South Sea and Mississippi bubbles

Akerman called the crisis of 1720 the first international crisis, because the speculation of 1717 to 1720 in France and Great Britain affected the cities of the Netherlands and northern Italy as well as Hamburg.16 The South Sea and Mississippi bubbles were connected in several ways. As early as 1717 British investors began to follow trading in the shares of John Law's banks and companies on the Rue de Quincampoix in Paris. In May 1719 the British ambassador in Paris had received letters from friends and relatives in Scotland begging him to buy stock for them in the Compagnie des Indes. Thirty thousand foreigners, including British nobility, traveled to Paris to subscribe in person. In May, Ambassador Stair urged his government to do something to compete with John Law and slow the flow of money from Great Britain into Paris. As Law's system peaked in December 1719, some speculators, including the Duke of Chandos, sold South Sea stock and bought Mississippi stock.17

While British speculators were buying Mississippi stock in Paris, many continentals were buying South Sea stock in London. Sir Theodore Janssen had a long list of subscribers from Geneva, Paris, Amsterdam, and the Hague. One of the French investors was the banker Martin, who as already noted was recorded by Charles McKay as subscribing £500 with the remark: 'When the rest of the world are mad, we must imitate them in some measure.' When the early birds liquidated in July, the Canton of Berne, which had speculated with £200,000 of public funds, sold for a profit of £2 million.18

Amsterdam profited from its position between Paris and London. The Dutch sold their stock in Mississippi Compagnie des Indes at the right psychological moment and lost little in the crash. In April 1720, a bit prematurely perhaps, David Leeuw liquidated his South Sea stock and bought Bank of England and East India Company stock. By the end of that month, the Dutch banker Crellius observed coolly that Exchange Alley resembled 'nothing so much as if all the Lunatics had escaped out of the Madhouse at once.'19 In June and July there were twelve-hour relays by ship between Great Britain and Amsterdam, and on July 16 some eighty Jews, Presbyterians, and Anabaptists, speculators from Exchange Alley, were off to Holland and Hamburg to enhance their fortunes by speculating in continental insurance stocks.20

By the autumn of 1720 London and the Continent were sharing the financial disaster. Samuel Bernard, a French banker, was sent to London to sell South Sea stock against gold, to be brought back to France in revulsion against Law's system. Dutch banks 'shortened sail, recalling advances, refusing further credit, selling stocks held as collateral.'21 The price of the British pound in terms of the guilder in Amsterdam, which had risen from 35.4 guilders to the pound to 36.1 when the first increase in South Sea stock took place in April and 'France, Holland and to some extent Denmark, Spain and Portugal' were buying, declined to 33.9 on September 1 as 'foreigners lost their taste for English securities.' At the height of the panic it recovered to 35.2.22

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