Container Transport: From skin bags to iron flasks. Changing technologies of quicksilver packaging between Almadén and America,1788–1848

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Abstract

France and Britain competed, in the late Bourbon and post-Napoleonic period, to take over Spain’s Atlantic trade. I examine the preconditions for this rivalry in the case of quicksilver, essential for amalgamating silver in the refineries of Mexico and South America. Spain provided the quicksilver, the art of amalgamation, an established system of production and distribution, and modern container packaging to serve the 19th century. But were iron flasks, first proposed for transporting quicksilver in 1788, really an economy? Or were the decisive factors volume, security, and the convenience of the accountants? Documentation from Seville, the Rothschild Archive London and Potosi (Bolivia) shows striking delays in their introduction. But by the 1830s Ezpeleta (Bordeaux) and NM Rothschild (London) were selling them, full, at monopoly prices, and shipping them from Seville and Cadiz to Bordeaux, London, Liverpool and the rest of the world. Their introduction by Spain before and during the American Wars of Independence made possible the Rothchilds’ quicksilver cartel.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)205-253
Number of pages49
JournalPast & Present
Volume214
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2012

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