Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
Hostname: page-component-684899dbb8-mhx7p Total loading time: 0.303 Render date: 2022-05-23T10:30:04.412Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true }

Dispelling the Myth of the Naive Investor during the British Railway Mania, 1845–1846

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 May 2012

Abstract

Anecdotal evidence from the British Railway Mania and other historical financial bubbles suggests that many investors during such episodes are naive, thus contributing to the asset price boom. Using extensive investor records, we find that very few investors during the Railway Mania can be categorized as such. Although some interpretations of the Mania suggest that naive investors were expropriated by railway insiders, our evidence is inconsistent with this view as railway insiders contributed substantial amounts of capital, and their investments performed no better than those made by other experienced investors.

Type
Articles
Copyright
Copyright © The President and Fellows of Harvard College 2012

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

References

The authors thank the Economic and Social Research Council (RES-000-22-1391) for financial support. The assistance of archivists at the National Archives, HSBC, and at the Halifax Bank of Scotland was much appreciated. Jill Turner provided great research assistance. Thanks also to Graeme Acheson, Rawi Abdelal, Catherine Duggan, Tom Nicholas, Aldo Musacchio, Noel Maurer, Elisabeth Köll, Patrick Fridenson, Ramana Nanda, and participants at a Harvard Business School business history seminar for their helpful comments.

1 Brennan, Michael J., “How Did It Happen?Economic Notes 33 (2004): 3CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Kindleberger, Charles P., Manias, Panics, and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises (New York, 1996, 3rd ed.), 2526Google Scholar; Kindleberger, , A Financial History of Western Europe (London, 1984), 272Google Scholar; Mackay, Charles, Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (London, 1856, 3rd ed.), 14, 45, 89Google Scholar.

2 Notable exceptions include Greenwood, Robin and Nagel, Stefan, “Inexperienced Investors and Bubbles,” Journal of Financial Economics 93 (2009): 239–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Carlos, Ann M. and Neal, Larry, “The Micro-Foundations of the Early London Capital Market: Bank of England Shareholders during and after the South Sea Bubble,” Economic History Review 59 (2006): 498538CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Temin, Peter and Voth, Hans-Joachim, “Riding the South Sea Bubble,” American Economic Review 94 (2004): 1654–68CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3 Mackay, , Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions, 84Google Scholar; Anon., “The Beauty of Bubbles: Booms and Busts,” Economist 389 (2008): 115Google Scholar; Kostal, Rande W., Law and English Railway Capitalism (Oxford, 1994), 29Google Scholar. The South Sea Bubble, which was central in Mackey's book, colored perceptions of stock investment well into the nineteenth century (Michie, Ranald C., “Gamblers, Fools, Victims, or Wizards? The British Investor in the Public Mind, 1850–1930,” in Men, Women, and Money: Perspectives on Gender, Wealth, and Investment 1850–1930, ed. Green, David R. et al. [Oxford, 2011], 156–83CrossRefGoogle Scholar), and the Railway Mania was regarded as its reincarnation.

4 Taylor, James, “Business in Pictures: Representations of Railway Enterprise in the Satirical Press in Britain, 1845–1870,” Past and Present 189 (2005): 118CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See Michie, Ranald C., Money, Mania and Markets: Investment, Company Formation and the Stock Exchange in Nineteenth-Century Scotland (Edinburgh, 1981), 96Google Scholar, on the impecunious investing in railways shares. Broadbridge, S. A., “The Sources of Railway Share Capital,” in Railways in the Victorian Economy: Studies in Finance and Economic Growth, ed. Reed, M. C. (New York, 1968), 204Google Scholar, implies that the impecunious clerk played an active part in the 1845 Mania. See Michie, Ranald C., Guilty Money: The City of London in Victorian and Edwardian Culture, 1815–1914 (London, 2009), 2329Google Scholar, and Michie, , “Gamblers, Fools, Victims or Wizards?170–71Google Scholar, for additional literary references to and public perception of investors at this time.

5 Broadbridge, , “Sources of Railway Share Capital,” 204–6Google Scholar; Kindleberger, , Mania, Panics and Crashes, 25Google Scholar; Anon., “History of Bank of England,” 512Google Scholar; Banker's Magazine 12 (1863): 510–11Google Scholar; Times, 15 July 1845, 5Google Scholar; Francis, John, A History of the English Railway: Its Social Relations and Revelations, 1820–1845, 2 vols. (1851), 2: 195Google Scholar; Lee, Joseph, “The Provision of Capital for Early Irish Railways, 1830–53,” Irish Historical Studies 16 (1968): 39CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Spencer, Herbert, Railway Morals and Railway Policy (London, 1855), 14Google Scholar.

