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“Tontine Coffee House, N.Y.C.” by Francis Guy

"Tontine Coffee House, N.Y.C." by Francis Guy - www.joyofmuseums.com - New-York Historical Society

Tontine Coffee House, N.Y.C. by Francis Guy

“Tontine Coffee House, N.Y.C.” by Francis Guy depicts the Coffee House, which dates from 1792, and can be identified by the American flag on its roof. The Tontine Coffee House on the north-west corner of Wall Street and Water Street was built by a group of stockbrokers to serve as a meeting place for trade and correspondence. It was organised as a tontine, a type of investment plan, and funded by the sale of shares. Diagonally opposite on the extreme right is the Merchant’s Coffee House, where the stockbrokers of the Buttonwood Agreement and others did trade before the construction of the Tontine. On the right is Wall Street, leading down to the East River.

The view is towards the east, and the masts of ships at East River piers can be seen. The Tontine was among New York City’s busiest centres for the buying and selling of stocks and other wares, for business dealings and discussion, and political transactions. Individuals and groups from all parts of society met there and collectively engaged in the many civil and economic affairs. The Merchants’ Coffee House across the street was used extensively by Federalists in 1787–88.

Trading at the Tontine Coffee House continued until 1817. The growth of the Tontine’s trade led to the creation of the New York Stock and Exchange Board which required a larger venue. This Board is recognised as the precursor to the present-day New York Stock Exchange. The Tontine itself was transformed into a tavern and then a hotel. It survived the Great Fire of 1835 and was demolished 20 years later. The street on the left is Water Street. Today the intersection of Water and Wall Streets is still the heart of New York’s financial district, and New Yorker’s continue to this day to fill coffee houses to conduct business.

Wall Street

Today, Wall Street is an eight-block-long street running from Broadway to South Street and 200 years after this painting is the well known recognised Financial District in New York City. Over the last 200 years, the “Wall Street” term has become the common expression used to describe the financial markets of the United States and the American financial services industry. Wall Street today is home to the world’s two largest stock exchanges, the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ.

The name of the street was most probably derived from a wall or a wooden palisade on the northern boundary of the New Amsterdam settlement, built to protect against Native Americans, pirates, and the British. The growing city eventually constructed fortifications with a solid 12-foot (4 m) wall in this location which later in 1685, surveyors laid out as Wall Street along the lines of this original stockade wall.

In 1789 Wall Street was the location of the United States’ first presidential inauguration with George Washington taking the oath of office on the balcony of Federal Hall. This was also the place of the passing of the Bill Of Rights. Alexander Hamilton, who was the first Treasury secretary is buried in the cemetery of Trinity Church at the end of Wall Street.

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Reflections

  • Can you visualise the beginnings of Wall Street in this painting?
  • What would the coffee have tasted like in 1797?

Tontine Coffee House, N.Y.C

  • Title:        Tontine Coffee House, N.Y.C
  • Artist:      Francis Guy
  • Year:        c. 1797
  • Material: Oil on Linen, lined to fibreglass
  • Museum: New-York Historical Society

Francis Guy

  • Name:  Francis Guy
  • Born:    1760 – London, England
  • Died:    1820 – Brooklyn, New York City

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“Isn’t it astonishing that all these secrets have been preserved for so many years just so we could discover them!”
– Orville Wright

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Photo Credit: JOM