Fishguard and the Gold Standard

           In its first century in operation, the Bank of England carried out a wide array of functions, many of which it had a legal or practical monopoly over. One of these was ensuring its banknotes, the most common in the country, were adequately backed by reserves, the most important of which was gold. However, in

The Original Bourse at Bruges

           According to the most common accounts, the first stock exchange was established in Amsterdam following the initial public offering of the Dutch East India Company in 1602. However, Amsterdam was not the first city to earn the distinction of being a financial center. It was, after all, hardly the first time traders gathered in a

The Financiers of Medieval Florence

           Banking as we know it today was hardly in existence before the 17th century. However, there was something of a financial revolution in late medieval Italy and it saw a new type of firm offer financial services, and indeed banking services, taking deposits and lending money, even across national borders. These firms were principally interested

The York Buildings Company

           In 1720, Britain was gripped by the South Sea Bubble. At its center, the South Sea Company, established to consolidate government debt and trade with South America, saw its stock price multiply several times over before crashing to end the year close to where it started. However, several firms saw speculative mania drive their stock

Bismarck’s Banker

           In the history of Germany, few men are as significant as Otto von Bismarck, who unified the country in the mid-19th century. It is perhaps not because of Bismarck that Germany unified, but Bismarck more than anyone else elected the manner in which it would be done. Through the entire saga, he had a financier

The South Sea Bubble in Writing

           Perhaps one of history’s best-known financial bubbles was also among the first. The South Sea Bubble, which inflated and popped in 1720, was the product of the “Financial Revolution” which began in Britain in the late 17th century. The crash is at least familiar to many interested in the history of financial crises. For this,

Old Genoa’s Universal Bank

           What banking and public finance have in common might not be obvious. However, in their histories, the two are joined at the hip. Indeed, some of the oldest banks have their origins in public finance. Counterintuitively, this includes central banks with roots as private organizations. The Bank of England, for example, was founded as little

Britain’s Sinking Fund

           In the late-18th century, Britain was awash in debt. So large was this debt that even relatively cheap financing couldn’t save the British government from interest costs that ate up half of state revenues. To pay down this debt, the country implemented a sinking fund, a fund established to repurchase bonds that had previously been

Venice’s Fiscal Restructurings

           Financial innovations are frequently born of necessity and this is true in public finance just as much as in corporate finance, banking, and beyond. It is often when the public finances are in the most dire shape that creative thinking is most needed. Sometimes, the solutions conjured up set governments on the right course. Though