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Jews and the Coral Trade

L. Wolf

<plain_text><page sequence="1">10. Jews and the Coral Trade. The appended document, which has been kindly brought to the notice of the Society by Mr. Horace Mitchell, Assistant Superintendent of Records at the India Office, is interesting for at least two reasons. In the first place, it illustrates the large part played by Jews in the coral trade, as controlled by the East India Company, for of the sixteen</page><page sequence="2">JEWS AND THE CORAL TRADE. XXXV? leading firms signing it, eight are Jewish; and, in the second place, the appearance of Benjamin DTsraeli (the grandfather of Lord Beaconsfield) among the signatories marks an important turning-point in the varie? gated career of that adventurous personage. Jews were prominent in the coral trade from a very early period, and their interest in it had much to do with the migrations which gradually shaped the Anglo-Je wish community in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Coral was shipped to India, where there was a great demand for it, and the returns were very largely taken in diamonds. Hence, two Jewish interests were involved, that of the great gem merchants of London and Amsterdam, who were chiefly Jews, and that of the coral dealers in Italy, who were also very largely Jews. The trade, however, was declared a monopoly by both the British and Dutch East India Companies, and individual merchants could only take part in it as licensees of the Companies or as " interlopers." In both these capacities Jews figure very often in the early records of the East India Company, and even the great Alvaro da Costa himself was once caught "interloping" by the Nabobs of Leadenhall Street. (I.O. Court Book, vol. xxxii. pp. 16, 18, 68, 69.) In the latter half of the seventeenth century the Jewish licensees in London were almost exclusively Spanish and Portuguese immigrants, such as the Mendez da Costas, the Salvadors, the Marquez' and the Gomes Rodrigues', who obtained their coral from other Spanish and Portuguese Jews settled in Italy. In the twenties and thirties of the eighteenth century Italian Jews began to break into this monopoly, and after the establishment of the great firm of Treves in London, quite a stream of Italian Jewish immigrants poured into London, and eventu? ally concentrated the import of coral into their own hands, though the licenses to export in the Company's ships to India wrere still confined to the greater houses, whose members were freemen of and stockholders in the Company. It is interesting to note that the system under which coral licenses were granted was due to the Jewish merchants. Pre? viously to 1685 the licenses were granted or refused quite arbitrarily, but in that year, owing to representations made by Alvaro da Costa, Alphonso Rodrigues, " and other Jews," a system was agreed upon by which licenses for export could always be obtained on stated conditions, which were equal for all applicants. (Court Book, vol. xxxiv. p. 79.)</page><page sequence="3">xxxviii MISCELLANIES. The trade was one which required capital and character, and in neither of these respects was Benjamin DTsraeli very conspicuous in the early years of his residence in this country. Indeed, in 1759 he was compelled to assign what estate he had in trust for his creditors, and in 1764 his finta at Bevis Marks was only five shillings per annum. It says very much for his energy and resourcefulness that five years later we find him ruffling it with great houses like those of Franco, Salvador, and Serra as a leading representative of the coral and diamond interest in the City. His change of fortune was, however, not exclusively due to his personal qualities. His second marriage, which took place in 1765, and which brought him both capital and influential connections, had also much to do with it. All the Jewish signatories of this document have interesting his? tories, but this is scarcely the place to set them out. A word or two, however, should be said about the first signatories, Messrs. Jacob, Moseh, and Rafael Franco, as they illustrate the family connections by which the coral trade was conducted. They were from Leghorn, where for generations they had been equally prominent as Jews and traders. Jacob was the father of Moseh and Rafael. He had one brother, Rafael, at Leghorn, who exported the coral to him, and he had another, Solomon, who looked after the firm's interests at Fort St. George (Madras). Moseh Franco was a brother-in-law of Joseph Salvador, another of the signatories, and Rafael Franco of Leghorn was a brother in-law of another, Phineas Serra. The Francos were ancestors of Lord Ludlow and the Massey Lopes family. The crisis in the coral trade, with which our document deals, was not of long duration, for within a very few years licenses for the export of coral were being issued again, on quite a large scale, to the Jewish houses. A note of one of these licenses, issued to Abraham Goldsmid in 1793, is appended by Mr. Mitchell. Lucien Wolf. May 1915.