The Lure of Lady Luck: design and appeal of lotteries in the fifteenth- and sixteenthcentury. Jeroen Puttevils

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1 The Lure of Lady Luck: design and appeal of lotteries in the fifteenth- and sixteenthcentury Low Countries Jeroen Puttevils Centre for Urban History, University of Antwerp Research Foundation Flanders European Historical Economics Society Conference Pisa 2015 VERY PRELIMINARY PAPER Please do not quote or circulate without author permission Two weeks ago, the Belgian newspaper De Standaard (11/3/2015) reported on the fourfold increase in crowdfunded projects in Belgium. Crowdfunding is an alternative funding method through which a large crowd lends small sums of money to organizations and entrepreneurs without the intermediation of banks and often through an online platform. The growth of crowdfunding in European countries is to be explained by banks current cautiousness in extending credit and their slow bureaucracy; entrepreneurs and organizations have to turn to other credit providers to fund their businesses. In million euros were collected by crowdfunding in Belgium, small fry when compared to the Netherlands or France. Whereas each Belgian contributed 39 eurocents on average, their counterparts in France and the Netherlands respectively gave 2.25 and 3.73 euros to crowdfunded projects. Yet Belgium did not always lag behind in crowdfunding. In fact, it was the one of the first regions where an important variant of crowdfunding was developed which experienced feverish ups and downs: the lottery. Lotteries paying for a lot that is drawn in order to obtain a prize became established in the late medieval trading centre of Bruges around the early 1440s (hence slightly after the one held in Italian Genoa and then later on in Venice and Rome in the sixteenth 1

2 century) 1. The main prize of the 1441 lottery was the tax farm on the wijnscrooderschap, the quality control of wines for which traders had to pay a rewarding enterprise both culinary and monetary, together with a score of money prizes. Famous Bruges merchants participated in these first lotteries, such as Tommaso Portinari, the illustrious Bruges branch manager of the Medici bank, and also the widow of the painter Jan Van Eyck in Van Eyck s widow purchased her lottery tickets with arrear interest payments on the city s annuities and she was not the only one to do so. This reveals a second goal of the Bruges city government besides marketing a public office: to convert and amortize its debt arrears. By giving rentiers the opportunity to convert the moneys owed to them into lottery tickets, the city government in effect organized a debt-for-equity swap or better: a debt-for-luck swap. Lotteries provided city governments, the Habsburg government of the Low Countries, confraternities, hospitals, orphanages, churches, rhetoricians chambers and private entrepreneurs with an effective means to collect funding as an alternative or in addition to more traditional credit lines: annuities, excises and other socially unjust taxes, involuntary loans, obligations, collections, etc. Through intensive archival research in Belgium and the Netherlands I was able to identify 271 lotteries held in the Low Countries between 1440 and Most of the references to these lotteries were found in city accounts and in the accounts of the seal of the different provinces of the Low Countries (patents were often required to organize a lottery). Geographically, lotteries followed economic conjuncture as well and spread from Flanders to Brabant and then north. Most lotteries were organized in the large trading centres of the Low Countries, Bruges and Antwerp, yet smaller towns were able to stage a lottery as well (Figs. 1-3). Chronologically, the ups and downs in the number of lotteries organized per five years correspond roughly with the economic conjuncture, the 1561 withdrawal of all patents by the central authorities (only lotteries for the fortifications, border towns and road maintenance were still allowed) to prepare for the installation of the Habsburg state lottery and the Dutch Revolt, 1 Evelyn Welch, "Lotteries in Early Modern Italy," Past & Present 199, no. 1 (2008). 2

