Nail a trader

Late 19th century satire publication, Puck Magazine, ran a cover story in 1888 advocating retribution against the largest CBOT trader of the era, Benjamin “Old Hutch” Hutchinson, after he orchestrated a corner which helped squeeze the price of wheat from 90 cents a bushel to $1.60. The illustration is pretty much a libertarian nightmare of state sponsored theft and redistribution of private property which was lawfully earned.

Written below the caricature of Old Hutch with his ear nailed against a door is written: “A Hint from Our Ancestors. They Nailed the Wheat Cornerers of the Middle Ages to the City Hall Door, and Distributed their Spoils Among the People.”

I could not find particular examples of speculators being punished through cropping (the official name for the punishment) although Victor Niederhoffer wrote in his excellent essay, The Speculator As Hero, of severe punishment of those who violated price controls during the siege or Antwerp in 1585. If anyone can find an example of speculators actually getting nailed by their ears, leave it in the comments and I’ll include it in the post.

It’s hard to watch but youtube has videos of people willingly getting their ears nailed to a post such as this one (click here). Medieval punishment techniques are an internet rabbit hole that’s tough to go down because apparently it wasn’t just a singular punishment like cropping, other brutal techniques were often combined to maximize the pain.

Leeson Lager / Bank Breaker shot *updated*

Nick Leeson Lager Harry's Singapore
Bank Breaker shot and last bottle of Leeson Lager

Quick note: It sure has been a long time since I logged in, the website software even changed since I last posted. Last year was my busiest trading year volume-wise and nearly my busiest for travel as well, add into that all sorts of kid activities w/my 4 year old and this project just fell by the wayside. We’re starting the year with a couple months in Singapore so appropriate to get the blog warmed back up and pickup on a subject it left off on. Lots of great content to post up as I’ve picked up some awesome historical trading artifacts in the past year that I’m excited to share eventually.

With the old SIMEX trading floor at One Raffles Place long torn down to make way for a higher building, there isn’t much left of the Barings scandal in Singapore but Harry’s bar on Boat Quay still has a couple remnants. Harry’s is famously the bar most associated with Nick Leeson in Singapore, to the point that it’s listed in guidebooks and walking tours will stop to note of it’s association.

To anyone who hasn’t been to the Harry’s location recently, it’s totally remodeled with the bar moved across to the other side of the room and doesn’t look anything like it used to inside. On my recent visit, I settled in and looked over the menu to see if there was anything to play on it’s past as a trader bar. Sure enough, they have a Bank Breaker cocktail which consists of a shot of whisky dropped into a glass of Midori and soda. The Midori references the Japanese Nikkei futures Leeson traded and I assume whisky because he’s from the UK.

It was a slow night so I got to chat w/a waitress who worked there since the mid 90s and she was able to share a lot of stories from when the bar was filled with SIMEX traders. She also brought out what’s likely the last bottle of Leeson Lager (88888 Reserve “Probably the World’s Most Expensive Beer” US$ 1.4 bn proof) to let me take a picture of it. Leeson Lager was limited to 100 cases and brewed by a Hong Kong brewery in 1995.


A friend of the blog, Felix K., wrote in and provided a link to an extensive interview that Leeson gave to Singaporean magazine Expat Living. The entire interview is worth reading but in particular, he commented that his time spent at Harry’s bar is more of an urban legend.

Nick Leeson: The Original Rogue Trader 19 December 2017

“Harry’s on Boat Quay is still a popular haunt for city types. When you went there to have a drink at the end of the day was it done with a sense of celebration or nervousness?
It’s one of the great myths of my time in Singapore; I very rarely went to Harry’s on Boat Quay. Yes, it was a popular place with expats. Yes, I was an expat, but as I mentioned previously I preferred to socialise with the locals that worked for me. If we did go for a drink after work it tended to be to bars at the other end of Boat Quay. One in particular was called Big Ben, it had a pool table, you could play darts and we knew the bar staff reasonably well. If a client or somebody from London was visiting, I might have had one drink in Harry’s but that really would be it.

At the time, I was living two lives; the reality of what was happening on the trading floor as opposed to the lies that I was positioning to everyone else. The last thing that I wanted to do at the end of the day was dissect how the trading day had gone which was typically the subject of discussion amongst the expats in Harry’s. I wanted to get away from all that.

I’ve lost count of how many hundreds of people who have told me that they drank in my favourite bar in Singapore or tried the “bank breaker” cocktail. Harry’s was one of the successes of that period; a couple of the traders in Japan have gone on to be extremely successful as well.”

