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Course of the Exchange – John Castaing

It’s been a long while since I’ve been back on here to pontificate and curate, largely because I’ve been so busy, I barely have time to wipe my ass. This trading lull ahead of the election and wanting to clear a lot of stuff that’s been backed up ahead of an upcoming project, is giving enough of a push to post up some stuff I’ve had around….

Course of the Exchange, December 31 ,1708 edition from my personal collection

Update: One interesting thing after this post was published was that there were many references to 2020 representing the “UK’s worst recession in 300 years.” The December 1708 editions of Course of the Exchange I have, lead into that period of the Great Frost of 1709, which was the coldest European Winter of the last 500 years according to Wikipedia. Makes it even more remarkable to have these in my collection!

Beginning in 1698, Huguenot stockbroker John Castaing began publication of Course of the Exchange, and other Things, from Jonathan’s Coffee House on Exchange Alley in the City of London. Jonathan’s is largely regarded as the precursor to what became the London Stock Exchange as it, and other nearby coffeehouses, were a centralized gathering place for brokers and speculators to transact or share information. An excellent background article on the London coffeehouses of the 17th and 18th century is: The Lost World of the London Coffeehouse by Dr. Matthew Green. Also, this sample chapter in PDF form from The First Crash: Lessons from the South Sea Bubble is also recommended background reading.

Plaque marking where Jonathan’s Coffee House once stood on Change Alley in the City of London, personal photo

Castaing’s Course of the Exchange was not the first financial list published, but it was quickly taken to be the authoritative source on pricing due to it’s accuracy and consistency. Since it’s founding in 1698, Course was published twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays as those were the days that foreign mail was dispatched from London. As a result, Course is the also notable to have been the first English business paper to be published more than once a week. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Castaing created the world’s first reliable financial data provider and the increased frequency of publication was the first step in latency reduction which now measured in nanoseconds (billionths of a second).

Four sheets of Course of the Exchange from my personal collection, 1708, 1776, 1777 and 1803

Even after Castaing’s passing in 1707, the format of Course remained very consistent by listing price information with the same format on one side of a single sheet. As the sheet was printed bi weekly, the edition number for that year is listed at the top of each page. There isn’t much broadly written on what Castaing created but one blogger noted that his ties to the Huguenot community was instrumental to the accuracy and following among the London business community.

I have an extensive collection of trading floor memorabilia of all types, but these pieces are some of my favorites across my collection. If anyone is aware of other pieces in a personal collection, please email me. From my research the largest original collection is at Guildhall Library in London (also the site of LIFFE trader statue, atleast on my last visit), followed by the Bodleian Library Oxford, British Library, a handful of single pieces at a few American Universities and of course these at Chez Carlson. With my December 1708 batch, which I obtained from one of the most prolific financial history collectors, I still am a bit in awe to have something that was created when Benjamin Franklin was a toddler (the only American reference point I could think of to show how old it is!). I also think it’s really interesting to look over the price changes, or lack there of, from the 1776 and 1777 sheets during the American Revolutionary War. Clearly the 1776 and 1777 sheets were posted on a nail, also a nice touch I like for the utilitarian use.

Photo I took on last visit to Tate Modern of 1847 Edward Matthew Ward painting, The South Sea Bubble, a Scene in ‘Change Alley in 1720

It’s hard to imagine the early 1700s when stocks were traded in coffeeshops although an excellent illustration of early share trading, particularly during the South Sea Company bubble of 300 years ago, is on display at Tate Modern Museum in London. Edward Matthew Ward’s 1847 painting, The South Sea Bubble, a Scene in ‘Change Alley in 1720, depicts the mania and street scene on Change Alley outside of Garraway’s Coffee House, where Castaing published Course of the Exchange after moving on from Jonathan’s Coffee House originally. There’s a lot of interesting details to the painting so I suggest viewing it in person next opportunity in London. There is no direct reference to Course of the Exchange in the painting but I’ll share some photos of some details that I found interesting in it below.

Writing on the torn paper has the words “hemp” “and flax” “capital” “million” “100”
The note on the door states, “The business of the owner is suspended from unavoidable circumstances.” Clearly the gentlemen on the left are surprised at that while the man consoled by a woman is having reality sink in of losses. There is also a chalk hangman drawn on the door.
Centered in the scene are some new speculators who are eagerly looking to get aboard a new issue. The pamplhet that is being read only has the legible words “Perpetual Motion – Capital One Million.”
The shrewdest looking person is the gentleman at the table who looks like he’s awaiting on other’s decisions to close a deal. To have a table setup in that scene makes it clear that he is The Man and also surrounded by others who know what they’re doing. The shady people behind him made me immediately think of some MFers in the eurodollar pit.
I’m not sure exactly what’s going on in this section but the couple in the lower left appear tapped out and likely tore up the paper certificate in front of them. Behind is a pawnbroker that likely provided liquidity for share purchases and a woman appears to either pawning some jewelry or getting some mystical advice.
Beneath the man at the table is a basket full of paper clippings, none appear specifically to be Course of the Exchange but would’ve likely have been if truly accurate.

Comments 4

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  1. Luke

    Amazing post!

    Do you happen to know if the Bank stock was available to be publicly traded by anyone (with sufficient money)?

    The course of the exchange may suggest so as it’s listed there, however I spoke to the Bank of England and they said that they believed shares were only available to buy and sell for people with an original “subscription” to the bank stock (which I believe is less than 2000 people) and that it was not listed on an exchange.

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      Ryan Carlson

      Thanks and sorry it took a few days to approve comment from the spam filter. (My email notifications got turned off it seems)

      I don’t know if there was any restrictions or anything on who would trade it but there is some really deep academic research out there you might look into. For instance, I have Larry Neal’s book The Rise of Financial Capitalism but haven’t had leisurely time to read through it and take notes regarding what he wrote on this trading era.

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