Frères Merian

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Frères Merian was a Swiss company based in Basel , which was founded in 1788 and dissolved in 1831. It was active in international wholesale and banking.

The business

The brothers Christoph Merian-Hoffmann (1769–1849, father of Christoph Merian -Burckhardt) and Johann Jakob Merian-Merian (1768–1841) founded the Frères Merian company based in Basel in 1788 . In addition to the two brothers, Theodor von Speyr (1780–1847) was a third partner with procuration from 1803 and an equal partner from 1810. Speyr gave up the partnership at Frères Merian again in 1814, but continued to have a close business relationship with the Merian family. (He retained the power of attorney, managed the assets of Christoph Merian-Burckhardt and founded the company Merian & von Speyr in 1816 together with a son Johann Jakobs , which finally merged in 1912 as Speyr & Cie. In the Swiss Bank Corporation). On March 30, 1831, the Merian brothers ceased business operations and the liquidation lasted until the mid-1840s. The company files were probably destroyed after the death of Christoph Merian-Burckhardt's widow (1886).

The Frères Merian belonged to the type of risk and speculative act that had developed in the Ancien Régime and were the largest Swiss actor of this kind at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries. On the one hand, the company did banking, on the other hand it was also strong engaged in overseas wholesale. The unusual commercial success of the Frères Merian (Christoph Merian-Hoffmann was considered to be the wealthiest Swiss of his time and called him the "rich Merian") resulted from excellent business connections throughout Europe, thanks to which they always had the best economic and political information for their Business policy.

Trade in Napoleonic times

During the first two decades, Frères Merian's focus was on the capital-intensive purchase and sale of textiles and colonial goods . The most profitable and most important commercial goods for the Frères Merian were cotton and cotton fabrics for the textile industry in Europe, whose strong growth since the middle of the 18th century was not least due to the opening of the French market for the extremely popular indiennes and the conversion from the former hand spinning to the mechanized one Mass production declined. The Frères Merian supplied spinning mills on a large scale with raw cotton, which they bought in bulk at the trading centers (especially in seaports), and also carried finished cotton fabrics (white goods, "Toiles de l'Inde", "Calico") as printing and Embroidery floors and dyes ( indigo , quercitron ) to Swiss and foreign indigenous and embroidery companies.

The activity of the Frères Merian in international wholesale fell into the period of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era, when the transport of goods was made difficult by the coalition wars and , above all, the important English colonial imports were canceled if they were not managed by smuggling or surreptitious trade. Since it subverted the French customs regulations and from 1806 the continental blockade, the company came into conflict with the authorities several times (including in the Neuchâtel affair , as a result of which the Merian brothers were even briefly imprisoned). Huge profits were possible with the semi- and illegal business, but in 1810 the company declared that it would give up wholesaling at its own expense. This decision was the result of ever stricter controls and increasing persecution, which plunged the Swiss economy into a deep crisis. In 1811, when the Frères Merian had already completely switched to banking, no fewer than 17 trading companies, some of which were significant, had to declare bankruptcy in Basel.

In the following two decades, the company spanned a wide network of small and large personal loans and investments, especially in Mulhouse and in Upper Alsace in general . The massive export of capital that began in 1804 for the benefit of indienne factories, cotton spinning mills and similar businesses contributed significantly to the boom in the textile industry in and around Basel. The liquidation of the business in 1831 was the result of the fact that the brothers were finally able to act more and more as individuals, since they no longer had to raise the same amount of capital for mere financial investments as they did for trading in goods.

The transatlantic triangular trade

The nature of the business carried out until 1810 meant that the Frères Merian also came into contact with the transatlantic triangular trade , in which, in a closed cycle, first European finished goods (such as cotton clothes or liquor) to Africa, then African slaves to the Caribbean and last Caribbean raw materials (such as cotton or sugar) were delivered to Europe.

In the 19th century people were still well aware of the investments made by some Basel trading houses in slave ships , and speculations were already being made about the assets of the Frères Merian and their possible origins in triangular trade. As an indication of this, one could understand the close connection between the son Christoph Merian-Burckhardt and his wife Margaretha with Basel Pietism and the Basel Mission founded in 1815 ; Their missionary work in Africa, as well as that of other mission societies, was viewed as a kind of reparation for the human trafficking initiated and controlled by Europeans; The more pious and pietistic the descendants of eighteenth-century merchants were - and this was true to a large extent for Christoph and Margaretha Merian-Burckhardt - the more suspicious their legacy seemed to be.

Archival research has shown that the Frères Merian wanted to be at least informed about the commercial possibilities of the slave trade; Information was provided by one of its most important French partners, Bourcard Fils & Cie., Which existed from 1792 to 1815 . in Nantes . With this company, the Frères Merian traded everything that was customary in long-distance trade at the time: raw cotton from America and Asia, white cotton cloths, yellow cotton, rubber, colored woods, spices - and of course sugar from the Caribbean. During the period of mutual business relations, Bourcard Fils & Cie. also at least one slave ship, which the Frères Merian probably did not co-finance. A direct participation of the Frères Merian in the actual slave trade has not emerged from the files of their business partners.