Research Handbook on the History of Corporate and Company Law
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Research Handbook on the History of Corporate and Company Law

Edited by Harwell Wells

Understanding the corporation means understanding its legal framework, but until recently the origins and evolution of corporate law have received relatively little attention. The topical chapters featured in this Research Handbook, contributed by leading scholars from around the world, examine the historical development of corporation and business organization law in the Americas, Europe, and Asia from the ancient world to modern times, providing an invaluable resource for both further historical research and scholars seeking the origins of present-day issues.
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Chapter 7: German company law 1794–1897

Timothy W. Guinnane


Chapter 7 provides an account of German company law, 1794–1897, showing both the slow adoption of German law to the corporation—a process similar to that in other countries—and, more unusually, the development of other business forms as well. To speak of ‘German’ law is something of a misnomer for much of the century, as the German Empire only came into existence in 1871, and before then (and sometimes after it) company law could vary significantly from state to state. Much of corporate law’s development in this era turned on whether would-be incorporators had to seek specific permission from the state to incorporate, and the law developed from a system in which the state granted a firm a specific charter and accompanying privileges (Oktroi), to a concession system in which the state issued charters in a more standardized, regularized process, as adopted in Prussia’s 1843 Corporations Act, to a liberalized, general incorporation system in which any group of entrepreneurs could have access to incorporation (1870 Corporations Act). This chapter also provides an account of business forms other than the corporation, notably the Cooperative, which played an unusually important role in the German economy, and the GmbH, a hybrid business form established near the end of the nineteenth century that would become widespread in the twentieth.

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