Monday, November 24, 2008

Handmade History : Bead Tariffs

In 1888, a US Senate subcommittee convened to take testimony from various businesspeople on the subject of tariffs - the taxes placed on goods imported into the US meant to protect domestic goods from foreign competition.

A man named E. Laurent, who was a buttonmaker and manufacturer of trimming in New York City, addressed the committee:

In the tariff bill nothing is said about changing the rate of duty on beads nor on beaded dress trimmings, which, I believe, both pay 50 percent. duty. As a manufacturer of this latter class of goods, and having on several occasions written to the Secretary of the Treasury on the subject.
I would like to call your attention to the inequality of duty imposed on both of these articles. Beads are the raw material of beaded trimmings, and can not be used for any other purpose than a raw material even if sold in retail stores, as those who buy them can only use them up to ornamenting dresses, etc.
Should beads, which are usually imported in bunches, be entered free or with a light duty, if necessary to protect bead industries of this country, if there are any ; or should beads be allowed to be imported loose, in bulk, and for manufacturing purposes only, be considered as raw material and be free or pay a nominal duty, thousands of females would find employment at making bead trimmings, which can not be done as long as the tariff remains as it is; that is, 50 per cent, on beaded trimmings, when the raw material beads pay this same duty of 50 per cent. I feel confident that should you bring this matter before other manufacturers in my line they would fully indorse my suggestions.

The question Laurent is asking the committee to address is whether beads are a finished good, and so subject to a higher tariff, or if they are a raw material and subject to a lower one. He thinks they are the latter, and has a vision of cheaper imported beads allowing "thousands of females" being employed at "making bead trimmings."

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