The below are short versions of lectures delivered at the Library. All registered readers receive invites to the full-length lectures and there are about six lectures per annum. Get your free membership here.

January 2020

Professor Andy Adams
The Split Capital Investment Trust Crisis

The crisis surrounding the split capital investment trust sector broke in late 2001. It led to a major Financial Services Authority investigation and a House of Commons Treasury Select Committee inquiry that called as witnesses a number of well-known personalities from the investment trust industry.

As interest rates fell in the final years of the last century, private investors were looking for investments that offered high yields or returns. In response, a number of fund management groups created risky, unstable structures built upon bank debt and cross-investment. This was the so-called ‘magic circle’ of fund management firms whose funds invested in each other. The publicity surrounding the crisis was damaging to the reputation of the City.

Andrew Adams is Emeritus Professor of Finance at Heriot-Watt University. He wrote the warning paper “For Whom the Barbell Tolls…” with Robin Angus, was published in April 2001. He also edited the book The Split Capital Investment Trust Crisis which is available in the Library.

December 2019

Ray Perman
The Rise and Fall of The City of Money: A Financial History of Edinburgh

A few months after posting record results a major Scottish bank goes bust, impoverishing many of its shareholders and depressing the whole economy. Is this 2008?

No it is 130 years earlier – and despite the similarities with the 21st century credit crunch, there are differences. One is the speed with which the authorities acted: in 1878 the whole board of directors was arrested, put on trial and sent to prison.

Over ten years since the collapse of RBS and HBOS we are still waiting for the official report into the conduct of the directors. What can we learn from history?

November 2019

Chris Swinson
Gerard Lee Bevan, Fraud And The Crash of 1920

Gerard Lee Bevan was guided to become a stockbroker – benefitting from a family introduction to Ellis & Co, one of the oldest and stuffiest stock exchange firms where he became a partner.

Bevan and some associates acquired an insurance company and used the funds to finance the promotion of new share issues. They made millions in the boom which followed the 1914-1918 war but lost them just as fast when the boom turned to slump in 1920. More insurance companies were acquired to strip their assets: but the losses continued to grow.

When the 1920 financial collapse occurred, Bevan scurried around Europe desperately hoping to evade the police and his appalled wife.

Bevan himself was jailed for seven years – and ostracised. On release, he left the country and on death he was buried in an anonymous grave in Havana.

Chris is a former president of The Institute of Chartered Accountants.

September 2019

Scott Dobbie
The Guinness Bid for Distillers

This lecture by Scott Dobbie was on the dramatic events surrounding the bid by Guinness for the Distillers Company in 1985. The Guinness acquisition of Distillers Company which took place in the mid-1980s was the last major bid before ‘Big Bang’.

The instigator was incoming professional management to Guinness which bought first Bells Scotch Whisky, then made the much more aggressive bid for Distillers, seen by many as an underperforming giant.

Scott Dobbie then of Wood Mackenzie was the broker to Guinness in the build-up and during the bid, after which his firm resigned the Account, and he became a prosecution witness in the trial on conspiracy charges of the major participants. Scott discussed the background to this bid, the visible and less visible activity during its conduct, and the manner in which the conspiracy unfolded.

Scott Dobbie has a background in stockbroking and was Managing Partner of Wood Mackenzie and subsequently Chairman of successor firms. More recently he has acted as a non-executive Chairman or Director in a number of public Companies, largely in the Financial sector.

He is a former Chairman of the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment and of CRESTCo, the settlement utility. On the regulatory front he served on the Boards of the Securities and Futures Authority, and of Jersey Financial Services Commission, and was a member of the Regulatory Decisions Committee of FSA. He now works principally with Deutsche Bank Group as non-executive Chairman of DB UK Bank Ltd., and as Trustee of a number of Group pension funds.

June 2019

John Newlands
Robert Fleming (1845-1933) - Financial Entrepreneur, Benefactor, Dundonian

Robert Fleming left school at 13 to work as an office boy for a salary of £5 per annum. Before he was 28, Fleming had pioneered the launch, in Dundee, of the Scottish American Investment Trust, still trading today as Dunedin Income Growth Investment Trust and managed by Aberdeen Standard Investments.

