Matteo Calcagni

European University Institute

The Caccini Del Vernaccia Archive

(Prato, Italy)

The Caccini Del Vernaccia archive, kept in the Roncioniana library in Prato, is only a part – albeit a large one – of the entire set of documents pertaining to the Florentine Caccini Del Vernaccia family, and others related to them. With the extinction of the main branch of the family, the papers were dispersed into three different groups. Indeed, in addition to the one preserved in Prato, another substantial nucleus of the archive is currently in Cortona, a town in the Arezzo countryside, while a third, smaller set is kept in the State Archives in Florence.

In its entirety, the Caccini Del Vernaccia archive spans chronologically from the fourteenth to the nineteenth century. The oldest section concerns the documentation of the Florentine Caccini and Del Vernaccia families, which had an independent history until the beginning of the eighteenth century, when the last descendant of the Caccini family, Ortensia, married Giovanni Vincenzo Del Vernaccia, thus uniting their respective fortunes and archives.

Later, the Del Vernaccia family also became extinct when the sole heir, Ortensia, married Marquis Vincenzo Riccardi in 1789, a member of the main line of the prominent Florentine family. Around the middle of the nineteenth century, this Riccardi line merged with the Ricci of Macerata, the family of the well-known Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci. Consequently, the Caccini Del Vernaccia archive, which already included the Riccardi papers, was further enriched by the documentation of the Ricci family from Macerata. In addition to these groups of documents, the Caccini Del Vernaccia archive also contains the papers of many extinct families such as the Ferrantini, Busini, Da Sommaia and Brancacci.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the archive was undoubtedly still intact and was kept by the family’s heirs at the farm in Cintoia in the Chianti countryside, where the documents were taken after the sale of Palazzo Caccini in Borgo Pinti, Florence. After the family assets were divided in the 1920s, the farm in Cintoia was sold to Michelangelo Calamai who found most of the archives abandoned in the rooms of the villa and decided to donate them to the Roncioniana library in 1932.

The part of the Caccini Del Vernaccia archive housed in the Roncioniana library in Prato consists of 1,029 units including registers and records, chronologically ranging from 1317 to 1895, as well as approximately 124,000 letters written in the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. The collection was fully inventoried in 1983 and, following two major archival reorganisations in the early 1980s, is now organised in three portions. The first part, made up of registers, consists of 1,026 units; the second, correspondence, is numbered from 1 to 155; while the third focuses on documentation relating to the Del Vernaccia family, and its bundles have been numbered from 156 to 251.

The earliest documents are deeds concerning the Caccini family, whose members not only held important public offices in the republican and grand-ducal periods, but also established a flourishing business linked to the processing and trade of woollen cloth and timber. The management of family businesses is evidenced by the company’s books, journals and financial records. Beginning with Alessandro di Francesco Caccini, of whom only one account book from 1405 is preserved, there are a number of registers concerning the mercantile activities of Giovanni and Domenico Caccini. The family lineage continued through Domenico’s son Francesco, who married Ginevra Brancacci, and their sons Giovanni and Alessandro, 30 of whose registers remain. Alessandro di Francesco and his sons Matteo and Giovanni then took over the reins of the family business. A prominent part of the Caccini papers, about 30 registers, concerns the offspring – Matteo and Cosimo – of Giovanni di Alessandro, that is to say Senator Alessandro, general administrator of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. In particular, the two – Cosimo, who later became a Dominican friar and took the name Tommaso, and Matteo – were linked to the events of Galileo Galilei: the first contributed to the scientist’s inquisition in 1616, while the second was his friend and admirer, even going against his brother’s position.

The archival material concerning the Del Vernaccia family, on the other hand, is much more conspicuous than the 137 archival units relating to the Caccini family, although chronologically it only begins in the sixteenth century with the sons of Michele di Filippo di Piero Del Vernaccia, Piero and Ugolino (1513–83). Piero and Ugolino then came to head the two branches whose documents are preserved in the Roncioniana library. 

The Del Vernaccia family traces its roots back to the Middle Ages. Its founder was Vernaccio, who lived in the thirteenth century, followed by Ugolino and another Vernaccio, who were alive in 1360. Little is known about the political activities of the first members of this family, but we do have the family tree, certainly composed at the end of the eighteenth century, after the family’s fortunes had taken on considerable proportions through the activities of Ugolino Del Vernaccia.

Engaged in commerce and currency exchange, thanks to a flourishing company dedicated above all to the production and fabrication of silk, the Del Vernaccia family invested much of its earnings in landed estates scattered throughout various parts of Tuscany, such as Borro, Cintoia and Castagno, where they established numerous farms. There is ample evidence of all these entrepreneurial activities, both as regards the mercantile and banking aspects, and as regards land administration, giving an interesting example of farm management in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

