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Richard J. Salvucci, Textiles and capitalism in Mexico.

An economic history of the obrajes 1539-


“Until the eighteenth century, the inhabitants of New Spain largely made their own cloth. Until then,
colonial textiles were sheltered from competition, since imports – by price or quality, or both – were
essentially luxury goods. The stablishment of commercial production under relative autarchy, and
its inability to survive integration into the world market after 1790, therefore tells much about the
structure and productivity of the economy as a whole and, particularly, about conditions of supply.
Supply in turns reflects cost, and cost, relative scarcity. Societies face no decision more basic than
the approach to scarcity” pp.3

“In the history of Mesoamerica, from the times of classic civilization to our own, adaptation to
scarcity has conditioned patterns of settlement and shaped institutions for successive generations
of conqueror and conquered” pp.3

El objetivo principal del texto es explicar como la actividad de producción textil estaba organizada y
fue afectada por el ambiente y el colonialismo.

La fabricación de telas implica dentro de este texto ver aspectos de producción, distribución e
intercambio. Las características de oferta y demanda son un aspecto esencial de este texto en la
medida que se encuentran imbuidas en el problema de la actividad comercial dentro de mercados
imperfectos. Esto permite observar el capitalismo colonial y su complejidad. Si bien no es una
imagen perfecta, es una aproximación para entender el funcionamiento de este. (pp.3-4)

La hipótesis central del texto es que el cambio tecnológico, los precios, y la explotación sistemática
de los obreros fueron todos parte de un mismo objeto. El obraje fue una institución limitada en su
potencial de crecimiento de producción. El acceso de los obrajes a precios más baratos de algodón
creció durante finales del periodo colonial, sin embargo, su ineficiencia perduró, lo que impidió su
competencia en el siglo XIX con los textiles británicos.

El autor reconoce la existencia de textos previos que han tratado el tema con fuente primaria, sin
embargo, el busca agregar aspectos acerca de la producción, precios, vestimenta, capitalización y
fuerza laboral, mayormente dentro de tablas.

- Una tesis acerca de la fabricación de telas en el Socorro deber mantener en cuenta el

desarrollo algodonero de fines del siglo XVIII y como Girón representó un centro de
producción importante a fines de siglo.

La teoría económica y la medición de datos son aspectos esenciales dentro de este texto. Sin
embargo, hay que tener en cuenta que la estadística dentro de este tipo de trabajos es siempre
tentativa. Los cálculos realizados no deben de estar finalmente fuera de su contexto. Las bases
teóricas del texto se encuentran en la teoría de precios de la teoría neoclásica justificándose en que
preguntas como cual patrones de empleo o precios relativos son aspectos que se hace esta
propuesta teórica.

Chapter I, A web of weavers

“The telares sueltos or individual looms existed within a variety of social, institutional and
productive relationships. They mirrored the pattern of rancheros in agriculture and pegujaleros in
tobacco planting, a class ranking from prosperous artisans and petty capitalist to the working poor.
In textiles in particular, many people employed by the telares sueltos formed part of a large,
informal economy whose precise dimensions were stochastic and fluctuated substantially. They
were, for example looms owned by independent handicraft producers and those operated by
cottage and domestic workers tied to merchant financers” pp. 10-11

“In late colonial Mexico, the idea of telar suelto embraced a variety of productive arrangements
including artisan, handicraft, and domestic putting-out types. Handicraft or artisan looms were
typically the property of small producers who worked at home, but they were also operated in small
shops, such as trapiches and obradores. The simplest form of handicraft found a weaver and his
family operating a loom or two at home and working up the cotton or the wool. This sometimes
shaded into a domestic or putting-out system, where the weaver entered into a relationship with a
merchant financer or a large textile entrepreneur, the owner of an obraje who provided credit and
raw material” pp. 12

- Why didn’t the textile output of Socorro form an obraje production style? What
requirements weren’t present so that this type of production never came into New
Granada? Was the extension of the market so small, or their profits so low that the added
value wasn’t enough for the expansion?

“Such activity [telares sueltos] did not, and could not, absorb more than part of the participants’
time if only because supplies of raw materials were seasonal, and inventories were costly to hold.
[…] periods of work were followed by periods of idleness. This goes some way toward explaining
why the productivity of telares sueltos was relatively low. A weaver working sporadically on inferior
cottons and woolens earned only a small income and could hardly accumulate much capital.
Moreover, when demand fell, handicraft weavers abandoned their looms and sought other sources
of support. In this way, through loans, merchant capital entered the industry” pp. 14

- Was the work in New Granada seasonal, or did it operate in a continuous basis? was there
a great merchant giving loans to small weavers or a group of merchants? If there wasn’t,
then who provided the economic base for the production?

