Thursday, October 14, 2021

The Berner Alpenbahn Gesellschaft - Bern-Lötschberg-Simplon, new book from author Dr Peter Christen

In 1906 the Berner Alpenbahn-Gesellschaft Bern-Loetschberg-Simplon was founded with the purpose of building the second Swiss railway line through the Alps between the cantons Berne and Valais through the Loetschberg mountain. Today it runs under the name BLS and is the largest private railway in Switzerland.

This year, the scripophily public welcomed Dr. Peter Christen’s new book on the Bern–Lötschberg–Simplon Railway. More than reason enough to have a talk with the author! 

FL Welcome Peter in this virtual studio. We are honoured to have you here. Let’s start from the beginning. How did you become interested in scripophily? 

PC Thank you. My “scripophily career” started at Christmas 1980. I can remember very well. I then was a first-year student at the University of Geneva. At the train station on my way to Christmas visit home I bought a financial newspaper … and out fell a share of the “Builder Investment Group”. It was a special Christmas present from the newspaper to its readers. I immediately fell in love with old shares and bonds.Since that day I am into scripophily.

FL Peter, what is the greatest joy you get from collecting?

PC The most fascinating thing for me is the information gathering. First, I have a share or bond in front of me and I know very little about it. Then, when I start to investigate, I find all this interesting information about its history and all its connections it is leading to.

FL Can you tell us something about yourself regarding your “scripophily career”?

PC As a collector, I am definitely not a good role model: I do not specialize in one field. I collect items that are interesting and do have significant importance in economic history. This scope makes a collection really big. However, one of my main fields is collecting railways and more than 10 years ago I published a comprehensive catalogue for Swiss Railways and have published several articles about Swiss railway companies in different media. 


FL Oh yes, in 2014 you won the Journalistenpreis Historische Wertpapiere und Finanzgeschichte. If I am correct, you are the president of the Swiss Collectors Association SCRIPOPHILA HELVETICA, and you’re also a partner in the auction and trading house for historical securities HIWEPA AG. Now you have published a new book, “Die Berner Alpenbahn-Gesellschaft Bern-Lötschberg-Simplon BLS”. Why did you choose this subject?

PC I actually have hundreds of ideas of interesting things I could write about. There is just not enough time. But this year it is different. The idea for writing this book came up in February. “Thanks” to all these Covid restrictions I was forced to stay at home and could not go to my usual spring trekking holidays in Spain. So I decided spontaneously that I would write a book.

PC Finding a theme is definitely not a problem for me. A couple of years ago I wrote a short article (see here) about the “Finanzgeschichte der BLS Lötschbergbahn – Berner Alpenbahn” for my colleagues at HIWEPA. Together with the famous “Gotthardbahn” the BLS Lötschbergbahn – Berner Alpenbahn” was the second Swiss railway through the alps and has a very interesting history.

PC I took this article as a starting base and, for a couple of weeks, I investigated further into the story of the company, with – what at least I think – super interesting and new information about this railway and all its shares and bonds.

FL Well, you made me curious. Can you tell us briefly what makes this railway so interesting? What surprised you most?

PC The Berner Alpenbahn Bern-Lötschberg-Simplon, today BLS, was and is the second railway through the Swiss Alps and a very important link between Northern Europe and Italy. Its financial history is very interesting. Actually, at the beginning, nobody in Switzerland, except the people of the canton Berne, wanted to finance this project. Berne had to look elsewhere to raise the necessary funds and these were to come from an unexpected source.

PC I personally was surprised to find out that the Berner Alpenbahn and its shares and bonds even have some connections to an assassinated French president and even to the Compagnie Générale Aéropostale and its famous pilot and author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I think nobody knew about this connection until I found it. 

FL Wow, that’s sounds intriguing? Looking at the book cover we can detect a certificate in the background of the front cover. Why did you pick that particular certificate?

PC The background for the front cover is the bond of the Berner Alpenbahn-Gesellschaft issued for building the railway. Between 1906 and 1912, the company raised money with four issues of these decorative bonds.

FL The vignette invites us to have a closer look. Does it represent a real view in Switzerland?

PC Yes, the image in the vignette shows an aerial view of the main section of the railway in the Bernese Oberland. The bond also depicts the two shields of the main cantons along the line, Berne, in the left border, and Valais, on the right. On top of the certificate, you’ll see a winged railway wheel with Mercury and the electric bolts. It represents the BLS as the first electric railway through the Alps.

FL I’m sure our readers will be interested about the book format and content. What about that?

PC The book has 148 pages and many colour images especially with details of the old shares and bonds. The book has three chapters, first, the financial history of the company and, second, the detailed images, description and background of its shares and bonds and, third, the list and images of all issued shares and bonds of the company. You also can buy the book as e-Book. 

FL Where there any special sources that you used for your research? How long did it take you then to write it?

PC I especially researched all reports from the company itself, general history and other reports about the company. Further, I am always astonished how every year the information you can get through the Internet increases. As I already have written a shorter financial history about the company the information gathering did not take too much time. It took me three to four weeks the write the book then.

FL Now, it’s time for what I believe is one of the most difficult questions a collector may answer. If you could add any certificate in the world to your collection, what would it be, and why?

PC I would love to find a share or bond with the signature of James Watt. In the collector market, all important inventions, railways, canals, cars, airplanes, etc, do have shares or certificates but there is nothing on the extremely important invention of the steam engine. So, a share with the signature of James Watt would really be a sensational find. Maybe our collector friends from the UK will make this find ... but I doubt it.

FL Peter, I want to thank you for this interview and wish you a lot of success with the book.

Die Berner Alpenbahn-Gesellschaft Bern-Lötschberg-Simplon BLS Finanzgeschichte und Historische Wertpapiere, by Peter Christen, is published by Books on Demand :
  • ISBN: 978-3-753-40662-6
  • Price: CHF 29.80
The book can be ordered with, email, or at most bookshops and online bookstores. An e-Book version is available as well.


This post was originally written for Scripophily magazine, published by IBSS.

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