Dec

30

 Wall Street and the Wilds by A.W. Dimock, 1915, contains the sage of the rise and fall and rise and fall of a Wall Street gold trader, options seller, stock manipulator, developer of the clearing house, pool operator, Steamship promoter, real estate developer of Elizabeth, New Jersey, telegraph line builders, railroad builder, hunter, photographer and naturalist from 1850 to 1915.

It includes chapters on black Friday, the day that the gold bulls broke the US Treasury in 1870, the effect on prices of the civil way, the way manipulations were carried out in those days, the relation of the flexions to financiers in those days (not much different from today), systems for profiting in gold, the legal system in those days (fees of a million dollars for routine cases were common even in 1880, the early developments of photography in the wilds, hair raising tails of wars between the Native Americans and the US military, pinpoint shooting, advanced fly casting techniques, and much more.

Everything talked about is totally a propos of current techniques in Wall Street. Dimock was a minister's son born in 1840 who went to Andover and came to Wall Street at 15 and got his start scalping odd lots in insurance stocks. He developed a system of selling gold every 1/8 up and buying it every eight down. He became the Little Napoleon of Wall Street and dominated the gold exchange the way the big grain companies dominate the grain market today, using some of the same techniques. He made so much money that it was easy come, easy go, and he lost it all by guaranteeing the purchase of friends, defrauding by the Goulds during Black Friday, and finally in the crash of 1873.

The book is compelling, and instructive and a great history of 19th century stock and commodity markets, very much akin and resonant of today. It's highly instructive. I'll quote from some of the more resonant and sagacious passages:

All day I stood there, buying and selling, with a stubby pencil. Always my bids and offers were a quarter percent apart. Thus, if I had just bought five thousand at a premium of fifty and 1/8 percent, (gold was quoted at around $16.50 an ounce as a premium to dollars), I would big fifty for five more, and offer to sell five at fifty and one quarter. Every purchase was balanced. The profits of my machine were so great at the end of the year that I could withstand a fall of 25% in the price of gold.

There is a fascinating account of the lending and borrowing business and the treachery and integrity of various operators very resonant of today.

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

 Going up against Big Al, the Chair and Dimock should be the final proof of my gilded idiocy. Here goes.

Dimock — like all the large size traders in the Gold Room — thought that the corruptions of the Lincoln and Johnson Administrations would continue under Grant and Treasury Secretary Boutwell. When they didn't, when Federal spending kept declining and the public debt kept being reduced, the speculators assumed that it was a temporary reprieve. They and most politicians expected some kind of compromise that would allow for continued greenbackery. They bet wrong, and Grant's reputation has suffered for it ever since. Not only had Grant and Boutwell opposed the conventional academic opinion - which was, then as now, that the economic pump needed continuous monetary/credit priming with more and more currency; even worse, Grant allowed his Treasury Secretary to go against the street. Only the businessmen of the country - Vanderbilt being the foremost - thought Grant and Boutwell were right. Indeed, Vanderbilt thought Grant was as much a hero for saving the country's finances and its currency as for his leadership of the Union Army during the Civil War/War Between the States. When Grant's son lost the family money in a swindle with the Bernie Madoff of the day, most of the surviving speculators from '73 celebrated; Vanderbilt, on the other hand, saved Grant by buying from him all of his memorabilia, which he later returned to the Grant family as a gift.

What did happen in 1870 was that the Treasury was unable to float its proposed loan at 4 1/2% in Europe because of a little thing called the Franco-Prussian war. What Boutwell did instead was borrow here in the U.S. "The circumstance that war was declared between France and Prussia simultaneously with the passage of the loan bill put it out of the power of the Department to make the negotiation as had been expected. The large revenues, however, of the Government continuing without material abatement until the present time, improved the credit of the country, enabled the Treasury Department, by weekly purchases, to reduce the amount of surplus bonds offered for sale, and contributed to depreciate the market value of gold."

Here are Boutwell's reports for 1870 and 1871. To understand exactly how deep a hole the war had put the country in, you need to know that in 1870 the Federal government spent $129,235,498 for interest on the public debt. The gross receipts for that same year were $411,255,477. The total public debt, including the nearly $400 million in U.S. Notes and greenbacks was $2,418,673,044 - 6 times the Federal tax collections.

1870:

"The financial condition of the country has improved during the past 5'ear. The average rate of gold for the year 1869, as shown by weekly sales, was 32.9 per centum premium, and for the first eleven months of the year 1870,15.2 per centum premium, indicating an improvement in the value of the paper currency of about 17 per centum. From the 1st day of July, 1869, to the 30th of June, 1870, inclusive, the public debt, as shown by the warrant account, was reduced in the sum of $101,601,916 88. From the 1st day of December, 1869, to the 30th day of November, 1870, inclusive, the reduction was $119,251,240 58, as shown by the monthly statements of the public debt, and the total reduction, from the 1st of March, 1869, to the 1st of December, 1870; was $191,154,765 36. The consequent reduction in the interest account is at the rate of more than ten millions of dollars per annum.

1871:

 "The country has been prosperous during the year now closing, and the public finances have shared in the general prosperity. During the fiscal year ending June 30, 1871, the reduction of the pubic debt was $94,327,764 84. The total decrease in the public debt from March 1, 1869, to December 1, 1871, was $277,211,892 16; and during the same period the annual interest charge has been reduced $16, 741, 436 04. The revenues for the year 1871, and the receipts since the first of July last, show that the time has arrived when a considerable further reduction in taxes can be made, and yet leave the Government in a position to pay at least fifty millions of dollars annually of the principal of the public debt, including the amount pledged through the sinking fund. In my annual report to Congress for 1870, I expressed the opinion that the settled policy of the country should contemplate a revenue sufficient to meet the ordinary expenses of the Government, pay the interest on the public debt, and from twenty-five to fifty millions of dollars of the principal annually. To that opinion I adhere, with even a stronger conviction that the payment annually upon the principal of the public debt should no,t be less than fifty millions of dollars.upon favorable terms if, unhappily, in the future an exigency should require such loans to be made. The power to negotiate a large loan at five per cent, interest and to enter upon negotiations for the sale of bonds bearing four-and-a-half, and four per cent, interest, is derived entirely from the exhibition of an honest purpose on the part of the people to maintain the public faith, and the consequent ability on the part of the Government to answer that expectation by large and frequent payments upon the public debt."
source


Boutwell
is a great, great figure. I steal most of my opinions about the Constitution from his great work The Constitution of the United States at the End of the First Century.

 


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