Nicholas Barbon

           The need for insurance becomes most apparent after a major disaster, so disasters tend to be nurturing of innovation in insurance. London’s Great Fire of 1666 was one such disaster. Not only did the destruction require the rebuilding of much of the city, it also prompted the development and proliferation of fire insurance, hitherto little

Finance and the Revolution of 1848

           It is easy to think of economic and financial crises that have had stunning political consequences. Sometimes this goes so far as to turn normally arcane fiscal and monetary questions into objects of fierce public debate. The reverse can also happen. Political events can and have changed the context of economic and financial decision-making with

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

Gold, Inflation, and Spanish Decline

           Any influx of new money, if poorly managed, can prove as ruinous as it seemed alluring. Misdirected riches can be frittered away and, by enabling years or decades of dissipation, growing indebtedness, or both, can leave its former holders in far worse position than where they began. Spain was able to capture large amounts of

Ulpian and Roman Annuities

           Life insurance contracts, life annuities, and an array of transactions relating to estates and inheritances are contingent on lifespan. It would make sense that some method of valuing these life-contingent transactions would have been formulated long ago, even in the absence of good demographic data. As it happens, life annuities were common in ancient Rome

Dutch ‘Middenstand’ Banks

           Credit is important for nearly all businesses. Even for companies without a need to finance large projects, like small businesses in capital-light sectors like retail, capital is still tied up in inventories and receivables. Banks can be one source of credit but banks are often disinterested in serving small businesses, as was the case in

The Restoration Banker, Edward Backwell

           In 1660, the English parliament invited the exiled royal family to return. Charles II was allowed to rule, ending over a decade of republican administration that began with Parliament’s victory in the English Civil War. The restored king Charles II was, like Charles I, strapped for cash. Temporary relief would periodically come from the considerable

The Debtor Duke of Buckingham

           Almost everywhere in Europe, the 19th century saw a decline in the power of the aristocracy. Political change was partly the cause, whether implemented by vote or revolution. However, economic changes underway decreased the relative importance of agricultural wealth. Not only were greater fortunes being made in commerce and new industries but maintaining an extravagant

After the Great Fire of London

           In 1666, a fire burned down much of London, leaving tens of thousands homeless and destroying numerous public buildings. The property lost was worth millions of pounds. So, rebuilding was more than a feat in engineering. A financial challenge also needed to be overcome. In the end, the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire

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

Bicycle Boom

           Excitement is present in all speculative manias. Sometimes this excitement has only financial origins but widespread financial speculation can spring from enthusiasm for technical innovations or trendy fashions, especially those with the broadest popular appeal and relevance. In the late 19th century, the bicycle industry was benefiting from both changes in technology and fashion and

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