Kerbstone Stockbrokers in New YorkThe Illustrated London News, vol. 45, no. 1266, p. 11-12.
July 2, 1864
The prevailing mania just now in the city of New York is that of gambling in stocks. All classes of people are naturally intent upon converting fictitious "greenbacks" into some more substantial and enduring property. Hence the universal spirit of speculation which drives to the stock market merchants and mechanics, gamblers and gentlemen, politicians and parsons. Railway shares, mining companies' stock, and everything else that can, by the greatest stretch of imagination, be supposed to offer a chance of permanent investment or rapid profit, will command prices far above par; but more in request than all other marketable securities is the American eagle impressed upon gold coin. The Federal Secretary of the Treasury has so flooded the country with paper "promises to pay," that the holders are extremely doubtful of their validity, and hasten to transmute this dubious "Chase currency" into the precious metal. William-street, in the lower part of New York, is the great theatre of speculation. In this street and Exchange-place, from the corner of which our sketch is taken, are innumerable stockbrokers' offices. Every building on each side of the way contains, on every floor, luxuriously furnished chambers, the occupants of which have made, are making, or expect to make their millions out of the fluctuations of the stock market. There are three distinct marts held in William-street for the sale of speculative commodities:--First, the "Regular Board of Brokers," an exclusive and aristocratic fraternity, whose sessions are held in an ex-Masonic lodge-room, and whose regulations demand a rigorous ballot and a large initiation fee as qualifications for membership. This organisation comprises men of the "first families" of America, persons in good society, and its rules are supposed to exclude all of doubtful commercial integrity. Next in order comes the "Public Stock Exchange," held in a building on the east side of the street (to the left of our Engraving), nearly opposite the "Regular Board." Here assemble those brokers who are excluded from the orthodox association, whether by their rejection on ballot, or by their inability or disinclination to comply with its code, or because its limited number is filled. Notwithstanding that the "Public Board" is less strict and less expensive than its neighbour, there are many of its members who have become millionaires within the past few months by the magnitude and success of their transactions; they have built superb mansions and established gorgeous equipages outvieing those of the richest member of the "Regular Board." Thirdly, and lastly, there is the "Kerbstone" business--the common whirlpool of all persons of speculative tendencies who have not sufficient capital or character to obtain admission into either of the recognised places of Stock Exchange operations. As the session of the Public Board draws to its close (about two p.m.), an indiscriminate throng of all varieties of character and grades of rank, from the "Fifth
Page 12Avenue Swell" to the Jewish dealer in cast-off clothes, besiege the doors of the sale-rooms; and the first person who comes out is assailed with frantic shrieks of "What's Erie?" "How's Rock Island?" and, more than all, "Where's Gold?" These points having been ascertained, there is a furious melée of pecuniary propositions; purchases and sales are transacted between individuals who, up to that moment, have never seen each other, and who may never meet again; for the gainer in the bargain does not always succeed next day in his search for the loser. "Representative men" of all types shoulder one another, and scream themselves hoarse in eager endeavours to outbid or undersell their loud-voiced competitors. It is a frantic orgie, in which the lust of lucre reigns supreme. Our Engraving represents William-street, looking southward, from its junction with Exchange-place. On the left is the entrance to the Public Stock Exchange. Further down is seen the "fork" of South William, Beaver, and Hanover streets; and, on the right, at the junction of Beaver and Hanover streets, is the "down town" establishment of Delmonico, the great "restaurateur" of New York. The central building in the background is occupied by a firm of railway agents and a sign-painter, whose joint enterprise has rendered the edifice a wonder of lettered iridescence. Warehouses of different descriptions continue the vista, and extend to the wharves along the southern and eastern sides of the city.