Reflections on Gaming Annuities, and Usurious Contracts.

ERSKINE Thomas (1777)


Please contact us in advance if you would like to view this book at our Curzon Street shop.


Second Edition. 8vo (209 x 130mm). [2], 55, [1] pp. Very lightly spotted in places but otherwise fine, upper margin of the title-page very slightly cropped, marked-up and annotated throughout by Francis Maseres [see below]. Modern calf-backed marbled boards, red leather spine label.


London: for T. Davies...J. Bew...and T. Walter, 

ESTC records copies of this edition at Harvard School of Business, Newberry, Rutgers, Illinois and University of Kansas. First published in 1776 (Ohio State and Yale only)


An angry argument for the restriction of high stake gaming, life annuities and high interest loans arguing that it destroys the fabric of society and requires strict Government regulation. Marked-up and critically annotated by the lawyer and governor of Quebec, Francis Maseres, who had himself written on the use of life annuities to support the poor.


The jails are filled with debtors which languish away unheard of, and the gibbets bend with the bodies of assassins; the women turn prostitutes, and if not swept away by the arm of justice, are left to rot by inches in the streets, to poison the sources of the rising generation, and nip population in the bud; while the children that in a few years should be readY to arm in defence of their country, when so many clouds are thickening over her, are left to perish for want of care, or survive only to infect society with their vices" (p.9).


Erskine suggests that a law should be imposed whereby anyone winning a sum over forty pounds in a 24 hour period should be forced to pay into a public fund which would contribute to institutions such as the Chelsea and Greenwich hospitals. 


The author also argues that stricter laws should be imposed regarding usurious contracts arguing that many of these agreements amount to a gamble and should be undertaken with the same caution expected at the gaming table:


"But were a man to lend his money on the same conditions as respondentia to a person going to a gaming-table instead of to India, expressing in the bind that the capital was to be restored together with twenty per cent at the end of eighteenth months if the dice run favourably, this would no longer be a lawful contract, but notorious infamous usury which nobody would have the impudence to produce before a court of justice. For although the risque be ten times greater in lending to the gamester driving to Whites, than to the merchant sailing to the Indies yet the principle of public and mutual advantage being lost on which even common interest is founded and supported the contract instantly changes its nature and rests upon the honor of an individual, instead of the sanction of the laws" (p.24).


Provenance: 1. Francis Maseres (1731-1824), his signature ("F. Maseres."), slightly cropped, in the upper margin of the title-page and with his inked notes (including numerous "N.B") and two annotations in the text. Maseres would have been interested in this work as he had published his own scheme based on annuities in 1772, A proposal for establishing life-annuities in parishes for the benefit of the industrious poor, this was followed in 1783 by a longer consideration of annuities in general, The principles of the doctrine of life-annuities. In the margin of p.44 Maseres reacts negatively to Erskine's likening of life annuities as like, "a highwayman, who having taken a purse at the risque of his neck, should plead it as a just title to preserve it". Maseres notes in the margin "This comparison is very unsatisfactory". The text has also been carefully corrected with numerous selling and editorial marks - these have all the hallmarks of being authorial but are not corrected in any of the subsequent editions of the work and may well be by Maseres himself.


Maseres' signature is cropped on all of the books belonging to him which we have examined suggesting that they were read and annotated in boards and bound at a later date. This is further suggested here as the longer annotation on p.44 has been carefully preserved by the binder by folding the much larger leaf into the book block. 


Loosely inserted is a review of this work from The Monthly Review (1777): "There are few Pamphlets more seasonable or better adapted to the purpose for which it is is designed, than that which is the subject of the present article"..

Stock Code: 246334

close zoom-in zoom-out close zoom