Stock Exchanges: In the Hole

When the San Francisco Mining Exchange was launched in the gold-rush days a century ago, the city's strait-laced bankers had a name for it and its 40 roughshod members: "Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves." The handle fit. Fortunes were made with dizzying speed, partly because the exchange's secret scouts in the mining camps telegraphed the word−in code−whenever gold or silver was struck.

But today the gold is gone. The San Francisco Exchange lists only 42 securities, many of them with names such as Smuggler Mining Co. Ltd. and Black Bear Industries. Of...

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