When people talk stocks they are usually talking about companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). It’s the big daddy and the big leagues. From a corporate perspective, anyone who’s anyone is listed there, and it can be difficult for investors to imagine a time when the NYSE wasn’t synonymous with investing. But, of course, it wasn’t always this way; there were many steps along the road to our current system of exchange. You may be surprised to learn that the first stock exchange thrived for decades without a single stock actually being traded.
In this article we will look at the evolution of stock exchanges, from the Venetian slates, to the British coffeehouses, and finally to the NYSE and its brethren.
The Real Merchants of Venice
The moneylenders of Europe filled important gaps left by the larger banks. Moneylenders traded debts between each other; a lender looking to unload a high-risk, high-interest loan might exchange it for a different loan with another lender. These lenders also bought government debt issues. As the natural evolution of their business continued, the lenders began to sell debt issues to customers – the first individual investors.
In the 1300s, the Venetians were the leaders in the field and the first to start trading the securities from other governments. They would carry slates with information on the various issues for sale and meet with clients, much like a broker does today. (To learn more about the history of moneylending, see The Evolution Of Banking.)
The First Stock Exchange – Sans the Stock
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