Smuggling Silks into Eighteenth-Century Britain: Geography, Perpetrators, and Consumers

2016-04-19T15:09:07Z (GMT) by William Farrell
As part of protectionist policy in eighteenth-century Britain, imported silks were banned from being sold. Although it is known that bans on imported textiles were widely broken, there have been few systematic studies of the contraband trade in silks. Using customs' records, this article shows how smuggling supplied the demand for imported consumer goods. The illegal trade in silk was diverse, bringing in a variety of products from Asia and Europe. The evidence supports a market segmentation analysis of the different products and their consumers. The trade with Asia supplied “populuxe goods” in the form of handkerchiefs that appealed to a broad, middling customer base. These were brought into the country by the East India Company's trading network. By contrast, continental Europe provided contraband for the high-fashion market. These silks were distributed in more informal and personal ways—travelers and diplomats being the main offenders. The official response to these black markets differed, with silks from Europe posing particular problems for enforcement. Finally, this article provides a reassessment of the transnational influences—specifically the relative importance of Asia and Europe—on production and consumption of consumer goods in Britain.