The family of Höchstetter (also rendered Hechstetter or Hochstetter) from Höchstädt in western Bavaria near the banks of the Danube were members of the fifteenth and sixteenth-century mercantile patriciate of Augsburg.
For a time, these international mercantile bankers and venture capitalists - whose most notorious member was Ambrosius Höchstetter (1463 - 1534) - were on a par with the Fugger and the Welser houses. Like other Augsburg bankers, they provided loans to Emperor Maximilian I (reigned 1508-1519).
The accumulating wealth of Augsburg relied on control of metal ores - the gold, silver and copper of Bohemia, Slovakia, Hungary and the Tyrol - and their refining and marketing. The Hochstetter company drew upon investments as small as a few florins, but the total invested with him required Ambrosius Höchstetter to pay out up to a million florins a year in interest. He successfully cornered for brief periods local markets in ash timber, grain and certain wines. Grain hoarding is never a popular practice, and Ambrosius was accused of adulterating the spices in which he traded. His son and son-in-law lost spectacular sums in gambling. Then in 1529 Ambrosius Höchstetter tried to engross the whole quicksilver stock in a cartel; this failed attempt to corner the market led to his bankruptcy (1529) for 800,000 gulden, for which he eventually died in prison. Rising prices bring out a hidden supply, and the size of the required investment had become too large for even the greatest merchant-banking house to monopolize, as the Fuggers discovered with their attempt on the copper market. Figures representing the enormous profits of the Hochstetter at their height became public after a certain Bartholomew Rem invested 900 gulden in the Hochstetter company in 1511; by 1517 he claimed a profit of 33,000 gulden. The company was willing to settle at 26,000, and the resulting litigation caused the figures to become public. A commission of the Reichstag held at Nuremberg in 1522-1523 found, in part, that
"These rich Companies, even one of them, do in the year compass much more undoing to the Commonweal than all other robbers and thieves in that they and their servants give public display of luxuriousness, pomp and prodigal wealth, of which there is no small proof in that Bartholomew Rhein did win, in so short a time and with so little stock of trade, such notable riches in the Hochstetter Company — as hath openly appeared in the justifying before the City Court at Augsburg and at the Reichstag but lately held at Worms."
The house of Höchstetter itself did not go under. In 1526 Sir Richard Gresham, when detained at Neuport, sent a letter with Joachim Höchstetter to Cardinal Wolsey, characterising Höchstetter as one of the richest and most influential merchants of Germany and a great exporter of wheat to London. The Höchstetter were also involved in the Elizabethan copper-mining venture, the Society of Mines Royal.
Richard Ehrenberg describes the sixteenth-century economic activities in which the Hochstetter participated in a classic work, Das Zeitalter der Fugger: Geldkapital und Kreditverkehr im 16. Jahrhundert ("The Age of the Fuggers: Capital and the Credit Market in the Sixteenth Century") Jena, 1896.
- Höchstetter von Scheibenegg, from Hohenbühel Beiträge zur Geschichte des Tiroler Adels, 1891
- "The houses of Fugger, Hochstetter and Welser all invested heavily in the early sixteenth-century Portuguese voyages to India." (J. H. Parry, The European Renaissance: Selected Documents. (London: Macmillan) 1968:24.
- Georges Sorel, Social Foundations of Contemporary Economics (1984) p. 314.
- See Adolf Wrede, ed., Deutsche Reichstagsakten unter Kaiser Karl V II, 842, note 4; III pp. 574f)
- On-line text, quoted by Belfort Bax, German Society at the Close of The Middle Ages.
- DNB, s.v. "Sir Richard Gresham".
- (German) Hochstetter von und zu Scheibenegg, Tirol
- (German) Augsburg city archive
- (German) German Historic Museum