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AUSTRALIAN BANK to CALCUTTA BANK with FRENCH CONNECTION, 1899

This 1891 1½d overprint on the 2d Victorian postcard with the red ‘UNIVERSAL P0STAL UNION’ overprint, deletion of the ‘FOR THE UNITED KINGDOM’ and ‘by the long sea route’ came about when Victoria joined the U.P.U.  As a result cards could be sent for 1½d to any member country of the Union, which by then comprised most of the rest of the world.  It is addressed to the Manager, Comptoir National d’escompte de Paris, it is postmarked MELBOURNE/ 50/ MR 1/ 99, there is a transit mark of TUTICORIN/ 16 MA./ 99/ (India) and a reception mark of CALCUTTA/ 20 MA. 99 (Figure 1).

The reverse shows that it was sent by The Bank of Australasia, Melbourne 28th Feb 1899 with a short message “Your two Letters dated 4th inst are to hand with enclosures as specified, and is signed by D. Hunt, Manager (Figure 2).

The addressee was identified as a French bank in India, the word comptoir meaning ‘counting house’ and escompte meaning ‘discount’ or ‘rebate’, thus the National Discount Bank of Paris, or C.N.E.P., as an abbreviation for the French name.  A surprising amount of information was found about this worldwide Bank, including the Leroux poster showing 2 women in traditional dress of Alsace and Lorraine, waving encouragement at those who go to fight on their behalf.  It encourages people to invest in bonds at the Bank (Figure 3).

The first Indian branch of the C.N.E.P. Bank opened in 1860, was located at Dalhousie Square, Calcutta and the organization continues to-day as BNP Banque Paribas.  Its location is in the City centre of Calcutta, rather than in the original French enclave of Chandernagor.  Calcutta was one of the earliest overseas branches of the C.N.E.P., the first of its branches in India. 

BNP Paribas was established in Australia in 1881, first as the Comptoir National d’Escompte de Paris, in order to finance the Europe wool trade.  Until the deregulation of the Australian banking industry in the early 1980's, it was in the fortunate position of being the sole major foreign bank granted a license to operate in Australia.  To-day the Australian arm of the giant BNP Paribas Banking Group has offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.  It is the fourth largest foreign bank in its assets, and the twelfth largest bank in Australia, overall. 

Against the backdrop of a serious economic and financial crisis, itself exacerbated by political turmoil and by the Revolution of 1848, French businesses were no longer able to rely on support from banks for the discounts they had formerly received.  A decree dated March 7, 1848 by the provisional government of the Second Republic created a national discount bank in major manufacturing and trading cities. 

The decree establishing the Comptoir National d'Escompte de la Ville de Paris, or CNEP, was effected on March 8, 1848. CNEP had a share capital of 20 million French francs, one-third of it in cash paid in by the subscribing partners, one-third in bonds issued by the City of Paris, and one-third in Treasury bills issued by the French state.  Antoine Laurent Pagnerre, secretary of the provisional government, became the first Director of the CNEP. 

The signing of the free-trade agreement between France and England in 1860 marked a break with the prevailing protectionism and the Comptoir focused its efforts on a strategy of opening its activities to world markets.  In the late 1860s, the CEP became a pioneer in the field of international commerce when it opened its first foreign office in Shanghai. In operation as of September of the same year, this office acted as intermediary in the collection of war indemnities owed to France by the Chinese government, and equally contributed to the development of direct import of silk and tea from China to France, as well as to the export of manufactured goods from France. 

In the years that followed, additional offices were opened in Reunion Island, Calcutta, Bombay, Hong Kong, and Saigon followed by London, Yokohama, and Alexandria.   By 1853, the financial institution had its head office in the former Hôtel Rougemont, at 14 rue Bergère, and had changed its name to Comptoir d'Escompte de Paris.  It diversified its activities, initially limited to the discounting of commercial paper, by opening interest-bearing deposit accounts, renting safe deposit boxes, issuing bonds with fixed maturity dates, and participating in financial transactions.   A 500 franc C.N.E.P. bearer certificate is shown in (Figure 4).


 
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