No. 34.
Mr. Spencer to Mr. Hunter.

No. 200.]

Sir: Referring to the recent circular-dispatch of the Secretary of State, relating to the more active co-operation of consuls in the further development of our foreign commerce, I beg leave, with due reference to the instructions contained therein, to submit the following partial report:

With the single exception of cotton fabrics, it is my opinion that everything is being done that can profitably be done to develop the direct commerce between this port and the United States.

There are in this city between thirty and forty merchants at present engaged in this trade, several of whom devote their whole time and energies to one special department of the same. Among the latter, a member of an enterprising English firm has recently returned from America, where he spent several months in studying the possibilities of the petroleum-trade, with a view of extending the operations of the company, which are already upon a large and extensive scale. Another of our active business men, whose long residence both in the United States and Italy renders him peculiarly fitted to the undertaking, visited the Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia for the special purpose of acquainting himself with all the recent improvements in manufactures and the mechanic arts, bringing back with him trade-circulars, samples of merchandise, and models of new inventions, with which he is now traveling extensively, with a view of introducing them as far as possible throughout Italy.

It will be readily understood by the Department that under such circumstances, or where we have already a large and flourishing trade vigorously prosecuted by a score or more of enterprising merchants who are in constant communication with their correspondents by telegraph, and who spare no time or expense in order to anticipate valuable information, a consul with such decided odds against him will be able to do but little more than to note the course of trade, and report contemplated projects or accomplished results. Commerce is not only Argus-eyed but lynx eyed, and commercial enterprise is ever on the qui vive for any [Page 108]new undertaking that promises remunerative returns. Besides, the very persons who would be able to give a consul the most valuable information, are ordinarily not disposed to do so, because they wish to enjoy a monopoly of whatever advantage is to be gained thereby.

the principal imports

from the United States to Genoa are tobacco, cotton, and petroleum, which, as appears from the report of the chamber of commerce for the year 1876, represented a total value of 29,988,618 francs, as follows:

Tobacco 10,970,000 francs.
Petroleum 8,096,390 francs.
Cotton (raw) 10,902,228 francs.

Besides these, there is a considerable trade in coal-tar, pitch, resin, cotton-seed oil, and timber, a fair demand for sewing-machines, while something is being done in the way of metallic pumps, machinery, and agricultural implements.

agricultural aspects of italy.

To a casual observer Italy would appear to present a wide field for the introduction of labor-saving agricultural machinery; but such is not the case. It is true that Italian agriculture is still sufficiently primitive.

The sickle and the flail maintain their old supremacy. Bun-colored oxen slowly drag through the yielding soil antique plows whose model might have been taken from the illustrated copy of Hesiod’s Works and Days. Human feet, as if by way of Biblical illustration, tread the winepress; while the olive-mill of the present day is still constructed upon the model of those found amid the ruins of Stabiӕ and Pompeii.

The reason for all this appears obvious on reflection. Where the barriers to the introduction of labor-saving machinery are not natural they are artificial. The minute subdivision of the soil among the small landed proprietors, or the still smaller leaseholding peasantry; the rectangular garden-like plats of arable land or meadow, each intrenched within its moat and picketed by rows of fruit-trees or forest-trees; the vast, and complicated system of irrigation, as in Lombardy, with its net-work of ditches and canals; these are some of the obstacles, to say nothing of the opposition it would encounter on account of ancient prejudices, that would render the introduction of agricultural machinery into Italy on a large scale impracticable without such a radical change in its system of agriculture as would transform the general features of the country. But the hand of the laborer, which is the cheapest machinery in the market, has fully compensated for any defects in agricultural methods. It is this, in conjunction with a propitious climate, that has made Lombardy the garden of Italy, and Italy the garden of Europe.

the cotton-trade

I am credibly informed by those who have made the cotton-trade with this country a study, that there are several varieties of cotton goods that might be imported from the United States with advantage, provided that they were adapted to the Italian market in regard to width and finish and the prices reduced proportionally. Samples of the following goods have been submitted for examination to the leading dealers in cotton fabrics of this city, and pronounced to be well adapted [Page 109]to the wants of this market, if manufactured with a reduction of from 15 to 25 per cent. in the width and a corresponding reduction in price.

Description. *Price. Present width. Required width.
Cts. Inch. Inch.
Booth Mills, D 36 29
Booth Mills, P, bleached cotton 8 40 30
Booth Mills, G, bleached cotton 36 31
Booth Mills, S, bleached cotton 32 31
Tremont, Massachusetts, and Lawrence brown flannels, H 8
Tremont, Massachusetts, and Lawrence brown flannels, D 7.2

American cotton prints could compete successfully in this market, so far as relates to prices; but they are not well adapted in style and design to the Italian taste, nor are they printed sufficiently in advance of the season. English manufacturers supplying this trade prepare their designs six months in advance, print a few pieces and cut them up into samples, which are sent out with a view of obtaining orders, the latter being filled about three months in anticipation of the season. At present, there is unfortunately among the Italians a prejudice in favor of the heavily-sized English goods, which contain from 15 to 20 per cent. of sizing. But this prejudice, if hot indulged, might be gradually overcome.

To obtain their fair proportion of the Italian trade, American manufacturers should acquaint themselves with the wants of the Italian market, and manufacture goods of such dimensions and designs as are suited to the Italian trade. To do so would requite time, patience, and perseverance, and it might be necessary, in the introduction of their fabrics, to incur a temporary loss; but these, owing to their superior grade, must sooner or later commend themselves to general favor.

To give some idea of the extent of this trade, so far as the port of Genoa is concerned, I subjoin the following statistics, gathered from the report of the chamber of commerce for 1876:

Cotton yarn 11,596,988
Cotton cloth 9,575,032
Cotton prints 4,649,770

As Genoa controls the market of Northern Italy, it becomes a question for the American exporter to determine whether the experiment of introducing cotton fabrics of American manufacture is not worth a fair trial. In view of the sharp competition, the margin of profits would be small. But the order of the day is small profits and quick returns. The minimum percentage of gain more than finds its compensation in the maximum number of sales. A vulgar fraction now revolutionizes the commerce of the world. Its immense cotton-trade lies within the range of one half a cent per yard, and a grain of sizing turns the scales in favor of Manchester of Lowell.

In conclusion, I may be permitted to express the opinion that, while consuls, where we have not already a well-established trade, can do much, Congress, by a judicious revision of the tariff, can undoubtedly do morel In this respect our English rivals enjoy an immense advantage over us. Not to speak of the freedom from restriction and taxation of her mercantile marine, Great Britain taxes only the products and not the implements or materials of industry, the results and not the operations of labor. In other words, she taxes consumption and not production [Page 110]—consumption in its final stages, and not in the processes of manufacture. Our present tariff unfortunately does both, and not only once, but often twice. It is the old story of killing the goose to anticipate the golden eggs.

I am, &c.,

  1. Prices of December, 1876.