We have learned much in recent years about the textile industry in colonial Mexico. This volume breaks more new ground and adds substantially to our knowledge. Carmen Viqueira’s essays (chaps. 1-3) have been published elsewhere, but not all of them are easy to find. Viqueira argues that the Spanish crown did not oppose the creation of manufactories in New Spain on mercantilist grounds. This is not a novel conclusion; Woodrow Borah said much the same in 1943. The crown turned against silk production only at the end of the sixteenth century.

Viqueira thinks there were important continuities between pre-and postconquest labor practice. In essence, wage labor emerged from the Spaniards’ modification of indigenous slavery. Sixteenth-century labor codes were less a response to the conquerors’ oppression than a considered effort to turn an existing institution to the Spaniards’ advantage. This may be carrying matters a bit far, but I think Viqueira is probably correct.

José Urquiola is the author of the quantitative essays (chaps. 4-7). These are extraordinary pieces of scholarship. Urquiola’s findings on productivity and wages are quite arresting. Based on an analysis of nearly a thousand labor contracts, Urquiola finds that most workers freely contracted to work in the manufactories. They typically demanded nearly all of their salary in advance. Their implicit discount rates were very high; they valued present far more than future income. Most contracts ran for a year, but only half the workers of a typical obraje could be found there a year later. So lots of workers got their money up front, then fled or died before their contracts expired. No wonder physical security was at a premium; it could keep people from escaping, if not from dying.

The labor market for obrajes was not in equilibrium. Wages in the Bajío (Querétaro) were three times those in Tlaxeala at the turn of the seventeenth century. This was presumably the mechanism that drew resources to the Bajío over the next hundred years. Yet the implied disparity in productivity is striking. Sheep are sheep and looms are looms. Simple calculations suggest that obrajes in the Bajío could not have paid a large premium for labor and remained competitive, even if their location spared them the costs of transporting raw wool. The source of Querétaro’s large productivity advantage is still undetermined.

There is not enough space to discuss Urquiola’s studies of real wages or of the prices of raw wool or woolens. Every student of early Mexican history should purchase and read this valuable and provocative study.