This paper investigates what property rights the privileged manufacturers of ceramics in the Venetian Republic were able to exert on the goods and services they used in production and distribution. Notwithstanding the marginality of this industry, its peculiarities make it an interesting case study in the ways of appropriation of essential resources for manufacturing activities in an early-modern context. In fact, the presence of highly specialized skills makes it possible to question some historical assumptions concerning technological innovation in the pre-industrial age. Moreover, the very early transition from guild organisation to «factories» run by privileged entrepreneurs offers the opportunity to examine in depth the logic and evolution of Venetian mercantilism and its effect on business decisions. The use of a wide range of sources is paralleled by a theoretical discussion on the historical significance of the juridical categories of «property» and «privilege», a discussion which employs analytical tools inspired by the institutional economics of the early twentieth century.