He went on to become a stalwart of the investment trust sector, a government adviser in the First World War, a generous public benefactor and to launch the great merchant bank which bore his name. He was also the grandfather of Ian Fleming, the James Bond author.

John Newlands describes Fleming’s formative years, his passion for self-improvement, his unshakeable integrity and his unfailing belief in the necessity for first-hand research prior to investment. “Robert Fleming has been described as Scotland’s Dick Whittington”, Newlands notes, “and I don’t think that’s far off the mark”.

John Newlands has written four books about financial history, including The History of Aberdeen Asset Management (2nd Edition, 2014) and the 150-year anniversary History of Foreign & Colonial Investment Trust, published in March 2018. He was Head of Investment Companies Research at Brewin Dolphin from 2007 until June 2017.

Claire Anderson
The Origins of the Scottish Investment Trust Industry c.1870-1914: Dundee as a Centre of Investment

Claire Anderson introduces The Origins of the Scottish Investment Trust Industry c.1870-1914: Dundee as a Centre of Investment.

As part of her doctoral thesis, Claire studied the origins of the Scottish Investment Trust industry and the role that Dundee played in this.

In this lecture Claire explains the links between the jute merchants of Dundee and the American South and why Scotland needed a new vehicle for savings and investments.

She explores the people and places that were influential and analyses the investors who were willing to place their wealth into this revolutionary vehicle.

Claire Anderson (nee Swan) has a PhD from the University of Dundee. She has spent some time studying abroad at the University of Oklahoma and also working on a multi-disciplinary research project on women and investment at Queen Mary University, London.

She has published a book on ‘Scottish Cowboys and the Dundee Investors’. Claire is a Client Manager at Baillie Gifford & Co working with financial institution clients in the United States. Claire lives in Dundee.

May 2019

Forrest Capie
Can History Guide us to a Better Financial System?

Professor Capie argues that there developed in Britain, in the course of the nineteenth century, a financial system that was safe, stable, and effective.

It derived from a learning process that involved the banks, the central bank, and the authorities. A system evolved where the banks knew how to behave, the central bank knew how to behave and deal with unexpected shocks, and the authorities learned to stand aside.

That system was then stable for 100 years from around 1870 to around 1970. But the lessons were forgotten. Regulation returned. And crises returned. It should be possible to reverse the process.

Forrest Capie is Professor Emeritus of Economic History at the Cass Business School City, University of London. He was Head of Department of Banking and Finance at City from 1989-1992; editor of the Economic History Review 1993-1999; a member of the Academic Advisory Council of the Institute of Economic Affairs in London (2000-), and an advisor to the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer (1997-2004).

April 2019

Philip Augar
The Bank That Lived A Little: Barclays in the Age of the Very Free Market

The Bank that Lived a Little describes three decades of boardroom intrigue at one of Britain's biggest financial institutions.

It is a tale of feuds, grandiose dreams and a struggle for supremacy between rival strategies and their adherents.

The disagreement between those ambitious for Barclays to join the top table of global banks, and those preferring a smaller domestic role more in keeping with the bank's traditions, cost three chief executives their jobs and continues to divide opinion within Barclays, the City and beyond.

Philip Augar, a former banker with a doctorate in history, is the author of several previous books including the celebrated The Death of Gentlemanly Capitalism (Allen Lane, 2000). He has held numerous public and private sector directorships and is currently chair of the UK government's review of higher education. He contributes regularly to the Financial Times and the BBC.

The Populist Tempation

The Populist Tempation
Professor Barry Eichengreen

Barry's book, "The Populist Temptation" argues that in the last few years, populism—of the right, left, and centre varieties—has spread like wildfire throughout the world.

He writes how the impulse reached its apogee in the United States with the election of Trump, but it was a force in Europe ever since the Great Recession sent the European economy into a prolonged tailspin. In the simplest terms, populism is a political ideology that vilifies economic and political elites and instead lionizes 'the people.'

The Bean Counters

The Bean Counters
Richard Brooks

In this joint event with the University of Edinburgh, Richard Brooks will chart the accounting profession's rise to global influence and provide insights into the underside of the profession, from underpinning global tax avoidance to corrupting world football.

