchants were resident in regions where there was a native paper industry. Why did they prefer to import paper rather than use what was available locally? At the same time, they were selling Italian paper where they worked; was Italian paper that much better? These are some of the questions to be addressed.