Thursday, August 29, 2019

250 years


The terms semiquincentennary or bicenquinquagenary are not terribly felicitous, but please note that today marks the 250 anniversary of the death of Edmond Hoyle. The notice in the London Chronicle read:


A moment of silence, please!

And now onto some interesting biographical news.Seven years ago, I wrote:
Hoyle was born in 1672 and published his first book in 1742 at the age of 69 or 70. There is absolutely no evidence about any aspect of his life before that time...
Earlier this year, I was shocked and delighted to learn that Hoyle was active in maritime insurance in Rotterdam in the 1720s! This was apparently known to economic historians, particularly those who study bubbles, but had never been noted by gaming historians. 

The story is found primarily in Dutch books on the history of economics, but there are some sources in English, the most available of which is Goetzman, Money Changes Everything, Princeton University Press, 2016. The highlights of the story are briefly as follows:
  • In June 1720, Hoyle and Dutch national Gerard Roeters approached the Amsterdam city council with the thought of setting up a maritime insurance company much like Lloyds of London. 
  • Amsterdam refused, and in July they carried the offer to Rotterdam who allowed them to set up the company. 
  • They established Stad Rotterdam as a joint stock company and subscriptions were traded on the Rotterdam exchange. Speculative fever ensued and the shares quickly increased in value.
  • Within two weeks Hoyle sold his share to Englishman Thomas Lombe at a large profit. 
  • Later, Lombe convinced Roeters to invest further money with Stad Rotterdam. 
  • In late 1721, Roeters brought an action in the London Chancery Courts against Lombe, complaining that Lombe failed to operate the business as promised. The litigation continued for years and generated a lot of paper now at the National Archives in Kew. From the bits I've looked at, perhaps only ten per cent of the total, there is no mention of Hoyle in the pleadings.
Hoyle's involvement in Stad Rotterdam was short-lived and I don't know how much more there is to learn about his involvement. But this rabbit hole looks to be worth some more of my time.

It is reasonable to ask whether we are sure it is OUR Edmond Hoyle who was involved in these events. Both forename and surname were fairly common at the time. The answer is unequivocally yes, it is OUR Hoyle. There are a number of documents that have survived notary archives in Rotterdam and the archives of Stad Rotterdam with a Hoyle signature. Here is a sample, taken from the Goetzman book mentioned earlier: 

Share transfer from Hoyle to Lombe
July 16, 1720
Goetzman, p70

This signature and others I have seen from the Rotterdam archives clearly match the signatures in his books (see a sample here) published more than two decades later.

I don't find it surprising that Hoyle was involved in the insurance industry. In 1754 he wrote An Essay towards making the Doctrine of Chances easy to those who understand Vulgar Arithmetick only, discussed elsewhere on this blog. The book includes tables of annuities on lives, the basis for life insurance. He was aware of the mathematics of risk.

There is one other hint about Hoyle is some of the notarized documents--he is identified as a London merchant. This suggests that we may be able to find more information about Hoyle in London by looking at city directories, banking records, and so on.

So Hoyle had a life before writing about games. And an interesting one at that!

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