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A Culture of Everyday Credit

Housekeeping, Pawnbroking, and Governance in Mexico City, 1750-1920

Marie Eileen Francois

Publication Year: 2006

Pawning was the most common credit mechanism in Mexico City in the nineteenth century. A diverse, largely female pawning clientele from lower- and middle-class households regularly secured small consumption loans by hocking household goods. A two-tiered sector of public and private pawnbrokers provided collateral credit. Rather than just providing emergency subsistence for the poor, pawnbroking facilitated consumption by Creole and mestizo middle sectors of Mexican society and enhanced identity formation for those in middling households by allowing them to cash in on material investments to maintain status during lean times. A Culture of Everyday Credit shows how Mexican women have depended on credit to run their households since the Bourbon era and how the collateral credit business of pawnbroking developed into a profitable enterprise built on the demand for housekeeping loans as restrictions on usury waned during the nineteenth century.

Pairing the study of household consumption with a detailed analysis of the rise of private and public pawnbroking provides an original context for understanding the role of small business in everyday life. Marie Eileen Francois weighs colonial reforms, liberal legislation, and social revolution in terms of their impact on households and pawning businesses.

Based on evidence from pawnshop inventories, censuses, legislation, petitions, literature, and newspapers, A Culture of Everyday Credit portrays households, small businesses, and government entities as intersecting arenas in one material world, a world strapped for cash throughout most of the century and turned upside down during the Mexican Revolution.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Series: Engendering Latin America


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pp. v


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pp. vi


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pp. vii-ix

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pp. xi-xiii

A decade is a long time, even to write a book about almost a century and a half of Mexican history. I incurred innumerable debts in the process of producing this book and surely will spend decades more repaying them. Many scholars have shaped questions...


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pp. xiv

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pp. 1-16

In 1802 an embroidered shawl sat in hock for six months in Mexico City. Its owner, Gertrudis Castillo, a white fifteen-year-old woman from Guadalajara, pawned it for a loan of four pesos at the Monte de Piedad, a public charitable pawnshop. A century later in a private neighborhood pawnshop, a customer listed as ‘‘Morena’’ hocked a string of corals and a silver...

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1. Hocking the Private in Public: Credit Policy, Housekeeping, and Status, 1750-1840

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pp. 17-47

In a downtown neighborhood of Mexico City in 1811, Ygnacia Ruiz pawned a cotton jacket for six reales at the pulpería (corner grocery store) a block and a half from her house near the Parque del Conde. A fifty-year-old Creole widow, Ygnacia lived in the household headed by her son licenciado Don Francisco Alvarez, with her other adult children (two daughters and another son) and an indigenous woman who was a live-in servant. Her...

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2. Collateral Lending: Pulperias and the Monte de Piedad, 1750-1840

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pp. 48-77

A satirical pamphlet addressing Mexican storekeepers in 1820 strongly rebuked them: ‘‘Not content with the customary earning of one real per peso, maliciously you weave the net that traps the incautious, lending them six and demanding from them seven, and making a web between tlacos, pilones and other effects, finding the account always in your favor.’’∞ A...

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3. Collateral Living: Consumption, Anxious Liberals, and Daily Life, 1830-80

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pp. 78-113

During the first half of 1868, just after Mexican statesmen reclaimed the national government from the Austrian Maximilian, who ruled Mexico for the French, María Robledo repeatedly visited the pawnshop of Don Agapito Cortés in Portal de Cartagena in Tacubaya on the outskirts of Mexico City. In nine visits María secured loans of two...

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4. Brokering Interests: Casas de Empeno and an Expanded Monte de Piedad, 1830-75

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pp. 114-149

Don Juan Acosta represented fellow pawnbrokers in a petition in 1842 to change a new law regulating their trade. He highlighted the social welfare and paternal role of brokers who assisted city residents with the ‘‘most urgent need of sustaining their families.’’ In his proposal to Emperor Maximilian to expand the...

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5. Positivist Housekeeping: Domesticity, Work, and Consumer Credit, 1880-1910

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pp. 150-188

In her 1887 memoir Face to Face with the Mexicans, American visitor Fanny Gooch Chambers commented on numerous ‘‘public charitable institutions’’ in Mexico City. Her opinion of the Monte de Piedad was high; she thought it ‘‘one of the noblest benefactions, enabling those whom misfortune has visited to realize or receive advances upon valuables without the risk of losing them. These...

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6. Porfirian Paradoxes: Profit versus Regulation, Capital versus Welfare

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pp. 189-223

The Pearl of Saint Catherine. The Ideal of Art. The Rose of the Sea. Shower of Gold. In her memoir of her stay in Mexico City at the turn of the twentieth century, Mrs. Tweedie characterized these colorful pawnshop names, along with others for pulquerías, grocery stores, and butcher and barber shops, as ‘‘funny and extremely inappropriate."1....

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7. A Material Revolution: Militancy, Policy, and Housekeeping, 1911-20

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pp. 224-257

In February 1915 neighborhood women amassing ‘‘strength from who knows where’’ removed sewing machines, desks, and dressers during pawnshop sackings and carried them down the streets, fighting o√ others who wanted the property for themselves. Pawnbrokers informed a reporter from El Demócrata (a newspaper siding with Venustiano Carranza’s Constitutionalist cause) about the collective actions of these empowered ‘‘mujeres del pueblo.’’ Their businesses...

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Conclusion: Housekeeping, Pawnbroking, and Politics

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pp. 258-267

When pawnshops talk, what do they say? They tell us about the interlocking weave of social relationships and economic, political, and cultural strands of daily life. The pawning process constituted relations between and among state and society, the negotiation of governance, the intersection of patriarchy and capitalism, and links between politics, business, and the household. Gender relations...

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Epilogue: Still a Culture of Everyday Credit

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pp. 268-271

In 1950 a feature film entitled Monte de Piedad told stories of people whose lives intersected with the charitable institution. Throughout the century before, investigative news pieces, poetry, novels, political satire, and even the theatrical stage had featured collateral credit. Now it became part of the golden age of Mexican cinema. The film...

Appendix 1: Collateral Transactions Data

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pp. 273-292

Appendix 2: Pawnbroker Data

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pp. 293-316

Appendix 3: Census Data

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pp. 317-336


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pp. 337-409


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pp. 411-415

E-ISBN-13: 9780803256491
E-ISBN-10: 0803256493

Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: Engendering Latin America