Some Baffling Insurance Policies Issued by Lloyd’s of London

Some Baffling Insurance Policies Issued by Lloyd’s of London

Larry Holzwarth - November 13, 2019

The business entity known in America as Lloyd’s of London, and to the rest of the world simply as Lloyd’s, is one of the most famous insurance companies of all time. But in fact, Lloyd’s isn’t an insurance company. Lloyd’s is a semi-mutualized marketplace in which syndicates known as groups share risk as members. The members can be corporations or individuals. Lloyd’s was founded in a London coffeehouse of that name in the late 17th century, primarily to underwrite the risks of ships and cargoes in the relatively new East India trade. Since then it has been linked with the maritime industry and with the issuance of policies for somewhat unusual reasons.

Some Baffling Insurance Policies Issued by Lloyd’s of London
Lloyd’s global headquarters in London, United Kingdom. Wikimedia

It has a long history tied to the shipping industry, but throughout history it has covered the risks in many enterprises, and underwritten the value of many unusual items, protecting their owners against untimely and unfortunate loss. It helped set legal standards as to what constitutes “natural death”, based on its involvement in the slave trade and the loss of slaves while at sea. The company developed a reputation for honoring claims promptly and in full, which it carefully nurtured throughout its long history. Its reputation grew to the point that often tongue-in-cheek risks were covered by the company, some of them seen here, as semi-serious publicity stunts. Here is some of the history of Lloyd’s.

Some Baffling Insurance Policies Issued by Lloyd’s of London
Lloyd’s Coffee House was a site frequented by merchants and mariners. Wikimedia

1. It held an early monopoly insuring slaves and ships involved in the slave trade

Lloyd’s Coffee House was a popular London resort for ship’s captains, merchants, and cargo brokers in the 1690’s and its proprietor, Edward Lloyd, ensured that his clientele was provided with accurate and up-to-date shipping news, with London then being England’s largest port. Over coffee, the newly popular tobacco from Virginia, and the gossip of the city, it became a place to negotiate both voyages to the Indies, Africa, and the Americas, and the means to finance them. Protection for investors was also a popular topic, and in Lloyd’s, groups of speculators banded together to cover the investments of other speculators. Risk and return were shared based on amount covered.

Several of the groups relocated to rooms in the Royal Exchange and began calling themselves “The Society of Lloyd’s”, in 1713. The desire for greater privacy while conducting business was one reason for the move, though the death of Edward Lloyd was likely a greater one. Throughout the 18th and 19th century, Lloyd’s grew in stature and in amount of business, until in 1871 it was established on a legal basis by the Lloyd’s Act in Parliament. By then Lloyd’s set the standard internationally for covering risk in maritime operations, though it had long before branched into other areas, and had a sterling reputation for fair and honest dealing.

Some Baffling Insurance Policies Issued by Lloyd’s of London
London’s gentlemen’s clubs became notorious for gambling, drinking, and other nefarious activities in the 18th century. Wikimedia

2. Lloyd’s degenerated into a gambling club just before the American Revolution

In the mid-18th century, London contained several gentlemen’s clubs which were notorious for the drinking, wenching, and gambling which occurred under their roofs. Besides the routine gambling of the day, on cards, with dice, and in board games and so on, fantastic wagers were made and entered into the club’s books. The number of robberies on a given road on a given day was one such wager. Another was the time of the evening upon which a particularly inebriated member would pass out. Wagers of large sums were often shared by several members, which was essentially the method used by Lloyd’s in its groups.

Large sums of money were made by Lloyd’s members during the Seven Years’ War, but the return of peace lowered insurance rates and shipping costs, and the profits dwindled. Lloyd’s members began to invest in all sorts of interests, not unlike the gentlemen’s clubs such as White’s and Boodle’s. It developed the reputation of being just another gambling house, though it maintained its maritime interests. This led Lloyd’s to later agree to cover risks which seem at some times spurious, and at others simply silly, but it still covers many risks which are both interesting and to some, quite unusual.

