THE MERCHANT FLEET OF GDANSK IN 1793 (Gdanska flota handlowa w 1793 roku)
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In eighteenth-century Gdansk the flow of information in the sphere of trade and economy was based primarily on personal contacts, which were established in public places, for example in the stock exchange or the port, through town clerks (e.g. brokers). Therefore, Danziger Handlungs Almanach fürs 1793 is an exceptional publication. Four copies of the book are available in the Gdansk Library of the Polish Academy of Sciences. The almanac was compiled by the well-known bookseller Ferdinand Troschel; it contains lists of Gdansk merchants, ships, brokers and inns, as well as a calendar of the major fairs and markets. An appendix to the almanac contains a the record of ship traffic in Oresund in 1792 and in the port of Gdansk in the years 1791-1792 including cargo transport. The list of ships is very valuable for research on the Gdansk fleet, providing data for an initial estimate of its size and tonnage. An analysis of the sources available in the State Archive in Gdansk and the Gdansk Library of the Polish Academy of Sciences has shown that the fleet had 70 sailing ships, whose total tonnage, about 140 000 laszt (laszt is estimated at 2900-4000 litres), could be even 1000 laszt lower than the figure given by Troschel. The fleet had a high proportion of large ships, over 210 laszt, which constituted over 40% of vessels and almost 70% of the total tonnage. The average capacity of a ship was about 200 laszt. Most of the ships were used for less than 20 years; the average age of a ship was 15 years. The ships whose type and size could be identified were mostly galiots of various kinds and tonnage. Most of them had three masts and one or two decks. There were also some brigs and barques, and a single frigate, brigantine, smack and hooker. 83 merchants invested their capital in ships. A shipping company was the prevailing form of organizing shipping. Its development was connected with a growing interest in ship owning. The popularity of this form of investment resulted from the varied financial resources of shipowners as well as a tendency to divide the risk of loss. Out of the 70 ships 40% were owned by companies while 28 vessels were owned by individual investors. The number of shipowners was relatively large in proportion to the number of ships that sailed under the Gdansk flag. Most of the shipowners were involved in trade and their interest in shipping was connected with transporting their own merchandise. The issue of the profitability and scale of shipping in comparison with trade awaits further research.
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