Insurance at Piney Woods (1896)

From my collection of antique insurance books; ‘Insurance at Piney Woods’ is one of my favourites. They’re excerpts from a newspaper from the late 1800’s. The author doesn’t hold any punches. The intro:

The Spirit of These Pages
This little book of extracts from "The Piney Woods Clarion’ is issued at the suggestion of a number of readers of them as they have appeared from time to tome in the INSURANCE HERALD. No man understanding the business of insurance from the company’s point of view will probably ever be able to know exactly what the great army of the assured think of it. Some hints of their opinions may come to him occasionally, and ‘The Piney Woods Clarion’ conveys them with naive and business-like innocence. The extracts must be considered the current history of insurance in the town of Piney Woods as it appears week by week in the columns of the local paper, the editor of which is also one of the two resident insurance agents.
A great philosopher of old hath said: “Put though tears into thy bottle - not in thy book” and certainly there are no tears in this; not even a moral nor any instruction unless by the chance of things. One of the most substantial of our contemporary philosophers has said of these sketches that they “are full of genuine humor and a deal of suggested wisdom withal.” That kindly line of sympathetic approval excuses this republication and also makes it eminently the office of grateful appreciation to dedicate this volume to
The Accomplished and Veteran Insurance Journalist
Louisville, July 1, 1896


Widow Trigg’s Life Insurance Money.
Mrs. Ed Trigg, whose husband died only three weeks ago, has put a card in the Piney Woods Bee thanking an old line life insurance company for paying up a policy of $2,000 and claiming that life insurance is the widow’s best friend. Maybe it is, and we reckon that she would rather have the 2,000 plunks than to have Ed back again. Ed had a whisky soak that made mosquitoes drunk when they socked him. Of course the widow is not advertising her $2,000 as a bait for No. 2. Oh, no (!!!). The funny thing to us is that people will pay old line rates for lfe insurance when we can sell them endowment bonds in the Progressive Provident Guild for $30 per year, maturing in four years (guaranteed) at a face value of $1,000. If Ed Trigg had took two of these out instead of his old-line tontine or pontoon policy twelve years ago he would have had his $2,000 in his pocket eight years ago, and might have consumed mint juleps at leisure afterward. He might have died just the same, but his widow wouldn’t be publishing matrimonial advertisements under the disguise of a card of thanks. Keep your eye on old-line companies.


Damn underwriters!

Last month in our capacity as local agent we accepted the agency for Piney Woods of a certain would-be great I-Am British Co. that claimed in its papers to be big enough to carry a good line. To give it a start in good Piney Woods business we wrote a $1,500 slice on Jeff Hooker’s sawmill. About two weeks after a young dude with his face shaved clean and gold frame blinkers on his eyes come around and inspected Jeff’s Mill and ordered us to cancel off. Well, the last fire in Jeff Hooker’s sawmill was more than a year ago, and the rate, $11 per hundred, made it good enough for us, so we never canceled, you bet. We simply wrote the home office that they had better call that dude in with a dog whistle and chain him up, he was spoiling good business for the co. The home office turned out to be as bad as the dude and said cancel, louder and shorter than he did. So we done it and Jeff has got his $165 back and our commission with it. And the company has got its agency back. People here in Piney Woods wants to insure things that are combustible, and we don’t want to represent a company that wants a lead-pipe cinch of the whole premium. Our experience may be limited as compared with centers like Atlanta and Shreveport, but we don’t find people crowding into our office asking for policies on family burying vaults, turn-pikes, sand-banks, rock quarries, horse ponds and such like non-hazardous risks. There ain’t a more liberal-handed citizen of Piney Woods than Jeff Hooker. Ever time he’s burnt out he was insured up to the hilt, showing what he is worth as a liberal patron of the insurance business. A company that can’t write Jeff’s sawmill and that don’t advertise in the Clarion can’t get a place in our agency again.


More! More!

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Lol at this part.