3 allowing the rebellious northern Low Countries to deny Habsburg authority and start to organize lotteries again (Fig. 4). In the second half of the fifteenth century it was mainly towns who organized lotteries. This changed in the sixteenth century: a quarter of the lotteries was organized by churches and 30 % by private individuals, mostly merchants. Perhaps not obvious from the number of lotteries organized but the second half of the sixteenth century witnessed a veritable revolution in the lottery landscape when the central government launched three very large lotteries (Fig. 5). For more than half of the lotteries we know where the moneys raised were spent on (Fig. 6). Churches and poor relief institutions typically used a lottery to fund (re-)construction works. The church fabric of Saint John in Gouda organized a lottery in 1554 to pay for the reconstruction of Saint John s church which had burned down two years earlier. City governments, confraternities and convents organized lotteries to pay for infrastructure too but also for the redemption of their outstanding debts. The Mishagen convent, the sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis at Duinkerke and the Cathalinedale cloister near Hasselt had their lotteries organized in Antwerp, where it would attract more attention and money than in the surroundings of the convents. The central government organized three lotteries in the sixteenth century: one to pay the wage arrears of the Habsburg army in the Low Countries, one to construct fortifications around key border towns and the city of Antwerp and one to redeem part of its ever-growing state debt. Private individuals organized many lotteries for their own gain; most of them were merchants and craftsmen selling stocks of merchandise by means of a lottery. Claude Dorizi organized one of the first lotteries of artwork in ; his lottery featured small bronze reliefs, alabaster figures and mirrors. Accessibility to broad layers of society was the key to lottery success. The median price of one lottery ticket expressed in terms of Antwerp master mason and mason labourer s daily wages amounted to 3.75 days and 6.67 days of work respectively (N=66). Although perhaps not the best way to spend one s savings, lotteries were much more accessible than other formal 3

4 investments: annuities and real estate had much higher thresholds. As such, lotteries in the Low Countries (slightly) lifted up Fernand Braudel s famous bell-jar. The key question in Braudel s Civilisation and Capitalism was to understand why, although the main elements of modern capitalism were already present, it took until the Industrial Revolution for capitalism to conquer society. Braudel likened capitalist operations in merchant circles to a bell-jar, secluded from the rest of society. Development economist Hernando de Soto has stressed that the bell-jar continues to exist today: Wall Street s sophisticated financial markets really are another world when compared to developing regions where credit markets are thin. Capitalism may thrive in certain areas without inducing rapid progress in other areas. Economic historians such as Paolo Malanima have painted bleak pictures of the saving capacities of medieval and early modern non-elite Europeans. Wealth was divided unequally; typically, the 10 % richest owned more than half of total wealth. Although precise, household-based and socially stratified data on income are lacking, it is clear that in times of dearth there will have been little budget left for saving. Spending one s savings on lottery tickets may have been an illconsidered financial strategy, it did pull ordinary people into the bell-jar as their moneys flowed through lottery schemes towards the funding of war, military infrastructure, churches, poor relief, the literary production of rhetoricians chambers, etc. and allowed institutions and entrepreneurs to draw on other financiers than the rich elite. Economic historians have stressed the ways by which medieval and early modern men and women sought to cope with the many risks of life that could befall them, i.e. their risk management strategies. Yet by doing so they may have overlooked the preferences of some who, once in a while, may have been more risk-loving than risk-averse. Admittedly, they risked losing the income of a few days work but in return they experienced the thrill of participating in a public event and they could cherish the hope of winning the big prize. Sociologists struggle with the motives of gamblers and lottery-players; providing hard evidence on the motives of longgone historical actors is an impossible enterprise. Surely, different motives will have informed 4

5 these actors behaviour and choices: the hope of material gain, improving one s social status, the pleasure one feels when sponsoring a charity, patriotism, the social pressure to participate which members of confraternities and the organizations staging a lottery will have experienced, the hope of recouping some money and arrear interests on urban annuities, Unfortunately, the current-day historian remains in the dark on the precise relative weight of each of these possible motivations. Not being able to look into historical actors heads is every historian s lament. Yet, historical lottery players do speak to us from the past: through the subscription ledgers which can be combined with other sources to qualify their decisions. Research by sociologists and economists has evidenced the current-day social bias of lottery players: those who acquire lottery tickets often stem from the lower ranks of society. The well-documented 1504 lottery of Leiden provides a unique insight in lottery organization and its social distribution. 2 The city of Leiden was in serious financial difficulties in the early 1500s: the city was unable to pay its outstanding rentes or annuities and was put under the curatorship of the central authorities. At the end of July 1504 the city confirmed that arrears on city annuities could be converted into lottery tickets. Besides a debt restructuring, the government in Brussels deemed the organization of a lottery an excellent solution, given the positive results in other cities such as Haarlem and Leuven who found themselves in similar financial difficulties. The not uninteresting odds of 200 prizes vs tickets or a one in 202 chance will have worked as an important incentive. The expected value of a ticket (sum of monetary outcomes + their respective probabilities the price of a ticket) amounted to shillings indicating that most ticket buyers would lose their money. Yet, if you won one of the hundred consolation prizes, a spoon of one ounce of silver worth 2.5 shillings, you already had a positive return on your investment. 2 Marsilje, "De Eerste Stadsloterij in Leiden." Regionaal Archief Leiden, Archief der Secretarie, Account lottery

