The Anchor Corporation

July 20th 2019, by Matthias

The S'Kaafhus or the Old Customs House in the 17th century

Dear reader, let me take you to the medieval Strasbourg. There we will meet a character whose job is certainly envied, at least by some who, like me, have a taste for grape.

In Middle Ages, the city of Strasbourg carries on with its development, that coincides with the development of guilds. Those are made up of craftsmen and traders eager to do some business and to get rich. Quickly, raw products and manufactured ones will need to be stored, before they are sent here and there. Naturally, waterways are privileged in the Rhine valley (which is one of the densest economical areas in the world). From these waterways will emerge the most powerful of corporations: that of the boatmen – the Anchor corporation.

They are key figures and are as a matter of fact free to set the taxes for the transport and circulation of goods on the Rhine and its tributaries. They enjoy a near-monopoly all the way to Mainz! In 1358, they build the biggest civilian building in town, a large warehouse: s’kaafhüs. This true trading house, which will serve as a mint as well, strengthens their domination. Nothing is unloaded without their agreement and a whole series of new jobs will appear in the wake of this traffic. A good number of these gentlemen can be found in the Old Customs (s’kaafhüs), whose name is quite evocative.

Stained glass window of Anchor Corporation at the Historical Museum of Strasbourg City

And you, what do you want to do when you’re older? 

Here, everything is monitored by the Kaufherr, chosen by the city’s bourgeois. Once he has given his approval, the goods may be moved. First, the lead crane operator (Kranmeister), with the help of his first assistant (Zukranmeister) deal with the other crane operators (Kranleute). They unload the boats and move the goods to the designated areas. These goods are then entrusted to third parties who will take care of their distribution. They have to make sure that each product gets to the right place and to the right person. This is when the Weinstichler makes his entrance.

Indeed, we are here dealing with wine! This good sir has got a most desirable job. His task is to taste the wine so as to assess the barrel’s quality, then to determine its price and consequently the districts and persons to which it shall be delivered.

Can you imagine yourself there for an instant, thoroughly tasting all these sun-filled grape juices and assessing what they are worth? You are the Mister Wine. You are the only one who decides about the wine business in a city and its vicinity. Similarly, you alone may impoverish a wine grower or make his fortune.
Can you guess what comes next…?

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The Old Custom House in 2013