Beurse. The very roots of exchange trading

For many English speakers the word ‘beurse’ would not arise any thought. But many Europeans will quite quickly associate it with exchange trading (commodity or stock trading).

The first official exchange (with written down rules and official building) for commodities and bills of exchange was established in Antwerp in the mid XVI century. Quite quickly other European trading centers followed. Half century later in 1602 the Dutch East India Company issued the first equities that quite quickly were introduced into the Antwerp trading. For further two centuries commodity exchanges shared also securities trading, till around 1800 first pure stock exchanges had been established.

However, the first official exchanges did not emerge from nowhere. In the early middle ages commodity trading at seasonal fairs was practiced in may European countries from South to North. But only at few places the trade was truly international. Later on the so called entrepot cities emerged where trade was thriving all year long. One of the main harbours that serviced that time the trading routes in Norhern Europe was Brueges. (Due some natural sea movement Bruges lost however its position to Antwerp in XVI century). So, merchants from all around Europe met in the city of Bruges to perform their trades.

Quite naturally the local inns (taverns) were their meeting point. Innkeepers provided food and shelter to foreign merchants, but also warehousing space, commercial credit (even standing surety for their debts) and references. They connected foreigners with buyers or sellers and helped to negotiate deals. One of them was an inn called ‘The Three Purses’.


The restored Van der Beurse family house, that replaced the original Three Purses tavern building. The building was sold to the Venetians and became their nation house. Although by far it was not the first and only trading place in the medieval Europe, its name is widely used in Europe to describe commodities and securities exchanges.

In front of it, at a little square local and foreign brokers met to perform their trades. If it was raining they moved inside. Or, they did so if they wanted to make their trade private. Trading in the opening was that time a condition by the local authorities, who wanted to oversee trade to later collect taxes. Trade was by far not free in the middle ages. With time the trade took place within preset hours and no non-traders were allowed to the place while the trading was taking place. The price quotations were displayed on the inn front wall. Soon foreign traders’ representations called ‘nation houses’ emerged in the vicinity of the square. The word ‘purse’ became the synonym for trading. With time the family owning ‘The Three Purses’ tavern changed their name to Van der Beuerse. (‘Beurse’ in Dutch means ‘purse’ in English).

With time, the word purse (beurse) as synonym for commodities and securities trading spread into many European languages: Börse (German), bolsa (Spanish), borsa (Italy) and bourse (French). Even the English used the word burse for almost two centuries till it was replaced with ‘exchange‘.

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Still on half timbered houses in Northern France

Half-timbering technique was a popular method to build houses in medieval and early modern times in Northern Europe (Denmark, England, Scotland, Germany / Prussia, parts of France and Switzerland). Houses were constructed by means of first timber framing of walls. The space between polls and planks was later filled in with other building material like stone, bricks, etc. In medieval cities to provide more housing space in houses built alongside narrow streets, many houses were constructed with overhangs of upper floors over the ground floor (called jetties).

The streets of historical towns in Northern France are a mixture of different architecture styles, sometimes well-preserved from the past, sometimes rebuilt after fires or war damage. On pictures above you can see three main characteristics: grey sand stone bricks,  slate roofs that sometimes cover also part of facades at upper floors and half-timbered walls with timber frames painted mostly in blue, red and green.

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Liberty Leading the People. A short recollection of historical events in revolutionary France

While visiting Louvre, as usually I do in museums I photographed a number of paintings just to remember the visit. One of them was the famous Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix depicting events that took place in Paris in 1830. I remembered having seen the painting many times during history lessons, as being symbolic for the French revolution it is usually reprinted in school books.

A topless woman being a French symbol for the Liberty is leading Parisians under the tricolor banner that stands for liberty (blue), equality (white), and fraternity (red) during the July revolution of 1830.

There is also an alternate symbolism behind the French national colours: blue stands for bourgeoisie, white for clergy and red for the nobility. The division corresponds to the three estate classification that preserved for centuries in historical Europe. Clergy was the First Estate, nobles were the Second Estate and peasants and bourgeoisie were the Third Estate.

Louvre. A painting by Eugene Delacroix. Liberty Leading the People. It is depicting the events of the second wave of the French Revolution that took place in 1830.

The painting is that well known that it is easy to forget that it depicts the second wave of the French revolution (of 1830) and not the events that took place forty years earlier.

  • The French revolution (known as the First French Revolution) commonly associated among others with storming and demolition of the Bastille took place in 1789. The Bastille Day, which is the 14th of July, is celebrated today as the French National Day. The Revolution began as during a political impasse the Third Estate (bourgeoisie) formed into a National Assembly (13 June 1789).
  • It took however more than three years of political turmoil till the French proclaimed the First Republic (21 September 1792) abolishing the monarchy. The act was undertaken by a National Convention elected under the first male universal suffrage in France. This did not however end the political turmoil.
  • In 1799 Napoleon Bonaparte took power in the Republic and finally turned France into the French Empire. With his defeat and the Congress of Vienna (1815) >>> the monarchy was reestablished in France with another Bourbon king on the French throne.
  • Bourbons were overthrown by the July revolution of 1830, the one that was depicted by Delacroix. One king was however replaced by another. (By the way, the events of July revolution inspired Belgians who after years of struggle finally got their independence in 1830. >>>)
  • The monarchy under the House of Orleans lasted till 1848, when after removal of an unpopular king, the Second Republic was proclaimed.
  • The Second Republic was yet again seized by yet another Bonaparte, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, who was Napoleon Bonaparte’s nephew. Once again France turned into an Empire (1852).
  • Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte was removed in 1870 in times of Franco-Prussian war that was fought further by the Government of National Defence under the auspices of the Third Republic. The times of monarchies in France were finally over.

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