Wine, Crime and Rampazetto the Elder

As Christine Cheng, the Library’s Outreach & Instruction Librarian, mentioned in her post last week, historical documents beg interpretation and can raise more questions than they answer. Last year, Archives and Special Collections acquired an early 16th century manuscript order from the rare book dealer William S. Cotter that describes legal efforts to regulate wine transportation in Italy during the period. Embedded within the manuscript are details that provoke questions about its printing history and bring to the surface one famous printer’s quixotic practices. (Much of the information below comes from the dealer’s description.)

Venetian Wine Order

Parte et Ordini- Text of an order dictating how wine for sale must be transported through Italy in the early 16th centuryCover of an order dictating how wine for sale must be transported through Italy in the early 16th century. Image courtesy of William S. Cotter.

Dated September 1526, this edict was written to address emerging crime related to the wine industry in the Veneto region of Italy in the 1520s. At the time, the law prohibited the region’s wine producers from transporting their wine from vineyards into Venice without a government stamp approving transportation of the wine for mercantile purposes. Doing so could cost a producer his oxcarts and oxen. Individuals who wanted to avoid the cost or inconvenience of procuring the stamp would purchase large amounts of wine from the region, claiming it was for personal consumption. They would then smuggle the wine to Venice, where they would resell it at a higher price.

Along with proclaiming that wine must not be shipped without the proper tax stamps, the edict directs that no one may buy or sell wine for personal consumption without first registering the amount with the local court and promising to drink it at home, and threatens that violators may have their vineyards placed under injunction. 

It describes an encounter with a smuggler and the police chief of the city of Mestre, who doesn’t survive the confrontation, and ends with the charge that shipments of wine passing through customs at Treviso must have tax stamps attached at the “wine desk” in Mestre and at the deputy wine registrar at Miran.

Parte ed Ordini 2 - Text of an order dictating how wine for sale must be transported through Italy in the early 16th centuryText of an order dictating how wine for sale must be transported through Italy in the early 16th century. Image courtesy of William S. Cotter.

Printing Dates and Francesco Rampazetto the Elder

The edict raises several questions for researchers. While it’s September 15, 1526, there’s some evidence to suggest that the document was actually printed later. Typographic evidence points to Francesco Rampazetto the Elder as the printer, and Rampazetto had a history of printing older documents. In his description of the manuscript, Cotter writers:

However, it is possible that another printer, so far unknown, preceded Rampazetto at this address, to whom they sold their founts and equipment. Rampazetto was in the habit of printing edicts dated before he got his start as a printer; he produced at least 15 other edicts or orders dated before 1540 on their title pages—some as early as 1418—though it is not clear why old edicts would find a market with fresh printings. There is also some internal evidence that suggests a later printing date for our edict. The woodcut of the Lion of Venice in our book seems to occur in one other Rampazetto imprint, EDIT16 CNCE 77811, which has a postulated printing date of 1574. That cut is identical, and clearly from the same block, but is marginally less worn. An anchor watermark is evident in our copy, but the mark does not occur in Piccard or Briquet (though Piccard 119042, Venice 1573, is similar); we must therefore consider watermark evidence inconclusive. In any case, whether printed in 1526 or between 1540 and 1576, a most compelling document, detailing the nexus of wine and crime in the largest wine-producing region in Italy at the height of the Republic.

Visitors to Archives and Special Collections can view the manuscript in person after it has been catalogued. To inquire about access or make an appointment to visit the reading room, please contact SpecColl@ucdavis.edu