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Convicted murderer and millionaire gambler John Law spotted an opportunity to leverage paper money and credit to finance trade. He first proposed the concept in Scotland in 1705, where it was rejected. But by 1716, Law had found a new audience for his ideas in France, where he proposed to the Duke of Orleans his plan to establish a state bank, at his own expense, that would issue paper money redeemable at face value in gold and silver. At the time, Law’s Banque Generale was one of only six such banks to have issued paper money, joining Sweden, England, Holland, Venice, and Genoa. Things didn’t turn out exactly as Law had hoped, and in this edition of Crisis Chronicles we meet the South Sea’s lesser-known cousin, the Mississippi Bubble.
In 1720, the South Sea Company offered to pay the British
government for the right to buy the national debt from debtholders in exchange
for shares backed by dividends to be paid from the company’s debt holdings and
South Sea trade profits. The Bank of England countered the proposal and the two
then competed for the right to buy the debt, with South Sea ultimately winning
through bribes to the government. Later that year, the government moved to
divert more capital to South Sea shares by hampering investment opportunities
for rival companies in what became known as the Bubble Act, and public
confidence was shaken. In this edition of the Crisis Chronicles, we explore the
rise and fall of the South Sea Company and offer a cautionary look at the
current reach for yield.
In the late 1600s, England operated a bi-metallic monetary system of high-value gold coins and lower-value silver coins. In the early 1690s, however, the market price of silver began to rise at a time when the mint price of gold was higher than the market price. Thus, gold bullion was flowing to the mint while silver coins were flowing to the commodity markets. By 1695, nearly half of the silver specie was missing from coin in circulation in England as coins were “clipped” (shaved) with the result that their face value no longer reflected the metal content. Ironically, low-weight coin was still accepted for tax payments. In this post, we recount England’s efforts to remedy the “ill state of the coin of the kingdom” during the re-coinage of 1696.
As Mike Dash notes in his well-researched and gripping Tulipomania, tulips are native to central Asia and arrived in the 1570s in what’s now Holland, primarily through the efforts of botanist Charles de L’Escluse, who classified and spread tulip bulbs among horticulturalists in the late 1500s and early 1600s. By the early 1630s, the tulip was a fixture in Dutch gardens. But Tulip Mania didn’t begin until the summer of 1633, when a house in Hoorn was exchanged for three rare tulips and a Frisian farmhouse was traded for a number of tulip bulbs. The lure of profit enticed novice florists to enter the tulip trade with minimal investment and small parcels of land, harkening back to the days of farmers taking up coin clipping during the Kipper und Wipperzeit. In this edition of Crisis Chronicles, we exchange the trading floors of today for the alcohol-fueled exchanges of the past as we dig up Tulip Mania.
momentous as financial crises have been in the past century, we sometimes
forget that major financial crises have occurred for centuries—and often. This
new series chronicles mostly forgotten financial crises over the 300 years—from
1620 to 1920—just prior to the Great Depression. Today, we journey back to the
1620s and take a fresh look at an economic crisis caused by the rapid
debasement of coin in the states that made up the Holy Roman Empire.
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