Salt was pivotal for the development of the Netherlands as a world power in three ways.
First, the salt trade itself brought the Dutch ships into new areas, salt was used as ballast for the outward journey, ships were returning with grain, wine and timber. The dutch held the dominant position of the salt trade up to the end of the seventeenth century.
Secondly, the salt refineries in the netherlands were well developed- salt was imported at a much larger amount than the domestic demand, the remainder was refined and exported as precious white salt to the Baltic and other land to the east.
And thirdly, the Dutch fisheries profited greatly from the availability of high quality salt. After the curing of herring was invented, the herring trade developped enormously.
The wealth of the Netherlands was significantly built upon the money made by the herring fisheries: For example, Rotterdam would not have developped itself without the herring trade.
Het Zout is beter dan Goud (The salt is better than gold)
According to a contemporary observer, the merchant Grammaye in Antwerp, there were about 300 salt pans in the Netherlands in the 1570′s. The majority was concentrated in Zeeland and the southern part of Holland: 150 in zeeland, 50 in Holland, 20 in Friesland, 50 in Flanders and 30 in Brabant.
From the point of view of the importance of the salt, the republic was in fact very vulnerable in case the trade of salt was being prohibited. In a document, drafted for the Spanish king in 1604, salt is regarded as the main income for the Dutch rebels:
“Los rebeldes biven y sustenan su guerra principalmente con la navegacion y el refinar de la sal, y sobre todo ay que considerar que la sal cruda es la madre de la navegacion y contractacion”.
In the meantime, the salt trade was nearly a monopoly for a number of wealthy merchants in the Netherlands. Whenever a fleet of salt vessels arrived, the salt was bought by five or six merchants, who distributed it to the salt pans, and who bought it again for exportation. They controlled the fluctuation of price to a large degree.
As for the import and export duties, there were two main categories: “convooien” and “licenten”. The “convooien” were used originally to pay for the defense of Dutch ships, and became the custom duties for the normal trade. The “licenten” were actually proof of permission to trade with hostile areas: they were levied during a war, as in fact all trade with the enemy was prohibited, but as this trade would yield significant income, it was allowed if only a heavy duty was paid upon it.
SRC: Le Roi, le Marchand et le Sel. By Jean-Claude Hocquet
©2012 Olivier Douvry/GlobeDivers