6 One of what must have been several lottery subscription registers is preserved, listing part of the ticket buyers with a first name starting with an A up to the letter M. 3 A close scrutiny of the ticket buyer is possible. 8,960 tickets are recorded, purchased by almost 1,400 individuals. The mean of tickets purchased per buyer was 6.5 and the median 2; which indicates that half of the ticket buyers bought two tickets while there were buyers who acquired more than 100 (up to 162 in the register). Among the ticket buyers were 787 men and 536 women. The men (60 % of the ticket buyers) acquired 70 % of all tickets leaving the female subscribers the other 30 % of all tickets. Women, on average, purchased fewer tickets than men. This mirrors female activity in Low Countries annuity markets where women on average represented one third of the annuity buyers. Both men and women acquired most of their tickets with arrears on debts (77% and 83%); women even more than men. Which segments of Leiden society participated in the lottery, what was the social distribution of lottery participation like? I matched the lottery participants registered as living in Leiden with the registers of the 1502 estate tax, another way by which the city tried to raise income, in which 1441 heads of family were taxed. 4 More than a hundred matches were found; the graph demonstrates that the relationship between wealth and lottery-ticket buying was fairly weak; those who bought tickets predominantly did so by converting debt arrears into tickets (Fig. 7). Those of the lower middle class equally participated in the lottery, albeit for lower amounts and more often paying in cash. This does point to a modest degree of democratization. I did a similar exercise for the only other lottery subscription ledger which could be matched with fairly contemporaneous fiscal data: the 1564 s-hertogenbosch city government lottery. 177 individuals could be matched between the two sources. This was a cash-only lottery: as expected, the link between wealth and lottery ticket-buying is even weaker than in the Leiden lottery where 3 Regionaal Archief Leiden, Archief der Secretarie, 986, subscription ledger Tim Bisschops, Leven Aan De Rand? Proeve Tot Duiding Van Eenheid, Verscheidenheid En Continuïteit in De Vermogensverhoudingen in En Om De Stadsrand: Leiden En Oudenaarde Aan Het Einde Van De Middeleeuwen (Ca Ca.1530) (Antwerpen: 2006). 6

7 annuity holders sought a way out of a bad investment (Fig. 8). Again, women were involved as lottery ticket buyers but less so than men. How much revenue did these Low Countries lotteries generate? The 1504 Leiden lottery was a success: its debts were reduced (33,340 tickets sold) and exceptional revenue in the form of cashpaid tickets entered the city coffers (6720 tickets worth 336 Fl. gr.). This income from the lottery exceptionally raised annual city revenue with 5 %. Income from lotteries could fluctuate: Bruges lotteries mostly fetched important profits, but the lottery of July 1468 suffered a small loss due to insufficient advertising in other cities, a mistake they clearly did not make again in the next lottery of February 1469 (Fig. 9). Assuming the 43 lotteries for which we have revenue data to be representative for all 271 lotteries held in the Low Countries, we can calculate the average annual revenue raised by lotteries: 66,329 guilders or around 660 times the annual wage of an Antwerp master mason, a staggering sum. In current-day terms this would amount to some twenty million euros, peanuts when compared to the current-day revenue of Belgian and Dutch lotteries combined: 2.6 billion euros in This revenue did not come easily. Often, several lotteries throughout the Low Countries were held in the same year and lotteries did try to draw away ticket buyers from outside the town where the lottery took place. Inhabitants of other cities did not have to travel to the lotteryorganizing town to purchase their tickets since most lottery organizers had commissioned agents active throughout the Low Countries. In the 1504 Leiden lottery 39 % of all tickets were purchased by Leiden inhabitants; the rich city of Antwerp where the prizes were produced and put on display was good for 12 % of ticket sales. The nearby towns of Haarlem, Delft en Dordrecht also housed many ticket purchasers. Ticket sales spread as far as England, France and the Holy Roman Empire. In fact, the winner of the main prize of six silver jugs, was Hans Vollick who lived in Oberwesel in the Rhineland and who had purchased three tickets in cash (fig. 10). The lottery patents granted by the Brussels government often stipulated the order by which lotteries should be organized and the government tried to avoid overlapping lotteries, an 7

