[LAW, John (1671-1729)]
[The Great Mirror of Folly...] Het groote Tafereel der Dwaashied vertoonende de opkomst, voortgang en ondergang der Actie, Bubbel en Windnegotie in Vrankrijk, Engeland, en de Nederlanden
[Amsterdam]: 1720 [but circa 1725]. Folio. (15 3/8 x 9 3/4 inches). Title printed in red and black. Folding engraved frontispiece, engraved list of plates within a decorative surround, 72 engraved plates, maps and broadsides on 73 leaves (5 of the single-page plates cut to the edge of the image and mounted [as issued], 45 double-page, 19 folding and including 10 which combine both engraving and letterpress text), one plate loosely inserted, 2 with sections of blank margins torn away, some other clean tears occasionally affecting the image area.
Contemporary Dutch speckled calf, spine in eight compartments with raised bands, red morocco lettering-piece in the second compartment, repeat decoration in gilt in the others, joints slightly split, extremities scuffed
A very rare collection of contemporary satirical prints relating to the financial exploits of John Law and his infamous Mississippi Bubble.
John Law (bap. 21 April 1671 - 21 March 1729) was a Scottish economist who believed that money was only a means of exchange that did not constitute wealth in itself, and that national wealth depended on trade. He is said to be the father of finance, responsible for the adoption or use of paper money or bills in the world today. Law was a gambler and a brilliant mental calculator, and was known to win card games by mentally calculating the odds. An expert in statistics, he was the originator of economic theories, including two major ideas: The Scarcity Theory of Value and the Real bills doctrine. The present work records the economic crisis precipitated by Law. The crisis had its origins in the decision of the French regent, Philippe d'Orléans, to appoint John Law the Controller General of Finances for France. In May 1716 the Banque Générale Privée, which developed the use of paper money was set up by Law. It was a private bank, but three quarters of the capital consisted of government bills and government accepted notes. In August 1717, he bought the Mississippi Company, to help the French colony in Louisiana. In 1717 he also brokered the sale of Thomas Pitt's diamond to the regent, Philippe d'Orléans. In the same year Law floated the Mississippi Company as a joint stock trading company called the Compagnie d'Occident which was granted a trade monopoly of the West Indies and North America. The bank became the Banque Royale in 1718, meaning the notes were guaranteed by the king. The Company absorbed the Compagnie des Indes Orientales, Compagnie de Chine, and other rival trading companies and became the Compagnie Perpetuelle des Indes on 23 May 1719 with a monopoly of commerce on all the seas. The system however encouraged speculation in shares in The Company of the Indies (the shares becoming a sort of paper currency). In 1720 the bank and company were united and Law was appointed Controller General of Finances to attract capital. Law's pioneering note-issuing bank was extremely successful until it collapsed and caused an economic crisis in France and across Europe. Law exaggerated the wealth of Louisiana with an effective marketing scheme, which led to wild speculation on the shares of the company in 1719. In February 1720 it was valued for a very high future cash flow at 10,000 livres. Shares rose from 500 livres in 1719 to as much as 15,000 livres in the first half of 1720, but by the summer of 1720, there was a sudden decline in confidence, leading to a 97 percent decline in market capitalization by 1721. Predictably, the bubble burst at the end of 1720, when opponents of the financier attempted en masse to convert their notes into specie. By the end of 1720 Philippe II dismissed Law, who then fled from France. Originally published by a group of Amsterdam booksellers, the work has a convoluted bibliographic history owing to the ongoing enlargement of the number of prints published between late 1720 and the ensuing years, coupled with the issuance of the plates as separate unbound sheets, as well as later editions, with yet more plates, which maintained the title page dated 1720. In short, nearly every extant example is unique in composition. "This remarkable complexity helps to explain why the book continues to fascinate scholars and readers to the present day: Het groote tafereel der dwaasheid, in its many diverse copies, represents an important witness to the events of 1720 and their aftermath, which makes it valuable to cultural and economic historians ... [The book] presents the rise, progress and downfall of the deceptive trade of 1720 (what), that a group of booksellers (who) published it in 1720 (when) in Amsterdam (where) in order to restore social and ethical norms in Dutch society (why) by making fools of the greedy in a theatrical setting (how). In short, the Tafereel is an Amsterdam-born satirical comedy in disguise" (Kuniko Forrer, "Het groot tafereel der dwaasheid: A Bibliographical Interpretation" in The Great Mirror of Folly: Finance, Culture, and the Crash of 1720, Edited by William N. Goetzmann et. al., pp. 35-36). The present example corresponds to Forrer's third edition, issued shortly after 1723, with the "Register" listing 73 plates, and bound in a contemporary binding attributed to the Double Drawer Handle Bindery. This edition noted as the final edition published in the 1720s, and the most complete, including portraits of Madame Law and the King of the Mississippi ("Der Koning van Missisipi") not found in earlier issues, among other additions.
Goldsmiths 5829; Kress 3217; Muller 3535; Sabin 28932; A.H. Cole The Great Mirror of Folly ... an economic-bibliographical study (Harvard: 1949); The Great Mirror of Folly: Finance, Culture, and the Crash of 1720, Edited by William N. Goetzmann et. al. (Yale University Press: 2013).