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“Spinning a Yarn”: Institutions, Law, and Standards c.1880–1914

Lookup NU author(s): Professor David Higgins



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by Cambridge University Press, 2017.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


The Manchester Chamber of Commerce established the Manchester Testing House in 1895, and introduced uniform yarn contracting rules in 1897. The chamber made these institutional “innovations” to deal with the nefarious practice of “short-reeling.” This case study explains how and why merchants were crucial to undoing weaknesses in domestic —and to some extent foreign—legislation to overcome this fraudulent activity. We argue that the Testing House and uniform contract were tantamount to developing a quasi-legal system such that private standards established through cooperative agreements had legal sanction. Our study shows how institutions evolved to improve governance along the supply chain for this highly specialized export-orientated industry. This article contributes to the growing literature on historical markets, institutions, and standards. Based on extensive archival sources, we show how specific and complementary commercial institutions developed within grounded notions of governance rather than abstracted spaces of market exchange.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Higgins DM, Velkar A

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Enterprise & Society

Year: 2017

Volume: 18

Issue: 3

Pages: 591-631

Online publication date: 06/03/2017

Acceptance date: 06/09/2016

Date deposited: 21/03/2017

ISSN (print): 1467-2227

ISSN (electronic): 1467-2235

Publisher: Cambridge University Press


DOI: 10.1017/eso.2016.73

Notes: Joint winner of the Philip Scranton prize for the best article published in Enterprise & Society during 2017.


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