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.
A typical example -- and not a fictitious one -- of hundreds of knavish concerns foisted on the public may be quoted. A certain company, of which no prospectus has been issued, nor of which anything is publicly known, appears in the mining lists. One day, a paragraph in a financial paper reports that the agent for the mines, on the spot, has cabled that the promise of success exceeds all expectations, that samples of ore, yielding three ounces to the ton, have been found, and that the necessary machinery must be sent out at once. This is followed up by an editorial leaderette (of course, paid for), in which the writer expresses surprise that the shares of so promising an enterprise should be at so low a price, and predicting a rapid advance when the work is further developed. These notices effect their purpose to the extent of raising the quotations of the shares a few shillings, but this is not enough for the promoter; a circular is next issued, in the usual way, to the effect that the directors have been fortunate enough to secure additional property near their own, which furnishes wood and water, so essential to the proper development of the mine, and including, moreover, alluvial pits abounding in gold. An elaborate lithographed sketch of the property, with mines at work and a steam-engine, accompanies the circular, and the whole presents an appearance of real business. The next move is the statutory meeting of the shareholders, which, however, is very sparsely attended, as the victims are chiefly people residing in the country, who do not care to incur the expense of a journey to London. The man who presides at the meeting, an outside broker, begins a speech by apologising for the absence of the chairman of the company (of whom the shareholders hear for the first time), and then goes on to describe with tedious detail the technical working of the mine, the stopes and veins, and bunches of gold that there are, and the stamps, machinery, &c., that there are to be. He describes what has been done in the alluvial pits, and the prospect of wealth to be drawn therefrom as beyond the dreams of avarice, and winds up with warm congratulation of the proprietors on the valuable property they possess. Whether he has overdone his part or something prejudicial to the company leaks out, the shares which had changed hands at 10s. gradually drop to 5s. Then a circular goes the round in which some member of the ring of knaves invites the public to join a syndicate to buy up five thousand of these shares which he has, through peculiar circumstances, been able to secure the refusal of at 4s. a share. A special meeting of the shareholders is next called, when it is announced that more capital is required, and that it will be necessary to pay up the one shilling per share which still remains outstanding. A last desperate effort to get rid of the shares at any price is then resorted to before the call of one shilling per share becomes payable, and some thousands are offered at one shilling and sixpence each. After the time has expired for paying the call, a last circular is issued, intimating briefly that the eminent engineer, who has originally given such a glowing account of the mine, now reports that there is no present indication of gold on the property, but that possibly some might be found if they dug deep enough!
The name of the company has disappeared from the mining share list, and it will be heard of no more. It is doubtful if there ever was any property, or engineer, or board of directors, or, in fact, anything more than the outside broker and his confederates.
Of the "bona fide" speculative undertakings in South Africa and Australia, the exploration and finance companies, or some few of them, have made the largest profits. Their system, broadly speaking, is to acquire certain tracts of land in a gold-bearing district, and then let small portions on lease to different subsidiary companies, which have been floated to develop gold or whatever else these portions may contain. The price paid to the parent company is made up of; perhaps, one half in cash and the other in the shares of the new concern. An immediate profit accrues from the payment in cash, and there is a wide field for further gains if the operations of the subsidiary companies are successful. But in this, as in all speculative enterprises, the prizes have been few and the blanks many.