For centuries European artisans had operated in small, autonomous handcraft businesses, but by the sixteenth century an evolving economic system – moving toward modern capitalism, with its free-market pricing, new organization of production, investments, and so on – had started to erode their stable and relatively prosperous position. What forces contributed to the decline of the artisan? In a few industries there appeared technological innovations that cost more to install and operate than artisans – even associations of artisans – could afford. For example, in iron production, such specialized equipment as blast furnaces, tilt hammers, wire-drawing machines, and stamping, rolling, and slitting mills became more familiar components of the industry. Thus the need for fixed capital (equipment and buildings used in production) soared. Besides these items, expensive in their own right, facilities for water, storage, and deliveries were needed. In addition, pig (raw) iron turned out by blast furnaces could not be forged until refined further in a new intermediate stage. In late sixteenth-century Antwerp, where a skilled worker earned 125 to 250 guilders a year, a large blast furnace alone cost 3,000 guilders, and other industrial equipment was equally or more expensive. Raw materials, not equipment, constituted artisans' major expense in most traders, however. Whereas in 1583 an Antwerp silk weaver paid 12 guilders for a loom (and made small payments over many years to pay off the debt for purchasing the loom), every six weeks he or she had to lay out 24 guilders for the 2 pounds of raw silk required to make a piece of cloth. Thus access to cheap and plentiful primary materials was a constant preoccupation for independent producers. Using local materials might allow even the poorest among them to avoid reliance on merchant suppliers. The loss of nearby sources could therefore be devastating. As silk cultivation waned around the Spanish cities of Cordoba and Toledo, weavers in these cities were forced to become employees of merchants who put out raw silk from Valencia and Murcia provinces. In the Dutch Republic, merchants who imported unprocessed salt from France, Portugal, and Spain gained control of the salt-refining industry once exploitation of local salt marshes was halted for fear that dikes (which held back the sea from the low-lying Dutch land) would be undermined. Credit was necessary for production but created additional vulnerabilities for artisans. Prices for industrial products lagged behind those of raw materials and foodstuffs, and this, coupled with rising taxes, made it difficult for many producers to repay their creditors. Periodic downturns, when food prices shot up and demand for manufactures fell off, drove them further into debt or even into bankruptcy, from which they might emerge only by agreeing to sell their products exclusively to merchants or fellow artisans who extended them loans. Frequent enough during periods of growth, such credit crises became deeper and lasted longer after about 1570, as did war-related disruptions of raw-material supplies and markets. Artisans' autonomy was imperiled, too, by restrictions on their access to markets. During the sixteenth century, a situation like this often resulted from the concentration of export trade in a few great storage and distribution centers. The disappearance of regional markets where weavers in Flanders (what is now northern Belgium) had previously bought flax and sold linen left them at the mercy of big-city middlemen, who quickly turned them into domestic workers. In a similar fashion, formerly independent producers in southern Wiltshire in England, who had bought yarn from spinners or local brokers and sold their cloth to merchants in nearby Salisbury, became subject to London merchants who monopolized both wool supplies and woolens exports. With good reason, finally, urban artisans feared the growth of industries in the countryside. For one thing, they worried that the spread of village crafts would reduce their supply of raw materials, driving up prices. City producers also knew that rural locations enjoyed lower living costs, wages, and taxes, and often employed fewer or simplified processes. These advantages became a major preoccupation as competition intensified in the 1570s and 1580s.