Cottage Industries

The term Verlagssystem is German and in English is refered to as the putting out system. The industry mostly affected were spinning and weaving; entrepreneurs would bring flax or yarn to countryside families, mostly cottager men; the latter, their wives and children would spin the flax into yarn or weave the yarn into cloth, an occupation that would enable them to productively spend the winter hours when little work was to be done on the cottage.
The significance of the putting-out system lies in the fact that the traditional division of crafts production in the cities, agriculture on the countryside, was broken. Guilds of weavers, in the cities, were negatively affected, by a competition their privileges failed to suppress. The putting-out system affected specific regions, Osnabrück-Tecklenburg- Ravensberg in Westphalia, Lower Silesia, the Wupper Valley in the Duchy of Berg, the Württemberg slopes of the Black Forest.

The Black Forest region was home to another cottage (or farm) industry - the cuckoo clock production. Farmers and cottagers in the Black Forest had a lot of time, during the winter months, and plenty of wood at hands; metal clocks were expensive, so they produced clocks almost entirely made of wood, with their regional cuckoo trademark. The clocks gained great popularity and were sold all over Europe, and even beyond. The Erzgebirge cottagers and farmers produced wooden figures, the most famous being the nutcracker, of ballet fame. These cottager clockmakers produced on their own account; they were members of cooperatives which organized sales of the finished products.

In areas with steep valleys and with iron ore available, for instance along the creeks of the County of Mark, the Duchy of Berg, the Princebishopric of Liege, in the Black Forest region, in Thuringia and Saxony, watermill-powered metalworking industry emerged - forgeries where, often in family-size enterprizes, files, hammers, other tools, even anvils were produced. In cottage industries, the craft originally was to supplement the income from gardening and livestock keeping. These cottage-factories (Hammerwerke) had to be built where waterpower was available; the cottage-craftsman petitioned to the territorial lord for a permission to run his countryside forgery; in this industry the craft was the main revenue supplier, and some gardening and fishing supplemented the revenue. The industry was similar to craft production in the cities, inasmuch as the craftsman often was the owner of the forgery, but there are a number of cases were such forgeries were owned by noble families. The recorded history of some such cottage forgeries dates back to the 14th century; the 18th century saw a marked expansion of the number of cottage forgeries, as well as the transition of some from family-size enterprises to larger-scale manufactures.

The History of the Black Forest Cuckoo Clock, from German World, from Cuckoo Clocks and More, from Cuckoo
The History of the Nutcracker, from Eurochristmas
REFERENCE Sheilagh C. Ogilvie, Proto-Industrialization in Germany, pp.118-126 in : S.C. Ogilvie and M. Cerman (ed.), European Proto-Industrialization, Cambridge : UP 1996
Wilhelm Treue, Wirtschaft, Gesellschaft und Technik vom 16. bis zum 18. Jahrhundert (Economy, Society and Technology from the 16th to the 18th Century), Vol.12 of Gebhardt, Handbuch der Deutschen Geschichte (Handbook of German History), München : dtv (1974) 1973

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on September 20th 2003, last revised on November 14th 2004

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