Sugar, spice, and all things nice....

Since we are in the midst of spice season, with holiday meals and fancier lattes, this seemed like a good theme for today. Nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon all make our winter meals warm and tempting.

Many readers will be familiar with the broad contours of the “spice race” which drove European trade expansion to SouthEast Asia, particularly in pursuit of nutmeg and pepper.

This also brought us the beginnings of the joint stock company, leading to the modern commercial world. The English East India company wasn’t quite the first (pipped by the Muscovy Company, 1555-1917), but this model offered a way to franchise colonialism. The company was granted trade and territorial rights under the authority of the crown, meanwhile the Royal purse was not exposed to huge risks.

The risk-takers were of course the investors, but the risk often paid off. The early investors were not all wealthy either; among early East India company investors of 1600 we find

Nicholas Barnsley, Grocer, £150

Henry Bridgman, Leatherseller, £200

James Deane, Draper, £300

Thomas Smithe, Haberdasher, £200

Richard Wiseman, Goldsmith, £200

…and nearly 200 others.

These were obviously prosperous tradesmen, but not aristocrats. The joint stock company brought investment and profit opportunities to groups who had never had them before.

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