A Treatise of Commerce, wherin are shewed the commodies [sic] arising by a wel ordered, and ruled trade, such as that of the societie of merchantes adventurers is proved to bee, written principallie for the better information of those who doubt of the necessarienes of the said societie in the state of the realme of Englande. Middelburg, Richard Schilders, 1601.

Small 4to, pp. [2] blank, [vi], 178; without the errata found in some copies; MS ink correction (Commodities) to the title and several of the errata corrected in a contemporary hand; leaves Z2–3 missed in sewing and tipped in slightly proud, one or two slight dampmarks to upper margin of a few leaves; a very good copy in seventeenth-century panelled calf, skilfully rebacked, corners restored, with the armorial bookplate of Charles Montagu, 3rd Earl of Halifax (dated 1702) to the blank verso of the title (see below); another bookplate sometime removed from the front pastedown; preserved in a cloth box.


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Very rare first edition. With a long authorial presentation inscription on the initial blank to a fellow Merchant Adventurer:

To the right worshipfull, grave and
prudent Senator, and one of the Fathers
of the farre renomnpned [i.e. renowned] Fellowshippe
of Merchant Adventurers of England Mr
Leonard Hallidaie Esquire and Alderman
of the Cittye of Londone[,] John Wheeler
once and still his servant sendeth this
his simple woork with heartye wishes of
all happiness and longe lyfe to hym and hys.
Middelbroughe 28 Decembris anno 160[1]
J Wheeler:

Sir Leonard Halliday (1537–1612) became Lord Mayor of London in 1605. His widow, Anne (née Wincot), married Henry Montagu, first Earl of Manchester, in 1613, and the book must have passed to Henry’s son, George, and thus to Charles Montagu (1661–1715), third Earl of Halifax, Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1693, a founder of the Bank of England, and a keen collector of books and antiquities, known for his private library, ‘a gallery nobly furnished with curious books placed under statues as in Cotton’s’ (quoted in the Oxford DNB).

Wheeler was Secretary of the Society of Merchant Adventurers of England, the strongest of the ‘regulated’ trading companies; A Treatise of Commerce is his defence of it. Written to show the superiority of the Merchant Adventurers over unorganized traders, the Treatise argues that competition among merchants was minimized, that the large fleets employed by such a company secure commerce, increase exports, cheapen imports, raise the customs revenue, and benefit the nation in time of war. The book contains a detailed account of alliances with the Low Countries, trade with Antwerp and a survey of trade between England and the Hansa towns, with a refutation of the charge against the Merchant Adventurers of being monopolists.

Hotchkiss describes the book as ‘the earliest important example of corporation publicity … a piece of commercial propaganda … [and] an important milestone in the development of marketing. In its substance, it represents the characteristically medieval theory of the trade monopoly, bolstered by monarchical authority and jealously guarded against competition. In its method, it anticipates the characteristically modern practice of winning popular support through the medium of the printed word’ (foreword to the NYU Press edition, 1931; ‘few books that compare in importance … have had to wait so long for a reprinting’).

The prefatory dedication, to Sir Robert Cecil, is dated Middelburg (the Society’s base on the Continent), 6 June 1601. A London edition (pp. 126) was printed later in the month.

STC 25330; Kress 243 (lacking initial blank and errata); this edition not in Goldsmiths’ or Mattioli. See Appleby, Economic Thought & Ideology in 17th Century England, pp. 94, 105–106, 116; Hecksher, Mercantilism, passim; Palgrave III, 665; Schumpeter, pp. 306, 339f.

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