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De VOC in Amsterdam : verslag van de…

De VOC in Amsterdam : verslag van de werkgroep

by Frouke M. Wieringa

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The East India Company at home

Ogier, a French visitor of Amsterdam remarked that in 1636 everybody in Amsterdam was familiar with the history of the West and East Indies. Every shoemaker or tailor owned some Asian valuables or had maps or pictures of sea battles of the East India Company.

For sightseeing foreigners, the East India House was the fourth most important place to visit (the stock exchange was the place most often mentioned in travel memoirs). The East India House contained offices and godowns with spices, china, textiles, gold and silver. There was also a collection of paintings, maps, and Asian arms, as well as the pharmacist's office and a storage room for secret maps made by Joan Blaeu.

The East India House was just one of the Company's locations in the city. The Company built its own ships, first (as of 1608) at the Rapenburg, and as of the 1660's on the artificial island(s) Oostenburg. It contained roperies, a smithy, a sail loft, a slaughterhouse and more storage space. The Company was Amsterdam's biggest employer. The wharf on Oostenburg employed some 1,000-1,200 people, all working under oath. Oostenburg was also used for storage. Expensive items were stored at the East India House, but bulk goods (like arak and wine from the Cape of Good Hope) were stored here. There were even some stables where animals were kept. The archives mention an elephant and, curiously, a polar beer.

Economically, trade with Asia made up about 13% of the total trade of the Dutch Republic. The East India Company was a merger of earlier local companies, which operated as a merger company until bankruptcy. Originally a share would last 10 years, when the principal and profit would be returned. But the financial situation was not sufficient and the capital remained. Shareholders ("participants") had few rights. Craftsmen and maids were among the original shareholders. Many would sell their shares, so that most of the profit ended up with large shareholders, mostly merchants. After 1632 a fixed dividend of 12.5% was paid. The Amsterdam chamber, owner of almost 50% of the shares, effectively set prices. In the earlier years, the cargo was often sold to syndicates of merchants (often Company directors), driving out small traders. In the Company's Amsterdam public announcements, Chinese measurements like "catti" and "picol" were used. Buyers were invited in the domestic and foreign press. Directors, assigned by the city's burgomasters and thus mostly recruited from elite families, had to be quite active: examining craftsmen, taking oaths of the sailors when ships departed, daily opening of the vaults, and handling the most expensive cargo. The Company had procedures for all kinds of tasks, e.g. the payment of salaries to sailors' families, no small feat in a time of slow communication and short life expectancy.

Registration in the East India House for jobs on ships was announced by drums and trumpets. Sailors, often "High Germans", were shanghaied by merchants who received 150 guilders of a sailor's income as premium. Given that sailors could die before they had earned that amount, the contracts were sold to others with an 80 guilder discount.

Craftsmen working on the wharf received higher pay than in any other city of the Republic. Senior craftsmen were given housing near the warf. Their working hours followed the hours of daylight (unlike accountants, who were "middle management" in modern parlance), and the salary changed throughout the year accordingly. Salaries rose with experience. Ordinary workers could lose their jobs any time when their was not enough to do. The Company seems decidedly modern in its extensive procedures and their argumentation.

An interesting introduction. ( )
1 vote mercure | Jan 9, 2012 |
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