On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 358 pages of information about On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures.

It is an estimate of the quantity of that food on which the labourer usually subsists, which is necessary for his daily support, compared with the quantity which his daily wages will purchase.

208.  The existence of a class of middlemen, between small producers and merchants, is frequently advantageous to both parties; and there are certain periods in the history of several manufactures which naturally call that class of traders into existence.  There are also times when the advantage ceasing, the custom of employing them also terminates; the middlemen, especially when numerous, as they sometimes are in retail trades, enhancing the price without equivalent good.  Thus, in the recent examination by the House of Commons into the state of the coal trade, it appears that five-sixths of the London public is supplied by a class of middlemen who are called in the trade Brass plate coal merchants:  these consist principally of merchants’ clerks, gentlemen’s servants, and others, who have no wharfs of their own, but merely give their orders to some true coal merchant, who sends in the coals from his wharf:  the brass plate coal merchants, of course, receiving a commission for his agency.

209.  In Italy this system is carried to a great extent amongst the voituriers, or persons who undertake to convey travellers.  There are some possessed of greater fluency and a more persuasive manner who frequent the inns where the English resort, and who, as soon as they have made a bargain for the conveyance of a traveller, go out amongst their countrymen and procure some other voiturier to do the job for a considerably smaller sum, themselves pocketing the difference.  A short time before the day of starting, the contractor appears before his customer in great distress, regretting his inability to perform the journey on account of the dangerous illness of a mother or some relative, and requesting to have his cousin or brother substituted for him.  The English traveller rarely fails to acquiesce in this change, and often praises the filial piety of the rogue who has deceived him.


1.  Much information for such an enquiry is to be found, for the particular period to which it refers, in the Report of the Committee of the House of Commons on Manufacturers’ Employment, 2 July, 1830.

Chapter 18

Of Raw Materials

210.  Although the cost of any article may be reduced in its ultimate analysis to the quantity of labour by which it was produced; yet it is usual, in a certain state of the manufacture of most substances, to call them by the term raw material.  Thus iron, when reduced from the ore and rendered malleable, is in a state fitted for application to a multitude of useful purposes, and is the raw material out of which most of our tools are made.  In this stage of its manufacture, but a moderate quantity of labour has been expended on the substance; and it becomes an interesting subject to trace the various proportions in which raw material, in this sense of the term, and labour unite to constitute the value of many of the productions of the arts.

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