Beyond the personal–anonymous divide: agency relations in powers of attorney in France in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
Economic History Review
1229 - 1250 p.
Proxy form, Power of attorney, Trust, Agency relations
Powers of attorney are often interpreted as evidence of trust among the parties involved. 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 a radical shift from personal to anonymous relationships during our period. Our results point to more nuanced transformations. The preference for proxies in the same occupation as the principal somewhat declined, while professional proxies emerged and principals used relational chains, especially involving notaries, to find proxies.