</page><page sequence="4">JEWS AND THE CORAL TRADE. xxxix [Miscellaneous Letters Received, Vol. 52, No. 240.] To the HonUe Court of Directors of the United East Lndia Company. The Memorial of the Merchants &amp; Traders in Coral, Diamonds, Jewels, Silver &amp;ca Humbly sheweth That the said Company having resolved to send out Henry Vansittart, Luke Scrafton, and Francis Forde, Esqrs as Commissioners for regulating their Affairs in the East Indies?Your Memorialists beg leave to represent to this Honble Court, some of the many difficulties the Trade of Your Memorialists at present labours under ; in order that the redress thereof may become the object of the said Commissioners Consideration, viz*. By the Considerable returns that are become necessary to be made for Account of Individuals, the Diamond Trade has been greatly extended, and the Profits thereon much reduced, owing to the advantage the Natives have taken of this particular situation [in] enhancing the price, though there has been no considerable increase in the Quantity of Diamonds, and by the Methods in which they carry this Trade on. From the Wars and Calamities in the Country, the demand for Coral has been greatly diminished, and these difficulties, if not remedied, will, we apprehend, cause the Trade to revert into some other Channel. For want of Returns, the Traders Money has remaind in India un? employed, and their Factors alledge they cannot make an Interest thereof during the delay of Returns. That the Trade has always been profitable to the Company, yielding a certain revenue to them, and emolument to their Servants and Factories of near 20 pC* on its value, and that it would be a great encouragement thereto, as well as useful to the Company, could the Coral Consigners be permitted to pay the Cash into the Company's Treasury's in their several Settlements at a moderate Interest, subject to be returnd to them with reasonable Notice when they may want it. Your Memorialists therefore hope, that at this time of distress, the said Trade will merit the attention, and immediate Protection, of the Com? pany ; and humbly beg That this Honb,e Court will give particular Instructions to the Com? missioners, Henry Yansittart, Luke Scrafton, and Francis Forde, Esqrs, to take the State of the Trade into their mature Consideration, and to give them all such relief and assistance as they shall find necessary and useful. That this Honble Court will be pleas'd to give Instructions to their Governors and Councils of their Factories abroad, to receive the Monies</page><page sequence="5">xl MISCELLANIES. deposited into their several Treasurys for Account of Coral Consigners and to allow an Interest of p Cent p annum, subject to the Principal and Interest being repaid on Notice being given. That this HonbIe Court would order Bills on the Honble Company to be issued from any of their Factories as is usual for their Covenanted Servants, and that the same be a standing, and separate order, 'till particularly revoked. And Your Memorialists will ever pray &amp;ca &amp;ca Jacob, Moseh &amp; Rafael Franco Joseph Salvador Charles Grave Hudson Benjamin DTsraeli Phineas Serra for Self &amp; the Late Mr Judah Supino Nath: &amp; Han: Modigliani Aaron &amp; Solomon Norden P: &amp; R: Muilman Willm Robinson Ant. &amp; J. L. Andre Edm: Boehm John &amp; Nath. Free James Fremeany &amp; Son James Tierney Joseph &amp; Moses Norsa M. A (?) Salomon Endorsements : Mem, Traders in Coral representing the difficulties they labour under. Read in C[ourt]. Comtee Corresce) k Ex* &amp; Rep. 14 Aug. 1769. Memorial of the Merchants and Traders in Coral Diamonds Jewels Silver &amp;ca.</page><page sequence="6">" THEODORE CYPHON." xli Court Minutes, 16 April 1793. [Vol. 102, p. 11.] On reading several requests. Ordered . . . That Mr. Abraham Goldsmid have leave to ship Coral, on the Hillsborough, to the amount of ?600 on the usual terms.</page></plain_text>