Markets and Sales
Historical narratives of the East India Companies often read like stories of commercial success. However, it might be asked what do we really know about the difficulties (and failures) involved in establishing extensive markets for Asian manufactured wares (such as cotton and silk textiles, furniture, porcelain and many other wares) that so influenced eighteenth-century fashions in early modern Europe? We believe that we need to better understand the market mechanisms (e.g. marketing, auction sales and design transfers) in Europe and the changes that occurred over the period under consideration (1600-1830). One area of research we are interested in is the mapping of different or possibly overlapping markets for Company goods across Europe. Another area of discussion could evolve around the relationship between private and company trade and sales, touching on profits, procedures and the role marketing played in all of that. Furthermore, a topic that seems to be fundamental, but as yet understudied, is the question of quality. This applies both to the Companies’ efforts to control the quality of their imports from China and India, as well as to the question of the role that ‘quality’ played in the marketplace, regarding consumer demand and competition. In order to link the research on the European East India Companies to concepts such as the early modern ‘consumer revolution’, it is necessary to map changes in both qualities and quantities of goods brought in from Asia. Possible questions to be addressed in this session are:
Did we underestimate the role of the private trade for the creation of a European market for Asian luxuries?
What was the role of re-export and informal modes of distribution for local and specialised markets in Europe?
Were there national differences in tastes and markets or were these class-based and, therefore, pan-European? What is the role fashion played in this context? Did the marketing of Asian luxuries work differently for one Company to another?
How did quality control work?