The Bank of England has just posted weekly historical data of its balance sheet from 1844-2006. The Bank Act of 1844 required the Bank to post a weekly statement, known as the Bank Return. The requirement began a new era in financial transparency — one that is still not yet fully achieved in many countries. The Bank Act had an influence on many subsequent central banks, within and outside of the British Empire. Many of them were organized in imitation of it and likewise required to issue a weekly financial statement.
The Bank Return is also important in itself. The Bank of England was in the 19th century and in the early 20th century the world’s most important financial institution because of the pound sterling’s role as the world’s reserve currency. Even after the pound ceded that role to the dollar, London remained the world’s biggest financial center. The high-frequency information that weekly data provide are especially useful for analyzing periods of financial panic. (There are also less complete daily data, not yet digitized, that offer even more detail.)
The data were digitized by Huaxiang Huang and Ryland Thomas. Thomas, who kindly informed me of the availability of the Bank Return, is also involved in a project to make other key long-term British historical data readily available: “Three centuries of macroeconomic data,” a revision to which is forthcoming.
Historical Financial Statistics has incorporated some of the data from “Three centuries of macroeconomic data.” Sometime in the summer, Historical Financial Statistics will release a series of spreadsheets showing weekly, monthly, or annual data for a number of central banks, in their original format (copyright permitting) and in a standardized format to permit cross-country comparisons. Among the data that will be included are weekly statements of the Bank of England, Bank of France, Reichsbank (pre-World War II German central bank), Indian Paper Currency Department and the Reserve Bank of India, and Federal Reserve System. Data on a number of other monetary authorities, including the Bank of Japan, Norges Bank, and possibly the State Bank of Russia, will be available at monthly frequency.