Focussing in on the ‘Big Four’ that dominate the market Richard will also reveal how they have used their central role in the economy to sell management consultancy services that send billions in fees their way and ties them closer than ever to clients both in business and government.

March 2019

Dr Paul Kosmetatos
Scottish Banking and the 1772-1773 Banking Crisis

The 1772-1773 credit crisis, with its disproportionately severe impact in Scotland highlighted by the collapse of the large and ambitious Ayr Bank (Douglas, Heron & Co.) has always struck a contrarian note to this last part of the argument.

In this lecture Paul Kosmetatos, focusing on the crisis of 1772-1773, seeks to refute the case that free banking was a robust form of commercial banking capable of operating without a Lender of Last Resort.

Dr. Paul Kosmetatos is a former structured derivatives trader in the City of London. After twelve years in The City he studied for a PhD in Financial History at The University of Cambridge. Dr. Kosmetatos is now a Lecturer in International Economic History at the University of Edinburgh.

February 2019

Ray Perman
Sir Walter Scott - His Financial Rise & Fall

A lecture at the Library of Mistakes by Ray Perman entitled Sir Walter Scott - His Financial Rise & Fall.

In 1825 Sir Walter Scott was at the height of his powers. His day job, as a principal clerk to the Court of Session, paid well and left him considerable time to write.

He was a man of property, with an elegant New Town house and a country estate at Abbotsford, and he was a businessman – chairman of two companies and director of others. By the beginning of 1826 he was financially ruined and facing huge debts.

Ray Perman, former financial journalist, is author of HUBRIS: How HBOS wrecked the best bank in Britain. He is currently working on a financial history of Edinburgh, from the Darien disaster to the credit crunch of 2008, to be published in the autumn.

December 2018

Paul Crosthwaite, Nicky Marsh & Peter Knight:
A History of Financial Advice Literature

A new collection at the Library of Mistakes with Paul Crosthwaite, Nicky Marsh and Peter Knight.

The History of Financial Advice collection has been assembled to highlight the most important, influential, and distinctive popular guides to finance and investment published over the past three centuries.

In their presentation, the project team discuss how they went about assembling the collection and how the community of Errorists might use it in identifying recurring market mistakes, but also nuggets of investment wisdom.

November 2018

HBOS talk

HBOS talk
Professor Atul K Shah

In a new and innovative research study of Britain's largest corporate failure, HBOS, Professor Atul K. Shah discusses the blame game and fallout, probing into the details of risk, audit and regulatory failure. The findings expose fundamental problems with the theory and education of finance...

Chris Swinson
A financial biography of Clarence Hatry

'I am unable to imagine any worse case than yours.'

With these words, in January 1930, a judge sentenced Clarence Hatry to a prison term of 14 years. On discovery of an outrageous fraud, Hatry's companies had collapsed causing a crash on the London stock market which reverberated in New York and precipitated the Wall Street crash.

Hatry was the last of the flamboyant company promoters. In Scotland, he had promoted Jute Industries, the vehicle by which the jute barons of Dundee realised their equity.

In this lecture, by examining some of his deals, we will look at how he went about his business, how investors were misled and how he brought about his own downfall.

Chris Swinson is a Visiting Fellow of Durham University Business School and a former President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales.

September 2018

Jonathan Callaway
Paper Money of Scotland

This is the story of Scotland’s physical money in three phases – The Past, The Present and The Future. It will illustrate how trust was won, lost, regained and (nearly) lost again.

It touches on the importance of maintaining confidence in that most basic form of finance and it will look to the future of physical money in Scotland – and globally – in an age of rapid and unpredictable change.

Jonathan Callaway has enjoyed a long career in international commercial and investment banking, including working overseas in Germany, New York and Hong Kong. On return to the UK he spent nearly 15 years at Deutsche Bank and over 10 years at Hawkpoint Partners (now Canaccord Genuity). Until recently he was also working as an independent corporate adviser on capital-raising transactions.

June 2018

Dr Gareth Campbell
The Rise and Return of Investment Trusts, 1868 to Today

Investment trusts were the first investment vehicles to enable middle class investors to easily and cheaply diversify their holdings.

