An internet search for Societe Generale Anglaise et Francaise reveals nothing except these bonds being offered for sale by 21st century online auction houses. So was this a genuine investment company or are these bonds elaborate fakes, created to attract collectors of banknotes and other financial instruments?
According to the wording on the bonds - all in French at a time when English had long become the principal language of banking and commerce in the island - the Societe had been incorporated in the Royal Court in 1885.
This was a time when a sequence of failures of island-based banks had almost brought the Jersey economy to a standstill, and led to the collapse of several major, long-established local companies.
If these bonds are genuine, then this was no small operation. £1 at the end of the 19th century was equivalent to about £100 in 2023.
- With an authorised share capital of 25 million French francs, equivalent to £1 million, the company had a notional value of £100 million
- The bonds had a face value of 600 francs - £24, or £2,400 at 2023 prices
- The guaranteed return, net of any taxes, was 25 francs (£1) a year - approximately 4.2%, which was just below the bank base rate of 4.5% in 1907
On the face of it, this was a well-funded operation offering a competitive interest rate free of tax. That element would have been fairly academic as far as Jersey-resident investors were concerned, because there was no tax on income at this time - it would not be introduced until 1928.
But was it a genuine 19th century investment offer or a 21st century scam?