A tontine is a form of annuity by several subscribers, in which the shares of those who die are added to the holdings of the survivors until the last survivor inherits all. This system was devised by and named for a Neapolitan banker, Lorenzo Tonti (1635-1690), who introduced it into France in 1653. Louis XIV initiated a tontine in 1689 that attracted more than 1 million subscriptions. Thirty-seven years later, shortly before her death, the last survivor drew a dividend 2,300 percent larger than her original investment. England floated several tontines. As late as 1871 the Daily News announced a proposal to raise £650,000 to purchase the Alexandra Palace and 100 acres of land through a tontine.
Tontines have not been heard of recently. Perhaps they have become obsolete, especially in the light of modern gambling casinos. But they were exciting vehicles on which several mystery motion pictures were based. It is easy to imagine that when the survivors were reduced to a small number there could be an incentive to hasten the others to the Promised Land.
A bestseller written by Thomas B. Costain titled The Tontine was published in 1955.