Inventory of Andrea di Clemente 1461

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    One of the hard things to grok about history before the 20th century is how little durable stuff most people had. The vast majority of work went into food and clothing and fuel, after that woodwork and ceramics. Almost all people could list all their movable goods on one side of a modern sheet of paper. This inventory from a shoemaker or cobbler of Ravenna who died in 1461 is representative of a prosperous working-class person’s inventory from the later middle ages.

    Excluding coins, clothing, and domestic textiles (towels, bedcovers, etc.) he owned the following:

    One ring of silver overgilt with a blue stone inside
    One big old coffer
    Three casse de abete use
    Two scaranne nance la lettera
    A table for furniture
    A vessel of capacity of five some
    About twelve some of wine
    Five stare of grain
    Four used belts/straps (chareghe)
    Item one big cauldron (calcedro) with capacity of one barrel
    One pair of caveduni for the fire (focho, mod. It. fuoco)
    One sole of wood (ramo)
    One iron spit and a pair of grid-irons
    Three used sacks for grain
    One sword with the scabbard (frodo = mod. it. fodero) and a partisan
    In the shop, a hundred and seventy-eight pairs of shoes, from large to small, and old resoled with the forms
    Two hundred pairs of forms or thereabouts from large to small
    Item four pairs of sides (fianchi)
    Item two white skins and a greased sheepskin
    Item two tubs for bastela

    Source: Elisa Tosi Brandi, Abbigliamento e Società a Rimini (Panozzo Editore, 2000) pp. 133, 134 The original is in mixed Latin and Italian

    The only brass or iron are the cauldron, the fire-dogs, the spit and griddles, the sword, and the partisan. We would expect he and his wife had a knife or two each, some earthenware and wooden ware to cook eat and drink with, and some knives and awls in the shop … we don’t always understand how these inventories worked. But its a good idea to remember that any large iron-alloy or copper-alloy object was usually a big deal to an ordinary working person before the late 19th century.

    • This topic was modified 3 years, 5 months ago by Philologus.
    • This topic was modified 3 years, 5 months ago by Philologus.

    Because the materials in a gown or an iron pot were so valuable, late medieval and early modern cities had all kinds of trades which specialized in repairing used goods, and all kinds of people who bought and resold things people did not need right now like pawn shops today. If a king wanted to equip an army, one of his household made some inquiries and a merchant would buy up all the used kit available and sell it to the king (Francesco di Marco Datini was in this business, and in Poland they still call pawn shops Lombards). Cobblers repaired shoes, fripperers remade clothing, and tinkers did small metalwork. There was a trendy term for this in the Silicon Valley crowd a few years ago, but its a very old practice.

    For story purposes, these trades give good opportunities for characters to meet or see traces of each other; they also served as fences, in 16th century Seville the fripperers had to display purchases near the door of their shop for a certain period before they could re-dye, re-line, or otherwise alter it so that anyone who was burgled would have a fair chance to recognize their clothing.

    They might be the people to ask for any special modifications to common objects which monster-hunters or world-walkers need.

    Hans Hellinger

    Very interesting and I’d love to see more of these. I’m not sure I agree with your conclusion as far as the rarity and value of metal objects in the 15th Century, in fact I categorically do not, but nevertheless you are bringing good data to the table.

    It does indeed matter if this guy is a cobbler or a shoemaker, cobblers only repaired shoes and were low-ranked artisans (who thus could be expected to be poor), while shoemakers were mid-ranked artisans who should have more money.

    A lot of artisans also lived in small places – bottom floor is the shop, second (first to Europeans) floor is the residence, and sometimes attic or third (second) floor or attic is a kind of storage warehouse.

    These kinds of lists are a lot of times legal documents related to disposing of property. This may have been what was left over after his wife or kids took their share.

    But regardless, good data. I’ll see if I can find a few of these myself!


    Some of the clothing is marked “of his lady” so her stuff is not all excluded.

    My understanding is that most late medieval people who were not servants lived in small buildings like all those one, two and three-bay structures in England (and the servants were fitting their lives around their masters’).

    I have a whole book of inventories from Dijon 1390-1408 by Guilhelm Ferrand but I have not gone all the way through it, my French is poor.

