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The Promise and Peril of CreditWhat a Forgotten Legend about Jews and Finance Tells Us about the Making of European Commercial Society$
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Francesca Trivellato

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780691178592

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691178592.001.0001

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The Setting

The Setting

Marine Insurance and Bills of Exchange

(p.19) 1 The Setting
The Promise and Peril of Credit

Francesca Trivellato

Princeton University Press

This chapter examines the quotation claiming that Jews invented marine insurance and bills of exchange, which can be read from a compilation of maritime laws assembled with commentary by a provincial French lawyer, Étienne Cleirac, published in Bordeaux under the title Us et coustumes de la mer (Usages and Customs of the Sea). By adding bills of exchange to his commentary on marine insurance, Cleirac paired two credit contracts that by the mid-seventeenth century had become indispensable to long-distance trade and were handled by merchants of all sorts. By this time, marine insurance was no longer considered usurious. In contrast, bills of exchange continued to ignite fierce debates over usury. The ease with which bills of exchange could be passed from one person to another generated the erroneous but indelible impression that they were like paper money. However, unlike banknotes, they were not fully negotiable, nor were payers obliged to accept them.

Keywords:   Jews, marine insurance, bills of exchange, maritime laws, Étienne Cleirac, credit contracts, long-distance trade, usury, paper money, banknotes

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