The ICF Collection of Historical Securities

William Goetzmann
Director, ICF
K. Geert Rouwenhorst
Deputy Director, ICF
Micah Hemani
Research Assistant, ICF

A guide to the exhibit
Decorating the walls of the International Center for Finance you will find an exhibit of financial securities selected from the ICF collection. The collection traces financial innovations over a two hundred year period -- from a rare share certificate issued by the Keijserlijcke Indishe Compagnie of Antwerp that was formed in 1723 to a one million Deutchmark floating-rate note issue by the Weimar Republic in the hyper-inflation era of 1922 of which countless thousands were produced. The goal of the collection is to identify securities that represent important innovations in financial markets. Many of the pieces in the exhibit represent a new method of raising capital, or a special event or period in capital market history. While interesting historically, the stories they tell are never-the-less pertinent to the global markets of today. Each piece in the collection is, in effect, a contract between a company or country and an investor. The design of these contracts were in some cases remarkably creative and some of the securities had a lasting impact -- not only on world finance, but on global politics.

The financial markets in the 19th century and early part of the 20th looked uncannily like the global markets of today. Stocks and bonds issued in London, Paris, New York, St. Petersburg and Tokyo financed mines in Africa, cattle ranches in Montana, oil exploration in Russia, railroad construction in South America, China and the Middle East and canals linking the worlds major oceans. The period before 1930 saw the integration of the world capital markets into an unprecedented inter-connected system. Only in the last 20 years have the world capital markets regained the breadth and liquidity enjoyed in the late colonial era. What happened in the middle part of the 20th century? Wars, Revolutions and the Great Depression bankrupted companies, brought down governments (and their lenders) and eliminated capitalism and free markets in many places. Are such processes cyclical or have we resumed progress towards a well integrated global economy after a tumultuous hiatus?

Remarkably, many of the stock and bond certificates from the high point of global capitalism still survive. In the exhibition that follows, we show some of the share and bond certificates that global investors held. Most traded on the Paris and London exchanges, as well as locally. Thinking of investing in Russia, China or Africa? These glorious failures may make you change your mind.