Another authentic Barings Bank trading jacket from SIMEX

Barings Bank trading jacket Nick Leeson Singapore SIMEX

Baring Bank trading jacket from Nick Leeson’s SIMEX desk

I see that Nick Leeson is continuing to sell replica Baring trading jackets so this is a good time to present what an authentic Baring Bank trading jacket from the SIMEX exchange in Singapore looks like, as this one pictured was a recent addition to my collection.

The above jacket was issued to one of the lead execution brokers on Leeson’s Barings desk with the acronym DIN and whose nickname was “Fat Boy.”  Anyone who has read the book Rogue Trader should recognize the nickname and role easily.

I had actually bought this jacket in 2011 but didn’t get my hands on it until recently because the original purchaser wouldn’t ship it outside the UK upon purchase so a friend in the UK received it until he finally sent it on to me earlier this year.  The original purchaser got the opportunity to purchase this jacket from KPMG, the Barings bankruptcy liquidator, in 2007 as a consolation for losing the ebay auction for Leeson’s original trading jacket which was auctioned off.  I’m not sure what the price he paid KPMG for this particular jacket, as it was blacked out in the correspondence I was given for documentation, but his losing bid for Leeson’s jacket on ebay was over 16,000 GBP!

This is the second Barings jacket from Singapore I have and don’t really need two but also don’t sell anything in my collection so perhaps I’ll see if a museum like the British Museum would like one as a donation.

Trading floor pinback buttons

Exchange trading floor pinback butons

It’s been a while since I’ve posted after being so busy w/trading and other stuff, but today I got the chance to sort some of my trading floor pinback buttons from various exchanges and took a photo of whatever could fit on my coffee table.  The LIFFE and CBOE pinback buttons are not included on this photo due to space limitations.  You should be able to click on the photo to zoom in and read what the various buttons were commemorating (if not right click and select View Image).

A quick categorization starting from the bottom is index futures, interest rates, currencies, metals/energies, agricultural, meats, commemorative then misc exchange.  There’s various exchange pinback buttons I know of not having but this is the vast majority and includes all of the major ones. I am buying these to add to my collection so please let me know if you have any to sell, especially for the ones that I don’t have!  Email me: tradingpithistory ‘at’ please.  However, I’m not selling any but am open to trading some of my doubles.

For those who never worked on the floor, these exchange pinback buttons were given out at the entrance of the trading floor on a single morning only to celebrate a new contract launch or occasion.  Over the years I’ve collected them from various former floor workers since I, like most people on the floor, threw them away by the end of the day, if not within minutes of obtaining them by adding to the detritus of the trading floor.  Everything in trading is ephemeral, so to capture some of the moments via these physical items is very special.

I got some other cool stuff in recent months to post about and will do so in the next week….

CBOT ad illustrating free market superiority over Red China

The CBOT ran a blustery ad in the mid 1960’s that illustrated the superiority of America’s free market agricultural economy over the absolutely disastrous Communist system which lead to widespread famine in China during the Great Leap Forward.  In the years prior to this ad appearing, estimates ranging from 20-50 million (!) people starved in China as private farming was prohibited with the transition to inefficient communal agriculture.  It’s absolutely chilling to read of the brutality and hardship which occurred during this period and anyone seeing this ad can’t help but pity the peasants standing in line with empty bowls, awaiting what is clearly some meager nourishment.

Last year was the 100th anniversary of Communism and a WSJ op-ed appropriately regarded Communism as the worst catastrophe in human history due to the 100+ million whose lives it has cost.  I’ve long been fascinated of Communist obedience and the ideology’s theft of human potential in stark contrast to myself being raised with the American values of freedom and opportunity.   After visiting all the remaining current (except Laos) and many former Communist countries, I’m always still left with many more questions than answers.

The high productivity of American agriculture can’t solely be explained by free market system enabling it, the USA is also blessed with an abundance of fertile soil, continuous arable land, numerous inland waterways and a temperate climate.  Even Communists couldn’t manage famine with all the advantages America has geographically.  One book that I’d really suggest for everyone to read, that was actually suggested to me by my roommate on a North Korea trip, is The Accidental Superpower.  There hasn’t been a recent book I’ve read which has informed and shaped my views as much as The Accidental Superpower because the same geographic and demographic factors which shaped this CBOT ad are still relevant.

(This late night post was brought to you by bourbon and Kid Rock, if you couldn’t have guessed, lol.)

