Lombard Street: A Description of the Money Market
By Walter Bagehot
by Lauren Landsburg
When I was a graduate student in international monetary theory, my adviser and others occasionally suggested that I read Walter Bagehot some time. Because I was a graduate student, I doubted that any writer on “institutions” from the 1800s could be worth my time, so of course I didn’t even look the book up. My mistake!
When Walter Bagehot wrote Lombard Street: A Description of the Money Market, in 1873, he did the unthinkable: In language as fresh and clear today as it was over 100 years ago, he respectfully dissected the Bank of England’s foundations, economic incentives, goals, and functions. In the process, he illuminated in a mere few hundred brilliant pages what distinguishes a Central Bank from a commercial bank, both on a daily basis and during crises such as bank panics and recessions. The constitutions of most national Central Banks were reinvented and forever changed as a consequence. The U.S. Federal Reserve, founded in late 1913, and the Central Bank of Central Banks—the International Monetary Fund (IMF)—have ever since been influenced by the enduring independent thought and extraordinary clarity provided by Bagehot in this famous book.
Bagehot’s book was so readable and so remarkable that it was re-issued three times within a year, and was republished in many editions both during his lifetime and afterwards.
Our choice at Econlib, after studying several editions, is to provide the main text the way it was at the end of 1873 (in Bagehot’s third edition, printed within the first year of publication). In doing so, we hope we have caught any errors Bagehot himself may have noticed, while preserving the original language and authoritative care taken in the various quotations.
But: We are also adding some footnotes and a second Appendix provided later (that is, after Bagehot’s death in 1877): specifically, material from the 12th Edition (1906) and from the 14th Edition (1915). We believe that these later additions reflect the historical influence and popularity of this book during a period of time when the incipient Federal Reserve and other international Central Banks were founded and were, during their emergence, greatly influenced by it. The later footnotes are marked according to their editions. We have also included various prefaces, introductions, and Bagehot’s own “Advertisement,” to editions through the 14th, which explain who wrote which of the additions: E. Johnstone, A. W. Wright, and Hartley Withers all contributed.
We have preserved intact all of Bagehot’s original spellings, capitalization, and punctuation from the third edition, with the minor alteration that in a few cases we’ve indented long quotations from other sources for the sake of visual clarity. We’ve also preserved the punctuation and spelling of the additional material from later editions; thus, the observant reader will notice that punctuation differs in style in footnotes from later editions.
Editor, Library of Economics and Liberty
E. Johnstone; Hartley Withers, eds.
First Pub. Date
London: Henry S. King and Co.
Includes editorial notes and appendices from the 12th (1906) and the 14th (1915) editions.
The text of this edition is in the public domain. Picture of Walter Bagehot courtesy of The Warren J. Samuels Portrait Collection at Duke University.
- Introductions, by Hartley Withers
- Chapter II, A General View of Lombard Street
- Chapter III, How Lombard Street Came to Exist
- Chapter IV, The Position of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Money Market
- Chapter V, The Mode in Which the Value of Money is Settled in Lombard Street
- Chapter VI, Why Lombard Street Is Often Very Dull, and Sometimes Extremely Excited
- Chapter VII, A More Exact Account of the Mode in Which the Bank of England Has Discharged Its Duty of Retaining a Good Bank Reserve
- Chapter VIII, The Government of the Bank of England
- Chapter IX, The Joint Stock Banks
- Chapter X, The Private Banks
- Chapter XI, The Bill-Brokers
- Chapter XII, The Principles Which Should Regulate the Amount of Banking Reserve
- Chapter XIII, Conclusion
- Appendix I
- Appendix II
The composition of this little book has occupied a much longer time than, perhaps, my readers may think its length or its importance deserves. It was begun as long ago as the autumn of 1870; and though its progress has been often suspended by pressing occupations and imperfect health, I have never ceased to work at it when I could. But I fear that in consequence, in some casual illustrations at least, every part of the book may not seem, as the lawyers would say, “to speak from the same time.” The figures and the examples which it is most natural to use at one time are not quite those which it is most natural to use at another; and a slowly written book on a living and changing subject is apt a little to want unity in this respect.
I fear that I must not expect a very favourable reception for this work. It speaks mainly of four sets of persons—the Bank of England, Joint Stock Banks other than that Bank, private bankers, and bill-brokers; and I am much afraid that neither will altogether like what is said of then. I can only say that the opinions now expressed have not been formed hastily or at a distance from the facts; that, on the contrary, they have been slowly matured in “Lombard Street” itself, and that, perhaps, as they will not be altogether pleasing to any one, I may at least ask for the credit of having been impartial in my criticism.
I should also say that I am indebted to a friend for the correction of the final proof sheets, which an attack of illness prevented me from fully revising. If it had not been for his kind assistance, the publication of the book must have been postponed till the autumn, which, as its production has already been so slow, would have been very annoying to me.
The Poplars, Wimbledon
April 26, 1873