Beyond the personal-anonymous divide: Agency relations in powers of attorney in France, 18th–19th centuries
Proxy form, Power of attorney, Trust, Agency relations
Powers of attorney are often interpreted as evidence of trust among the parties involved, and as such, of the existence of personal links between principals and their proxies. We build a novel dataset of notarized powers of attorney capturing a wide variety of agency relationships in four large French commercial cities in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to test hypotheses on the relational basis of economic relationships. We find little support for the idea of an evolution from personal to anonymous relationships during our period. Rather, our results point to the complementarity of embeddedness and formality, and suggest an increase over time in the importance of relationships based on repeated interactions, and a broad homophily driving merchants to choose fellow merchants as proxies.