Rue Quincampoix shows all the signs of layered history.  Most doors in this quiet back street are worth a second glance.  There are grand carriage entrances and narrow, lopsided doorways; buildings that have been adapted over the centuries and others that have simply settled down. The street is livelier in the evening when the bars and restaurants are open but there’s nothing to suggest that this was once the centre of Parisian finance and high society.

 

 

It was in Rue Quincampoix in 1716 that Scottish economist, dandy and gambler John Law opened the first private bank in France, the Banque Générale.  Law originated economic ideas such as the stimulation of economic growth by creating money through loans and introduced paper money at a time when nearly all transactions were still conducted in hard cash.  Law’s theories attracted Philippe Duke of Orleans, regent for the young king Louis XV, who saw the introduction of paper currency as solution to problems of national debt and economic stagnation.  In 1720 the duke appointed Law as Controller General of Finances, effectively handing him responsibility for the economic development and international trade of France.

 

1024px-Estampe_satirique_sur_le_fonctionement_du_systeme_de_Law_et_sa_banqueroute_1720
Satirical engraving of John Law’s banking system by Bernard Picart (1673-1733)

 

With the benefit of three centuries of hindsight, the result of sudden economic growth supported by newly printed money and shares is predictable. When the bubble burst people stampeded to change paper money back into gold.   In desperation Philippe d’Orleans declared gold coinage illegal, leading to riots in Rue Quincampoix and fifty people trampled to death. That declaration was quickly reversed but Law’s banking system had opened doors that couldn’t so easily be closed again.

 

This post is linked to Thursday Doors, a collection of ordinary and extraordinary doors around the world.

There’s a very readable account of Law’s career on this Wikipedia page.

And no, despite the title of this post, the featured photo isn’t a bank!