Friday, August 24, 2012

Cotton "Factors": Heard Brothers

Cotton Exchange, New Orleans, 1873, by Edgar Degas

Cotton Factors, or businessmen that bought and sold cotton and acted as middlemen for cotton growers, were a mainstay of the southern cotton economy.  Some of the gentlemen in the Degas painting above were no doubt cotton factors.

RN X7 imprinted check drawn on the account of Heard Brothers

Bob Hohertz scan

The Heard Brothers, cotton factors, bought and sold cotton and manufactured and sold fertilizer, but as Harold Woodman writes, the cotton factor did more than just act a middleman for cotton: 

From King Cotton and His Retainers: Financing and Marketing of the Cotton Crop of the South by Harold D. Woodman:

"Although the factor served as the planter's banker, factorage houses were not banks in the real meaning of the word; that is, unlike commercial banks, factors did not have the power to create money either through note issue or deposit loans.  They did, as has been shown, often open a line of credit to a customer, allowing him to draw on them as funds were required.  In doing so, however, they merely loaned money on hand (their own funds or those being held for a planter) or they borrowed from other sources.  In the former case they could be compared to modern savings and loan associations or credit unions; in the latter case, they acted much as do present day finance companies.  The factor, then, was the planter's banker only in a very general sense: he handled his funds, arranged his credit, and paid his bills.