Using 150 years of monthly data, on hundreds of trusts, we analyse how they have moved from having mainly idiosyncratic risk to being heavily exposed to systematic risk.

We find that trusts which were more exposed to the market average had less potential to earn excess returns, but were more likely to survive. We argue that trusts have promoted financial democratisation, allowing small investors to earn high returns on their savings, and have generally been a stabilising influence with many of the original trusts still in existence.

Gareth Campbell is a Senior Lecturer at Queen's University Belfast, where he is the Programme Director of the BSc Finance degree. His research has focused on financial history, particularly on the growth and fluctuations of the equity markets during the Victorian era. He has published in all of the leading journals in this field, including the Journal of Economic History, Economic History Review, and Business History Review.

May 2018

Dr Felix Boecking
Trade, Tariffs, and Nationalism in Republican China, 1927–1945

Listen to the lecture and Q&A audio here

The book is an in-depth study of Nationalist tariff policy in China, fundamentally challenging the widely accepted idea that the key to the Communist seizure of power in China lay in the incompetence of Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government.

Dr Felix Boecking is a senior lecturer in modern Chinese economic and political history at the University of Edinburgh. His research interests include China’s political economy in its historical context, the history of economics in the People’s Republic of China, and the history of China’s foreign relations.

April 2018

Paul Crosthwaite
The Relationship between Literature and Economics

This lecture examines the early twentieth-century culture of popular investment advice in the United States, focusing on its relation to the defining financial event of the era: the Wall Street Crash of 1929.

Manuals, guides, and handbooks for the amateur investor (or speculator) flooded the market in the decade prior to the Crash, and the lecture will consider how authors of such books sought to encourage readers to imagine that they might successfully tap into a widely proclaimed “New Era” of unprecedented buoyancy in stock prices.

Dr Paul Crosthwaite is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of English Literature at the University of Edinburgh. His research focuses on the intersections between literature, culture, and economics in the modern and contemporary periods.

He is a co-investigator on the Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded History of Financial Advice project, in which the Library of Mistakes is a key partner.

March 2018

Dr Paul Kosmetatos
The Failure of Pattison's Whisky

On 3 December 1898, Pattisons’ Whisky, an established family blending business stopped payment just over two years after it had floated a minority of its share capital to the public.

The company’s minority shareholders and the receivers brought in to manage its affairs initially expected this to be a minor liquidity crisis of an otherwise robust business with valuable assets, which included parts of Glenfarclas and Aultmore distilleries, an Edinburgh brewery, and a number of bonded warehouses in prime Leith locations.

The company’s claims of over 50 years of operation as a major wine merchant, and the fact that its auditors had given it a clean bill of health only days before its stoppage supported this initial sense of optimism.

Very soon, however, the receivers found themselves facing a tangled web of false claims about the pedigree and assets of the business, together with substantial (and occasionally clever) accounting fraud that would eventually see the two Pattison brothers convicted in 1901.

February 2018

Hong Kong's Link to the US Dollar

Hong Kong's Link to the US Dollar
John Greenwood


John Greenwood explains the Hong Kong currency crisis of 1983 and his role in establishing the currency board system that solved the problem.

October 2017

Craig Turnbull
A History of British Actuarial Thought

Insurance companies’ investment strategy choices and constraints and the financial, actuarial and regulatory thinking that determine them have, of course, changed greatly over the last 200 years.

But environments somewhat similar to today’s low-for-longer world have been seen before, and some contemporary investment ideas have a historical provenance that is perhaps surprisingly long.

Craig presents some of these observations as he discusses topics from his recent book, A History of British Actuarial Thought, that are of particular interest to investment professionals.

Craig is an Investment Director at Aberdeen Standard Investments where he works in the Insurance Solutions unit, which advises global insurance companies on their investment strategy and its implementation.

September 2017

Donald MacKenzie
A Material Political Economy: The High-Frequency Trading of US Shares

Ultrafast, automated ‘high-frequency trading’ or HFT now makes up around half of all US share trading. Drawing upon interviews with 54 high-frequency traders, MacKenzie examined the elaborate ‘dances’ of trading algorithms and the ‘signals’ (patterns of data) that shape those dances.

