Wednesday, January 04, 2006

More Land Bank Beginnings: William Potter

William B. Greene came to "abandon all claims to novelty or originality as regards our own scheme for a Mutual Bank," on discovering the Massachusetts land bank schemes of 1714 and 1740. These, in turn, we are told, owed their inspiration to an early "project published in London in the year 1684." I have not yet tracked down the "project of 1684," but George Athan Bilias, in The Massachusetts Land Bankers of 1740 (University of Maine Bulletin, LXI: 17 (April, 1959)), identifies the origin of the land bank idea as William Potter's 1650 pamphet, A Key of Wealth, or a New Way for Improving of Trade, lawfull, easie, safe, and effectuall: shewing how a few tradesmen agreeing together may (borrow wherewith to) double their stocks ... without ... paying any interest ... in such sort as both they and all others ... who are in a way of trading, may ... multiply their returnes ... and so, as the same shall tend much to ... inrich the people of this land . Edwin R. A. Seligman, on page 14 his 1914 address, "Curiousities of Early Economic Literature," takes the same position, and gives a brief analysis of the text, together with a reprint of the full title page. He reports that a copy of Potter's book was brought to Massachusetts and prompted an early colonial experiment in 1681. Seligman's essay is full of short notices of interesting texts, including some of the later Massachusetts land bank pamphlets, as well as works by Winstanley and Thomas Spence, and various replies to William Cobbett. Among the text as the Leslie Brock Center for the Study of Colonial Currency is Andrew McFarland Davis' Currency and Banking in the Province of the Massachusetts Bay, the first chapter of which treats the colonial banks, mentions Potter's influences, and cites anotherland bank text, John Woodbridge's Severals relating to the fund, printed for divers reasons as may appear (1682), which looks like it ought to be of interest.

William Potter followed up the 1650 Key of Wealth with Humble proposalls to the honorable the Councell for Trade, and all merchants and others who desire to improve their estates: shewing what particulars if enacted by Parliament would ... conduce to advance trade, imploy the poore, diminish interest, improve publique revenues, and prevent the cruelty of creditors and the injustice of debtors, tending ... to promote the enterprise discovered in a late treatise entituled The key of wealth, and in an abstract thereof, called The trades-man's jewel in 1651, and also issued, in 1650, a 16-page abstract of the Key titled The trades-man's jewel, or, A safe, easie, speedy and effectual means for the incredible advancement of trade and multiplication of riches: shewing how men of indifferent estates may abundantly increase both their own and other mens trading and riches ... by making their bills to beome current in stead of money .

All of these texts have been anthologized or microfilmed. I'm using the colonial land banks as one of the case studies for my Great Ideas classes this semester, so I should be able to provide a little closer analysis of the source material soon.

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