Maggs Bros Ltd

The Age of Paper; or An Essay on Banks and Banking.

"COLBERT JUN"  ([1796])

£3500.00  [First Edition]

Available to view at our Curzon Street shop.

Containing the History of the most remarkable Paper Bubbles that have existed in Europe; with their effects on Society and Public Credit; pointing out the ruin with which both are threatened from too great an extension of the circulation of Paper of any Kind. To which are added, some curious anecdotes of different bankers at present in Europe. Shewing also, that society is liable to be ruined by this Dangerous Commerce. By Colbert, Jun.

First Edition. Small 8vo (200 x 115mm)., viii, [essay I] 9-31, [1], [essay II] 33-64pp. Title-page very lightly browned and foxed, fore-corners of a number of leaves rounded, some chipping to the edges in places, occasional light spotting, neat ink signature on the title-page [see below]. Recent patterned paper boards, manuscript label on the upper cover.

London: Published for the Proprietors, by Mr. Parsons...Mr Mason...,

Rare. Goldsmiths'-Kress no. 16316 (Essay I only). First part (Essay I) is recorded by ESTC at BL, Senate House (Goldsmiths'-Kress Library) and Canterbury Cathedral Library only. A "second edition" with the addition of Essay II and a new title-page is recorded by ESTC at The Founders' Library, University of Lampeter (now University of Wales, Trinity Saint David, Lampeter Campus), and University of Pennsylvania Van Pelt-Dietrich. The present copy is the only the only example of both parts together with the first edition title-page.

The publication of the first part of The Age of Paper was advertised in the Oracle and Public Advertiser on January 29th 1796, stating that the work was "to be completed in six numbers, octavo". Only two parts ever appear to have been published and the author apologizes at the outset of the second essay for the delay in publication - of a "few months" - on the grounds that "many persons had given it as their opinion, that the discussion of the subject was fraught with danger, and had a tendency to affect the commerce of this country" (p33).

The first essay is an astonishingly familiar attack on the dangers of credit and aggressive banking practices. The pamphlet is dedicated to Edmund Burke - "the person most likely to appreciate their value, or discover their error" - and argues that the increased issuing of paper money, by "pseudo banker[s]", without proper collateral is putting the country in danger of bankruptcy. The author demands:

"Why may it not with propriety be asked, should a single set of men hold the purses of all the rich proprietors of England? Or how should it happen that a man who was only a clerk fifteen years ago, with a salary of one guinea per week, or the son of a penny barber, can command more money either on an emergency, or at will, then the Duke of Bedford, or the richest proprietor of land in England...?" (p.25).

It is suggested that to stop bankers relying on credit and the funds of their customers those who keep an account with a bank should, "make it a rule, at Midsummer and at Christmas, to withdraw all his cash, for three or four days; and as everyone will thus withdraw his money, a one time, from all the bankers, it will oblige them to have a capital of their own employed" (p.22).

The second essay begins by noting that in the intervening period "a sort of crisis with regard to Paper has taken place - a crisis which has thrown some light on the subject itself" (p.34). This crisis refers to the discounting of paper bills by the bank which lead to the fall in prices of everyday consumables such as corn, sugar and tallow. This is now widely seen as the financial panic of 1796-97 which caused economic chaos on both sides of the Atlantic. The second essay continues by comparing the state of domestic trade with trade in Europe and by examining other examples of financial crises including the "South sea bubble in England, and Mr. Law's scheme in Paris..." (p.61).

The pseudonym, "Colbert, Jun" has previously been attributed to Matthew Carey (1760-1839) but this seems unlikely as by 1796 he had already emigrated to America and there is no indication in the text that the work is written by an expatriate.

Provenance: Thomas Gillespy, signature to the upper blank margin of the title-page with his address "No 335 Wappi[ng]" and a tract volume number ("3"). Thomas Gillespy appears, according to contemporary newspapers, to have been a "coal factor and ship owner" who would no doubt have been interested in the state of credit and banking in England.

Stock Code: 217725