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Atlanta Fed Working Papers


How Amsterdam Got Fiat Money

Stephen Quinn and William Roberds
Working Paper 2010-17
December 2010

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We investigate a fiat money system introduced by the Bank of Amsterdam in 1683. Using data from the Amsterdam Municipal Archives, we partially reconstruct changes in the bank's balance sheet from 1666 through 1702. Our calculations show that the Bank of Amsterdam, founded in 1609, was engaged in two archetypal central bank activities—lending and open market operations—both before and after its adoption of a fiat standard. After 1683, the bank was able to conduct more regular and aggressive policy interventions, from a virtually nonexistent capital base. The bank's successful experimentation with a fiat standard foreshadows later developments in the history of central banking.

JEL classification: E42, E58, N13

Key words: Bank of Amsterdam, fiat money, commodity money, monetary policy, credit policy


The authors thank John McCusker for sharing agio data, Lodwijk Petram for sharing the Deutz folios, and Albert Scheffers for help with the balance books. Also, for comments on earlier drafts the authors are grateful to Christiaan van Bochove, Pit Dehing, Marc Flandreau, Oscar Gelderblom, Joost Jonker, and Charles Sawyer as well as participants in seminars at the University of Alabama, the Bank of Canada, the Federal Reserve Banks of Chicago and New York, and Rutgers University. They are also indebted to Michelle Sloan for many hours of skilled data encoding. Generous research and travel support was provided by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and Texas Christian University. The views expressed here are the authors' and not necessarily those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta or the Federal Reserve System. Any remaining errors are the authors' responsibility.

Please address questions regarding content to William Roberds, Research Department, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, 1000 Peachtree Street, N.E., Atlanta, GA 30309-4470, 404-498-8970, william.roberds@atl.frb.org, or Stephen Quinn, Department of Economics, Box 298510, Texas Christian University, Forth Worth, TX 76129, 817-257-6234, s.quinn@tcu.edu.

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