From the branch of Ugolino di Michele Del Vernaccia descended his sons Piero and Michele, and then Ugolino di Michele, the most prominent member of the family, who transformed the family business into an international holding company, whose management  is attested by very important correspondence. Ugolino Del Vernaccia was born in Florence on 23 July 1612 and was appointed magistrate of infants (a role instituted by the Florentine Republic at the end of the fourteenth century to protect minors and the incapacitated), as well as Florentine senator from 14 August 1682. As mentioned, he is the most prominent figure in the archives rediscovered in the Roncioniana library, a true revelation of resourcefulness, business sense and, undoubtedly, fortune. A member of the Florentine aristocracy, Ugolino Del Vernaccia was orphaned of his parents in his early teens. As soon as he turned 18, he transferred the last remaining money – 900 scudi – in his and his brothers’ tutelary administration from the Banca Bolsi to the Banca Capponi, using this sum to negotiate the investment. In just a few years, his business developed to an exceptional extent. The patrimonial fortune earned by Ugolino marked the culmination of the social and political rise of his family. Ugolino invested much of his income from trade in landed property and the acquisition of a prestigious new family seat in Florence, Palazzo Mondragone, the symbol of the new family status, while maintaining the ancestral seat in Borgo Pinti inherited from the Caccini.

Ugolino Del Vernaccia traded in a wide range of fields: in wool and cotton fabrics, cochineal, velvet, grains, wine and oil, sugar, wax from the Levant, spices and salt; he also did a great deal of banking and foreign exchange. He achieved excellent results in this impressive activity, which involved skilful organisation of the company’s network and in-depth knowledge of the main trading venues.

This extraordinary and vast economic and financial organisation of the trading company was reflected in the incoming correspondence to the Compagnia Del Vernaccia. The letters, some 124,000 in number, dating from 1630 to 1702, have all been sorted into fascicles and distinguished according to their place of origin. The company was structured on the distribution of branches in the most important Italian and European cities, which maintained contacts with the major local companies. Ugolino Del Vernaccia’s correspondence consists of 88,715 letters from various foreign locations, such as Paris, Lyon, Avignon, Vienna, Innsbruck, Prague, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Brussels, Barcelona, Madrid, Krakow, London, Malta, Smyrna and Tripoli. As far as Italy is concerned, the main trading bases were Venice, with 10,000 letters, Livorno with 13,281 letters, then Naples, Genoa, Ancona, Bologna and Rome. This correspondence constitutes one of the largest sets of documents from the seventeenth century, and is comparable, due to its size and international importance, to other similar sources, albeit from different periods, such as the correspondence of Francesco Datini held in the Prato State Archive or the over 50,000 letters referring to the Spanish merchant Simon Ruiz, kept in Medina del Campo. Indeed, the letters sent to Ugolino Del Vernaccia, apart from being characterised by their economic interest, which constitutes the main theme, offer an extraordinary testimony regarding political, social and religious events. They also contain extremely interesting, and often unpublished details regarding the states where the Del Vernaccia company operated through its intermediaries, using a rapid system of communication that ran parallel to the official channels of communication through the commercial companies linked to the Florentine main branch.

The correspondence in the Caccini Del Vernaccia archive held in the Roncioniana library primarily develops the subject of trade, which consisted of requests and offers of goods, prices of goods to be agreed upon, terms of delivery, means of transport and insurance, and calculations of sea risks. It then moves onto an informative review of the events in the market squares and the political news from the cities. In particular, information was given on the risks of shipping and wars. Many of the letters in the collection contain the names of the most important traders and information on market trends. These were useful pieces of information that bounced from state to state through individual traders or trading companies as news quickly spread outside the trade centres. A letter could take about 30 days from London to Florence, 22 from Spain and 18 from France. These letters, like those in the archives of Francesco Datini three centuries earlier, contain not only commercial information, as is typical of this type of letter, but also all sorts of news, ranging from religious and political events with a particular focus on wars, through currency values, to discussing the tastes of customers for certain fashion items.

The bulk of the documentation belonging to the merchant correspondence is associated with an equally large quantity of administrative and patrimonial papers produced by the Del Vernaccia family. In this regard, the archive consists of 590 account books and registers, dating from 1587 to 1839, and 95 folders with various other types of economic documents. The registers include expense journals and ledgers, memoirs, trial and inheritance records, inventories, debtors’ and creditors’ ledgers, trade fair scrapbooks, expense reports, balance sheets, receipt books, bills of lading, tract books, ledgers, farm balances, and papers relating to the trade and production of cloth and silk and the sale of cocoa, sugar and cinnamon.

Of particular interest are the series of records and registers belonging to the activity of the Compagnia di Banco Del Vernaccia, in Florence, namely the journal and maestro books. Also due to Ugolino Del Vernaccia and his heirs are the 117 ‘scartafacci di fiera,’ that is, accounts of the four annual Apparition, Easter, August and All Saints’ Day fairs. These fairs were held in cities such as Piacenza, Novi Ligure and Besançon. In his scratch pads, Ugolino Del Vernaccia compiled the acceptance balance, in other words the list of accepted letters of exchange, adding the exchange prices for connections between the fairs and markets of Antwerp, Ancona, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Zaragoza, Seville, Lyon, Frankfurt, Milan, Mantua, Bologna, Florence, Lucca, Rome, Naples, Messina, Palermo and Venice. Finally, a very rare printed volume was found among the papers of Ugolino Del Vernaccia. Written by economist Matteo Mainardi in 1700, it seems to be a reference text on the exchange rate system.