Description: A Parisian immigration company’s stock certificate.
Artist: Appert fils et Vavasseur
Narrative: When the French, like men from every country in the world, caught gold fever, immigration companies were hastily formed in Paris to facilitate the departure of these Argonauts and to speculate on the gold they were to mine in California. Investors bought stock in the companies, which chartered ships, booked passages, and organized small armies of French miners who were sworn to bring back a percentage of the profits reaped from their prospecting.
Up to ninety such companies existed between 1849 and 1852. Their fierce competition to capture the public’s imagination and business was reflected in their names: “The Golden Fleece,” “the Golden Hive,” The Fortune,” and this “Compagnie française et américaine de San Francisco.”
They produced elaborate stock certificates that reflect their need to entice the potential investor, here a God presides over the miners’ labors, and the necessity to reassure them of the company’s legitimacy, with watermarks and plenty of official-looking signatures. The design, with men performing indefinite digging in an indefinite landscape, also reveals how little they knew of the California gold fields.
All stock certificates soon became obsolete after all companies without exception went bankrupt.