“More complex than the telares sueltos were the trapiches and obradores. The larger of these were
small shops divorced from the household economy, and their owners were petty capitalist who
employed a few assistants, rather than heads of families working with kin.” Pp. 15

“Production in the trapiches and obradores was roughly similar. Both shops were ostensibly
prohibited from producing fine cloths and limited to making says, bays, friezes and <other weavings
of lesser accounts> the difference between them may have been terminological. […] real
differences were minor, for both shops occupied an intermediate position between artisans and
household industry and the complex organizational patterns of the obraje” pp. 16

El autor realiza una tabla de precios a partir de las ganancias anuales de los tejedores. La posibilidad
de realizar esto es gracias a dividir la ganancia en el tiempo. Sin embargo, esta posibilidad omite la
idea de días sagrados, los cuales la población no trabajaba.

“there were a number of variant relationships weavers and their suppliers. These ranged from a
capitalistic domestic system to traditional artisan industry. […] much took place informally and
remained unrecorded. Woolens were essentially the preserve of the obrajes, and the supply of wool
is properly considered in relation to them.” Pp. 28

- La tesis debe tener en cuenta que la zona de producción textil, y de producción algodonera
no distaba como en el caso mexicano. La provincia del Socorro, Vélez y Girón eran de una
alta agricultura de algodón que suplían la demanda de los talleres locales.

Chapter II, Embrión de la fábrica

Some factory definitions “Although a formal definition of factory has proven difficult fo reven
economic historians, its characteristics include the concentration of numerous workers in one place,
the horizontal division of labor, and the close supervision of and coordination of work. Machinery is
not necessary to the definition, but specialization of the workplace is. People go to the factory to
work, not to live” pp. 33

“There were logical reasons for a Spanish casa to meet the physical requirements of an obraje. A
large obraje might contain twenty-five or thirty looms; a spacious residence could accommodate
them. The design of the casa, with it central courtyards or patios, surrounded by large satellite
spaces (piezas and galeras), and topped by a mezzanine and a second story, was well suited to the
organization and flow of work that the manufacture of woolens required. There was rooms for the
inventories and for the needs of managers and foremen; there were even owners who lived at the
obrajes.[…] In short, although the particular structure of the obraje differed from place to place, and
from rural to urban environments, all possessed common features and tended toward thorough but
incomplete functional specialization” pp. 34

“[the obraje] was larger in scale than the trapiches and obradores, not to mention domestic
industry. It brought together the stages of producing woolens and provided residence for a
substantial and specialized labor force. On the surface, it resembled the facrory in the functional
sense, a simple forerunner, or <protofactory> as these are called. But appearances may be
deceiving. The early factory systems was based on its efficiency, or ability to produce more forgiven
inputs. The factory’s overhead, or fixed cost from the purchase or rental of productive assets, were
spread over substantial output. By implication, the system depended upon a tendency for total
factor productivity, or overall efficiency, to increase. But there was no important technological
change in the obrajes during the colonial period. And while single-factor measurements of output
per loom favored obrajes over telares sueltos, such differences could not offset the fixed costs of
the obraje bore.” Pp. 38-39

“The obraje produced woolens commercially for a large colonial demand in the face of significant
market imperfections. By integrating production, the obraje reduced covariance in supply. It also
lowered the cost of transfer or transaction that made commercial production difficult” pp. 39

- Para el siglo XVIII los problemas de encontrar mano de obra útil para la elaboración de
textiles dejó de ser un problema.

“The obrajes integrated the manufacture of woolens and lowered or stabilized the supply price of
factors of production. This was particularly evident in skilled operations such as weaving, dyeing and
finishing in which the market was thin (few buyers and sellers) and subject to volatile prices. Where
there were more suppliers as in spinning and carding, dependence upon the putting-out system was
less risky, and the obrajes frequently did so. […] In other words, the Mexican obraje met the demand
for commercial production in a small economy in which markets were thin and imperfect, and the
response of supply, uncertain. […] The principal imperfections were related to cost of both transfer
and production” pp. 41