The Coral Industry

Patrizia Poli
2 min readJul 30, 2021

The coral industry in Livorno spans three centuries, from the seventeenth century to the first half of the twentieth century and is characterized by ups and downs, blooms and declines, decreed mainly by French and Japanese competition.
It was born with the first Jewish settlements in Livorno in 1602/3. It soon develops into a thriving international trade, which will then lead many families to emigrate again to England, from where the coral leaves for India. We know that both Grand Duke Leopold and Emperor Joseph of Habsburg visit the factories.
The eighteenth century is the century of the triumph of coral, the system of polishing with pumice powder and sawdust is invented, and great fairs are held with buyers from all over Europe.
Torre del Greco boats fish for coral in Corsica and Sardinia and the product is sold in Livorno. In the rush to get to the port, and fearing to find the price already dropped, the crews risk losing the boat. Even today, those who take a risky action say: “A varca’nfunno, a merchandise in Livorno”. Then some families from Torre del Greco, shipowners and coral makers together, settled with us.
Napoleon crushed the trade by placing a tax on the fishing license in order to favor the coral reefs of Marseille. With the nineteenth century, however, the coral industry was reborn.
To be fashionable, the wedding trousseau must include necklaces, charms, crosses made by Livorno goldsmiths. The workers are almost exclusively female. To mount the corals you need small, quick hands and good eyes. The girls work for eight hours in winter and ten in summer, in large rooms with large windows…

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Patrizia Poli

Patrizia Poli was born in Livorno in 1961. Writer of fiction and blogger, she published seven novels.