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"The Great Mirror of Folly", WITH the sheet of PLAYING CARDS
which is not called for in the plate list and often not included.


Het Groote Tafereel der Dwaasheid, vertoonende de opkomst, voortgang en ondergang der Actie, Bubbel en Windnegotie, in Vrankryk, Engeland, en de Nederlanden, gespleegt in den Jaare MDCCXX...

[No publisher or place], Gedrukt tot waarschouwinge voor de nakomelingen, in ‘t noodlottige Jaar, voor veel Zotte en Wyze  1720 [or later].
2° (400 x 260mm). [2 blank] pp. , 79 copper-engraved plates and maps, most double-page and a few folding on 73 pages.  Contemporary gilt-panelled mottled calf, covers with central gilt, the inner panel with floral corner pieces, spine gilt and decorated with floral tool in each compartment , raised spine, with red morocco label “Tafereel der dwaasheid A° 1720”. Printed title in black and red, De Conditien van de Compagnien van Commercie en Assurantie..25pp., Aanwyzinge der Prjecten [1 blank],  De Windhandel of Bubbels Compagnien, 52pp., Versameling van Gedichten…, 31pp, [1 blank],  Papegaay of Actie Kaart, 8pp,  Copie van een brief, 9, [2 blank] pp. In general a very good example of this sought after book.
With Ex libris of J.C.M.Snel.

AN EARLY ISSUE of this biting and vulgar satire on the Mississippi and South Sea Bubbles and an extraordinary visual record  with 79 PLATES of the first banking crash, showing the shocking effects of the “ South Sea Bubble” in France, England and Holland, and placing John Law (1671-1729), with his Mississipi company scheme, squarely at the centre of the disasterous chain of events.

This copy has 79 copper-engraved plates and maps, most double-page and a few folding on 73 pages.   The set of 8 Bombario Auctionist’s,  printed on separate paper are mounted with 1-4, and 4-8 on two single pages.
The text provides the charters of important companies floated in various Dutch cities during the period of bubble fever, and the plates expose the principals of these companies to merciless ridicule. "The combination of such prosaic data with the numerous satirical engravings, with the reprint of comedies and satires, and with a description of bubble playing cards offers the student a unique historical document, the like of which was not thrown up by the speculative manias in either France or England" (Cole, The Great Mirror of Folly... An Economic-Bibliographical Study, p.1).
The Tafereel is perhaps an important factor in the slow development of modern corporate organization. "Against the joint-stock manner of business arrangements were thrown the fears engendered by this popular portrayal of the downfall of the 'windnegotie.' Possibly a mere book was really an economic force" (Cole, p.20).

'The engravings, which illustrate the rise and fall of the great speculation, are full of humor; many of them are exceedingly ludicrous, and some very obscene…

The bibliographical details of this volume are notoriously complicated; they have been amply studied by Muller and Cole. Neither the publisher nor the exact date of publication are known, most likely it was issued over a period of several years. Copies are made up of a variable number of plates and parts of printed text, probably according to the actual availability of the various leaves, and hence no two copies of the book are exactly the same.
Muller and Cole count 74 'regular' plates, as well as some 25 plates that are included only occasionally. Most copies have the majority (but rarely all) of the regular and a few of the supplementary plates. 'Rarely does a single volume combine in itself so much economic interest and so many bibliographical puzzles' (A.H.Cole).

The first text-part reprints the charters of some 30 speculative Companies of commerce, navigation and assurance established or at least projected in Holland between June and October 1720. The following parts contain comedies and poetry published during the mania, an explanation of the large print with playing cards known as April-kaart, and four Letters on the stock-jobbery. The present copy has the regular plates, as well as supplementary plates. These plates include the map of the canal from Utrecht to the Zuiderzee , the double-page True picture of the wind-trade of the rue Quinquempoix in the year 1720, the double-page folding plate with playing cards known as Aprilkaart, a map of the Mississippi river, etc.

References : Goldsmiths' 5879; Howes G442; Sabin 28932; Kress 3217 (eds. not distinguished); Muller, Historieplaten II, pp. 103-124.

