16 December 2011

The Greek economy in 1834

Bettina's mother, Gunda Brettano von Sevigny,
drawn by Ludvig Emil Grimm.

In November 1834, Bettina Schinas and her husband were planning to move from Nauplion to Athens with the new government.  Schinas -- Bettina calls him "S" -- had a high appointment in the government, but just about the time he was able to propose marriage, he lost it in the rivalry between Armansperg and Maurer, two members of the regency council for King Otto.  Schinas had earlier been a student of Maurer's in Munich, as well as a student of Bettina's father in Berlin.  When Maurer had to leave Nauplion to return to Munich, Schinas lost his support and thus his income.  Bettina is concerned for transferring and investing funds because her parents are currently providing their support.

In this letter she talks about the practicalities of money, and gives striking insights into the economic situation of the young country.  Notice the variety of currencies and countries involved in the transactions.

* * * * * *

17 November 1834, Bettina to her mother:

There is no doubt that investing money here is most profitable. Exchanging the gold I got 22 Dr. 40 L. instead of 22 Dr. 33 L., a small profit. I have 3 bills on very safe local houses to be drawn in case the borrower cannot pay at a certain date. An expert and respected merchant served us as consultant: he speaks Italian and can teach me about all that is strange to me. A bill of 1200 Dr. borrowed for 2 months at 18 percent; a second of 1000 Dr. for 4 months at 12 percent, a third of 1500 Dr for 6 months at 12 percent.

Generally house building is suggested. The government has specified rent at 15 percent of a house’s value and generally it is expected to rise in the future. If S. could get a position that included a residence, a rental house would be perfectly profitable. At least could we rent out a part of it as shop or storage. House building is very cheap and ridiculously fast. So why doesn’t everybody build? Because there is a huge lack of money and nobody can risk speculation. So what we don’t need for our housebuilding we can invest in Athens very profitably at the time being, but only for short periods so there will always be money at our disposal -- mainly for the following reason: products of the country like silk, butter, cereals are bought wholesale locally and sold there to the small retail merchants within 2-4 weeks at a very large profit. You give the wholesaler a certain amount and get it back with profit after 2-4 weeks.

The owner of Miaulis’ house, now an employee, made 1000 Scudi. profit from 5000 Sc. and kept for himself besides the 1000 Sc. profit 600 Sc. for himself. This sounds fabulous to us but it happens here. I don’t count on such strokes of luck but am expecting significant interest earnings compared to German offers. But it is most difficult to get money transferred here. Armansperg, Heideck and others of these men cannot pay out because Eichthal keeps significant sums of advance payments for future deliveries in his hands. There are no other bankers here to handle the matter easily, correspondence via Syra would be necessary or maybe Triest. 

Now Heidenstamm offered today to pay out ⅓ in 2 weeks, the second third in 6 weeks, the rest in a bill of Rougemont in Paris, as in Paris business is the fastest and most profitable. So I am asking father to do the adequate steps at Rougemont as fast as possible. I will hardly draw the complete rest of 16.000 Thaler as I will need it later for housebuilding, to pay for beams, planks, doors and windows in Triest where I will have to order them. I would take the rest just in case the profit on  money here is so significant that I might better use it here for a certain time first. I also would appreciate the opening of credits for me at Duthil Tichy or Höslin & Springer. Please give me  information about your steps as soon as possible, and be sure I will accepts any of your advices with gratitude. I will inform you exactly about my further experiences to help your decision whether to invest here and trust my faithful management or not. This is a new job for me, the good Lord who is preparing my whole fate will give me the necessary understanding to all of it.

Just now I got a note that my silver box reached Customs. The freight, insurance, etc. are 78 Dr. 18 L.; the cost of Customs I don’t know yet. There is duty on the unprocessed pieces of linen, as well as furniture, tea service, silver. Table linen, underclothes (as processed linen), books, used pieces of bronze etc. are free. Still the boxes from Ancona are not yet here.

The end of the week Countess Armansperg will leave for Athens -- everyone else will leave in 2-4 weeks. I would have preferred to go there earlier with S. to buy the plot, but it has been raining for the past two days and in 8 days summer is expected back for several weeks like every winter, so we wait for it in order not to sink into the mud climbing up and down plots in uncobbled Athens. Heideck will bring me the plan of Athens one of these evenings so I can benefit from his knowledge of the terrain and get his much appreciated advice concerning the healthy position of the plot etc.. He agrees with my thought to build outside the town to have a garden and has a place in his mind which is closer to the future royal palace without being in the center of town, with a view of the sea, etc..

Foreground, Bettina's house outside Athens.

S. wants to correct my information about the rent of 15 %: this is the government’s suggestions,  but private landlords are taking 50 - 60 %. We will probably move to Athens the end of February to be present for the house building. Until then I will busily study Greek so I can share my thoughts with the very expert craftspeople without an interpreter.

Heideck says Schnikelich should come here because there is only one master glazier in town for so many buildings, and he is doing nothing but glass. If Schnikelich came he would have to travel via Trieste* to get all the contacts concerning glass, complete windows, doors, floors, shutters etc. so he could take over for them completely at construction projects. With my experience here I want to add though that a glass pane including insertion which costs in Berlin 8 Groschen is here only 80 L. Tell him so -- I don’t want to persuade him though I believe he can earn good money here, specially with gilding, paintwork, oil painting, varnishing etc. which partly is done here very inadequately or partly even unknown.

*Bettina explained in an later letter, printed earlier here, that doors for the new houses were ordered ready-made from Trieste.  This door industry make a splendid piece of research for someone.

 Copyright © Brigitte Eckert 2011.

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