Meanwhile, however, things quieted down somewhat, and men were beginning to hope that the worst was past, when new cause for anxiety came from a totally different quarter. About the end of March several failures of more or less importance took place in the iron trade. A very uneasy feeling again became prevalent, and this feeling was intensified during the months of April and May by the conviction that the strikes in the iron districts of South Wales and elsewhere could not but have a very disastrous effect. In addition to this there were persistent rumours that matters were not quite right with some of the India and China houses, and the failure of one or two small firms at this time gave colour to the surmises. Difficulties were looming everywhere indeed. It mattered not to what part of the world the eye was turned, firms connected with each were freely talked about. And to aggravate matters, a small concern in London, called the City and County Bank, stopped payment on the 18th of May. This failure was of no direct importance to any hut those immediately concerned, but it helped to fan the flame of distrust and anxiety which was already burning, and intensified the serious aspect of commercial affairs at the time.
Two or three days later most serious rumours were circulated in the City respecting the position of a very large iron company, but as the day passed over without any disaster, and as it was said they had been tided over their difficulties, the commercial public breathed more freely, and hoped that all immediate danger was over. This hope was, however, doomed to disappointment, for within a week from this time the company pointed at-the Aberdare Iron Company-failed, with liabilities amounting to over a million sterling. This failure was necessarily and quickly suc-ceededby the stoppage of two kindred concerns,the Plymouth Iron Company and Fothergill, Hankey, and Co., the latter with liabilities of also over a million; and by Sanderson and Co., the bill-brokers, who held a very large amount of the paper of these failed firms, with liabilities of about seven millions; and by a number of smaller firms, who, it transpired, had been simple drawing posts of the Aberdare Company, and who, having nothing to lose, had indulged in the reprehensible practice of accepting the bills of the company, to enable the latter to "raise the wind," for a very small commission. This batch of failures had not so evil an effect as might have been supposed, for the liabilities almost entirely were in the shape of bills of exchange which had found their way, through Sanderson and Co. and others, into the portfolios of banks who were well able to sustain the loss; and they did not touch the pockets of the general public to any great extent.
The immediate cause of the stoppage of the Aberdare Iron Company was no doubt the strike of the company's men, in conjunction with the strikes of the men connected with the other iron concerns in South Wales. It had, however, been suspected many months before that the company had been raising the wind by accommodation bills, and when the strike occurred, and when consequently no iron was turned out to bring cash into the till, the volume of accommodation bills increased, and the company's credit was in the same ratio decreased, and hence the collapse.
To say nothing of the direct evils of strikes, it may be worth while to record that since the strike in South Wales on this occasion began, there were returned through the Clearing House upwards of two millions of pounds of the acceptances of small traders and others in the provinces; and from this circumstance, among others, observers came to the conclusion that we were on the eve of a large commercial panic, which, happily in a modified form, actually took place a week or two later.
The immediate cause of the panic-or as it may be more correctly described, the crisis-which followed, was the announcement on the afternoon of the 15th of June of the failure of Alexander Collie and Co., East India merchants of Manchester and London, with estimated liabilities to the extent of £3,000,000. Although this firm had long been suspected by some, the announcement came unexpectedly upon the market and revived the fears which for the previous week or two had been slumbering. And matters were made worse when, during the following week, about thirty firms, who had been simply drawing posts of Collie's, and had accepted merely for the sake of a commission, failed. And the parallel between the Aberdare Company and Collie did not end here, for like Sanderson and Co. in the former case, Young, Borthwick, and Co., bill-brokers, in the latter, were largely " planted " with the accommodation bills, and being unable to take them up out of the hands of the bankers and others with whom they had discounted them, or lodged them as security for loans, they were obliged to suspend also, with liabilities of two millions and a half.
In this case, as in the former, the losses fell chiefly upon the banks, and the general public were not much hurt. While the crisis lasted, it was very sharp and severe, and was, of course, availed of by those unprincipled persons who are always on the outlook during commercial troubles for opportunities of damaging the best conducted and soundest concerns with the view of profiting by their contemporaneous Stock Exchange operations. The consequence was that rumours detrimental to some of the London and Indian banks were freely and industriously circulated, and but for the abundance of money at the time there is no telling to what extent the crisis might have gone.
Fortunately, however, this crisis differed from the panic of 1866, inasmuch as at this time money was superabundant and the Bank rate only 3 1/2, and good firms had no difficulty whatever in obtaining all the accommodation they wanted.
With the smaller firms the case was widely different, for bankers and brokers, in consequence of the perpetual state of fear in which they had been kept by the constantly recurring failures almost since the beginning of the year, distrusted those firms in whom they had not the most perfect faith, and refused them the accommodation which they had been accustomed to. Hence failures amongst the second-rate traders continued for some time, although the acute stage of the crisis may be said to have been over within a week of Collie's collapse. Thanks, however, to the plethora of money, the somewhat exaggerated fear in the minds of bankers and others gave place to a desire to make what profit they could out of their means, and they soon began to discount again, and thus calmed down to a great extent the fear which had been previously existing.