University of Hertfordshire

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Lotteries in the 1690s : investment or gamble?

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)227-246
JournalFinancial History Review
Journal publication date2005
Publication statusPublished - 2005


Between 1693 and 1699 lotteries captivated all section of English society. Dozens of schemes appeared throughout the country offering prizes in the form of consumer goods, property, land, shares and, of course, cash. It may be conservatively estimated that as many as 3.5 million lottery tickets were sold during this period and, with the cost of some tickets as low as one penny, lotteries provided all but the most destitute with the chance to indulge in dreams of wealth. Yet, in spite of the inventive nature of such schemes and their adoption by the state for the purpose of raising public funds, lotteries have frequently been regarded not as part of a diverse and innovative financial market, but merely as a manifestation of the contemporary love of gambling and games of chance. Furthermore, P. G. M. Dickson went so far as to assert that the early modern addiction to gambling was a phenomenon that stood in direct contradiction to the progress that was being made in other areas of public and private finance in England in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Yet, this was not a distinction that would have been made by contemporaries. Risk was ever-present in the early modern period and methods of utilising and controlling it were varied and often involved actions that would today be classified as gambling. During wartime, for example, wagers on the progress of the conflict were frequently used to hedge the risks of overseas trade. Thus, the boundaries between gambling and investment remained indistinct in the late seventeenth century.


Original article can be found at : Copyright Cambridge University Press

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