    • This reply was modified 3 years, 5 months ago by Philologus.
    Hans Hellinger

    Yes, but as with so many other things in the late medieval period, there was a great deal of regional variation. What is true in Bristol or even Dijon is not necessarily true in Florence, or Zurich or Krakow. Especially with cities.

    The Rhine is a big dividing line for this kind of stuff. When it comes to artisans, it also varied a lot from town to town. In one city, shoemakers might be a prominent craft, in another they may be marginal. In each town there were some dominant crafts, sometimes specialists like goldsmiths or cutlers, sometimes big industrial crafts like weavers – and there were also always ‘lesser crafts’.

    Generally though artisans usually did live in small houses, but that didn’t mean they were anywhere near as poor as was typical in English or French towns the 17th or 18th Centuries.

    Hans Hellinger

    Anyway, I think this is a great type of data source to look at – inventories of goods for probate / wills, and also for taxes and for militia inspections. Anne Tlusty goes over some of the latter type data in her Martial Ethic. The towns inspected people’s houses to see if they were sufficiently well armed, she has some statistics on that although almost all of her data is unfortunately 16th and 17th Centuries.

    For example in 1584, Raymond Fugger, obviously a very, very rich man, was found to have 9 sets of complete harness, 20 long guns, 20+ pistols, 36 swords, 23 polearms and “a variety of other weapons including battle axes, war hammers and maces”. Obviously that guy could have outfitted an entire army (and routinely did).

    IIRC she gets into more detail in that section though. I’ll go pull the book down from the shelf again and have a look later.

    Hans Hellinger

    Here are some probate records from England in the 14th and 15th Centuries:;idno=EEWills


    For what it’s worth, the reconstructed houses at Bärnau – Tachow and the medieval house plots in old Glurns / Glorenza are the same general order of size as the rural English houses in Christopher Dyer’s book. At Bärnau they have to keep the three villages a size which they can maintain, but they care about getting things right.

    And yes, there are differences between societies, but I think its important to get the general order of magnitude in mind first. Rimini in 1461 was not the kind of place where people burned down old wooden buildings to salvage the iron in the nails, but I don’t think it was the kind of place where a typical kitchen had a set of six big knives which got used once or twice a year either.

    From my point of view, Andrea di Clemente was in no way poor. He had a trade and a wife and a stock of goods and a cash reserve (including gold ducats of Venice!) He had several outfits of dyed clothing, including some broadcloth. I am sure he ate meat regularly and was not terribly cold in winter. A really poor working man would be someone like a day labourer helping to pack and move goods or dig ditches and hoping to be chosen out of the crowd of other desperate people.

    • This reply was modified 3 years, 5 months ago by Philologus.
    Hans Hellinger

    Yes agreed, the question is how representative is he vis-a-vis the middle? And how much property did a middling artisan or bottom tier ‘full citizen’ have in various regions. Certainly day laborers are indeed poorer than artisans.

    Normally at least for Central or Southern Europe the term is usually craft rather than trade. German ‘handwerker’ Italian ‘artigiano’, Czech ‘řemeslník’, Polish ‘rzemieślnik’, Swedish ‘hantverkare’, etc.

    I know that in some towns, artisans of specific crafts were well enough off that they were expected to provide not only weapons and armor, but also horse(s) for the militia. For example in Wismar in 1483 the butchers made up the bulk of the cavalry in their militia. I also know that wealthier craft artisans often owned more than one house or building. Some of them were involved in business complexes and / or were at the top of networks of subcontractors, whereas others (often but not always younger) were effectively the employees of these types.

    Town laws in different towns encouraged such specific types of stratification.

    One historian noted that the second lowest tier of residents of Frankfurt in 1380, consisting of 40% of the population (this list included citizens, partial citizens, and also non citizens or ‘denizens’ like servants and semi-skilled laborers) owned property between 12 and 20 florins. Below that was a tier of poorer servants and day laborers (20% of the population) who had less than 12 florins.

    12 -20 florins is not a lot but it’s hardly trivial – I think it’s much more money than you would find in the hands of most of the people in say 17th Century London or Paris.

    Hans Hellinger

    For context, this is a housing project from early 16th Century Augsburg. The units are smallish but not just like a one-room booth type house. And these are for paupers / people on alms. Rent is still paid by the original 16th Century Fugger endowment (tenants pay 1 Euro per year)

    Most of the units are modern, but they maintain two of them in their original early 16th Century configuration, with typical accoutrements (again, this is for someone on alms).

