Synopses & Reviews
The startling story of an early American dreamer whose wily schemes made him a founding father of our speculation nation.
Rediscover a lost chapter in early American history: the story of financial-pioneer-turned-confidence-man Andrew Dexter, Jr., and the skyscraper for which he amassed and then lost a paper fortune. In the 1790s, printed money and banks themselves were still regarded with tremendous suspicion, as traditional strictures about moneylending slowly made way for modern freewheeling capitalism. A pioneer in the new age of paper, Dexter challenged the notions of his Puritan ancestors by embarking on a wild career in real estate speculation, all financed by the string of banks he commandeered and the millions of dollars they freely printed. Upon this paper pyramid he built the tallest building in the United States the Exchange Coffee House, a seven-story colossus in downtown Boston. But in early 1809, just as the exchange was ready for unveiling, the scheme collapsed. In Boston, the exchange became an opulent but largely vacant building, a symbol of monumental ambition and failure.
Kamensky deftly steers the reader through this history, providing a riveting historical narrative of a second American founding: the birth of speculative capitalism. The book will appeal to fans of Peter Bernstein's Against the Gods, John Gordon's Empire of Wealth, and Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton, as well as Ross King's Brunelleschi's Dome.
"Brandeis history professor Kamensky (The Colonial Mosaic) recounts the story of Andrew Dexter, a chronically overleveraged real estate developer who engineered profound shifts in the economy and skyline of turbulent early America. Dexter built the seven-story Boston Exchange Coffee House, an extraordinarily ambitious project, and helped create a regional exchange system that made banknotes from distant rural locations acceptable in Boston. Unfortunately for his reputation, he is more often remembered as the man responsible for the first bank failure in the United States in 1809. Although he spent the last 30 years of his life on the run from numerous creditors and died in debt, he never stopped juggling visionary projects. Kamensky devotes almost as much attention to the Exchange Coffee House and its impact on contemporary thought as she does to Dexter's biography. She also weaves in an account of Nathan Appleton, born, like Dexter, in 1779, but destined for a longer and much more prosperous and respectable life fighting against Dexter and his ilk. This is a charming popular account of an often-overlooked aspect of American history. B&w photos and illus." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"There is a very evident enthusiasm of discovery in Kamensky's The Exchange Artist that animates her narrative of a high-flying developer and the banks and investors dragged down by his overreaching need for money to build his towering dream." Boston Globe
"Engaging social history by a talented scholar with a distinct gift for narrative." Kirkus Reviews
"[A] fascinating historical narrative of Dexter, his associates, and events surrounding the nations first bank failure." Booklist
"Kamensky's explanation of early banking and the dangers of undercapitalized banks is excellent." Library Journal
The riveting story of the country's first banking scandal in the first decades of the American republic
This enthralling historical narrative of the birth of speculative capitalism in America opens in the 1790s when financial pioneer-turned-confidence-man Andrew Dexter, Jr. created a pyramid scheme founded on real estate speculation and the greed of banks, who freely printed the paper money he needed to finance the then tallest building in the United States-the Exchange Coffee House, a 153-room, seven-story colossus in downtown Boston. The story of Dexter's rise and eventual collapse offered an object lesson to the rising young nation, and presents striking parallels to the subprime mortgage meltdown and looming economic collapse of today.
About the Author
Jane Kamensky teaches history at Brandeis University. She is the author of Governing the Tongue: The Politics of Speech in Early New England and The Colonial Mosaic: American Women, 1600-1760. She is a consultant and on-camera expert for documentaries shown on PBS and The History Channel, and has made appearances on National Public Radio and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. In 2000, she co-founded Common-place (www.common-place.org), an award-winning online journal that she co-edited from 2000 to 2004. She lives in Cambridge with her husband and two children.