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The existence of cooperation and trust between competing economic agents is taken for granted by much of the literature on industrial districts. This article explores the structure of the Birmingham jewellery-making district and the problems created by the opportunistic behaviour of many of its members. Archival sources show that the district was plagued by endemic dishonesty and that proximity did not generate trust and cooperation. The absence of barriers to entry into the trade created a district where social sanctions could not be used to reduce moral hazard. All these factors threatened to destroy the district during the crisis of the 1880s. The article shows how firms joined together to create the Birmingham Jewellers Association, to establish and enforce ‘rules of the game’, with the aim of reducing transaction costs.