Claudia Grossi and Gloria Guida

The Banco di Napoli Historical Archives

The Historical Archive of the Istituto Banco di Napoli

The historical archive of the Istituto Banco di Napoli and its foundation are located in Via Tribunali in the sixteenth-century Palazzo Ricca, which in 1616 became the seat of the Monte e Banco dei Poveri. By a decree of 29 November 1819, Ferdinand I of Bourbon assigned this building to the general archives (later to become the historical archives) of the ancient Neapolitan public banks, in consideration of the documentation value of the accounting records. The approximately 300 rooms that house the archive preserve millions of documents, making it the most important economic archive in the world. The impressive collection of documents, about 100 kilometres in length, is the result of putting together the records of the eight Neapolitan public banks: the Monte e Banco della Pietà (1539); the Sacro Monte e Banco dei Poveri (1563); the Banco dell’Annunziata (1587);We should add that recent research would suggest that the activity of the ‘Cassa Depositi’ of the Casa Santa e Banco dates back to 1463, making it the oldest deposit bank of its kind. the Banco di S. Maria del Popolo (1589); the Banco dello Spirito Santo (1590); the Banco di Sant’Eligio (1592); the Banco di S. Giacomo e Vittoria (1597) and the Banco del Santissimo Salvatore (1640). After various transformations and mergers, they first changed their shared name to Banco delle Due Sicilie (1809) and then Banco di Napoli (1861).

Until 1898, the accounting system of these banks involved the issuing of bancali (bills of credit and policies, transferable by endorsement, with which the depositor could avail of the credited sum), comparable to modern bankers’ drafts and current account cheques, bearing the reason for payment. As a result, they indicated the concept behind the various transactions between the holder of the banknote and the payee. Hence, the great importance of the bancali for historians, since through them it is possible to investigate new aspects of the social, economic and artistic life of southern Italy, Europe and sometimes the Americas.

The records can be divided into two main categories: patrimoniali and apodissari. The former refer to the management of the banks’ interest-bearing assets and their joint accounting (i.e., the banks’ internal management); the latter concern the activity of collecting deposits and issuing the bancali.

Awareness of the role played by the bancali and the need to store them carefully and allow the original title to be easily found at any time led to the adoption of a special system of entries for the apodissario service (an archive which served as legal proof of clients’ individual transactions). The keystone was the pandette, an index of the bank’s customers in alphabetical order of their first name, followed by their surname and a number corresponding to the page of the main book (libro maggiore) where the account in the customer’s name was recorded. The accounts were divided into ‘avere’ (credit), with an entry of the fedi di credito (certificates of credit) issued and subsequent payments, and ‘dare’ (‘debit’), with an entry of the certificates that had been liquidated (fedi estinte) or the bills that had been notate (meaning registered and duly covered by a cash deposit) with their respective dates of liquidation. The date of liquidation, which could be noted in the ledger, made it possible to trace the original bill. In fact, the bancali were kept in order by date of liquidation and threaded through a hemp string fitted with an iron pincer (punteruolo). The bundles thus formed were suspended from wooden pegs fixed to the ceiling beams of the archive rooms. In order to make the search easier and faster, the certificates (fedi) and policies (polizze) that had been extinguished were scrupulously transcribed in the copy papers (giornali copiapolizze).

The banks’ current accounts were kept in ducats, tari and grana. The ducat and the tari were silver coins; the grana was a copper coin. However, upon unification of the country, the Italian lira was introduced: the Neapolitan ducat disappeared and was exchanged for 4.25 gold lire.

The recent and detailed inventories and catalogues of the different collections of the Fondazione Banco di Napoli historical archive provide access to a significant amount of information on the period from the fifteenth to the early eighteenth centuries, in realms and disciplines as diverse as economic and art history, cultural studies, or sociology. The archive holds a large amount and significant variety of records that document the importance of cultural and financial exchanges between the Kingdom of Naples and other communities around the Mediterranean. For this exhibition we have sampled transactions that illustrate several different commercial and cultural exchanges with foreign markets, including bills of exchange, the release of slaves, and the purchase of a range of goods and services – including art and book printing.

