Item #B5773 Tariffa de pexi e mesure. [Qui comincia la utilissima opera chiamata taripha…]
Tariffa de pexi e mesure. [Qui comincia la utilissima opera chiamata taripha…]
Tariffa de pexi e mesure. [Qui comincia la utilissima opera chiamata taripha…]
Tariffa de pexi e mesure. [Qui comincia la utilissima opera chiamata taripha…]
Tariffa de pexi e mesure. [Qui comincia la utilissima opera chiamata taripha…]
Tariffa de pexi e mesure. [Qui comincia la utilissima opera chiamata taripha…]
First Edition of the Printed Manual of Venetian Trade
[VENICE] / [ECONOMICS] / PAXI, Bartholomeo di.
Venice, Albertin da Lisona Vercellese, 26 July 1503 [colophon at f. K4v].

Tariffa de pexi e mesure. [Qui comincia la utilissima opera chiamata taripha…].

4to [20.8 x 15.1 cm], (156) ff. (final leaf blank), with woodcut initials. Bound in later green-stained vellum, book label of E. Tomash inside upper cover. Only minor edge wear and rubbing to binding. First quire a bit loose, stamp on title (Bibliothek der Handelskammer zu Leipzig), occasional mostly minor and marginal dampstaining, occasional minor staining, minor edge wear and marginal tears to a few leaves.

An exceedingly rare first edition (1503) of the first printed Venetian ‘tariffa’ (Tucci, “Tariffe,” p. 92) published at the height of Venice’s hegemony as a trading power in the eastern Mediterranean and only the 2nd printed ‘tariffa’ overall (see below).  The ‘tariffa’ is a comprehensive mercantile manual compiled to bring order to the bewildering diversity of prices, weights, measures and quality grades for the hundreds of commodities and currencies traded among Venice and her many business partners from London to the Levant; and Bartholomeo Paxi’s (or Passi) Tariffa de pexi e mesure – a key work from a transitional moment in global trade – represents a seminal source for understanding the commercial state of the Venetian Maritime Empire at the turn of the 16th century, having been printed only a decade after the discovery of the New World and within years of the opening of the Atlantic spice-route to India.  It was also at the very end of the Second Venice-Ottoman War (1499-1503), a conflict which had disrupted trade in the Adriatic, Ionian and Aegean Seas that this work became a kind of vademecum for Mediterranean merchants and traders. With this book, historians are able follow the routes of goods imported to and exported from scores of ports in contact with Venice and to glimpse not only the economic details of European trade at the time, but also how traders developed a common base of knowledge and familiarized themselves with each other’s traditions and attitudes about goods to be bought and sold.

Paxi’s work represents an expanded improvement on the Venetian manuscript documents known as tariffe (today very rare), which provided “a clear picture of the administrative, fiscal, and economic reality” (A. Sopracasa, p. 91) of Venetian international trade in the period. Produced principally in the 15th and the 16th centuries, the tariffe were “handwritten booklets (a few to dozens of folios according to the degree of elaboration) concerning only one commercial place [usually a port]. Archives and libraries preserve specimens of these documents for Alexandria in Egypt, Constantinople (1482), England, and Syria (16th century), that is, for the ‘pillars’ of the Venetian economic world of that time. These documents were written locally by Venetian merchants and consular authorities and they were made public (available to both the resident merchants in Venice and the commission agents overseas). Additionally, they were approved by the Venetian Senate and were of practical use (they are more practical than merchants’ manuals and more theoretical than account books). These documents, far from being the mere product of the action of the central power, collect a knowledge developed by the local administration in close contact with Western merchants … For each commodity the ‘tariffs’ give a list of expenses for its handling, through operations like transport (to or from the harbor, the customs, the fondaco), weighing, measuring, warehousing, sifting, packing, registering of the sale, etc.; they explain the local metrological system; they physically describe spices; there is advice on the best way to negotiate; and, of course, they give a complete description of the taxation on goods” (A. Sopracasa, pp. 91-2).

Paxi’s Tariffa de pexi e mesure is thus extraordinary both because it collects such information for not just one, but many entrepôts, and because it was printed to attain a wider audience than its manuscript predecessors. Paxi’s guide “is a particularly valuable source, insofar as it contains many data about weights and measures which are missing in other similar treatises. A striking feature of this work … is the habit of its author to compare the same weight with many others, much more than the authors of the other merchant guides did” (Ashtor, p. xxi). Paxi discusses trade to and from Damascus, Cairo, Alexandria, Constantinople, Aman, Tunis, Tripoli, London, Bruges, Barcelona, Valencia, Marseille, Lyon, Paris, Sicily, Majorca, Lisbon and dozens of cities on the Italian Peninsula for goods such as cloth (linen, silk, wool, damask, velvet, gold and silver brocade, etc.), furs (sables, vairs, marten, ermine), rosary beads of coral and glass, amber, soap, saffron, sulfur, tin, lead, sugar, chestnuts (roasted and in wine), oil, horse and pig hair, sugar, molasses, honey, wax, wine, currants, mastic, walnuts, figs, plums, almonds, pine nuts, cheese, bells, boxwood, needles, thimbles, antimony, dyestuff, blue glaze for glassmaking, wire, alum, timber, iron pots, gold dust, pearls, caviar, dried meats, perfumes, mercury, soap, precious stones, and writing paper.

