50 livres note, Banque Royale

Paris, France, 2 September 1720

Paper money as part of a risky experiment

The first banknotes in France were issued by John Law, a self-taught Scottish financier from Edinburgh. Law had been forced to flee Britain after killing a man in a duel, but once in France he found favour with the Regent, the Duc d'Orleans, and quickly attained considerable political influence. His imaginative scheme for transforming the languishing economy of France included setting up the Banque Générale, later known as the Banque Royale, reforming the tax system, and promoting an ambitious plan to set up French colonies along the Mississippi River in America.

Law believed that by issuing notes and creating credit he would increase employment and stimulate the domestic economy, while the American colonies would increase trade. For a while Law enjoyed spectacular popularity, and the word 'millionaire' was used for the first time to describe those who earned unimaginable riches through trading shares in his Mississippi Company.

The success was short-lived. Too much of this wealth was created by speculation, rather than real economic growth, and the value of the banknotes fell dramatically. Furthermore, his success had also given Law political enemies who plotted against him. Only a few months after the note shown here was issued, his grand system was in ruins, and once again Law fled into exile.

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More information

Bibliography

J. Gleeson, The Moneymaker (London, Bantam Press, 1999)

J. Williams (ed.), Money: a history (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)

Dimensions

Width: 162.000 mm
Length: 107.000 mm

Museum number

CM CIB 17031

CIB7018

Chartered Institute of Bankers Collection

Location

Find in the collection online


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