One of the standard objections against guilds in the premodern world has been their exclusiveness. Guilds have been portrayed as providing unfair advantages to the children of established masters and locals, over immigrants and other outsiders. Privileged access to certain professions and industries is seen as a source of inequality and a disincentive for technological progress. In this paper, we examine this assumption by studying the composition of guild masters and apprentices from a large sample of European towns and cities from 1600 to 1800, focusing on the share who were children of masters or locals. These data offer an indirect measurement of the strength of guild barriers and, by implication, of their monopolies. We find very wide variation between guilds in practice, but most guild masters and apprentices were immigrants or unrelated locals: openness was much more common than closure, especially in larger centers. Our understanding of guild “monopolies” and exclusivity is in need of serious revision.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sociology and Political Science