South-Sea Annuities certificate

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Room 68: Money 

Object details

Height: 147 mm
Width: 183 mm
Museum number: CIB.54396

Donated by ifs School of Finance, 2009

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South Sea annuities certificate

England, 1730-1790

A certificate for £1550 annuities in South Sea Company Stock.

The South Sea Company was set up in 1711 and was granted exclusive trading rights with colonies in South America in return for the refinancing of government debt at lower rates of interest, for which shares were issued. In 1719 the company agreed a deal to buy up half of all government debt, and an impressively slick marketing scheme talked up the company’s prospects, attracting in the process a virtual who’s who of wealthy investors, mainly from London, England.

A trading frenzy ensued with prices reaching a peak in August 1720, before the bubble burst and prices came crashing down. Those who had borrowed on credit to purchase shares were bankrupted and many people, even in government, made huge losses. Supporters of the scheme had included John Aislabie, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was given £20,000 of South Sea Company stock in return for talking up share values. The ‘South Sea Bubble,’ as it became known, was a huge scandal in London: Aislabie, for example, was found guilty of corruption, stripped of his position and imprisoned in the Tower of London.

It became a popular subject for satirists of the day and, adjacent to the annuities certificate in the Citi Money Gallery a print by William Hogarth is displayed, depicting the Monument in London acting as a memorial ‘to the destruction of this city by the South Sea in 1720.’

Remarkably, the South Sea Company survived by refinancing its debts and, as the date on this share certificate indicates, it was issuing annuities into the late 1700s.

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H. Paul, The South Sea Bubble: An Economic History of its Origins and Consequences (London, 2010)

A. Murray, Great Financial Disasters (London, 1985), 24-39