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Access to the trade: monopoly and mobility in European craft guilds in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries

Prak, Maarten, Crowston, Clare, De Munck, Bert, Kissane, Christopher, Minns, Chris ORCID: 0000-0003-1685-7757, Schalk, Ruben and Wallis, Patrick ORCID: 0000-0003-1434-515X (2019) Access to the trade: monopoly and mobility in European craft guilds in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Journal of Social History, 54 (2). pp. 421-452. ISSN 0022-4529

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Identification Number: 10.1093/jsh/shz070


One of the standard objections against guilds in the premodern world has been their exclusiveness. Guilds have been portrayed as providing unfair advantages to the children of established masters and locals, over immigrants and other outsiders. Privileged access to certain professions and industries is seen as a source of inequality and a disincentive for technological progress. In this paper we examine this assumption by studying the composition of guild masters and apprentices from a large sample of European towns and cities from 1600 to 1800, focusing on the share who were children of masters or locals. This data offers an indirect measurement of the strength of guild barriers, and by implication their monopolies. We find very wide variation between guilds in practice, but most guild masters and apprentices were immigrants or unrelated locals: openness was much more common than closure, especially in larger centres. Our understanding of guild ‘monopolies’ and exclusivity is in need of serious revision. [157 words]

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2019 The Authors
Divisions: Economic History
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D901 Europe (General)
Date Deposited: 29 Apr 2019 08:36
Last Modified: 23 May 2024 00:03

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