MacKenzie revealed the feature of the US political system that underpins ‘futures lead’, and examined how a mundane material phenomenon, rain, influences algorithms’ dances.

Donald MacKenzie is a professor of sociology at the University of Edinburgh. His books include An Engine, Not a Camera: How Financial Models Shape Markets (MIT Press, 2006) and the co-authored Chains of Finance: How Investment Management is Shaped (Oxford University Press, 2017). He writes regularly about financial markets in the London Review of Books.

June 2017

Dr Peter Knight
Reading the Market: Genres of Financial Capitalism in Gilded Age America.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, only one percent of Americans were invested in the stock market. Yet in the Gilded Age there was an explosion of popular fascination about the market, with a welter of novels, short stories and magazine articles fuelling the emergence of a daily culture of market watching.

In short, Americans become emotionally invested in the stock market long before they came to hold actual investments. This talk explores how imaginative engagement with the market was enabled by new forms of financial information such as the financial pages of the newspapers and popular financial advice manuals.

Peter Knight is a professor of American Studies at the University of Manchester. He researches conspiracy theories and cultural dimensions of finance, and is the author of Conspiracy Culture (2000), The Kennedy Assassination (2007), and Reading the Market: Genres of Financial Capitalism in Gilded Age America (2016).

May 2017

Tom Ward
The Collapse of the City of Glasgow Bank

The collapse of the City of Glasgow Bank in 1878 was one of the most severe tests ever of the British banking system - and arguably, was passed remarkably well with the miscreants punished, lessons learned, and the system strengthened.

Yet today, it is hardly known. This is a terrible arrogance on our part - had we responded to the financial crisis of 2008 with the same skill and expedition, we'd be in much better shape today.

Following a long and successful career at Scottish and Newcastle plc Thomas Ward wrote a dissertation on the collapse for his master's degree in intellectual history at the University of Edinburgh. He now works as an independent company director in both business and charities and teaches on postgraduate programmes.

March 2017

Dr Michael John Oliver
British Monetary Policy in the 1960s: A Reassessment

Until the advent of floating exchange rates in the early-1970s, British macroeconomic policy after 1945 has generally been characterised by economic historians as operating within a fixed exchange rate regime.

Because the authorities were muddled about their aims and confused about how to achieve them, they stored up problems which became particularly acute during the 1970s. What lessons can we learn from these mistakes as monetary policy evolves post the GFC?

Dr. Michael J. Oliver is a Senior Lecturer in Finance at the Open University and a co-founder of Global Partnership Family Offices. He is a member of the advisory board of the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum.

Since 2008, he has been a finance and economic adviser to the Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel in Jersey. He has published extensively on issues of finance; macroeconomic policy; exchange rate regimes and monetary history.

February 2017

Douglas Watt
John Law and the Mississippi Bubble

Law was a financial innovator, monetary theorist, gambler and art collector, as well as being described as ‘one of the greatest promoters of despotism ever seen in Europe.’

The son of an Edinburgh goldsmith, he became Comptroller General of France in 1720. But the bursting of the Mississippi Bubble, which Law’s ‘System’ had inflated, ended his political career.

Douglas Watt is a writer and historian with a particular interest in financial bubbles. He is the author of The Price of Scotland, a financial study of Scotland’s ill-fated Darien Venture.

November 2016

Richard Roberts
When Britain Went Bust

Britain’s 1976 IMF crisis marked the nadir of the country’s post-war relative economic decline.

Dramatic elements included a plunging pound and a ‘gilts strike’; the Chancellor’s turnaround at Heathrow and his confrontation with Labour’s left-wing; the arrival in London of a shadowy IMF mission and a personal intervention by the Managing Director; well-leaked cabinet divisions and resistance to Fund conditionality.

As a key turning point in economic policy, there are intriguing resonances for post Brexit-shock Britain.

Richard is Professor of Contemporary Financial History at King's College London. He is the author of Saving The City; The Great Financial Crisis of 1914 and The Lion Wakes: A Modern History of HSBC amongst many others. As we approach the season of good cheer Richard will lecture on his new book When Britain Went Bust: The 1976 IMF Crisis.

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