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An experiment in banking the poor: the Irish Mont-de-Piété, c. 1830–18501

  • Eoin McLaughlin (a1)

Continental pawnbroking institutions, Monts-de-Piété, were introduced in Ireland in the 1830s and 1840s but did not establish a permanent status. Irish social reformers believed that a Mont-de-Piété system would reduce the cost of borrowing for the poor and also fund a social welfare network, thus negating the need for an Irish Poor Law. This article explores the introduction of the Mont-de-Piété charitable pawnbroker in Ireland and outlines some reasons for its failure. It uses the market incumbents, private pawnbrokers, as a base group in a comparative study and asks why the Monts-de-Piété were the unsuccessful ones of the two. The article finds that the public nature and monopoly status of Monts-de-Piété on the Continent realised economies of scale and gave preferential interest rates on capital, as well as enabling the Mont-de-Piété loan book to be cross-subsidised. These conditions were not replicated in Ireland, hence the failure of the Monts-de-Piété there.

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I would like to Chris Colvin, Vincent Comerford, David Greasley, Liam Kennedy, Larry Neal, Rowena Pecchenino, Peter Sims and two anonymous referees for comments. All errors remain my own.

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