Some Baffling Insurance Policies Issued by Lloyd’s of London
Business became more sober and dignified in Napoleonic era London, as the facade of the Carlton House attests. Wikimedia

3. Reinsuring the insurers became Lloyd’s specialty in the 19th century

Lloyd’s reputation went on a rollercoaster ride in the late 18th and early 19th century, due to the public perception of its being a gambling den full of rakes and sinners. By the time of the Napoleonic Wars it had restored its reputation as a sober house of business, and as the source of the most up-to-date and complete news involving all aspects of the shipping industry. It also began creating larger syndicates within its ranks, and reinsuring policies issued by other insurers, opening a larger market in the United States in the process. Its reputation for prompt payment helped it to grow globally, especially following the 1906 earthquake and fire in San Francisco.

It was further enhanced following the Titanic disaster in 1912, making it one of the very few organizations involved with that maritime catastrophe to emerge with its reputation intact. Lloyd’s further enhanced it’s reputation as a good corporate citizen during the First World War, with large donations from its syndicates to Red Cross Societies, the YMCA, purchasing ambulances for the French Army, and the support of the Lloyd’s Patriotic Fund, which provided aid and financial assistance to families of military personnel away from their homes or injured or killed in the war.

Some Baffling Insurance Policies Issued by Lloyd’s of London
Lloyd’s covered Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic to Paris. Wikimedia

4. The beginnings of flight insurance in 1911

Lloyd’s wrote the first insurance policy for an aviator in 1911, when the flying machine, as it was called at the time, was but eight years old, and there were but a few men and women capable of operating one. Enthusiasm for flight was high, as it were, and more and more would-be pilots took to the air. Many of them had more enthusiasm for the “sport” than flying ability, and airplane crashes were common, so common that the risk of insuring them was too high, and Lloyd’s discontinued insuring airplanes and aviators in 1912.

World War I changed the airplane from a spindly box kite with an engine to a high-performance machine capable of completing numerous useful tasks, among them the delivery of mail. In 1919 Lloyd’s underwriter Cuthbert Heath organized the British Aviation Insurance Association (BAIA). It too was short-lived, the venture lasted less than two years due to a lack of customers. Most early aviators possessed a devil-may-care attitude towards insuring against risks. In 1927, Lloyd’s insured a flight made by a former airmail pilot named Charles Lindbergh when he flew solo across the Atlantic and landed in Paris, and the following year the BAIA was resurrected.

Some Baffling Insurance Policies Issued by Lloyd’s of London
Actress Bette Davis with Leslie Howard in the 1934 film Of Human Bondage. Wikimedia

5. Bette Davis’s waist, rather than her eyes, was insured by Lloyd’s

In 1981 singer Kim Carnes released the song Bette Davis Eyes, introducing a new generation to the 1930s and 40s glamor queen and actress of prodigious talent. From the song, it could easily be inferred that Bette’s eyes were her most well-known and popular asset as regards her physical appeal. But Davis evidently would not have agreed. As her career was beginning to blossom, and before her famous feud with Joan Crawford began, Bette insured her waspish waist with Lloyd’s. At the time, according to sources, her waist measurement was 21″, and Bette stood 5′ 3″.

The amount she insured it for was $28,000 dollars, according to Lloyd’s. In 2019 terms that comes to just over $400,000. It would seem to have been more a publicity stunt on the part of Davis and her studio than a serious insurance policy, and the terms of the policy have never been made public, though Lloyd’s publicly acknowledges the policy’s existence and amount. It was one of many body parts insured by Lloyd’s over the years, some were made public at the time and others kept relatively quiet until enterprising reporters or biographers made them known.