Paxi’s “very precious and generally up-to-date information” (Arbel, p. 41) would have been of use both for agents on the ground and for the training of young merchants: “the training of merchants necessitated up-to-date instruments, and there is no reason to exclude the possibility that an impressive work like that of Paxi genuinely reflected the movements and content of Venetian trade in the Levant at the time of its first appearance in print (1503). In the prologue to his work, Paxi declares that it was the fruit of long and serious effort and laborious study (grave e longa mia faticha e laborioso studio). In fact, there are several indications that Paxi’s book was indeed the consequence of a genuine effort to provide up-to-date material on the world of international trade in the period of its original publication” (Arbel, pp. 41-2). Paxi is, for example, current on recent changes in weights and measures (Tucci, “Manuali,” p. 220) and he even dutifully excludes from his discussion Coron and Modon, the important Venetian ports in the southern Peloponnese, which had been lost to the Ottomans in 1500, and which were not re-integrated into the post-war system of Venetian commerce (Arbel, pp. 43).

Paxi’s Tariffa de pexi e mesure apparently retained its usefulness well into the second half of the 16th century, appearing in re-editions of 1521, 1540 and 1557 (these guides traveled the seas, making all editions rare today). The only printed tariffa to precede Paxi comes from the ambit of Florence, where such books were referred to as libri di mercature. That book, Giorgio di Chiarini’s Libro che tratta di mercanzie et usanze dei paesi, which is considerably less extensive and discursive than Paxi’s tariffa, appeared in editions of 1481, 1490, and 1498 and was partially reprinted in Luca Pacioli’s famed Summa di Arithmetica of 1494. The manuscript “prototype” (Meuvret, p. 9) of the tariffa genre in general was Francesco Balducci Pegolotti’s Libro di divisamenti di paesi or Practica della mercatura (c. 1340, published only in 1766 and again in 1936), a work associated with the Bardi banking family of Florence. Tariffe, being geographically specific and rich in real-world information about goods which were actually traded, are not to be confused with the general mathematics books which appeared in print from at least 1478 (the so-called ‘Treviso Arithmetic’), namely the practical algorisms or abaci published for the instruction of merchants and other trades requiring the rudiments of calculation.

OCLC locates U.S. examples of the 1503 first edition of Paxi’s Tariffa de pexi e mesure at Columbia, UCLA, Michigan, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Linda Hall, Harvard Business, Harvard Houghton, and Temple.

* Smith, Rara Arithmetica p.77; USTC 846938; d’Essling 1386; Tomash & Williams P23; Edit16 17267; Goldsmiths’ 7; Hoock & Jeannin P5.2; G. Massa, Trattato complete di Ragioneria, vol. 12, p. 192; U. Tucci, “Tariffe veneziane e libri toscani di mercatura,” Studi Veneziani, vol. 10 (1968), pp. 65-108; U. Tucci, “Manuali di mercatura e pratica degli affari nel Medioevo,” in Fatti e idee di storia economica nei secoli xii-xx: Studi dedicati a Franco Borlandi (Bologna, 1977), 215–31; A. Sopracasa, “Venetian Merchants and Alexandrian Officials (End of the Fifteenth-Beginning of the Sixteenth Century),” Mamluk Studies Review, vol. 19 (2016), pp. 91-100; A. Sopracasa, “Le condizioni della presenza veneziana: le tariffe,” in Rapporti mediterranei, pratiche documentarie, presenze veneziane: le reti economiche e culturali (XIV–XVI secolo), ed. G. Ortalli and A. Sopracasa, pp. 109-32; A. Sopracasa, “Les marchands vénitiens à Constantinople d’après une tariffa inédite de 1482,” Studi Veneziani, vol. 63 (2011), pp. 49-218; J. Meuvret, “Manuels et traités à l’usage des négociants aux premières époques de l’âge modern,” Etudes d’histoire économiques,” pp. 231-50, Etudes d'histoire moderne et contemporaine, vol. 5 (1953), pp. 5-29; P. Spufford, “Late Medieval Merchants’ Notebooks: A Project. Their Potential for the History of Banking,” in Kaufmannsbücher und Handelspraktiken vom Spätmittelalter bis zum beginnenden 20. Jahrhundert, M. A. Denzel et al. eds., pp. 47-62; E. Ashtor, Levant Trade in the Middle Ages; B. Arbel, “The Last Decades of Venice’s Trade with the Mamluks: Importations into Egypt and Syria,” Mamluk Studies Review, vol. 8 (2004), pp. 37-86; D. E. Smith, ed., The Sumario compendioso of Brother Juan Diez: The Earliest Mathematical Work of the New World. (1556); A. Orlandi, “Ora diremo di Napoli”: I traffici dell’area campania nei manuali di commercio.


See all items in Rare Books