One of the main operations of the Neapolitan public banks was pawn loans, which could be of two types: a loan with interest and free loan. The goods accepted in pledge were valuable objects or cloth. Gold, silver and jewellery belonged to the first category; linen, wool and silk cloth to the second. Interest, collected in arrears at the time of redemption (disimpegno), was usually 6 per cent per annum and did not start until after four or six days’ clearance (franchigia). The duration of the operation could not exceed six months for pawns of wool (the most perishable), two and a half years for pawns of linen and silk, and three years for pawns of gold, silver and jewellery. When someone went to the bank to pawn gold, silver or cloth, the goldsmith or appraiser would examine the quality of the item and determine its value. The goldsmith or appraiser would then fill out two forms and give them to the cashier and the customer respectively. On the front was the payment order to the cashier; on the back was the description of the pawn, the estimated value, the weight and other useful information for its identification. At the moment of restitution of the anticipated sum, the client handed over the form to the cashier, who, after having carried out the necessary operations, cancelled it and passed it on to the archivist who kept it with the credit instruments and the extinguished bills. If the pawn was not withdrawn, the bank proceeded to sell it, recouping the capital advanced and the interest accrued. Any excess amount was returned to the customer. When the pawn expired, renewal of the operation was allowed, subject to payment of the accrued interest and a new valuation of the pawn. The sale of expired pawns was carried out by an incantatore, at public auction, with prior notice to the debtors. If the pawn could still be kept without danger of deterioration and if it was worth more than the sum loaned and the interest, it was not sold because it was advantageous to the bank. For the exhibition we have selected a pawn form of some foreign currency to the Banco di San Giacomo dating from 1686 (doc. 91)

For many centuries, the population around the Mediterranean was troubled by piracy. Those who were captured were enslaved and taken to places like Tunis, Algiers and Tripoli. The Normans, Swabians, Angevins and Aragonese built coastal defences, but it was difficult to guard them all. Not even the Spanish or Austrian viceroys who ruled for about 250 years were able to prevent pirate raids. It was only with the peace treaty of 1740 between the Kingdom of Naples and the Ottoman Empire that an attempt was made to boost trade and eliminate piracy. In spite of this, however, pirates continued to operate undisturbed in the Western Mediterranean until the early nineteenth century. Since the slaves were mostly poor, they could have never been freed without the contribution of these public banks and other charitable institutions. The banks, therefore, included the ransoming of slaves among their philanthropic activities. We have included a document from 1715 by means of which the Consul of France ransomed a Neapolitan slave who was prisoner in Tunis (doc. 88).

The documents kept in the historical archives include receipts from local or foreign artists and printers of renown who worked in the kingdom. Therefore, this documentation is an extremely valuable source for the history of art. These financial documents testify to the goods or services provided in exchange for the payment, as well as the conditions to which this payment could be subject. In one particular case, they also reveal the exact year in which certain works by the Flemish painter Louis Croys, who received a payment for some paintings depicting members of the Austrian nobility, were created (doc. 63). These sources also inform about the costs involved in the printing of an illustrated book on Catalonia in Spanish by a Neapolitan printer (doc. 64).

The bill of exchange is a credit instrument introduced in the twelfth century by Genoese moneychangers who used it to transfer funds without having to physically transport the money. There were four agents involved in the operation: the person who wanted to pay a sum to a person in another city (numerante) gave the money to a merchant or banker in his own city, obtaining a bill of exchange in return. The intermediary – the drawer (traente) or issuer (emittente) – contacted the drawee (trattario) in the beneficiary’s city and gave instructions to make the payment in favour of the latter. The endorsement (girata), which made it a negotiable security, appeared in Italy in the fifteenth century, but did not become widespread until the end of the sixteenth century. In the eighteenth century, the bill of exchange was gradually replaced by the cheque (sconto or assegno). Gaspar Roomer, an important art dealer of Belgian origin, received a letter of exchange from Amsterdam via the Banco dello Spirito Santo (doc. 65).

So general and widespread was the custom of making payments by banker’s drafts (bancali) that, alongside important commercial negotiations, and solemn affairs of state, one also finds common everyday transactions. In 1668, the governors of the Royal Customs House in Naples received payment for export duties on dyed silks, drapes and other silk products coming from Torre del Greco and meant for export (doc. 26). The names of established trading houses specialising in the sale of various other articles, such as trinkets, drapes, oil, or pasta, can also be found. In another document, the governors of the Monte e Banco dei Poveri pay their official stationery supplier for the purchase of account books, pens, ink and, above all, 100 reams of Genoa paper to be used for printing no fewer than 50,000 bills of credit (fedi di credito) (doc. 39).