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Mines had to be dug: Saxon miners, with long experience in the arts of drilling, pumping and ventilating, were called to England to spread their knowledge. Discoveries overseas, by providing new raw materials, directly prompted the emergence of new industries; Sugar refineries and tobacco factories were the most important, but other manufactures were also developed, ranging from porcelain (imitating china) to snuff boxes to satisfy newly created tastes. Sugar cane also provided the raw material for rum distilleries, and in the 17th century the wealthy Dutch invented gin, which was originally intended for medicinal purposes. In addition to all these new industries, a good number of some of the old ones, whose production had been highly localized, spread to various parts of Europe. During the Middle Ages, Italy had been the main, if not the only, producer of luxury objects, such as fine glassware, high-quality paper, optical instruments, and watches. The growth of similar industries in other countries, whose products were often of inferior quality but cheaper, partly explains the relative decline of Italy. The invention of the printing press greatly increased the demand for paper. Before the end of the 15th century, more than 200 printing presses had already been created and approximately 35,000 different editions had been produced, some 15 million books. The numbers have grown exponentially since then; In the second half of the seventeenth century, the catalogs of the Frankfurt book fair, the largest in Europe, contained a list of 40,000 current titles. The Netherlands, especially Antwerp and Amsterdam, were the busiest centers of industry, but France, Italy, and the German Rhineland and England were close behind. Despite this picture of varied, strong and complex industries, one must take into account the still very imperfect degree of specialization of the European economy and its extreme dependence on unproductive agriculture. Many industrial workers, especially in the textile sector, worked part of their time in the fields, and most agricultural workers also had secondary occupations, such as carpentry, leather work, and the like.
Of all the sectors of the European economy, trade was undoubtedly the most dynamic between the 15th and 18th centuries. Ancient textbooks described the 16th century as an era of “commercial revolution.” As we have seen, there are previous candidates for this title, but
there is no doubt that the volume of long-distance or international trade experienced substantial growth.