Some Baffling Insurance Policies Issued by Lloyd’s of London
Betty Grable in 1943, America’s most popular pinup girl of World War II. Wikimedia

6. Another Betty insured her legs in the 1940s, and Lloyd’s covered the risk (but not the legs)

During the Second World War, American GIs adorned their lockers and barracks walls with pinup posters of female motion picture stars, with Rita Hayworth being the most popular in the early years of the war. Images which resembled Hayworth were painted on the noses of American bomber and fighter aircraft, and appeared in magazines such as Esquire. By 1943 Hayworth’s pinup sales were challenged by those of Betty Grable, who exhibited her legs in a swimsuit pose which became an iconic image of World War II. Years later Life Magazine included it in a list of “100 Photographs that Changed the World”. It was the largest-selling pinup poster of the Second World War.

A leading manufacturer of women’s hosiery (which was forced to shift from silk to nylon during the war, and even nylon stockings were rationed) stated that Grable’s legs as regards the proportional measurements of thigh to calf to ankle, were “ideal”. Fox Studios insured their star’s legs for the sum of $1 million dollars and presented her as the girl with the million-dollar legs. Lloyd’s accepted the policy and covered the legs, but to the relief of young men around the world did not insist that Fox and Grable cover her legs. Grable once noted, “I became a star for two reasons, and I’m standing on them”.

Some Baffling Insurance Policies Issued by Lloyd’s of London
Though most would consider Keith to be high-risk, his hands were insured by Lloyd’s. Wikimedia

7. Other celebrities insured valuable parts of their body through Lloyd’s, though not for reasons of publicity

Lloyd’s has insured celebrities’ body parts’ over the years for a variety of reasons, acknowledging their contributions to their owners’ making a living. The Rolling Stones guitarist and songwriter Keith Richards insured his hands through Lloyd’s for $1.6 million, though it would be reasonable to wonder how Keith could obtain insurance for any part of his long-abused body. Singer Dolly Parton obtained a £3.8 million policy for two of her most valued assets. Her voice wasn’t one of them. Football star David Beckham purchased a policy from Lloyd’s, though for a different reason than Betty Grable’s, for £100 million in 2006. Dancers Rudolph Nureyev and Michael Flatley (Riverdance) both insured their legs through Lloyd’s.

American film star and icon of cool James Dean took out a $100,000 life insurance policy underwritten by Lloyd’s just over one week before he was killed. Dean was traveling to an auto racing event In Salinas, California when his new, 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder slammed into a car which made a left-hand turn as he approached. Though he appeared to have a pulse he had suffered massive head trauma and was likely brain dead by the time emergency personnel arrived. Despite questionable circumstances over the accident, including the fact that Dean was likely driving well above the speed limit, Lloyd’s paid the claim on the policy one week after the fatal crash.

Some Baffling Insurance Policies Issued by Lloyd’s of London
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in the 1983 Broadway production of Private Lives. Wikimedia

8. The Taylor-Burton diamond was insured by Lloyd’s while Elizabeth Taylor owned it

Richard Burton once confided to his diary that the 68-carat Cartier diamond he purchased for his wife, actress Elizabeth Taylor, was a gift to assuage her anger at him for making disparaging remarks about her hands. It cost him $1.1 million, dwarfing the $307,000 he paid for a mere 33.19 carat diamond (Krupp diamond) he had purchased for her the year before (the transgression which triggered that purchase, if there was one, was unrecorded by the actor). The report of the purchase caused long lines of people outside of Cartier’s in New York, eager to view the diamond before it was delivered to Taylor.

The diamond was insured through Lloyd’s, though the company set rules regarding the policy. It could be worn publicly no more than thirty days per year, and when not worn it had to be stored in a vault, approved by representatives of the company. When it was worn Taylor had to be accompanied by no less than three armed guards. On at least one occasion, Taylor wore both the Krupp and Cartier diamonds at the same time; Princess Grace of Monaco’s fortieth birthday party at Monte Carlo’s Hermitage Hotel. Taylor kept both diamonds after she and Burton were divorced. Both times.

