29

We, of course, know that the Shire did export a few goods, such as Longbottom leaf which was at some point found in Orthanc. However, do we know if the Shire also imported any goods and traded with other communities on a regular basis? If so, with whom?

I'm only interested in canon, ie the books and any letters that Tolkien may have written.

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    Will economic canon do? You can't have exports unless you have imports, because the people purchasing your exports would have no way to pay for them. – Mike Scott Jun 3 '17 at 16:20
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    @MikeScott Not the case. A farmer who took produce to the next town, sold it there, and spent the money he made on food and drink in that town, would export goods but import nothing. – DJClayworth Jun 3 '17 at 16:45
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    @MikeHaskel Not unless you are running trade deficits/surpluses, which is the norm actually. – Rebel-Scum Jun 3 '17 at 18:47
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    @MikeHaskel I'm willing to bet a lot that nobody in Middle Earth kept track of 'invisible exports'. Except perhaps in Mordor, which would be the natural home of corporate accountants. – DJClayworth Jun 3 '17 at 18:55
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    @MikeHaskel It's even simpler than you say, since Middle Earth uses hard money. When the dwarves pay for goods from the Shire they're using silver, which is a commodity that has value regardless of whether it's cut into discs with an image of King Dain II stamped on them So the Shire's exports are immediately counter-balanced by imports of silver. – Mike Scott Jun 4 '17 at 10:30
43

Hobbits of the Shire certainly had dealings with Dwarves on a regular basis; the chapter Shadow of the Past notes:

The ancient East-West Road ran through the Shire to its end at the Grey Havens, and dwarves had always used it on their way to their mines in the Blue Mountains. They were the hobbits' chief source of news from distant parts – if they wanted any: as a rule dwarves said little and hobbits asked no more.

It's also the case that they had economic dealings with these same Dwarves, as we learn in The Quest of Erebor:

You do not know much about the Shire-folk, Glóin. I suppose you think them simple, because they are generous and do not haggle; and think them timid because you never sell them any weapons.

So if the Dwarves never sell them weapons what do they sell them? A note in The Peoples of Middle-earth answers this:

You don't know much about those folk, Thorin. If you think them all that simple because they pay you whatever you ask for your bits of iron and don't bargain hard like some Men, you're mistaken.

Similar is also referenced in the long essay Of Dwarves and Men:

Thus there grew up in those regions the economy, later characteristic of the dealings of Dwarves and Men (including Hobbits): Men became the chief providers of food, as herdsmen, shepherds, and land-tillers, which the Dwarves exchanged for work as builders, roadmakers, miners, and the makers of things of craft, from useful tools to weapons and arms and many other things of great cost and skill.

This obviously paints an economic picture which is otherwise barely even touched on. But yet it's obviously there: Dwarves criss-crossing the Shire on their travels and exchanging work and tools for food on a regular basis.

14

Bilbo Baggins imported a chest full of treasure from Erebor, and also Sting and his mithril coat. That's a 100% canonical import to the Shire.

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    I obviously mean on a regular basis, not one-off events. I'll edit to clarify. – Rebel-Scum Jun 3 '17 at 16:38
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    Still it's an outstanding answer. – Fattie Jun 4 '17 at 17:11
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    Gandalf's fireworks were apparently imported as well... – Jerry Coffin Jun 4 '17 at 20:48
  • How does this address the question, both the letter and spirit of it? If I go into a country with a ring in my pocket, it doesn't mean I'm importing jewelry into it. – Avner Shahar-Kashtan Jun 5 '17 at 11:12
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    @AvnerShahar-Kashtan If you plan to keep the ring in the country, rather than just having it with you while you're visiting, then you most certainly are importing it. – Mike Scott Jun 5 '17 at 11:22
8

It seems obvious that they did have some imports from distant parts. For instance, when Bilbo holds his birthday party, some of the presents are toys and such imported from Dale. I think (I'm going from memory here) the text implies that the other hobbits at least knew what such things were, even though they were great rarities.

There are other things that imply trade with Dwarves, at least. For instance, the hobbits have metals - iron tools, silver spoons, &c - yet there's no sign that they do any mining themselves. Then they have some mechanical contrivances such as clocks which (as discussed in the answer by Victim of Circumstance) would have come from the Dwarves, likely in exchange for foodstuffs.

  • The Hobbits themselves needn't trade directly with the Dwarves to obtain dwarvish goods, of course — but they obviously, therefore, got them from someone who was (A) not a Hobbit in the Shire, and (B) did trade with the Dwarves. – can-ned_food Jun 4 '17 at 11:08
  • @can-ned_food: That's true. Trade could be like trade between Rome & China, through a series of intermediaries. But we know that parties of dwarves pass through the Shire, and even more through Bree, so it seems logical that they'd do a bit of trading while they're passing through. But economics, like sewage treatment in Minas Tirith, is a subject Tolkien didn't bother to delve into very deeply. (And apologies for the unintentional pun :-() – jamesqf Jun 5 '17 at 16:49
-1

...He took off his party clothes, folded up and wrapped in tissue paper his embroidered silk waistcoat, and put it away. The Fellowship of the Ring "A Long-Expected Party"

How many anachronistic items are mentioned in this sentence?

Silk, tissue paper, embroidery, and waistcoats.

And presumably they were all reinvented thousands of years after LOTR when civilization recovered from some vast disaster after LOTR that changed the shape of lands and seas from those in the lOTR maps to those of historic times.

And I find it hard to believe that these and other advanced items like umbrellas and wall and mantle clocks were invented by hobbits.

The hobbits probably exported agricultural products from the Shire to the Dwarves of the Blue Mountains and the Dwarves probably reexported some of it to distant lands from which they acquired the luxury items they sold in the Shire and elsewhere. Possibly to Elves in Lindon and Rivendell and to Dunlanders.

What modern day items are mentioned in JRRT's writings?1

Also see this question and answers:

How did non-native plants find their way to Middle-earth?2

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