6 Broadbridge, , “Sources of Railway Share Capital,” 206Google Scholar. Several contemporary commentators, however, provide a more nuanced view; see Anon., “History of Bank of England,” 510–11Google Scholar; Evans, David M., The Commercial Crisis, 1847–1848 (London, 1849, 2nd ed.), 52Google Scholar.

7 Thompson, Earl A. and Hickson, Charles A., “Predicting Bubbles,” Global Business and Economics Review 8 (2004): 217–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Bryer, Rob A., “Accounting for the ‘Railway Mania’ of 1845—A Great Railway Swindle?Accounting, Organisations and Society 16 (1991): 439–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

8 See Michie, “Gamblers, Fools, Victims or Wizards?”; Maltby, Josephine et al. , “The Evidence for ‘Democratization’ of Share Ownership in Great Britain in the Early Twentieth Century,” in Men, Women, and Money: Perspectives on Gender, Wealth, and Investment 1850–1930, ed. Green, David R. et al. (Oxford, 2011), 184206CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Rutterford, Janette and Maltby, Josephine, “‘The Widow, the Clergyman and the Reckless’: Women Investors in England, 1830–1914,” Feminist Economics 12 (2006): 111–38CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

9 Studies of bank investors in the nineteenth century include Anderson, B. L. and Cottrell, Philip L., “Another Victorian Capital Market: A Study of Banking and Bank Investors on Merseyside,” Economic History Review 28 (1975): 600–15CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Newton, Lucy and Cottrell, Philip L., “Female Investors in the First English and Welsh Commercial Joint-Stock Banks,” Accounting, Business and Financial History 16 (2006): 315–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Turner, John D., “Wider Share Ownership? Investors in English Bank Shares, 1826–1900,” Economic History Review 62 (2009): 167–92CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Acheson, Graeme G. and Turner, John D., “Investor Behaviour in a Nascent Capital Market: Scottish Bank Shareholders in the Nineteenth Century,” Economic History Review 64 (2011): 188213CrossRefGoogle Scholar. The important studies of pre-Mania railway investors include Broadbridge, “Sources of Railway Share Capital”; Broadbridge, S. A., Studies in Railway Expansion and the Capital Market in England, 1825–1873 (London, 1970)Google Scholar; Pollins, Harold, “The Finances of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway,” Economic History Review 5 (1952): 9097CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Reed, M. C., “Railways and the Growth of the Capital Market,” in Railways in the Victorian Economy: Studies in Finance and Economic Growth, ed. Reed, M. C. (New York, 1968)Google Scholar; Reed, M. C., Investment in Railways in Britain, 1820–1844: A Study in the Development of the Capital Market (Oxford, 1975)Google Scholar; Lee, “Provision of Capital”; Vamplew, Wray, “Sources of Scottish Railway Share Capital before 1860,” Scottish Journal of Political Economy 17 (1970): 425–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

10 Economist, 4 Oct. 1845, 949Google Scholar.

11 Railway Times: 9 Nov. 1844, 1309Google Scholar; 16 Aug. 1845, 1288; 25 Apr. 1846, 578.

12 Times, 17 Nov. 1845, 4Google Scholar. This figure underestimates the extent of promotion, as 335 companies not on this list went on to petition Parliament (Times, 14 Jan. 1846, 6Google Scholar).

13 The deposit had been reduced to 5 percent just prior to the Mania, but was increased back to 10 percent during the Mania (Anon., “History of Bank of England,” 515Google Scholar).

14 Promoters also used their personal contacts as well as agents to help raise the necessary finance. See Pollins, Harold, “The Marketing of Railway Shares in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century,” Economic History Review 7 (1954): 230–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Reed, , Investment in Railways, 86Google Scholar.

15 See, for example, Herapath's Railway Journal and the Railway Times.

16 Pollins, , “Marketing of Railway Shares,” 238Google Scholar.

17 Reed, , Investment in Railways, 89Google Scholar.

18 Anon., The Railway Speculator's Memorandum Book, Ledger, and General Guide to Secure Share Dealing (London, 1845), 7Google Scholar; Reed, , Investment in Railways, 89Google Scholar.

19 Anon., A Short and Sure Guide to Railway Speculation (London, 1845), 10Google Scholar.

20 Kostal, , Law and English Railway Capitalism, 7677Google Scholar.

21 Broadbridge, , “Sources of Railway Share Capital,” 185Google Scholar; Reed, , Investment in Railways, 100101Google Scholar. Of course, even share registers, if they existed, may not have picked up all speculative activity, as shares could be shorted or bought and sold within the stock exchange's fortnightly settlement period.

22 Broadbridge, , “Sources of Railway Share Capital,” 185Google Scholar.

23 See Vamplew, , “Scottish Railway Share Capital,” 432Google Scholar, who used the subscriber lists in his study of Scottish railways.

