Saturday, May 18, 2024

April 2, 2024: Florence 1736-1737. Accounts in the shop of the abbot

  As usual, Franco has reviewed the translation and made important suggestions. I have added in brackets some comments that may assist the Italian-deprived reader. The original, "Firenze 1736-1737. Conti della bottega dell’abate," is at Numbers in the left margin are page numbers of his original pdf. The footnotes, marked in red, are to be found at the bottom of each page.

Florence 1736-1737. Accounts of the shop of the abbot

Franco Pratesi

1. Introduction

Here we examine an unusual book of accounts, in which the income and expenses of a shop are recorded monthly for one year; it is a shop that presents itself as both a coffee shop and a "citrus-water-dealer," as sellers of orangeade and similar drinks were called in the eighteenth century. We do not know if the shop was located within the city of Florence, as seems probable, but it was certainly located in Florentine territory. What makes these accounts particularly interesting for us is the fact that cards and other games were played in the shop; we can therefore render an account of the contribution of gaming to management profits, which does not happen frequently.

2. The account book

The book in question is preserved in the collection Books of Commerce and Family of the State Archives of Florence (ASFi). In Inventory N/422 of this collection, the register is described as follows.

Number: 622
Name: Boncinelli / Balestrieri
Date: 1736-1737
Title attributed: Journal of income and outflow for gaming and administration of drinks kept by Filippo Balestrieri, cashier
Original title: “Income and outflow”
External appearance: Register cm. 30.5x21.2 97 pages, of which pp. 4-33, 41-97 are blank. Parchment portfolio binding [where the bottom overlaps the top and is usually closed by a knot in a ribbon]; guard sheets [end pages, of rougher material to protect what is inside]; soft leather laces

As you can see, it is an entire book dedicated to this administration, but most of the pages have remained blank: two distinct parts are found to have been written: at the beginning, five pages for revenue, and after the middle of the book, thirteen pages for expenses.

It was possible to transcribe the contents of the account book in full, thanks to a summary that made it possible to include the data in two tables, one for income and one for expenses. Notes have been added to indicate the few cases of records with additional content compared to the standard form adopted for individual entries.

3. Income register

For each entry, a typical formula is repeated, which is obviously lost in the table. For example, the July 31st gaming entry reads as follows. From Game surpluses and deficits, seventy lire which so much has been received this month from the cash box of Game takings. Or the entry of April 30th for drinks: From various drinks on our account, six hundred and fifty-nine lire, so much received from the shop's box for the daily takings in the present month.


4. Outflow register

The outflow register is richer and more complex. In order to summarize the contents of the book relating to the releases in a subsequent table, I deemed it necessary to adopt a system of abbreviations, listed in the following table.  Image


For each entry in the book, in addition to the goods indicated by the acronyms, the list ends with and others, making one think of small secondary purchases present, or in any case possible. [In what follows, the mmdd format– month-day - is Franco’s, to make clear the succession of months; the original has the day first, i.e., ddmm.] Image Image



5 Image


5. The people involved

The management of the shop arouses some curiosity. Based on the monthly payments, the functionary Filippo Balestrieri stands out from the other employees, referred to as boys [here in the sense of assistants]. Balestrieri appears as the cashier, but also directly follows the purchases and participates in the management. The boy with the highest salary is fired early on, perhaps due to some shortcoming, perhaps only to replace him with one with a lower salary. Boncinelli has an unclearly defined role as manager: he does not receive a salary, and it is not clear to what extent he participates in the activity and the related profits. The uncertainty in this regard is very large; in short, at most, this Giuseppe Boncinelli could have been the main manager of the shop and the real manufacturer of the drinks, carrying out the appropriate and profitable mixing of the many raw materials purchased.

On the other hand, the role of Abbot Giuseppe Antonio Biliotti is quite clear, even if it is not, or should not be, the typical role of a Catholic abbot: it is he who provides the initial capital to start the business! Games included. It is not very important to know whether this investment will then be compensated by interest on the loan or by a fraction of the profits, or by both sources. Considering his title, the daily presence of the abbot in the management of the shop appears unlikely.

It is worth looking for information about this abbot in other sources. We do not find him among the authors in the bibliographical repertoires: he was evidently not committed to publishing religious or even literary works. However, by inserting his name into Google Books we can trace him back to an Edict in which we also find him interested in Redeemable Bonds; in 1727, the extraction of his name [in a lottery] allows him to withdraw the sum of a thousand scudi for his ten policies. [Note 16]

Even more interesting, however, is another piece of information, which can again be found in the ASFi. In the Magistracy of Minors of the Principality, an entire series of auction registers of various objects deriving from the inheritance of minors is preserved, in which the purchase at very reduced prices was typical, and on one occasion we find our abbot himself the protagonist. [Note 17]

In September 1719, twenty lots of inherited objects were put up for auction and sold for a total of L.5127.S18.d8. Three of these were won by our abbot himself and they are the most expensive: L. 840 for No. 1123, the first and most expensive on the list, and L. 308 for the two lots 1133 and 1134 taken together. I transcribe below the objects that made up the three lots. Image ___________________
16. Editto Degl’Illustrissimi SS. Protettori del Monte Redimibile della Città di Firenze. Del dì 5. Maggio 1727. . . Florence 1727.
17. ASFi, Magistrato dei Pupilli del Principato, N. 3409, pp. 103-105.

1123. N: Five oval-shaped paintings, 1½ arms high, painted Portraits of the Most Serene House [i.e. the Grand Duke’s family], carved ornaments and gilded features in the Roman style.
1133. A bed of 4 arm lengths and 3 arm lengths - that is, 2 small benches, palliaces
[thin straw mattresses used as pallets], two wool mattresses, and its curtainry, that is, six satin curtains, a bedside chest, sleeves, and a festoon made of Hungarian stitch, and its carved wood cornices, dyed Turquoise, and partly gilded.
1134. N: Six walnut chairs with armrests in the Imperial style, four of which are covered with stitching, and the other two covered with canvas, gilded brackets, and leather.

6. Conclusion

An entire account book was studied and transcribed in summary form, of a shop where coffee, chocolate, and a vast assortment of drinks manufactured on site were served, and what was more, there were the games of backgammon, trucco, minchiate, and other card games, unspecified. The profit obtained directly from the games, documented by what was found in the dedicated cash register, would be unflattering: the income deriving from the game was in fact only a small fraction of the total, but it is easy to suppose that without the playing of the games, the profit obtained from the drinks would have been considerably less, because few customers would have entered the shop if there had not been the possibility of gambling. That games were played, and quite a bit, is indicated by the variety of games which continually include minchiate and ordinary cards, but also games of different types such as trucco and backgammon. That the gaming activity was extensive is indirectly demonstrated by the consumption of candles, even in summer when it gets dark very late.

Of particular interest was the figure of Abbot Giuseppe Antonio Biliotti, financier of the start-up of the shop's activity - including gaming - whose accounts were reported; information was found for him from various sources, confirming his quality as a lively entrepreneur: there are only three pieces of information traced for him, but they all see him engaged in speculation. In short, his documented activity does not seem perfectly compatible with his religious mission, but there are other traces of wheeler-dealer abbots in the literature and the archives.

Florence, 02.04.2024

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