< Back

Book Notes: The Brazilian Diamond in Contracts, Contraband and Capital, Harry Bernstein

Edgar Samuel

<plain_text><page sequence="1">The Brazilian Diamond in Contracts, Contraband and Capital, Harry Bernstein (University Press of America, Lanham MD, 1988) 170 pp. $24.50. This is a readable study of the Brazilian diamond trade in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and it makes an excellent complement to Gedaliah Yogev's Diamonds and Coral on the East Indian diamond trade, although, rather strangely, the author does not refer to or seem to be aware of it. The scope of the book is indicated by its five chapter headings: (1) Rough diamonds from Brazil. (2) Diamonds as jewellery. Cut and polished diamonds: the art of the Lisbon diamond cutter. (3) Diamonds in banking: Brazilian diamonds, Portuguese loans and Anglo-Dutch bankers. (4) Samuel, Phillips &amp; Company of London and Rio de Janeiro. (5) Samuel, Phillips &amp; Company and relations with Rothschild. As well as being interesting, this study breaks new ground, based on fresh research in Brazil, Portugal and London. The author tells how the Portuguese government attempted to monopolize and control the marketing of Brazil's diamond production with considerable though incomplete success; how it used diamonds as collateral for government loans, and how this process continued after Brazilian independence. I found the chapter about Lisbon diamond cutters less significant. Portugal succeeded in attracting some skilled diamond polishers to Lisbon and to Rio de Janeiro, where they polished some of the larger stones, being able to compete with London, Paris and Amsterdam because their raw-material costs were lower. But of course large gemstones were only a small part of the industry, and Lisbon could never compete with Amsterdam when it 282</page><page sequence="2">Book Notes came to polishing small brilliants and roses, where division of labour and low labour costs were most important. For the Anglo-Jewish historian, the most interesting part of the book concerns the firm of Samuel, Phillips &amp; Company, pioneer British merchants in Rio de Janeiro,, and their role as merchant bankers. Although the author does not mention it, Samuel Moses Samuel, the head of the London house, was married to the sister of Mrs N.M. Rothschild and of Sir Moses Montefiore, and this proved mutually convenient. Samuel, Phillips and Company started a branch of the Rothschild &amp; Montefiore 'Alliance Assurance Company' in Brazil. We also learn that Dennis Samuel presented a model of Jerusalem to Dom Pedro, Emperor of Brazil, which the author believes was Rabbi Judah Leon Templo's seventeenth-century model of the Temple, which disappeared from the English scene at around that time. Despite its readability, I felt that the book suffered from narrowness of vision. I would have liked some comparison between the control of diamond and gold production in Minas Gerais, to see how they were similar and how they differed. It would be interesting to know if Mocatta and Goldsmid and Sir Isaac Lyon Goldsmid worked with Dennis Samuel at all, since both were rewarded with Portuguese baronies at much the same time for helping to resolve financial disputes between Portugal and Brazil. It would also be interesting to know the full name of Samuel Moses Samuel's partner Mr Phillips, and how they were related. My other criticism is that the footnotes contain too many misprints and that the references to many manuscript sources are insufficient to enable other researchers to locate them. The account of Samuel, Phillips &amp; Company and their business is fascinating and quite new. Edgar Samuel</page></plain_text>