Vitale Barberis Canonico

The New Factory Is Over a Century Old … – Part One

A centuries-long history like that of Vitale Barberis Canonico is never lacking in key dates, the milestones along an extraordinary journey that has been underway since 1663.

One such memorable day was 27 September 1908.

A special Sunday for the company, a turning point, a landmark not just for the firm but for the entire community of Pratrivero.

Until that day, the Barberis Canonico family and, more precisely, the brothers Giuseppe and Valerio, Giovanni’s sons, had managed the family factory (probably fashioned out of a pre-existing flour mill and readapted for fabric production), the 19th-century-style building recognisable on the far left of the “Barberis Canonico Luigi e Guglielmo” letterhead datable between 1921 and 1927. In addition to that “proto-industrial” structure, Giuseppe and Valerio had leased the Piantino Celestino cotton mill in Flecchia. Truth be told, Valerio Barberis Canonico, identified as the “manufacturer”, even seems to have had his own separate business. Commercial correspondence from the early 1900s, in fact, shows that the spinning mill was active in Pratrivero, while the looms were in Flecchia. Giuseppe, born in 1860, resided at the original structure, while Valerio, sixteen years his junior, was entrusted with the “auxiliary plant” in Flecchia.

Photo of the 1901 letter in which Valerio Barberis Canonico, the “manufacturer”, authorised his brother Giuseppe to conduct official company business on his behalf.

Copy letter book of Valerio Barberis Canonico, “manufacturer”: on 31 January 1901, from Flecchia, he authorised his brother Giuseppe to conduct official company business on his behalf.

It was clear that with this arrangement, and without a rapid means of communication (there was no telephone, such that the two brothers were obliged to write each other actual letters, and even the roads were still quite poor), it was difficult to imagine developing the company. It was thus decided to set up a manufacturing plant worthy of that name, efficient and modern, alongside the “historic” Pratrivero mill.

The genesis of the new factory was intimately linked to the arrival of electrical energy in the Trivero area, just a few years before. There wasn’t enough water in the area, nor a fall of sufficient elevation to generate the hydraulic power necessary to run the machines in the Barberis Canonico family’s new wool mill.

The historical fabric of the archive.
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Photo of fabric no. 5.368/1
The fabric of the Vitale Barberis Canonico collection.

When the plant became operational, it was greeted with particular enthusiasm, as demonstrated by the newspapers of the day, because this was not simply something new, but a new beginning. Indeed, the Gilettis and the Zegnas had already opened wool mills in Ponzone and Trivero, but this would be the first in Pratrivero. So there was twice as much to celebrate! And celebrate they did.

The festivities were announced by La Tribuna Biellese on 24 September 1908.

The praiseworthy initiative undertaken by Mr. Giuseppe Barberis Canonico to open a magnificent manufacturing plant in Pratrivero: the economic and commercial benefits that the town will enjoy demand the appreciation of the good members of our community. A special Committee has decided to promote a luncheon to be offered to the aforementioned industrialist on the 27th of the current month at half-past-one in Pratrivero. Those who would like to take part in such a cordial demonstration of esteem ought to notify Mr. Secondino Barberis Vignola in all haste.

The Barberis Canonico wool mill represented a great opportunity. The people of Pratrivero were aware of the possibilities that new factory could offer. Even for those who were already working elsewhere, it meant greater convenience, better working conditions (after all, the owner was a local, right?), the chance to learn about different manufacturing processes and familiarize themselves with more modern machinery than they were accustomed to using at other firms. 

So how did things unfold at the inaugural banquet? We’ll find out in part two.

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