[MANUSCRIPT] Relacion sobre el trato de Filipinas.
[Manila], s.n., [c.1615]. Folio, ff , manuscript in ink in a secretarial hand on laid paper; foliation 32-35; recto of fourth leaf blank, verso with contemporary annotation ‘sobre el trato de filipinas’; originally folded for despatch; accompanied by a previous bookseller’s extensive scholarly notes; housed in a cloth portfolio, with a half calf protective case, spine lettered in gilt.
An extremely early Philippines document, being a report sent home to an unidentified minister (possibly the President of the Council of the Indies) on the condition of trade between the Philippines and New Spain.
‘This report reveals a masterly grasp of his subject on the part of the writer, who claims to have had eighteen years’ intimate experience of the conditions which prevailed in the trade between the merchants of the Philippine Islands and those of Mexico. Under Royal licence, the inhabitants of the Philippines, in consideration of supporting and holding those dominions for the Crown of Castille, were allowed to send merchandise to the Mexican markets to the annual value of 500,000 pesos. What was intended as a measure for the benefit of the trading community of Manila generally, resolved itself, in practice, into the aggrandisement of about twelve of the leading merchants of that city who, in partnership with a more or less equally small number of businessmen in Mexico, held the trade in their hands and, in flagrant disregard for the limit stipulated by the Royal mandate, the business carried on was three times the amount that was permitted, the difference being shared between the exporters of Manila and their correspondents and agents in New Spain.
What enabled this state of affairs to exist and continue was, so the writer contends, the placing of the merchandise in the care of commissaries, who drew salaries amounting to 15,000 pesos annually from the Royal Exchequer. In replacing these overseers by Crown officials, not only would those salaries be avoided, but a more thorough control would be exercised and abuse of the King’s concession prevented.
The vessel from Manila usually arrived some two months in advance of the merchantmen from Spain. The effect of this was that most of the available silver among the mercantile community of Mexico had been expended on the Philippine goods before the sales of Sevillean and other Spanish products took place – with the result that, year after year, when these latter were put on the market, poor prices were realised owing to the scarcity of the metal, and manufacturers in Spain often had to rest content with recovering principal and freight charges, without making any profit.
This mischief was aggravated by the practice of Manila merchants of buying in China on a large scale. In that country, the purchase of goods with goods was not possible, as the Chinese authorities would only allow export trading for cash, and no one dared, without running the risk of losing his life, to to take as much as one ounce of silver out of China, whose store of this medium of exchange was greater than that of all the Spanish dominions put together.
The principal cure for the existing evil, according to the author of this manuscript, was to take such measures as to make it impossible for more than the prescribed 500,000 pesos to leave Mexico every year. The beneficial effect of this move would be two-fold, for not only would there then be enough silver to allow the exporters in Spain to trade with their own colony on a fair basis, but the reduced amount of money available for the purchase of Chinese silk would foster a revival in the Spanish silk industry through the demand through the demand created for the satisfaction of the Mexican market in respect of that commodity.’ (From the manuscript notes of an unidentified previous owner or bookseller).