24 Anon., The Railway Investment Guide: How to Make Money in Railway Shares: A Series of Hints and Advice to Parties Speculating (London, 1845), 13Google Scholar.

25 British Parliamentary Papers, First and Second Reports from the S.C. of the House of Lords on Audit of Railway Accounts (London, 1849), QQ. 2624–25Google Scholar.

26 British Parliamentary Papers, Return of Railway Subscribers (London, 1845), 1Google Scholar.

27 British Parliamentary Papers, Return of Railway Subscribers (London, 1846)Google Scholar.

28 Times, 25 July and 1 Aug. 1845; Francis, , A History of the English Railway, vol. 2, 193–94Google Scholar; Reed, , Investment in Railways, 97Google Scholar.

29 Bankers' Magazine, Oct. 1846, 51Google Scholar; Bankers' Magazine, Nov. 1846, 119Google Scholar; Railway Times, 2 Aug. 1845, 1160Google Scholar; Times, 15 July 1845, 5Google Scholar.

30 British Parliamentary Papers, Report from the S.C. on the London and York Railway Subscription List (London, 1845), 136–37Google Scholar. A further three individuals were found to be impecunious and unable to pay the sums that they had subscribed for.

31 British Parliamentary Papers, Report from the S.C. on the London and York Railway Subscription List, ivGoogle Scholar.

32 Reed, , Investment in Railways, 84Google Scholar.

33 Broadbridge, , “Sources of Railway Share Capital,” 207Google Scholar; Reed, , Investment in Railways, 84Google Scholar.

34 Reed, , Investment in Railways, 111Google Scholar.

35 British Parliamentary Papers, Report from the S.C. on the London and York Railway Subscription List, 136–38Google Scholar.

36 Broadbridge, , “Sources of Railway Share Capital,” 193Google Scholar.

37 Pollins, , “Marketing of Railway Shares,” 238Google Scholar. On the absence of favoritism in the allotment of railway shares, see The Railway Shareholder's Pocket-book and Almanac (London, 1846), 56Google Scholar.

38 Broadbridge, , “Sources of Railway Share Capital,” 194Google Scholar.

39 Anon., The Railway Investment Guide, 9Google Scholar.

40 Pollins, , Britain's Railways, 37Google Scholar.

41 Although we are not looking at trading per se, we are implicitly using the concepts of information and noise traders as articulated by Fischer Black. See Black, Fischer, “Noise,” Journal of Finance 41 (1986): 529–43CrossRefGoogle Scholar. In Black's model, some information traders will lose money and some noise traders will make money, but noise traders as a group will lose money and information traders as a group will make money.

42 “Agriculture” includes farmers, cattle and corn dealers, yeomen, and millers, among others; “Bankers” include bank directors, managers, and senior officials, as well as private bankers; “Other finance” includes accountants, actuaries, and insurance brokers/agents; “Legal professionals” includes advocates, barristers, solicitors, and writers to the signet; “Manufacturers” are those whose main business is manufacturing; “Merchants” include those described as merchants as well as brokers, dealers, agents, printers, publishers, and shipowners; “Nobility” includes peers as well as baronets and knights; “Politicians” is mainly composed of MPs, but a few mayors and aldermen are also included in this category; “Professionals” include architects, company secretaries, dentists, doctors, engineers, senior civil servants, and surgeons; “Retailers” are those who retail goods or provide services via shops to the general public; “Skilled working class” includes tradesmen and occupations that required some degree of education or training; “Unskilled working class” consists mainly of laborers. “White collar” includes those occupations usually considered the preserve of the middle and lowermiddle classes: teachers, bank officials, civil servants, bookkeepers, and so on.

43 See Reed, , Investment in Railways, 110Google Scholar.

44 Spencer, , Railway Morals, 1620Google Scholar.

45 Brennan, , “How Did It Happen?3Google Scholar.

46 Gayer, Arthur D., Rostow, W. W., and Schwartz, Anna Jacobson, The Growth and Fluctuation of the British Economy (Oxford, 1953), 380, 410Google Scholar; Reed, , “Railways and the Growth of the Capital Market,” 182Google Scholar.

47 Authors' calculations from Course of the Exchange, 31 Dec. 1844. There were over 43,000 shareholders in these banks. Authors' calculations based on data in The Banking Almanac (1845), 106–21Google Scholar.

48 Lists of proprietors of the Bank of Scotland, Royal Bank of Scotland, British Linen Company, and the other banks in Scotland (1846), NRAS 1110/13/192/1, Halifax-Bank of Scotland Archives, Edinburgh. Although it was published in 1846, it is more than likely that the data were gathered from 1845 shareholder lists.

