Harry Marks was one of the foremost financial journalists of the late nineteenth century. He was also a man of few scruples, and his salacious love affair with Annie Koppel would be the center of a much talked about trial after he attempted to sue a rival for accusing him of fraud. This three-part series (read part 1, part 2) tells the story of the affair between Harry Marks and Annie Koppel and how it would lead to his losing the case at the center of which sat a simple question: was Harry trustworthy?
Annie Koppel crossed the Atlantic to accuse Harry Marks of, well, faking it. At question in the courtroom was an issue central not only to nineteenth century love but nineteenth century money: who in an urbanized, globalized world, could be trusted, and why? More precisely, Harry was suing for libel a man who had questioned publicly his trustworthiness as a financial journalist and expert.
Since New York, Annie and Harry’s lives had followed very different trajectories. Annie had been forced to move back in with her parents. One of her children has passed. She took a job and became self-sufficient.
In 1884, meanwhile, Harry had established the Financial News. The paper floated on the stock market and had become itself a must-read for investors. Financial reporting boomed in the latter nineteenth century, and Harry was very much in the lead. He had editorial swagger in an age of swagger. He was an elected member of the London County Council. A Vanity Fair portrait from 1889 showed him well-dressed, cigar in hand, stock-ticker tapes collecting in a basket beside him.
Harry had become a public man. His reputation and that of his paper were centered upon their ability to provide insight, expertise and objectivity. Trust was a great resource in nineteenth century markets, fakery and deception a plague. Not unlike burgeoning cities for lovers, markets were full of new, exciting, promising, and unfamiliar opportunities for investors to peruse. Harry made a living supplying that trust, and he was in court to sue a man who had impugned it.
Only, much like Oscar Wilde who would proclaim “I am the prosecutor” in his own libel suite five years later, Annie had traveled to London to put him on the defensive. The tumultuous affair, it turns out, was one of the bedroom and the boardroom. Their meeting, the wine, the illicit nights, the violent split, and the wildly different version of events, with all that Harry and Annie had provided ample fodder for yellow books and gossip pages; but much more was at stake.
The reunion of Harry and Annie was not about Victorian prudishness, after all, but Victorian money. Annie testified not only to Harry’s character as a gentleman, but also to his character as a man of money, and implicitly to his trustworthiness as expert editor of the Financial News.
First, she recalled, he had taken over the Jewish Times, promising increased revenue. Soon the newspaper was gone, sold, and Marks took instead checks Koppel received from her late husband’s insurance societies. Harry began selling jewelry and other household goods, Annie testified, forcing her to sign the receipts over to him. He was, by her account, captivating, amorous, duplicitous and greedy, a man after means by any means. “My statement,” she said, “is that Marks possessed himself of all my husband left, and never gave me a halfpenny except 10 dollars.”
Could Harry be trusted? He was in court to answer just that question, and then Annie showed up. “I became very much attached to him,” Koppel remembered, “I would have signed anything he asked me.” “I had no want of confidence in him then,” she offered, and then proceeded to lay out the price of that confidence, a price measured not only in pain and lost love, but in watches, insurance checks, bills, and cash money. The trial stretched on and, as Annie gave up the witness stand to Harry’s business partners accusations of receipt swindling in the late 1870s, and stock manipulation in the late 1880s.
Like Wilde, Harry lost the case he himself had brought. “Go and persuade Harry Marks that moral considerations are primary,” remarked a G.K Chesterton character. Nonetheless, in the end, Annie was not an underdog versus Harry, rather versus mammon. The Financial News, if tainted by Harry’s association, offered the promise of wealth in an age enraptured with wealth seeking. But some mud had stuck and Annie had her say: so far as it came to confidence in Harry, you do not want what she had.
Ian Klaus (@vctorianswagger) is a member of the Policy Planning Staff of the U.S. State Department and was previously Ernest May Fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. His latest book is Forging Capitalism: Rogues, Swindlers, Frauds, and the Rise of Modern Finance.