8 endeavour which often proved to be impossible given the frequent, unforeseen delays in lottery organization. Lottery organizers were subject to increasing competition which in turn prompted frantic advertising and which fuelled creativity and constant fine-tuning of lottery formulas based on previous editions to offer appealing products. Organizers also learned from one another: Leiden city officials travelled to Brussels to obtain the necessary permits for the organization and one official visited the town of Middelburg which had organized a lottery a couple of years before 1504, to consult the rulers of Middelburg for advice concerning lottery organization. Even without access to formal probability mathematics which developed only in the seventeenth century, partially inspired by these very lottery schemes, promoters developed attractive and successful lottery designs which were then copied. This process of experimentation and optimization of lottery designs closely resembles the gradual and experimental development of other financial techniques such as share trading and the development of derivatives markets in the early seventeenth century. Lottery organizers experimented with the number, magnitude, skewedness and nature of the prizes (offices, silverware, cash, paintings, tapestries, alabaster statuettes, real estate, ). Lots drawn just before and after these main prizes and the first and last drawn lot received a prize as well. Moreover, there was often a prize for the ticket buyer who purchased the largest number of tickets; those were sent under closed envelope and opened when the draw started. Some organizers even hosted series of lotteries: unsuccessful lottery tickets could be rolled over to a second or third lottery at a discount price. Lottery organization and giving organizational became a full-time occupation for some, such as the Antwerp entrepreneurs Jacob Bruynincx and Jacob van Hencxthoven who both organized and advised lotteries in Bois-le-Duc, Middelburg and other places and advised the government in Brussels: the financial consultant was born. The cases of lottery organizer Daniel De Bruyne is particularly revealing. Daniel De Bruyne continued his father jewellery and goldsmith workshop and his journal demonstrates his commitment to that particular branch of industry and 8

9 commerce in the period Given his specialization in jewellery and the fact that by then the most common lottery prizes were objects in silver and gold, it is not surprising that De Bruyne became involved in supplying lottery organizers with such commodities. De Bruyne participated in the lotteries in different roles: as prize supplier, as organizer, as financier and as ticket seller and buyer (for both his own account and that of third parties). De Bruyne also applied what we today would call a rational financial technique to a lottery enterprise: he organized a pool of investors and borrowed money to buy a large batch of lottery tickets from different lotteries at sub-nominal prices and then resold them pocketing the difference. De Bruyne co-invested in the purchase of government patents for the organization of lotteries, one time from an insolvent lottery organizer. He was also successful as a ticket buyer: one time he won a silver jewel and another time five plots of land in the 1562 city government lottery. The case of De Bruyne shows how participating in the growing lottery marketing was a sensible strategy, while at the same time De Bruyne, as an insider, was still eager to gamble on the lotteries. The late medieval and sixteenth-century Low Countries were a fertile environment for lotteries for several reasons. At the end of the fifteenth century many city governments were struggling with their municipal finances due to civil and foreign wards and the resultant increasing fiscal demands of the central state. War also caused slow payments to the armies and the need to construct fortifications. Infrastructure destroyed in civil wars and in the Dutch Revolt needed to be rebuilt which required hefty sums of money which lotteries could provide. The mistrust of and growing protest against the Catholic Church in the Low Countries prompted a serious decline in the income of ecclesiastical institutions, many of which were engaged in building campaigns which had to be finished and paid for. Both cities and church institutions needed to look for 5 City Archive Antwerp, Chamber of Insolvency, 788, journal Daniel De Bruyne, The research on this merchant was executed by one of my master students under my supervision. Ben Suykens, "Belang En Betekenis Van De Autochtone Kooplui in De Tweede Helft Van De 16de Eeuw Te Antwerpen: De Casus Daniel De Bruyne" (University of Antwerp, 2012). 9