Blockquote Ever time he’s burnt out he was insured up to th ehilt,showing what he is worth as a liberal patron of the insurance business.

Having worked for a carrier that insured some sawmill & forest product risks, I think there may be some correlation between fire frequency and the wholesale price of lumber.


The local board at Sweetwater is suspended. It is a rule of the insurance trust that no local board can be organised unless five companies are represented. Ed Beaseley, when he is sober, has been the only insurance agent at Sweetwater, and he had all five companies. He was president, secretary and the treasurer of the local board, and drew one per cent of his premium receipts for board expenses. Last Friday a frog-legged special agent, wearing knee pants and riding a velocipede, sneeked in on Ed and found him too drunk to do business with. Ed had been to the free-silver barbeque and got his share of coming prosperity in advance. The special agent (representing a company that never paid us a cent for advertising) took up his supplies, tied 'em on his crossbars, climbed up on his baby carriage, humped over and sailed out of town. When Ed come too next morning the local board was busted. He can’t make a rate or allow an expense till he gets another company.

Lots to unpack in that one. Starting with wth is a velocipede.

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What’s the date on that one?

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they’re all from 1896

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Insurance at Piney Woods (1896)
Mr. Clarence Watts’ Accident Policy

Accident Insurance is what every man needs. Everybody in Spruce County knows Mr. Clarance Watts (especially the girls?) the popular calico clerk at the New York Bargain Emporium. This is the largest store in Piney Woods and every dollar is insured in our agency. Mr. Watts told us three weeks ago he was going to break his green colt in May, and we advised him to take out a month’s policy in the United Mutual Accident Association of Hayville, NY, which we represent. Clarence is a business man from the ground up and took it, paying in advance. Well, instead of breaking the colt, the colt pretty near broke him. His arm was sprained, his shoulder dislocated and his left foot crushed by falling in the crotch of a worm fence. Clarence is laying up in his bed drawing his $15 per week and having the girls call to ask after him, and having an elegant time generally. We have forwarded his claim every week, and it is dollars to doughnuts the first week’s installment of indemnity will come along in this week’s mail.

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Stuff like this is why I enjoy collecting these old books. Most of my stuff is low value, but (for me) interesting content.

I’m going to try and get some stuff scanned from another book I’ve got that’s more directly actuarial in nature and gives us an interesting glimpse into real people from 100 years ago.

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Yeah, I bought some of those old books off you years ago. I esp. love the insurance fraud stories.

Now I’m trying to figure out what a worm fence is

oh, well that answers that

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I was intending to divest myself of that particular hobby. It didn’t stick.

Huh. We just call that a cedar rail fence around here.

100 Year Old Actuarial Student Formula Sheet
Recognise any of these?

I have a copy of “Calculus and Probability for Actuarial Students” by Alfred Henry, FIA, published by the Institute of Actuaries 1927. ( Henry, Alfred . FIA. Died: 23 September 1926 (1887-1926).

A student left behind some cheatsheets in the front cover of the book. You should find some of these familiar:

Even though exams were harder back then than they are now, the student did go on to become an actuary.

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It’s humorous that the SOA still uses the same format for exam papers.

More from my insurance archives, Mutual Benefit representative 1936 annual meeting:


These were the first words to be flashed over the wires from the 1936 Mutual Benefit Agents’ conference to agents in the field…

And some pics from the meeting:

I’ll get back to the Piney Woods articles next time I think.

Since this thread is talking about the old days, and I don’t see a more appropriate thread for this topic, I was going to mention that tontines are making a comeback in Canada. Guardian Capital has just launched three new tontine funds.

Are tontines being offered in the US market as well?

I barely even know what a tontine is, I feel like they have a bad reputation for some reason.
I did see years ago a talk by Mosche Milevsky where he talked about using an annuity as an asset class to ensure you didn’t outlive your savings. I guess tontines are in that class.
With higher interest rates on the horizon, perhaps annuities are back on the menu boys.

Memories of Andy.