Annual EBHS Conference, 39th Annual Economic and Business History Society Conference

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Financing Beer in Rotterdam during the Dutch Golden Age
Richard Yntema

Last modified: 2014-03-10


This paper explores how Dutch industry was financed during the Dutch Golden Age.  A broad range of scholarship has examined the role of credit in financing consumption, industries, and long-distance trade in early modern Europe.  For the Dutch Republic, mercantile credit and financial intermediaries, including the Dutch East India Company and the Bank of Amsterdam, have been most studied.  Comparatively less work has examined the industrial sector.  Since banks and formal financial institutions did not typically lend to industry, the question arises how were Dutch industries financed?

This case study examines how Rotterdam’s brewers financed their firms and used trade credit in building distribution networks.  Since the late middle ages, brewing was one of Holland’s major export industries.  Economies of scale in production brought about technological and institutional changes transformed the brewing industry in the mid-sixteenth century.  Consequently, the extension of supplier credit became critical in financing distribution networks, especially in export towns like Rotterdam.

Since the bookkeeping breweries once kept has been lost, this paper uses notarial records and probate records to understand how Rotterdam' breweries were financed and the role of trade credit.  These records show that brewers relied on trade credit from suppliers in purchasing their inputs, including grain, hops, barrels, labor, and the like.  These records give an even clearer picture of the importance of supplier credit in financing the sale of beer, including the distribution of beer to local customers, taverns, and wholesalers in the countryside and other towns, including in other provinces.  Since not all beer debts were promptly paid, this paper also shows how brewers negotiated and re-negotiated with distributors in seeking repayment.  However, when this failed, brewers did not hesitate to use Dutch courts in enforcing contracts and settling debts. 

While formal credit institutions were underdeveloped by modern standards, this paper shows how during the Dutch Golden Age, Holland’s financial and legal institutions allowed brewers to establish large-scale firms and to finance extensive distribution networks.