“Tontine Coffee House, N.Y.C.” by Francis Guy depicts the Tontine Coffee House, which dates from 1792, and can be identified by the American flag on its roof. 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 Tontine Coffee House situated 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.
The view is towards the east, and the masts of ships at East River wharves 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 for political transactions. Individuals and groups from all social strata 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.
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
- Name: Francis Guy
- Born: 1760 – London, England
- Died: 1820 – Brooklyn, New York City
“Isn’t it astonishing that all these secrets have been preserved for so many years just so we could discover them!”
– Orville Wright
Photo Credit: By Joyofmuseums (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons