British Capital and American Cattle

            Population growth and rising living standards increased demand for meats in Britain during the Industrial Revolution; however, diseases that reduced cattle herds meant more imports were needed to satisfy demand. Some of this demand was met by imports of fresh beef from America. This was extraordinary considering that up to this moment in history,

16th Century Seville

            For the most part, the financial history of Europe, and perhaps its commercial history generally, from the 14th century to the 19th century, is a northward travelogue as the paramount financial center moved from the cities of Northern Italy to those of the Low Countries and then to London. However, a caveat to this

The Sassoons

           Over the course of the 19th century, the world economy was shaped by an increasing dose of globalization. This was not a new trend. However, for the first time, the world economy was also subject to simultaneous liberalization. International trade had been very restricted up until the early 19th century, the preserve of state-backed official

Canton System and Hong Merchants

           It is understandable to presume, when the world first became better connected by trade, that this trade was an unregulated free-for-all. However, though governments then might have been weaker than those of today, they were if anything even more motived then than now to regulate and control trade. This was true in Europe, where governments

William Paterson

        During the Financial Revolution that got underway in the 1690s, England and Scotland were linked by an integrated financial and mercantile community and a free flow of ideas. This helps explain how it was that the Bank of England and the Bank of Scotland could be formed almost simultaneously. Also, Scots in London, including one

Finance and Medieval Fairs

             Before the advent of the first specialized trading cities like Bruges, Antwerp, and Amsterdam, trade in Europe relied on a system of fairs that followed the same circuit each year. In the Middle Ages, these fairs brought together merchants from much of Europe. Conducting trade over such long distances at larger scale increased the demands

London Bills and World Trade

           Trade is capital intensive, even more so when transit times are slower or the distances vaster. Products sitting in warehouses, ships, and ports are deadweight, tying up capital until they are finally sold and used. Merchant banks, as their name implies, serve merchants and for centuries that meant devising a solution to the financial problems

From Debtors’ Prison to Bankruptcy

           Bankruptcy gives debtors a reprieve from their creditors by allowing an orderly liquidation of assets or a restructuring, often alongside a reduction or complete discharge of remaining debts. Usually a sign of financial defeat, it can be easy to forget that bankruptcy is a protection largely provided to the borrower and not the creditor. Before

John Jacob Astor

           America’s Gilded Age fortunes are infamous, but much less well known to the average person in America are its early tycoons. Like those of the late 19th century, those of the earlier part of that century benefited from opportunities obvious only in hindsight along with employing at least some questionable practices. John Jacob Astor possessed

Napoleonic Sanctions

           As wars are costly and cannot always be won by military means alone, wars are also economic struggles. Adversaries try to gain the upper hand by embargos and blockades, either in lieu of military action or in addition to it. Unable to defeat Britain by conventional means, Napoleonic France led a front of largely reluctant

Agency Houses and Indian Trade

           Until the early 19th century, much of India’s financial and economic history revolved around European trading companies, most notably the British East India Company. However, there were other organizers of Indian trade besides these companies. Among them were the ‘agency houses’, financial and trading firms that got their start during the period of Company rule

Merchant Sailors

           Long sea voyages were among the largest privately undertaken ventures in the early modern world. Financing them led to the creation of some of the first joint stock companies and the task of insuring them made marine insurance one of the first modern insurance products available. Yet the sailors involved are easily overlooked, but they

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