Rare books reveal the pioneering women of finance

A rare-book sale highlights the role of women in financial history. Chris Carter reports

In one of the first books on investing written by a woman for women, the author, Elizabeth Frazer, cautions against making naive speculative investments on the recommendations of unscrupulous financiers. Instead, she urges her readers to educate themselves on how best to allocate their money. (MoneyWeek readers know all about that.) By the time Frazer’s book, A Woman and Her Money, was published in 1926, women had been active in finance for a while. Her book is one of the highlights in the latest catalogue, called Money & Markets, from London-based rare-book sellers Peter Harrington (peterharrington.co.uk).

Soothsayer to broker

Tennessee “Tennie” Claflin also knew a thing or two about unscrupulous types. Born in Ohio in the mid-1840s, her con-artist father touted Tennie and her sister, Victoria Claflin Woodhull, as clairvoyants and healers in the American Midwest. In the late-1860s, the sisters moved to New York, making the hop from clairvoyance to finance. Woodhull, Claflin & Co., their Wall Street brokerage, opened in January 1870 to prove that “woman, no less than man, can qualify herself for the more onerous occupations of life”, as Tennie put it. The sisters even received help from Cornelius Vanderbilt, the great railroad tycoon of the Gilded Age.

These “queens of finance”, as the press dubbed them, had struck an overlooked vein of investment capital – the wealth of other women. With the profits from their brokerage, they founded a radical newspaper, Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly, becoming the first American periodical to print Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ political treatise, The Communist Manifesto. As they went about their business, the sisters would leave their cartes-de-visite – calling cards bearing their photo, name and “broker” printed underneath. One of Tennie’s (pictured) is listed in the catalogue at £750. The brokerage came to an end with the “panic of 1873”, but the sisters continued as pioneers of women’s rights, labour reform and even free love. Tennie campaigned for a seat on the New York legislature, while Victoria ran for the president in 1872. Five years later, they settled in Britain, where Tennie married the wealthy merchant and art collector, Sir Francis Cook.

Treading the boards

Lastly, a bundle of 42 letters, pamphlets and papers listed in the catalogue relate to the failure of Chambers and Son, a bank that went under following the “Fauntleroy panic” of 1824. Desperate to raise the fortunes of her family, Mary Radcliffe Chambers (born 1804) turned to stage acting, where she played upon the audience’s sympathies as “the banker’s daughter”. In 1845, she produced a series of seven librettos under the title Simple Ballads, which she dedicated to Queen Victoria in 1845 to raise further funds. An envelope in the bundle is another fascinating item. It’s labelled: “Sums of money lent by M.R.C. to her Father and never repaid her!” It contains sheets of workings and balances and a letter to her father detailing how far she has stretched her “little income” of £90 a year. The whole lot is priced at £4,000.


A rare gold dinar

An early Islamic gold coin attracted worldwide interest when it went up for auction with Morton & Eden in London. The 4.27g gold Umayyad dinar (pictured) dates from the First Dynasty of Islam in 723AD and bears the line (in Arabic): “Ma‘din Amir al-Mu’minin bi’l-Hijaz.” That translates as: “Mine of the commander of the faithful in the Hijaz.”

As such, it is one of the first Islamic coins to mention a location within present-day Saudi Arabia. The mine, Ma’din Bani Sulaim, is located northwest of the holy city of Mecca, and the site is still worked, Stephen Lloyd, an Islamic-coin specialist at the auction house, tells The Times. “This coin is amazing. Not only is it preserved beautifully [which] rarely happens, but it is also an important historical document.” The gold dinar is believed to have been owned by several caliphs (successors of the Prophet Muhammad) and was handed to a former owner by Muhammad himself. It had been valued at £1.6m. But a fierce telephone-bidding battle brought the price up to £3.7m. Still, even that was some way from setting a new record for a coin at auction, notes The Times. That record is held by a 1794 “Flowing Hair” dollar that sold in the US for $10m in 2013.


Auctions

Going…

A Keith Haring mural that was excavated from a stairwell in Manhattan is heading to auction with Bonhams in New York on 13 November. The painting had been created by the pop artist on the inside walls of Grace House, a Catholic youth centre, in a single evening in around 1983. With nothing more than a thick brush and a tin of black paint, Haring began by painting the “radiant baby”, one of his most iconic symbols, on the ground floor, working his way up the stairs, painting a dozen more dancing figures. The church next door is now selling the building it had leased to the now-closed centre. It spent $900,000 extracting the mural figure by figure. The mural in 16 parts is expected to fetch $3m to $5m.

Gone…

A studio sale of 41 design works created by French husband-and-wife team, François-Xavier and Claude Lalanne, raised over €91.4m with Sotheby’s in Paris. Their playful bronze sculptures had acquired a cult following since the 1960s, says Scott Reyburn in The New York Times. But the death of Claude in April aged 95 (François-Xavier died in 2008) had left the estate with a hefty inheritance bill, prompting the sale. Most of the artworks had been created in their farmyard studio at Ury, south of Paris, where the Lalannes had lived and worked since 1967. One of Claude’s “Choupatte” sculptures, depicting a cabbage on a pair of chicken legs, sold for €2.2m, while the most expensive item was a large metal desk in the shape of a bull. It sold for €5.4m.