The Day the Trading Stopped

04/27/2023     Books & Autographs


NEW YORK, NY -- It is difficult to imagine the shockwave sent around the world on June 28, 1914, as news of the assassination in Sarajevo of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, quickly spread. The result was an avalanche of declarations of war across Europe. United States military involvement did not begin until 1917; however, the president of the Stock Exchange suspended trading on July 31st, 1914. Perhaps bolstering the decision to close, Germany declared war on Russia on August 1st. The First World War had commenced.

At the helm of the New York Stock Exchange that day was its president, Henry George Stebbins Noble. Noble was well-suited for the challenge as his grandfather Henry G. Stebbins (brother to the sculptor Emma Stebbins) was president of the Exchange during the Civil War. After buying his grandfather’s seat in 1881, Noble was a member of the New York Stock Exchange for fifty-six years, serving five consecutive terms as president from 1914-19. He artfully described the impetus for the shutdown in his 1915 book The New York Stock Exchange Crisis of 1914: “The fundamental reason for closing the Exchange was that America, when the war broke out, was in debt to Europe, and that Europe was sure to enforce the immediate payment of that debt to put herself in funds to prosecute this greatest of all wars. There was to be an unexpected run on Uncle Sam's Bank and the Stock Exchange was the paying teller's window through which the money was to be drawn out, so the window was closed to gain time."

The four-month shutdown from July 31st to December 12th, 1914, remains the longest in New York Stock Exchange history. Shorter closures occurred after a financial crisis closed the Exchange for ten days in 1873; after the September 11th attacks, the NYSE closed until September 17th, 2001; hurricane Sandy closed the New York Stock Exchange for two days.

Following the outbreak of World War I in Europe, bond trading resumed in November 1914, on the logic that this might help prevent the financial ruin of European nations attempting to raise money for the war effort. Upon reopening stock trading, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 25% – its most precipitous recorded drop since its inception. The market continued to decline until the United States entered the war in 1917. Following the war, New York replaced London as the world investment capital, and the New York Stock Exchange became the barometer of global economic health. A new dawn for the financial future of the United States followed the war.

Navigating this turmoil was no easy task for Henry George Stebbins Noble, who oversaw the initial shutdown and reopening of the Exchange and remained president during the tumultuous period of the war, not stepping aside as president until 1919. Offered in the Rare Books, Autographs & Maps auction on May 11 is the remarkable hand-illuminated manuscript honors and citations presented to Noble from the directors of the Exchange upon his stepping down as president in recognition of his stable hand and guidance. These include a beautiful and sumptuously-decorated illuminated manuscript book and broadside citation by the painter and illuminist Corrado Scapecchi, who designed and colored in a High Renaissance style. The pieces are a tour de force of American illumination befitting the celebratory occasion and offering the best Gilded Age artisanship. Noble received the final manuscripts in the group upon his retirement from the Exchange in 1935. He died in 1946 after World War II ended. The Exchange had only closed in recognition of V-J Day, celebrating the end of that war. We trace no similar manuscript presentation items from the New York Stock Exchange, and the acquisition of the present group is worthy of collector and institutional interest.

Rare Books, Autographs & Maps

Auction Thursday, May 11, 2023 at 10am
Exhibition May 6 - 8

Lot 261
A remarkable group of illuminated manuscripts presented to Henry George Stebbins Noble commemorating his service as President of the New York Stock Exchange upon the outbreak of World War I and during the longest shutdown in Exchange history.