9.000 euros


John Law was born in Scotland in 1671, the son of a Scottish banker. He received an education was in political economy, commerce and economics in London. In 1694, however, he was forced to flee to Amsterdam, after killing an opponent in a duel. There, he continued his education, studying banking...
In 1715, he settled in France, and soon came to the attention of the Duc d'Orleans, regent for the young king of France. At the time, France was virtually bankrupt, partly a consequence of her lengthy and expensive foreign wars. On May 20, 1716, Law was granted a license establish a 'Banque Générale'  in France. The initial capital of six million livres was divided into 1,200 shares, each of 5,000. The shares were payable in four installments, one-fourth in cash,three fours in 'billets d'etat.' Law was authorized to issue notes payable on demand to the weight and value of the money mentioned at the day of issue, and on April 10, 1717, it was decreed that Law's notes could be accepted in payment of taxes. The Banque  Générale was very successful in regulating the paper currency, with the consequence that the interest rate fell to 4 1/2%, while the note issue rose to 60 million livres.  In August 1717, Law founded the Compagnie de la Louisiane ou d'Occident, which absorbed both the Louisiana Company founded by Antoine de Crozat in 1712, and the Compagnie du Canada. Law was granted extensive powers to exploit the Mississippi region - in French eyes the area of North America watered by the Mississippi, and its tributaries. When one considers that these tributaries include the Missouri and the Ohio Rivers, the French laid claim to a vast area, including regions also claimed by the British.
The following year Law purchased the tobacco monopoly in this region. Law's proposal to exploit the apparently limitless resources of the region - the Mississippi Scheme - caused a tremendous wave of interest, not just in France, but throughout Europe, and this encouraged the development across Europe of several others overseas companies, for example the rapid expansion of the English 'South Sea Company' (founded in 1711), and a number of smaller companies in the Dutch Republic. In December 1718, Law's 'Banque Générale' was converted into the Banque Royale, with Law made a director. More importantly, the bank's notes were guaranteed by the king.
In 1719 the “Compagnie de la Louisiane” took over the “Compagnies des Indes Orientales et de la Chine”, with the new company being called the Compagnie des Indes. By this time, Law's reputation was truly in the ascendant. When he undertook to repay the national debt, in return for control of national revenues, and of the French mint, for a period of nine years, the share price of the Companie rose dramatically in a frenzy of speculation.
Shares in the Companie were originally issued at 500 livres, but rose to 10,000 lives in the course of 1719. When the Companie issued a 40% dividend in 1720, the share price rocketed to 18,000 livres, far-outstripping the capital base of the Companie. At this point, speculators resolved to take their profits. The share price dropped as dramatically as it had risen. As panic set in investors sought to redeem their bank notes and promissory notes, but the Companie did not have sufficient coin and went bankrupt.

Investors outside the Offices of the Mississippi Company in Quincampoix StreetThe effects were felt throughout Europe. Many European investors had invested in the French Companie and were ruined. Moreover, confidence in the other European companies was also destroyed, and these in turn went bankrupt. Law, although undoubtedly a financial genius, was a victim of his inflated claims and also of his success. He fled from France, returned to his nomadic existence, and died, penniless, in Venice in 1729. The English South Sea Company was founded in 1711 and was granted a monopoly over trade to South America and the Pacific Islands. The Company seems to have been run responsibly at first, and achieved considerable success, indicated by King George III becoming governor in 1718. However, the directors were spurred on by the French example and, in 1719, they offered to take over the national debt of £51 million for a payment of £ 3.5 million, and various other concessions. After competition from the Bank of England, the South Sea Company had to raise its offer to £ 7,567,00, an offer which was accepted in 1720.
The vast majority of the National Debt was held in the form of annuities. The Directors of the South Sea Company were relying on persuading holders of the annuities to exchange them for shares in the Company, but by inflating the share price, so that a large proportion of the annuities could be cancelled with the issue of a smaller value of shares. Apparently, over half the annuity holders readily accepted the offer, again in the belief of the potential profits to be gained. However, unlike the Compagnie d'Occident, the South Sea Company actually had no geographical presence, so its future earnings were always going to be problematic. Once the Company had taken over the national debt, outside speculators and investors became more heavily involved in purchasing shares. In early 1720 the share price was128 1/2d.

John Law In June, the shares traded for 890d, and in July they reached 1,000d. At this point, prominent investors indulged in profit-taking, not speculators as in France, but the directors of the Company themselves. With the loss of confidence induced by the failure of the French scheme, the share-price collapsed, falling to 135 by November. So serious was the matter, that the House of Commons set up a committee of inquiry to look into the affairs of the company. It soon became apparent that the Company had been falsifying its accounts to inflate its profitability.
More significantly, widespread corruption was uncovered. The Company's negotiations with the government had been advanced by the distribution of bribes to individuals within the government. The principal recipient was John Aislabie, Chancellor of the Exchequer. So serious were his offences that he was thrown out of Parliament and imprisoned. Others implicated were the equivalent of the Prime Minister, Charles Sutherland, Earl of Sutherland, the Secretary of State and the Postmaster General, although none was convicted. It is also possible that King George I was involved. As punishment, Parliament seized the assets of the Directors of the Company, raising something over £2 million, of which about £ 1.68 million was used to assist investors bankrupted by the failure of the Company.

Representation of the very famous island of Mad-head

No sooner had the repercussions spread round Europe, than a number of artists and engravers published satires on the events, particularly the greed and gullibility of the investors involved.

The most famous of the  example is by L'Honoré and Chatelain, published in 'Het Groote Tafereel der Dwaasheid'. Its Dutch title translates as “Representation of the very famous island of Mad-head, lying in the sea of shares, discovered by Mr. Law-rens, and inhabited by a collection of all kinds of people, to whom are given the general name shareholders”.

See: Carswell, John. The South Sea Bubble, London, 1960. ) Sabin 28932. Cole, The Great Mirror of Folly, 23-25. Alden 720/114. Atlas van Stolk 234. Muller 3535-3609, 3610,3611,3612,3613. Kress 3217.
See our article on Speculative Bubbles Financial Crisis





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Author: Paulus Swaen 2017