The toleration of Judaism in 17th-century Amster? dam encouraged increasing numbers of Portuguese Jews to settle there, and among these were several wholesale jewellers and diamond polishers from Antwerp and Lisbon.1 They helped to establish the gemstone trade and the diamond polishing industry in the city.2 Portuguese Jews were an important element among the wholesale - or merchant - jewellers of Amsterdam, who financed the industry and distributed its output to the cities of Europe. It is therefore particularly interesting to find the per? sonal and business papers of one of these men, Manuel Levy Duarte, preserved among the records of the Portuguese Jewish Community in the Amsterdam City Archives. Such material is very rare and this copious collection enables us to see how he lived and conducted his business, including his trade with London.
Manuel Levy Mendes do Valle was born in 1631, probably in Amsterdam, into a family with good connections in the jewellery trade.3 His father, Gabriel Levy, came from Trancoso in northern Portugal and his mother, Leonor de Pas, was born in Rouen.4 His brother, David Levy Mendes was a not very successful merchant in Curagao.5 Manuel had a sound commercial education. He was good at arithmetic, kept his books well and wrote legible letters in Portuguese, Spanish, French and Dutch - in that order of frequency. By the time he joined forces with his friend and contemporary, Jacob Athias, both men were aged 30 and were experi? enced in the jewellery trade and in business methods. Manuel was the more dynamic of the two and the more expert in appraising unpolished diamonds. Jacob Athias had been born in Recife, Brazil, during the Dutch occupation6 and his father had been a warden of the synagogue there.7 In 1660, they married two sisters of an established Amsterdam jeweller named Manuel Duarte (see pedigree), and, aided by their dowries, set up a joint household and merchant jewellers' business, in a house on the Oude Schans in the Jewish quarter.8 When Manuel Duarte died in 1661 they inherited the goodwill of his old-established business. This is probably the reason why Manuel decided to add his wife's surname to his own, which was quite a usual Portuguese custom. Henceforth he called himself 'Manuel Levy Duarte'. The partnership traded under the name of'Athias and Levy' and continued until the death of Jacob Athias in 1690.9
The two wives, Gracia and Constantia Duarte, were very well connected in the jewellery trade, as well as being first cousins of Manuel, on his mother's side. In her letters to him, Constantia addresses Manuel as 'My beloved and dear cousin', the tie of blood being regarded as more important than that of marriage.
Gracia and Constantia's grandfather, Diego Duarte (1544-1626), had migrated from Lisbon to Antwerp at some date before 1591, when he appears as a member of the Portuguese Nation there.10 His son, their uncle, Gaspar Duarte (1588-1653), lived in Antwerp in great style,11 and built up a very successful business there as a picture dealer and