CBOT China grain

Chicago Board of Trade Chinese grain ad from mid 1960s

NYSE floor visit

Visiting the iconic NYSE trading floor was something I’ve always wanted to do, but didn’t really pursue it since I’ve never been interested in the individual equities markets. I had gone to the NYSE viewing gallery in 2001, before it was shut post 9/11, although there is a huge difference between observing from the gallery and walking the actual trading floor. However last year, I was the high bid at a charity auction for a NYSE floor tour donated by ICE and made the visit recently in early March. Taking along two of my best buddies that I met through my career on futures trading floors really made the experience all the more special. The staff at ICE who gave us the tour provided a lot of historical and contemporary insight to the NYSE trading floor and were excellent stewards of the organization.

NYSE Wall Street storm

A speculator loves stormy weather on Wall Street

After proceeding through security, a number of historical documents and memorabilia were on display such as shown in the following photos.

NYSE trading 1796

New York Prices Current published in 1796 on display at the NYSE

This issue of The New York Prices Current was published in early 1796 and listed market values for various commodities along with prices of two stocks, the Bank of the United States and the Bank of New York at the top of the sheet (click photo to enlarge).

Buttonwood Agreement NYSE

Buttonwood Agreement on display at the NYSE

On display as well was the Buttonwood Agreement which set the foundation for what would eventually become the NYSE.

Buttonwood Agreement

Mural of the signing of the Buttonwood Agreement underneath the buttonwood tree on Wall Street

We also dropped into what was the Stock Exchange Luncheon Club, now shuttered but still used as an event space. A mural depicting the signing of the Buttonwood Agreement underneath the buttonwood tree is displayed prominently in the space.

Before moving on to the actual floor, a quick introduction to how the NYSE trading posts have changed throughout the years is worth reading at this link: Evolution of the Trading Post on the New York Stock Exchange

NYSE photo by Neal Slavin

NYSE photo by Neal Slavin

In doing a little research before the trip, I came across the above photo which Neal Slavin took of the NYSE floor in the mid 1980s and it does a great job capturing how populated the floor was at it’s height. I’m unable to find the article Mr. Slavin describes the photo but it was something along the lines of he spent 12+ hours getting the lighting to how he wanted it and only had a few minutes before the opening bell to take the photo.

NYSE trading floor

On the NYSE floor with my good friend Dan

On the day of our visit, the closing bell was being rung by Masonite, ticker symbol DOOR, so we dropped by the post trading it for a photo. We got a chance to speak w/various people on the floor and while it doesn’t appear that they are very active most of the day, there are a few niches, including the close and IPO launches, which they still play a role for. A couple weeks after my visit, the WSJ wrote an article describing how the close now represents 26% of NYSE volume and some brokers now don’t even show up until after lunch.

The closing bell is pretty much a spectacle to add excitement for a listed company, charitable cause or prominent public figures celebrating an achievement or anniversary. In reading the guidelines, they seem pretty strict to keep it to that certain profile and a quick look at the calendar here illustrates the types of organizations who are ringing it in the coming days. The history of the closing bell can be read here and a video of the ceremony on the day we visited can be viewed here. The bell is really loud as you might imagine since it was meant to be heard throughout the floor, once jammed with a population of thousands at it’s peak.

NYSE closing bell

NYSE closing bell ceremony guests

In the minutes before going to the upper podium, the closing bell guests stand beneath it for photos and to sign their name in the book of distinguished NYSE guests.

NYSE guest book

Distinguished Guests of the New York Stock Exchange book, my signature is not in it

Although we didn’t get a chance to get on the podium for the closing bell, we were able to get beneath it afterwards for a photo. There was definitely a lot of nostalgia on the trip for me since I started out in my Kansas hometown working for a couple stockbrokerages doing gruntwork as a teenager before starting to work on the KCBT floor at 18. Almost twenty years since I was last keying orders into a green screen Quotron to the same NYSE floor I was now standing on, it was great to be beside two of the greatest, most trustworthy people I met along the journey (and Christian’s lovely wife).

NYSE closing bell

NYSE closing bell

One other reason for the trip to NYC was that my buddy Dan and I have had an ongoing bet for the past 15+ years of whoever has the highest trading P/L on the year has to pick up the tab at a huge dinner. For me it’s always been incredibly motivational to keep at it throughout the year and push for the honor of paying….and every year we talk about how grateful we are to still be in the game trading for ourselves.

LIFFE raw footage

A few short videos of the LIFFE trading floor were posted earlier this year and are worth a look.  The first video is of the Bund pit during the European morning session in September 1995.

The second video is of the Short Sterling pit in a November 1996 afternoon.

The final video involves some clowning around, after the bell it looks, in early 1996 that involves a couple costumed characters in the center of the pit, bidding a price the entire pit wants to sell.