National Geographic : 1961 Jun
on the floor, he became number 1,400, and up went the cry. "Recently we let a photographer on the floor, and 500 men began following him about. I think he wore a sports shirt. On the other hand, they were delighted with another visitor, Sir Donald Bradman, a famous Aus tralian cricket player. Members set up acrick et pitch on the floor, with wadded paper for a ball and a newspaper for a bat. "But you might even pass as a member," the official added graciously. "You'll get by." Thus cheered, I ventured on the floor with Richard Wheeler, general superintendent. "In case of emergency," I confided to Mr. Wheeler, "I will retreat to 'Americans.' " Members of the Exchange adhere strictly to the customary garb of City men: dark suits, sober ties, and black shoes, sometimes re ferred to as "the uniform." I soon realized that I was the only man on the floor with brown shoes. Despite my breach of the uni form, I attracted few stares and no outcries. As we strolled around, Mr. Wheeler told me the Exchange has 3,500 members who deal in some 10,000 securities. The Exchange itself safeguards the public interest by polic ing new stock issues. Another day I revisited the floor with a partner in a firm of jobbers. Business proved brisk-so brisk that a broker, mistaking me for a jobber, asked prices in an insurance stock. (I was wearing black shoes.) Lord Ritchie of Dundee, Chairman of the Exchange, told me that disputes among mem bers rarely involve a violation of the "My Word Is My Bond" code. "I can't recall a dispute of that kind in the 14 years I have been on the Council of the Exchange," he said. "Those that we do get are technical. Few disputes reach the Council. Most are settled by the parties themselves." Lloyd's Started in a Coffeehouse Like members of the Stock Exchange, Lloyd's of London underwriters gathered in the coffeehouses of 17th-century London to conduct their business. Eventually the under writers settled in a favorite coffeehouse, that of Edward Lloyd, whose name became in delibly associated with insurance ventures. Today Lloyd's counts some 5,000 under writing members. They comprise a society of associates, not a company (page 753). Like jobbers, they do not deal directly with the public. More than 200 authorized brokerage firms bring them insurance proposals from just about every corner of the globe. 760 Lloyd's has a reputation for accepting risks considered too chancy by others. For ex ample, it issued NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC a policy insuring good photographic weather during a helicopter flight above the Thames. An underwriter, in figuring the premium, gave us odds of about 6 to 1 that the light would be good enough for picture taking. Anyone familiar with the vagaries of London weather will appreciate the risk. But the sun, as if by order, slid from behind clouds when ever photographer Bill Vaughn needed it. 1,400 Underwriters Work in One Room Other Lloyd's risks verge on the bizarre. An American model, appropriately called "Treasure Chest," once insured her more than-ample bosom. A policy protects the famed beard of Commander Whitehead, an advertising personality. Lloyd's insured the late publisher, Bernarr MacFadden, when he parachuted successfully from an airplane at the age of 83. Such policies, of course, comprise only a minute fraction of the day-to-day business. Lloyd's has long been pre-eminent in marine insurance, and it is famed throughout the world for its fire, compensation, public lia bility, automotive, and aircraft policies. In 1957 the society moved into a handsome new building on Lime Street. Its heart is "the Room," a huge, black-and-white marble hall where brokers scurry to and fro between desks seating more than 1,400 underwriters. Seeking a policy, a broker writes details on a slip. He then bargains with various under writers for the best possible terms. Anyone accepting part of the risk traditionally says, "I'll have a go at it," and scrawls the amount of his liability and his initials on the slip. Later a policy is issued, often bearing the names of hundreds of underwriters. That famous old talisman, the Lutine Bell, dominates the Room from a central place of honor. The bell was salvaged in 1859 from the wreck of H.M.S. Lutine, which sank 60 years earlier off the Netherlands. Tradition says it must be rung once for an announce ment of bad news, twice for good news. The Stock Exchange and Lloyd's are by far the best known of the City's many marts. Others, such as the Rubber, Wool, and Metal Exchanges, seem enigmatic to all but their intimates. Traders bidding at an auction speak a jargon all their own. Usually you look in vain for evidence of what's being sold. The commodities may lie in warehouses miles away or in the holds of ships.