This section is from the "Everybody's Guide to Money Matters" book, by William Cotton. With a description of the various investments chiefly dealt in on the stock exchange, and the mode of dealing therein. Some account of the pitfalls prepared for the unwary, and suggestions to the cautious investor.
An ingenious mode of practising on the credulity of the public may be noticed in some financial publications. An editorial notice or subsidised paragraph will be inserted in the paper, extolling the merits and predicting the certain success of some concern which it is desired to bolster up or to foist upon the public. This is done in such a way that the reader is expected to believe that it is the genuine expression of a truthful opinion by the editor, who has obtained his information from unimpeachable sources. Of course, this peculiar kind of advertisement has to be paid for, but it has its advantages to the advertiser, for it can (for a consideration) be quoted by the country papers as unbiassed news, and attention called to it in a money article or leaderette. The pamphlets issued by the advertising outside broker are sometimes amusingly artless in the endeavour to sell shares and attract custom. On the first page will be found some paragraphs setting forth the merits and prospects of certain named companies, and advising the reader to buy shares in them without a day's delay, as a considerable and speedy rise in value is assured. One may be permitted to wonder why the broker and all his friends do not rush in and secure every share that is to be had. At the end of the paper the reason will be discovered; in every one of the concerns referred to shares are offered for sale, which cannot be got rid of in the regular market. It must be inferred that some credulous persons are taken in by this transparent artifice, or it would not be so constantly practised. The object of these publications is chiefly to puff up doubtful securities, in the hope that some fatuous speculator may be tempted to buy. It is delightful when two of these gentry fall out and expose each other's knavery. The reader is assured that "Codlin's his friend, not Short"; the latter is denounced as a fraud and retaliates, but no action for libel is brought, because both know that on either side the imputation is justifiable.
It may excite surprise in some who are favoured with circulars and prospectuses which are, through the Post Office, sown broadcast over the whole country, how the name and address of a comparatively obscure individual should be known. Prospectus and circular distributing is a business conducted on a regular system. When it is desired to invite subscriptions to float some new company or to bolster up some concern, the share lists of the same sort of companies already in existence are drawn upon for names and addresses; and court directories also furnish a wide field for operations.
At the present time the rage appears to have set in for forming limited liability companies out of private industrial concerns or trading firms. Most of these companies, we are told by an authority, "are brought out under the same auspices" -- that is they are started and floated by a skilled personage known as a "promoter." The stereotyped prospectus must now be familiar to most people, and the public respond freely to the invitation to subscribe for shares, without consideration or inquiry. The prospectus is usually replete with statistics, showing the success which has attended the business whilst in private hands, and the enormous profits made; and one is apt to wonder why they did not keep it to themselves, instead of inviting the public to share in the gains. But there are good companies and bad companies, and it is to be feared that the latter largely preponderate. A good company may have a genuine reason for its existence, such as the desire of a last surviving partner to retire from active life, or the growth of the business to such an extent that more capital is required than could be obtained from a private person, or upon some other equally valid ground. A bad company is often the make-shift to save a decaying firm from insolvency, or to dispose of a business at a price quite out of proportion to its real value. The prospectus affords no opportunity of discriminating what is genuine and likely to succeed from what is false and sure to fail. If, as it has been said, eighty per cent. of companies floated sooner or later go to the wall, then, indeed, inquiry and much circumspection are needed before entering upon a speculation of the kind. It must be said, however, that many companies formed from trading concerns have become well established and profitable, and if permanency could be relied upon, they furnish a field for lucrative investments. Those adventures which are unduly pressed upon the notice of the public should be regarded with suspicion. If a thing is really good in itself, it will not require much persuasion to commend itself; and if bad, no purchased laudation will make it better. A subtle mode of advertising is just now coming into vogue, which, though expensive, will for a time be successful. There need be no reflection on the companies which adopt it, though calculated to beguile the innocent and confiding investor. A leaf or two introduced in some of our illustrated papers, in no wise differing in the printing from the remainder of the publication, and appearing as though it formed part of the regular pabulum offered to the public. This leaf or leaves contain well-executed pictures of the works and machinery and other interesting objects connected with the industry of a company to which it is desired to call attention, and a descriptive account is given of its magnitude and success. To the casual reader all this would appear to be a matter of public interest, offered to the public as part of the regular business of the paper, but it is only an ingenious form of advertisement and has to be paid for as such, but that is of no consequence if the effect is produced, of a rise in the price of the shares. There are some companies whose shares are quoted at such enormous premiums, and which pay such high dividends, that the investor is sorely tempted to embark in similar undertakings, apparently, that are brought before the public. But these prosperous concerns are in most cases first taken up by a syndicate -- that is, a certain limited number of persons behind the scenes -- who finance and float the company, and when success has been attained, the public are granted the privilege of purchasing shares -- but at such a price as the syndicate choses to put upon them, and, not seldom, that is the highest they ever attain. This is particularly the case with mining companies, the successful ones having certainly only benefited the few. This syndicate system has given rise to a bogus imitation, which, however, appears to have met with but limited success. Circulars in lithographed writing, marked "private and confidential," and implying a friendly interest in those addressed, are sent to persons whose names are obtained in the manner already indicated. An invitation is given them to join a syndicate about to be formed to float a certain company, the profits arising from the operation being certain and enormous. Again, if it be such an excellent and certain venture, why offer a share to an entire stranger? These circulars are very speciously worded, and there is an air of candour about them likely to allure. Anyone foolish enough to subscribe would probably, after an interval, be informed that owing to unforeseen circumstances the adventure had turned out a failure, and that all the money had gone in expenses. Successful gold mines have yielded large fortunes to their proprietors, but it must be remembered that mines have but a limited existence, and once they are worked out the money invested in them is lost; for when they cease to yield ore there is nothing more to be obtained from them. Promiscuous dealing in mine shares is nothing more or less than gambling, or taking part in a lottery in which the blanks are overwhelming and the prizes next to nothing. If an enterprise has in it any degree of soundness or promise, there are plenty of the knowing ones ready to step in and take all the advantages to be gained; it is the desperate ventures and unscrupulous swindles that the public are mostly pressed to support -- only to lose their money. It is to be hoped that the dupes are at length awake to the pit-falls dug for them by the mining company promoter and speculator, whose seductive paragraphs are everywhere in evidence in the advertising sheets of the day.