A Chilean adventure in copper

Chalcopyrite, copper ore, from Wheal Basset in the copper-rich St Day district, Cornwall.

Chalcopyrite, copper ore, from Wheal Basset in the copper-rich St Day district, Cornwall.

Today I begin an adventure that will see me present a paper on ore purchasing and ticketings in Cornwall and Swansea in the 1820s and 30s at the University of Santiago, travel to the Atacama Desert, the region which today yields the richest and largest copper mines in the world, and then return to Cornwall where copper has somewhat faded from our imagination.

The conference in Santiago is the last of three organised by Prof. Chris Evans and his World of Copper International Network, funded by the Leverhulme Trust. The first two took place in 2012 in Swansea and Burra, Australia. The idea for the network is to bring together a wide range of scholars with a common interest in the history of the copper industry, with specific reference to the period 1830-1870, defined by Evans as ‘the Swansea moment’ when nearly half of the world’s copper was smelted in the Lower Swansea and Neath valleys, and around Llanelli.

Michael Johnson, coppersmith of Newlyn Copper Works.

Michael Johnson, coppersmith of Newlyn Copper Works.

Having not been able to attend the previous two I am looking forward to meeting up with others who have similar interests and indeed work on similar sources as me. I believe the nature of my project is significantly different because it doesn’t seek to quantify the scale or reach of the industry or any single enterprise, but rather focus on establishing the processes that transformed copper ore into copper metal and skills, science and economics governing them. So this is the first stage (mine to smelter) of my supply chain study that examines the Mine to Manufactory materials cycle.

My paper is called: “Smelter’s Choice: Ticketings and ore purchasing in Cornwall and Swansea, 1829-34” and is based on my first intensive analysis of ticketing documents in the Williams and Grenfell archive at Bangor University. As a result I attempt for the first time to visualise the data that illustrates the range of copper ores that were required for commercial smelting, and directly compares purchasing patterns in Swansea and Cornwall, previously examined quite separately. Amongst other things, I will be discussing the mechanics of ticketing events, ore blending, collusion between smelters and shared purchasing.

For now I’ll leave you with an abstract but I will be posted my paper on my return.


Economic historians are used to gathering data about mine output and ore purchasing from the mineral statistics published in mining journals and local newspapers. These are usually presented as summaries and synopses and do not offer detailed scrutiny of the supply chain between specific mines and smelters. However a large number of primary ticketing documents survive in the collection of Williams and Grenfell held by Bangor University. 239 record ticketing events held in Cornwall for Cornish and Devonian ores and 67 from Swansea for Welsh, other English, Irish and foreign ores. They record the full range of bids made by the smelters on different lots of ore and offer a uniquely detailed and comparative insight into copper ore procurement in this formative period. This paper is part of a project that is reconstructing the supply chains of the historical copper industry by giving a preliminary analysis of smelters’ purchasing patterns. It attempts to look beyond the macro-economics of the globalising industry to ascertain the practical and scientific motives behind procurement.

One thought on “A Chilean adventure in copper

  1. Pingback: Smelter’s Choice: Ticketings and ore purchasing in Cornwall and Swansea | History of Copper

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *