The Complete English Tradesman Part 31

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But in bills of exchange or promissory notes, it is quite another thing; and he that values his reputation in trade should never let a bill come twice for payment, or a note under his hand stay a day after it is due, that is to say, after the three days _of grace,_ as it is called. Those three days, indeed, are granted to all bills of exchange, not by law, but by the custom of trade: it is hard to tell how this custom prevailed, or when it began, but it is one of those many instances which may be given, where custom of trade is equal to an established law; and it is so much a law now in itself, that no bill is protested now, till those three days are expired; nor is a bill of exchange esteemed due till the third day; no man offers to demand it, nor will any goldsmith, or even the bank itself, pay a foreign bill sooner. But that by the way.

Bills of exchange being thus sacred in trade, and inland bills being (by the late law for protesting them, and giving interest and damage upon them) made, as near as can be, equally sacred, nothing can be of more moment to a tradesman than to pay them always punctually and honourably.

Let no critic cavil at the word _honourably_, as it relates to trade: punctual payment is the honour of trade, and there is a word always used among merchants which justifies my using it in this place; and that is, when a merchant draws a bill from abroad upon his friend at London, his correspondent in London answering his letter, and approving his drawing upon him, adds, that he shall be sure to _honour_ his bill when it appears; that is to say, to accept it.

Likewise, when the drawer gives advice of his having drawn such a bill upon him, he gives an account of the sum drawn, the name of the person it is payable to, the time it is drawn at, that is, the time given for payment, and he adds thus--'I doubt not your giving my bill due honour;' that is, of accepting it, and paying it when it is due.

This term is also used in another case in foreign trade only, namely--a merchant abroad (say it be at Lisbon, or Bourdeaux) draws a bill of 300 sterling upon his correspondent at London: the correspondent happens to be dead, or is broke, or by some other accident the bill is not accepted; another merchant on the Exchange hearing of it, and knowing, and perhaps corresponding with, the merchant abroad who drew the bill, and loth his credit should suffer by the bill going back protested, accepts it, and pays it for him. This is called accepting it for the honour of the drawer; and he writes so upon the bill when he accepts it, which entitles him to re-draw the same with interest upon the drawer in Lisbon or Bourdeaux, as above.

This is, indeed, a case peculiar to foreign commerce, and is not often practised in home trade, and among shopkeepers, though sometimes I have known it practised here too: but I name it on two accounts, first--to legitimate the word honourable, which I had used, and which has its due propriety in matters of trade, though not in the same acceptation as it generally receives in common affairs; and, secondly, to let the tradesman see how deeply the honour, that is, the credit of trade, is concerned in the punctual payment of bills of exchange, and the like of promissory notes; for in point of credit there is no difference, though in matter of form there is.

There are a great many variations in the drawing bills from foreign countries, according as the customs and usages of merchants direct, and according as the coins and rates of exchange differ, and according as the same terms are differently understood in several places; as the word _usance_, and _two usance,_ which is a term for the number of days given for payment, after the date of the bill; and though this is a thing particularly relating to merchants, and to foreign commerce, yet as the nature of bills of exchange is pretty general, and that sometimes an inland tradesman, especially in seaport towns, may be obliged to take foreign accepted bills in payment for their goods; or if they have money to spare (as sometimes it is an inland tradesman's good luck to have), may be asked to discount such bills--I say, on this account, and that they may know the value of a foreign bill when they see it, and how far it has to run, before it has to be demanded, I think it not foreign to the case before me, to give them the following account:--

1. As to the times of payment of foreign bills of exchange, and the terms of art ordinarily used by merchants in drawing, and expressed in the said bills: the times of payment are, as above, either--

(1.) At sight; which is to be understood, not the day it is presented, but three days (called days of grace) after the bill is accepted: (2.) usance: (3.) two usance.[47]

Usance between London and all the towns in the States Generals'

dominions, and also in the provinces now called the Austrian Netherlands [Belgium], is one month. And two usance is two months; reckoning not from the acceptance of the bill, but from the date of it. Usance between London and Hamburgh is two months, Venice is three months; and double usance, or two usance, is double that time. Usance payable at Florence or Leghorn, is two months; but from thence payable at London, usance is three months. Usance from London to Rouen or Paris, is one month; but they generally draw at a certain number of days, usually twenty-one days' sight. Usance from London to Seville, is two months; as likewise between London and Lisbon, and Oporto, to or from. Usance from Genoa to Rome is payable at Rome ten days after sight. Usance between Antwerp and Genoa, Naples or Messina, is two months, whether to or from. Usance from Antwerp or Amsterdam, payable at Venice, is two months, payable in bank.

There are abundance of niceties in the accepting and paying of bills of exchange, especially foreign bills, which I think needless to enter upon here; but this I think I should not omit, namely--

That if a man pays a bill of exchange before it is due, though he had accepted it, if the man to whom it was payable proves a bankrupt after he has received the money, and yet before the bill becomes due, the person who voluntarily paid the money before it was due, shall be liable to pay it again to the remitter; for as the remitter delivered his money to the drawer, in order to have it paid again to such person as he should order, it is, and ought to be, in his power to divert the payment by altering the bill, and make it payable to any other person whom he thinks fit, during all the time between the acceptance and the day of payment.

This has been controverted, I know, in some cases, but I have always found, that by the most experienced merchants, and especially in places of the greatest business abroad, it was always given in favour of the remitter, namely, that the right of guiding the payment is in him, all the time the bill is running; and no bill can or ought to be paid before it is due, without the declared assent of the remitter, signified under his hand, and attested by a public notary. There are, I say, abundance of niceties in the matter of foreign exchanges, and in the manner of drawing, accepting, and protesting bills; but as I am now speaking with, and have confined my discourse in this work to, the inland tradesmen of England, I think it would be as unprofitable to them to meddle with this, as it would be difficult to them to understand it.[48]

I return, therefore, to the subject in hand, as well as to the people to whom I have all along directed my discourse.

Though the inland tradesmen do not, and need not, acquaint themselves with the manner of foreign exchanges, yet there is a great deal of business done by exchange among ourselves, and at home, and in which our inland trade is chiefly concerned; and as this is the reason why I speak so much, and repeat it so often to the tradesman for whose instruction I am writing, that he should maintain the credit of his bills, so it may not be amiss to give the tradesman some directions concerning such bills.

He is to consider, that, in general, bills pass through a number of hands, by indorsation from one to another, and that if the bill comes to be protested afterwards and returned, it goes back again through all those hands with this mark of the tradesman's disgrace upon it, namely, that it has been accepted, but that the man who accepted it is not able to pay it, than which nothing can expose the tradesman more.

He is to consider that the grand characteristic of a tradesman, and by which his credit is rated, is this of paying his bills well or ill. If any man goes to the neighbours or dealers of a tradesman to inquire of his credit, or his fame in business, which is often done upon almost every extraordinary occasion, the first question is, 'How does he pay his bills?' As when we go to a master or mistress to inquire the character of a maid-servant, one of the first questions generally is of her probity, 'Is she honest?' so here, if you would be able to judge of the man, your first question is, 'What for a paymaster is he? How does he pay his bills?'--strongly intimating, and, indeed, very reasonably, that if he has any credit, or any regard to his credit, he will be sure to pay his bills well; and if he does not pay his bills well, he cannot be sound at bottom, because he would never suffer a slur there, if it were possible for him to avoid it. On the other hand, if a tradesman pays his bills punctually, let whatever other slur be upon his reputation, his credit will hold good. I knew a man in the city, who upon all occasions of business issued promissory notes, or notes under his hand, at such or such time, and it was for an immense sum of money that he gave out such notes; so that they became frequent in trade, and at length people began to carry them about to discount, which lessened the gentleman so much, though he was really a man of substance, that his bills went at last at twenty per cent, discount or more; and yet this man maintained his credit by this, that though he would always take as much time as he could get in these notes, yet when they came due they were always punctually paid to a day; no man came twice for his money.

This was a trying case, for though upon the multitude of his notes that were out, and by reason of the large discount given upon them, his credit at first suffered exceedingly, and men began to talk very dubiously of him, yet upon the punctual discharge of them when due, it began presently to be taken notice of, and said openly how well he paid his notes; upon which presently the rate of his discount fell, and in a short time all his notes were at _par_; so that punctual payment, in spite of rumour, and of a rumour not so ill grounded as rumours generally are, prevailed and established the credit of the person, who was indeed rich at bottom, but might have found it hard enough to have stood it, if, as his bills had a high discount upon them, they had been ill paid too. All which confirms what I have hitherto alleged, namely, of how much concern it is for a tradesman to pay his bills and promissory notes very punctually.

