The Insurance Revolution

              Insurance was one of the first financial products to achieve a level of sophistication recognizable to practitioners today. In the Late Middle Ages, insurance was widely traded in Italian port cities and life annuities were sold across Europe. However, insurance requires a calculation of risk that is rarely straightforward in a world where information

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

Loans and Diplomacy in the 19th Century

           As leading commercial cities developed more active and sophisticated financial markets, some cities became centers for global finance. London and Paris became such cities in the 19th century, serving the financial needs not only of their own countries but even those of the continent and the world. Governments of other countries turned to these cities,

Railway Mania

           In the 1840s, Britain was gripped by a mania for railway company shares that saw share prices double before a change in prospects caused the market to give up all of these gains and more. Given the scale of the transformations promised by new railways were so substantial, railway mania was perhaps an inevitable frenzy.

The Domesday Book

           Taxation is a complicated procedure and it takes a reasonably sophisticated government to tax a population by whatever means it pleases. Even modern governments, those of middle-income or wealthy countries included, often struggle to collect certain taxes effectively. In the case of an income tax, an income needs to be validated some way, and this

Dutch Orphan Chambers

           Before capital markets were sufficiently developed to raise large amounts of money but after the point in which even the largest enterprises, governments included, could be funded by a single family, other institutions acted as financial intermediaries. Banks and insurance companies were such intermediaries but before they achieved large size there were institutions such as

Aristotle, Merchants, and Money

           The invention of coins brought about a commercial revolution as a new market economy began to develop in the midst of more primitive means of distributing production across consumers. However, money also had negative side effects. It provided a new way of storing wealth that served no productive end in itself; unlike an estate, a

France’s Gold-Linked Bonds

           Inflation can destroy the value of long term fixed-rate bonds, especially when that inflation is volatile or rising. If inflation gets out of control, it can become difficult to find willing lenders in a currency people have little faith in. For much of the mid-20th century, France was plagued by inflation that was high by

Scotland in the Financial Revolution

           Starting at the end of the 17th century, there was a wave of financial innovation in England. It isn’t often discussed what happened farther north, in Scotland. Scotland too saw a financial revolution, though it was hampered by the relatively small size of Scotland and some crises along the way. Some of these affected England

London Orphans and Credit

           In the early days of government borrowing, public borrowing went hand-in-hand with estates and inheritances. Bonds and annuities, both means by which states in early modern Europe borrowed, were also convenient ways of transferring wealth to widows and heirs.            Perhaps nowhere was this association clearer than in London, especially in the 17th century. The City

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