As every British schoolboy knows, famed Lloyd's of London began 260 years ago in Edward Lloyd's coffeehouse, a gathering place of City insurance men. It grew into the world's most potent body of insurance underwriters, still heralds ship disasters by tolling its doleful Lutine Bell,* and through its 2,500 members writes policies on everything from the Queen Elizabeth to Betty Grable's legs.

Not nearly so well known is its 200-year-old sister society, Lloyd's Register of Shipping. It rates the seaworthiness of the vessels that Lloyd's insures, keeps day-to-day tabs on 30,546 ships, and...

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