I might argue here how much it is his interest to do so, and how it enables him to coin as many bills as he pleases--in short, a man whose notes are currently paid, and the credit of whose bills is established by their being punctually paid, has an infinite advantage in trade; he is a bank to himself; he can buy what bargains he pleases; no advantage in business offers but he can grasp at it, for his notes are current as another man's cash; if he buys at time in the country, he has nothing to do but to order them to draw for the money when it is due, and he gains all the time given in the bills into the bargain.

If he knows what he buys, and how to put it off, he buys a thousand pounds' worth of goods at once, sells them for less time than he buys at, and pays them with their own money. I might swell this discourse to a volume by itself, to set out the particular profit that such a man may make of his credit, and how he can raise what sums he will, by buying goods, and by ordering the people whom he is to pay in the country, to draw bills on him. Nor is it any loss to those he buys of, for as all the remitters of money know his bills, and they are currently paid, they never scruple delivering their money upon his bills, so that the countryman or manufacturer is effectually supplied, and the time given in the bill is the property of the current dealer on whom they are drawn.

But, then, let me add a caution here for the best of tradesmen not to neglect--namely, as the tradesman should take care to pay his bills and notes currently, so, that he may do it, he must be careful what notes he issues out, and how he suffers others to draw on him. He that is careful of his reputation in business, will also be cautious not to let any man he deals with over draw him, or draw upon him before the money drawn for his due. And as to notes promissory, or under his hand, he is careful not to give out such notes but on good occasions, and where he has the effects in his hand to answer them; this keeps his cash whole, and preserves his ability of performing and punctually paying when the notes become due; and the want of this caution has ruined the reputation of a tradesman many times, when he might otherwise have preserved himself in as good credit and condition as other men.

All these cautions are made thus needful on account of that one useful maxim, that the tradesman's _all_ depends upon his punctual complying with the payment of his bills.


[46] [By factors, Defoe seems to mean the class of persons whom we now name commission-agents.]

[47] [All bills and promissory notes, inland or foreign, payable in this country, are allowed three days of grace beyond the actual period expressed upon them; thus, a bill drawn at thirty days after date, is payable only on the thirty-third day. If bills be not presented for payment on the last day of grace, they cannot be protested, and consitute only an evidence of the debt for legal recovery. If the last day of grace be a Sunday, the bill is presentible on the Saturday previous.]

[48] [In consequence of the great extension of commerce since the time of Defoe, a short explanation of the principle and practice of drawing foreign bills of exchange now seems necessary. Foreign bills of exchange are used, in order to avoid the necessity of transmitting actual money from one country to another. A merchant, for instance, in Nova Scotia, is owing 100 to a manufacturer in Glasgow: he seeks out some one who is a creditor to that amount to some person in Britain; we shall say he finds a captain in the army who wishes to draw 100 from his agent in London. To this captain the Nova Scotia merchant pays 100, and gets his order or bill on the London agent, which bill he sends to the manufacturer in Glasgow, and the manufacturer transmits the bill to London for payment; any banker, indeed, will give him the money for it, deducting a small commission. Thus two debts are liquidated, without the transmission of a farthing in money. The demand for bills in foreign countries to send to Great Britain, has the effect of raising them to a premium, which is called the rate of exchange, and is a burden which falls on the purchaser of the bill. Foreign bills of exchange drawn on parties in Great Britain, have expressed upon them the number of days after sight at which they are to be payable. Thus, a merchant on receiving a foreign bill drawn at 'thirty days after sight,' hastens to get it 'sighted,' or shown to the party on whom it is drawn, and that party accepts it, at the same time marking the date of doing so. The bill is then complete and negociable, and is presented for payment to the acceptor at the end of the time specified, allowing the usual three days of grace. Should the bill not be accepted on being 'sighted,' it is a dishonoured bill, and is returned with a legal protest to the foreign correspondent. To avert, as far as possible, the loss of foreign bills by shipwreck, a set of three bills is drawn for each transaction, called first, second, and third, of the same tenor. For example: 'Thirty days after sight pay this my first bill of exchange, for the sum of 100 sterling; second and third of the same tenor being unpaid.' This first bill is first sent, and by next conveyance the second is sent. Should the first arrive safely, the second, on making its appearance, is destroyed. The third is retained by the foreign correspondent till he hear whether the former two have arrived at their destination, and is sent only if they have been lost. On receiving whichever comes first, it is the duty of the receiver to communicate intelligence of the fact to the sender.]

The Complete English Tradesman Part 31

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