Friday, November 18, 2011


A tontine is an investment scheme for raising capital, devised in the 17th century and relatively widespread in the 18th and 19th. It combines features of a group annuity and a lottery. Each subscriber pays an agreed sum into the fund, and thereafter receives an annuity. As members die, their shares devolve to the other participants, and so the value of each annuity increases. On the death of the last member, the scheme is wound up. In a variant, upon the death of the penultimate member the capital passes to the last survivor.

The scheme is named after Neapolitan banker Lorenzo de Tonti, who is credited with inventing it in France in 1653, although it has been suggested that he merely modified existing Italian investment schemes. Tonti put his proposal to the French royal government, but after consideration it was rejected by the Parlement de Paris. The first true tontine was therefore organised in the city of Kampen in the Netherlands in 1670. The French finally established a state tontine in 1689, when Louis XIV used a tontine to fund military operations when he could not otherwise raise the money. The initial subscribers each put in 300 livres, and, unlike most later schemes, this one was run honestly; the last survivor, the widow, Charlotte Barbier, who died in 1726 at the age of 96, received 73,000 livres in her last payment. The British government first issued tontines in 1693 to fund a war against France, part of the Nine Years' War.

Tontines soon caused problems for their issuing governments, as the organisers tended to underestimate the longevity of the population. At first, tontine holders included men and women of all ages. However, by the mid-18th century, investors were beginning to understand how to play the system, and it became increasingly common to buy tontines for young children, especially for girls around the age of 5 (since girls lived longer than boys, and by which age they were less at risk of infant mortality). This created the possibility of significant returns for the shareholders, but significant losses for the governments. As a result, tontine schemes were eventually abandoned

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