Smelter’s Choice: Ticketings and ore purchasing in Cornwall and Swansea

Plan showing the copperworks of the Lower Swansea Valley, 1822 with detail of Upper and Middle Bank belonging to Williams and Grenfell (credit: National Waterfront Museum, Swansea)

Plan showing the copperworks of the Lower Swansea Valley, 1822 with detail of Upper and Middle Bank belonging to Williams and Grenfell (credit: National Waterfront Museum, Swansea)

Belatedly, you can now read my paper and view the presentation on ticketings and ore purchasing in Cornwall and Swansea in a formative period of the industrial history of both regions. I presented the paper in Santiago de Chile as part of the Leverhulme Trust-funded international network World of Copper.

Read Smelter’s Choice on Academia.edu

You can browse the presentation below full screen.

Reflection

It was a formative experience and edifying to be in the company of scholars from around the world with a common interest in the copper industries particularly as they pertained to what Prof. Chris Evans calls the ‘Swansea moment’ from about 1830-70. The stand-out ‘thought for the day’ was mule trains (and indeed canal and river navigation conveyance) and their almost obliteration from the history writing of heavy industry. But more on that another time.

The theme of this workshop focused on copper’s markets. As I am undertaking a material-led supply chain study, which means I am interested in tracing the journey of copper from its ore to the astonishing array of products that comprise it, looking for markets first meant finding out more about the markets for copper ore and related products (e.g. precipitates).

“Did you know that copper ore from Levant ended up at the Middle Bank works in Swansea who then sold copper products to a foundry in Shoe Lane, Lambeth to make one and an eighth inch nails?”

My paper elicited many questions and comments from the audience and other readers of my paper, some of which have led me to refine my ideas and try new avenues for investigation. I don’t think I was particularly successful in convincing some that by the late 1820s, early 1830s the science of ore blending and the logistics of transport were having as much of an influence on the joint purchasing practices of copper smelters as was their desire to control prices. But I remain convinced and I have an awful lot more of the ticketing records to microscopically analyse to prove my hypothesis.

Most of my colleagues are interested in quantifying the copper industry, they are on the trail of outputs in the form of tonnages and fluctuations in prices. These are, of course, important but they do mask the greater complexity of copper industry logistics that I am interested in revealing. For the first time, through this research, I can link the products of specific mines to specific smelters.

Now I have to fill in the gaps and take a look at how the ore was dressed and in what state it was loaded onto ships bound for the smelters.

I also tantalisingly dangled some of the other types of business archive I have been studying, coppersmith’s ledgers for example. In these we can begin to see the onward supply chain from smelters and refiners to factories and foundries that created manufactured goods. An awful lot of them were based in London and the Thames Valley, further diversifying our understanding of the locales of supply and demand.

Apart from anything I think this kind of analysis used in interpretation at relevant heritage sites would really excite a visitor: “Did you know that copper ore from Levant ended up at the Middle Bank works in Swansea who then sold copper products to a foundry in Shoe Lane, Lambeth to make one and an eighth inch nails?”

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.

Abstract

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.