A 17th-century engraving depicting the Amsterdam Stock Exchange (Amsterdam's old bourse, a.k.a. Beurs van Hendrick de Keyser in Dutch), built by Hendrick de Keyser (c. 1612). The Amsterdam Stock Exchange was the world's first official (formal) stock exchange when it began trading the VOC's freely transferable securities, including bonds and shares of stock.
^ The concept of the bourse (or the exchange) was 'invented' in the medieval Low Countries (most notably in predominantly Dutch-speaking cities like Bruges and Antwerp) before the birth of formal stock exchanges in the 17th century. Until the early 1600s, a bourse was not exactly a stock exchange in its modern sense. With the founding of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in 1602 and the rise of Dutch capital markets in the early 17th century, the 'old' bourse (a place to trade commodities, government and municipal bonds) found a new purpose – a formal exchange that specialize in creating and sustaining secondary markets in the securities (such as bonds and shares of stock) issued by corporations – or a stock exchange as we know it today.
Statistics show that in recent decades, shares have made up an increasingly large proportion of households' financial assets in many countries. In the 1970s, in Sweden, deposit accounts and other very liquid assets with little risk made up almost 60 percent of households' financial wealth, compared to less than 20 percent in the 2000s. The major part of this adjustment is that financial portfolios have gone directly to shares but a good deal now takes the form of various kinds of institutional investment for groups of individuals, e.g., pension funds, mutual funds, hedge funds, insurance investment of premiums, etc.
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Courtyard of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange (Beurs van Hendrick de Keyser) by Emanuel de Witte, 1653. The Amsterdam Stock Exchange is said to have been the first stock exchange to introduce continuous trade in the early 17th century. The process of buying and selling the VOC's shares, on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, became the basis of the world's first official (formal) stock market.