49 Sheffield and Hallamshire Share Registers (598/1, 598/2), HSBC Archives, London.

50 Newton, Lucy A., “Regional Bank-Industry Relations during the Mid-Nineteenth Century: Links between Bankers and Manufacturing in Sheffield, c.1850 to c.1885,” Business History 38 (1996): 6483CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

51 The Banking Almanac (1845), 112–13Google Scholar.

52 Turner, , “Wider Share Ownership,” 187Google Scholar.

53 Broadbridge, , “Sources of Railway Share Capital,” 186Google Scholar; Reed, , Investment in Railways, 193–95Google Scholar.

54 For pre-Mania London investment in railways, see Reed, , Investment in Railways, 146–92Google Scholar; Broadbridge, , “Sources of Railway Share Capital,” 186–87Google Scholar.

55 This also illustrates the large concentration of investors in London.

56 On this issue, see Broadbridge, , “Sources of Railway Share Capital,” 193Google Scholar; Bryer, , “Accounting for the ‘Railway Mania,’483Google Scholar.

57 For the sake of this analysis, London is considered as a county. The pre-Mania railways tended to attract a disproportionate amount of investment from towns and regions which they served; see Broadbridge, , “Sources of Railway Share Capital,” 193Google Scholar.

58 This is somewhat contrary to Thomas, , Provincial Stock Exchanges, 33Google Scholar, who suggests that local sources of finance were unimportant in this period.

59 The price/par ratio reflects the differences between the market price of shares and the amount that investors had already paid up.

60 Anon., The Railway Investment Guide, 10Google Scholar.

61 The upper classes may have invested in schemes that may not have provided much in the way of financial return, but may have provided positive outcomes for them in terms of selling land to railway companies at above market prices or being able to transport agricultural produce at lower cost. Notably, the upper classes were not more likely to invest in local railways than other investors.

62 Spencer, , Railway Morals, 14Google Scholar, suggests that MPs were not immune from acting in an opportunistic manner during the Mania.

63 See Taylor, , “Business in Pictures,” 121–22Google Scholar, who highlights that railway directors were portrayed as charlatans during the Mania.

64 Great Western Railway holders of £100 shares and £20 shares 1843, 1845, and 1848, RAIL 251/28, 29, 32, 50, 52 and 54, National Archives, London.

65 See Reed, , Investment in Railways, 203Google Scholar.

66 Anon., A Short and Sure Guide, 11Google Scholar.

67 For example, the 0.413 coefficient on the women dummy variable in column 2 of Table 8 can be calculated and interpreted as follows. After controlling for other factors, for a woman (when the dummy variable equals 1) the probability of losing is 0.506, and the probability of gaining is 0.219, therefore the ratio of losing to gaining is 2.307, and the log of this ratio is 0.836. For a man (when the dummy variable equals 0) the probability of losing is 0.417, and the probability of gaining is 0.273, therefore the ratio of losing to gaining is 1.527, and the log of this ratio is 0.423. The impact of being a woman (when the dummy variable moves from zero to one) is calculated as the difference in the logs of the ratios, namely 0.836 minus 0.423, which gives the coefficient value of 0.413. The significance of the coefficient indicates that we can be confident in the result, namely that being a woman increases the probability of losing rather than gaining.

68 See Pástor, Lubos and Veronesi, Pietro, “Technological Revolutions and Stock Prices,” American Economic Review 99 (2009): 1451–83CrossRefGoogle Scholar, for theoretical work on this.

69 Neal, Larry, “The Financial Crisis of 1825 and the Restructuring of the British Financial System,” Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Review (May/June 1998): 5376Google Scholar; White, Eugene N., “The Stock Market Boom and Crash of 1929 Revisited,Journal of Economic Perspectives 4 (1990): 6783CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Nicholas, Tom, “Does Innovation Cause Stock Market Runups? Evidence from the Great Crash,” American Economic Review 98 (2009): 1370–96CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Pástor and Veronesi, “Technological Revolutions.”

70 Casson, Mark, The World's First Railway System: Enterprise, Competition, and Regulation on the Railway Network in Victorian Britain (Oxford, 2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

71 Kenwood, A. G., “Railway Investment in Britain,” Economica 32 (1965): 318–19Google Scholar; Chambers, David, Crafts, Nicholas F. R., and Mitchell, Brian R., “How Good was the Profitability of British Railways, 1870–1912?Economic History Review 64 (2011): 798831Google Scholar.

19
Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Dispelling the Myth of the Naive Investor during the British Railway Mania, 1845–1846
Available formats
×

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Dispelling the Myth of the Naive Investor during the British Railway Mania, 1845–1846
Available formats
×

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Dispelling the Myth of the Naive Investor during the British Railway Mania, 1845–1846
Available formats
×
×

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *