by Lauren Landsburg

When I was a graduate student in international monetary theory, my adviser and others occasionally suggested that I read Walter Bagehot some time. Because I was a graduate student, I doubted that any writer on “institutions” from the 1800s could be worth my time, so of course I didn’t even look the book up. My mistake!

When Walter Bagehot wrote Lombard Street: A Description of the Money Market, in 1873, he did the unthinkable: In language as fresh and clear today as it was over 100 years ago, he respectfully dissected the Bank of England’s foundations, economic incentives, goals, and functions. In the process, he illuminated in a mere few hundred brilliant pages what distinguishes a Central Bank from a commercial bank, both on a daily basis and during crises such as bank panics and recessions. The constitutions of most national Central Banks were reinvented and forever changed as a consequence. The U.S. Federal Reserve, founded in late 1913, and the Central Bank of Central Banks—the International Monetary Fund (IMF)—have ever since been influenced by the enduring independent thought and extraordinary clarity provided by Bagehot in this famous book.

Bagehot’s book was so readable and so remarkable that it was re-issued three times within a year, and was republished in many editions both during his lifetime and afterwards.

Our choice at Econlib, after studying several editions, is to provide the main text the way it was at the end of 1873 (in Bagehot’s third edition, printed within the first year of publication). In doing so, we hope we have caught any errors Bagehot himself may have noticed, while preserving the original language and authoritative care taken in the various quotations.

But: We are also adding some footnotes and a second Appendix provided later (that is, after Bagehot’s death in 1877): specifically, material from the 12th Edition (1906) and from the 14th Edition (1915). We believe that these later additions reflect the historical influence and popularity of this book during a period of time when the incipient Federal Reserve and other international Central Banks were founded and were, during their emergence, greatly influenced by it. The later footnotes are marked according to their editions. We have also included various prefaces, introductions, and Bagehot’s own “Advertisement,” to editions through the 14th, which explain who wrote which of the additions: E. Johnstone, A. W. Wright, and Hartley Withers all contributed.

We have preserved intact all of Bagehot’s original spellings, capitalization, and punctuation from the third edition, with the minor alteration that in a few cases we’ve indented long quotations from other sources for the sake of visual clarity. We’ve also preserved the punctuation and spelling of the additional material from later editions; thus, the observant reader will notice that punctuation differs in style in footnotes from later editions.

Lauren Landsburg

Editor, Library of Economics and Liberty

May, 2001