Crowdfunding has a rather peculiar history. Some point out that it started between the 70s and 80s, but it may have originated much earlier. Precisely in the eighteenth century, nothing more and nothing less than at the hands of the English poet Alexander Pope.

Why crowdfunding would have originated in the 18th century

In past posts we’ve talked about the history of crowdfunding and how it originated. In a general sense it’s usually thought that it was through bands that used this method without knowing it. But there’s evidence that it could have been much further back in the past. Specifically in the eighteenth century. How?

Alexander Pope was an English poet who was born on May 21, 1688. He was one of the most renowned writers of his time and also known for translating Homer’s books. As you can imagine, he evidently required money to carry out his work. Or rather, to produce them en masse.

Alexander Pope History Crowdfunding
A portrait of Alexander Pope and his dog, by Jonathan Richardson. Source: Magnolia Box

Among these works were his translations of the works of Greek poet Homer. With whom he was fascinated since his childhood. One of his works translated by Alexander Pope was The Iliad, something he announced in 1713. However, he had certain problems.

In his youth, before becoming recognized, he began to translate this work. And according to the historical records, he realized that he didn’t have the financial resources necessary to publish the translation on his own. Which led him to carry out a plan to do it.

The financing model of Alexander Pope

It occurred to him that he could turn to people for funds. So he decided to use a “model” of financing that at that time was known as “subscription method”. It was that people could give a small amount of money in exchange for receiving something in return. In this case, a copy of the first volume of The Iliad once it was published.

He did promotion by writing a phrase in a work of his called The Rape of the Lock. Published a year before launching his translation of The Iliad. This phrase read as follows: “This Work [the translation] shall be printed in six Volumes in Quarto, on the finest Paper, and on a letter new Cast on purpose; with Ornaments and initial Letters engraven on Copper.”

The Iliad Homer Crowdfunding
Cover of the translation of The Iliad of Homer by Alexander Pope published between 1715 and 1720. Source: Heritage Auctions

According to an article by Medium, this proved to be an excellent way to attract the attention of the public. Because not only did he promise a copy of the translation, but he would write the name of those who helped him in a special manuscript. It’s known that some 720 people contributed to his work.

Some consider that this was the first project financed with “crowdfunding”. Centuries before this term even began to be used. It should be noted that Pope also used another method of financing. He reached an agreement with the editor Bernard Lintot, in which he raised 210 guineas. Equivalent to £28,700 at present.

Editorial Bernand Lintot Iliad
Volume 4 of the translation of The Iliad of Homer by Alexander Pope, under the Bernard Lintot editorial. Source:

Taking this into account, we can conclude that this could have been the first crowdfunding show. And undoubtedly one where this method of financing proved to be extremely effective. It’s interesting to think that already at that time, it was being used unconsciously.

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