10 alternative and additional sources of funding, which explains their enthusiastic embracing of lotteries. The Low Countries lively civil society embodied in guilds, confraternities, and especially the rhetoricians chambers turned to lotteries as well. They too needed funding for their operation. Moreover, rhetoricians chambers were often involved in the organization theatrical lottery drawings which featured the reading out loud of the poesies which identified individual tickets, a performance right up the alley of rhetoricians chambers well-versed in plays and poetry competitions. Mentalities and beliefs had to change for lotteries to be permitted; lotteries had to lose the taint of fraud and gambling. All organizers stressed transparency and produced many boxes of documentary evidence to that end. Gradually, a Machiavellian justification of lotteries developed: the end justified the means. If the purpose of the lottery was just than the lottery itself was so too. The vice-chancellor of the university of Louvain Jean Briard of Ath wondered in 1508 in his Questionis quodlibetice whether a prize won in a lottery with a pure conscience was a just purchase. The prize was not obtained through labour but that did not make it unjust, according to Briard, because then everything which was granted through fate was unjust, a thesis Briard proved to be untrue. Profit is only illegal when it is the result of avidity, avarice or unjust trade. Lotteries which benefit the public are not automatically unjust because some are pushed to sin because of it. Briard goes on saying that the lottery is not illegal per se; it was not prohibited in the Bible (how could it be?) and no legal prohibitions were active. The purpose of the lottery, according to Briard, is good because it allows Bruges to pay off its debt so its citizens could travel freely once more (citizens could be held liable for their city s debts). Briard of Ath only warns for the injustice that is done to creditors who are forced by the city magistrate to convert their debts into lottery tickets. Ordinances of the central government on lotteries never targeted the practice of lotteries per se; only secret lotteries without government patents where fraud was to be rife were forbidden. Especially the presumably over-valued nature of the prizes paintings, tapestries and 10

11 merchandise of which the value was difficult to ascertain in these lotteries and the patents granted by lesser and often bribed officers who overstepped their authority were denounced. And when the government sought to set up its own state lottery in 1563, it suspended all patents; only churches, hospitals and other pious organizations were still allowed to organize lotteries, albeit only when a patent was granted by the central government. At the end of its Golden Age lotteries had secured a firm place in the hearts and minds of the Antwerpeners and had even seeped into legislation on parental obligations: the 1582 codified version of Antwerp s customary law prescribed that when fathers or mothers bought a lottery ticket and identified the ticket through a prose (which was read aloud at the drawing) mentioning the name of one of their children, the prize related to that ticket would go to the child. 6 After the changes in laws and beliefs, fifteenth- and sixteenth-century lotteries in the Low Countries offered excitement and potential gains to wide segments of society because of their price and the interest of organizers to make the pool of potential buyers as big as possible. Lotteries were a voluntary tax, a medium through which large numbers of small sums could be mobilized and allowed the participation of larger segments of society, slightly lifting up Braudel s bell-jar. 6 Impressae, XXXVI, article

12 Appendices Figs. 1-3: Lotteries organized in Low Countries towns

13

14 Fig. 4: documented lotteries in the Low Countries, (N=271) Source: author database Fig. 5: organizer type Low Countries lotteries 100% 90% 80% 70% 60% 50% 40% 30% 20% 10% 0% Source: author database Rhetoricians chamber Private organizer Poor relief institution Convent Confraternity City government & Confraternity City government & Church City government Church & poor relief institution church Central government 14

15 Number of tickets bought in 1504 lottery Fig. 6: purpose Low Countries lotteries 100% 90% 80% 70% 60% 50% 40% 30% 20% 10% 0% Private gain Debt redemption Construction of infrastructure Army Source: author database Fig. 7: socio-economic profile of ticket buyers in the 1504 Leiden lottery y = 0,014x + 1,7761 R² = 0,0039 y = 0,415x + 8,3475 R² = 0,1184 Arrears Cash Lineair (Arrears) Lineair (Cash) Estate tax 1502 in guilders 15

16 1/10/65 1/05/66 1/12/66 1/07/67 1/02/68 1/09/68 1/04/69 1/11/69 1/06/70 1/01/71 1/08/71 1/03/72 1/10/72 1/05/73 1/12/73 1/07/74 1/02/75 Number of tickets bought in 1564 lottery Fig. 8: socio-economic profile of ticket buyers in the 1564 s-hertogenbosch lottery y = 0,0243x + 9,0636 R² = 0, Estate tax 1557 in guilders Fig. 9: Bruges lottery profits Profit in Vl. gr. Number of sold tickets

17 Fig. 10: geographical dispersion of the ticket buyers in the 1504 Leiden lottery 17

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