What is an Open Call Exchange?

What is an Open Call Exchange?

My advance copy of Airy Somethings has arrived! The proof reading is underway and I am up to Chapter 2  titled, “1893 to 1897: Barber in Australia. Travels, Adventures and a Taste for Gold.”

The pavement or curb broker selling shares at an open call exchange in Australia. Illustration from Calvert’s My Fourth Tour in Western Australia. 1901  Digitized by The Library of UCLA
The Square in Cobalt’s commercial district. Horatio Barber’s Cobalt Open Call Mining Exchange, the building just left of centre,  opened in April of 1906. The street scene here is somewhat similar to Hannan’s in Australia, but note the distinct lack of camels. Digitized by the Cobalt Mining Museum.

After I brightened the image of an Open Call at Hannan’s, I recalled the question that set our research project into motion. What is an Open Call Exchange, exactly?

It seems that the folks who attended the opening of Barber’s Cobalt exchange in the spring of 1906 had similar questions. Apparently, those who gathered at the new facility had difficulty understanding the concept of this “Open Call” business. The Province reported that “the rules, explained for the first time by Mr. Barber, the secretary of the exchange, were new to all.”

Barber likely modelled his Canadian exchange on those he knew from his Australian days in Kalgoorlie. These were venues where every man had the opportunity to profit by the sale of mining stock without the high fees of a middle man. The exchanges were conveniently “open” to all, during evenings after working hours, and the commission paid was “infinitesimal.”

In 1897, Albert F. Calvert described a Saturday evening at Hannan’s… “Of all nights in the week at Hannan’s, Saturday is the night. The main street is thronged with people. Every miner from all the camps for ten miles round the town finds his way there to spend a social hour.  …as for the ‘open exchange’ in the middle of the crowded main street on Saturday night, it is an honoured institution. All hail to the ‘exchange,’ the disciple of the mining interest, which is the idol of the town!”

In Cobalt, in 1906, Barber offered a similar opportunity for those who wanted a chance to win big on the stock markets but who didn’t have the wherewithal to access the normal investment channels. All were welcome to join, as long as they could afford the $50 membership fee, that is.

Time for some math: $CAD 50 from 1906 adjusted for inflation is about $CAD 1,500 in today’s values. Sure, transaction fees to make a trade may have been affordable, but I’m not sure that $1,500 can be described as “infinitesimal.”

4 thoughts on “What is an Open Call Exchange?

  1. THat’s ASTONISHING, Maggie, that fee: I can’t see why everyone thronged the place !
    Yeah, camels. They’ve been part of the Aussie working scene for a really long time. Did you know that we now have more thah anywhere else ?!

  2. Cobalt was THE destination once the news of the silver bounty finally registered with the investors. It took a few years for people to catch on, but once they did, they came, literally, from all over the world.

    re: camels – that I did not know! Thanks!

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