    Again, not luxury by any means but not quite the destitution you are kind of implying. And far better than what you would see in many dwelling places in some place like Cairo or Rio dei Janerio today, or London in the 18th-19th Century.

    Hans Hellinger

    I have read inspections from the 17th Century complaining of tenants building bathtubs into their kitchen stove in these places.

    Hans Hellinger

    Also, my comment on cobblers wasn’t to ridicule the occupation or to advocate a modern ‘disposable’ consumer culture, it’s just for context- cobblers were considered a marginal craft in most towns and were relatively low in the hierarchy- usually part of the ‘grand guild’ which was a catch-all for the lesser crafts.

    Here are a few images of artisans workshops from the Balthasar Behem Codex (Krakow 1505)

    Crossbowmaker’s workshop

    A cutler’s workshop

    Carpenter’s workshop

    None of these give the impression of a tiny one-room booth or that they are lacking in personal property, tools of their trade, clothing or furniture. The crossbowmaker can afford glass windows and his wife can afford ink and paper to do her books in a ledger instead of on wax tablets. They even have flowers in a vase. And both the proprieter’s and their apprentices or journeymen are clad in colorful attire with multiple fabrics.

    Here you can see what are supposed to be apprentices and journeymen ‘shooting the popinjay’ quite a bit more colorfully attired in what we can asume are some of their nicest clothes, wearing sidearms and bearing crossbows, overseen by bored guards (town watch, also probably young artisans) with their requisite armor and some pavise shields.

    Hans Hellinger

    I think we have to question everything we think we know from this period. We need a wholeseale flushing of the Victorian and Cold War era meme’s and tropes, and to start all over again from scratch.

    Hans Hellinger

    Saint Eligius as a goldsmith… with lots of nice toys

    Hans Hellinger

    It’s true that of course you could find isolated and poverty stricken regions where people had very little, and you don’t have to go way out to the Faeroes or Iceland. Wllachia, Albania and a lot of the Balkans, especially after the Ottoman conquests… up in the Pyrennes and much of Granada, most of Ireland (though they could afford colored cloth – especially saffron / yellow) and many areas in England and Scotland, certain rural parts of Germany, Sicily, certain parts of France and some southern regions of Italy, a lot of Russia especially the part under direct Mongol control. And so on and so forth.

    So when people say “if you look hard enough you can find a place and time that fills almost every Trope” I guess that is true but it’s also kind of meaningless. I can find people living in my own city today who live like cavemen, I pass a handful of them on the way to work every day.

    But I still think the Trope is misleading and even destructive. It does not really portray the era in question, especially the towns. The thriving, clean, bustling, lively, vibrant, self managed medieval town is almost never portrayed in any of the millions of outlets of genre media (TV, video, computer games, tabletop RPGs graphic novels, etc. etc. etc.) which depict these eras which we seem so fascinated with. It’s always the filthy, ignorant, benighted caveman. And yet, where is the facility where they build all that plate armor the knights are wearing? Where is the organized group of people who built the Cathedrals, castles and great buildings? Nowehre to be found apparently. Just a bunch of wretched cavemen.

    And yet there were thousands of thriving, vibrant towns and even small market villages like that all over Europe. I can find them in every country and region. (Ok maybe not in Iceland or the Faeroes but you know what I’m saying…)

    It would be like if at some time in the future you did shows or games about the 20th or 21st Century and every scene was in a favella, a refugee camp, or a shanty town. Sure they do exist, and sure even in the US we had the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl where for a while in the 30’s it was fairly widespread… followed by World War II when so much of the world was smashed, broken and burned up. Even today you could go to a War-Torn place like Syria or Congo or a place in extreme economic deprivation like Venezuela or North Korea. So if you looked hard enough you could find that Trope, yes.

    But this is hardly a universal or even common condition in most of the world this period, today. The point I’m making is that it wasn’t the most common condition in the Middle Ages either, in fact quite to the contrary. The last 300-400 years of the Middle Ages is basically when there was such an incredible surge of culture and technology that “Western” culture went from being roaming barbarians to pulling ahead of the rest of the world.

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