Some Baffling Insurance Policies Issued by Lloyd’s of London
Admiral Lord Nelson with a signal midshipman before the Battle of Trafalgar. Wikimedia

9. Lloyd’s created the Patriotic Fund in 1803

In 1803 Lloyd’s created the Lloyd’s Patriotic Fund, a military charity, which remains in operation today, the oldest such organization in the world. During the Napoleonic Wars, the Patriotic Fund awarded officers of the Royal Navy and the Marines with swords, valued at £30, £50 or £100, for services in which they had won distinction by exhibiting extraordinary ability and/or bravery. It also awarded grants in cash to wounded veterans of military service, and annuities to care for the families of soldiers killed in battle, or wounded to the point of disability.

The Patriotic Fund helped create homes for retired or disabled sailors, from both the Royal Navy and the East India Company, asylums for their children and orphans, and permanent homes for their children. It was an unusual and innovative approach in the days when nearly all charity was in the hands of the churches and religious societies, or the workhouses and poorhouses. The Patriotic Fund survived into the 21st century, where it works with other charities and veteran’s organizations to identify those in need and assist them with obtaining services.

Some Baffling Insurance Policies Issued by Lloyd’s of London
The Lutine Bell was formerly rung to alert underwriters of news good and bad. YouTube

10. Remembering the loss of HMS Lutine still reverberates at Lloyd’s – literally

During the French Revolutionary Wars, the economy of the Port of Hamburg was near collapse, a circumstance which would have disastrous implications for the markets in London. HMS Lutine, a frigate which had been captured by the Royal Navy, was dispatched to the port, laden with gold and silver bullion and coin, in an attempt by London merchants to shore up the stock market. Lutine was lost at sea in the treacherous shoals off the Netherlands, with the loss of all but one of her crew. The ship had been insured by Lloyd’s, which underwrote several expeditions to find its lost cargo, but little from Lutine ever returned to the light of day.

One item which did was the ship’s bell, which was retrieved from the wreck site in 1858. The bell was taken to Lloyd’s (which had paid the claim for the wreck in full) and hung in the company’s underwriting room, where it remains. Traditionally the bell is rung twice upon the receipt of good news, and once upon the receipt of bad news, as it did on September 11, 2001. In recent years it has also been rung to mark special occasions and as a processor to important announcements. Treasure hunters still search for the wreck of Lutine (which was rumored to be carrying the Dutch Royal Jewels), but as of this writing, its treasures have not been found.

Some Baffling Insurance Policies Issued by Lloyd’s of London
Hindenburg moored at Lakehurst, New Jersey, in 1936. US Navy

11. Lloyd’s insured the German airship Hindenburg in 1937

During the First World War Lloyd’s provided insurance against damages inflicted by Germany’s famous Zeppelins, which carried out periodic bombing raids against London and other British targets. After the war, Germany, France, Great Britain, and the United States all attempted to develop airships for commercial aviation purposes, as well as the military. The United States Navy was particularly interested in their use as scouting vessels for its fleets. But only in Germany were they successful in developing them as viable passenger airships, and by the 1930s regularly scheduled transatlantic passenger service was offered by the Germans.

The German airships had to use hydrogen for their lifting power, since the United States controlled nearly all of the world’s helium and refused to supply it to the Germans. In 1937, as it approached its mooring in Lakehurst, New Jersey, the German zeppelin Hindenburg burst into flame and was totally destroyed, with 35 of its passengers and crew killed. One American ground crewman died with them. To this day the exact cause of the fire and crash which destroyed Hindenburg is unknown, with multiple unproven theories including sabotage under consideration, but nonetheless, Lloyd’s, its insurer, paid the claim in 1937.

Some Baffling Insurance Policies Issued by Lloyd’s of London
American actor starred in a film set during the Napoleonic wars entitled Lloyd’s of London. Wikimedia

12. Lloyd’s of London became the basis of a feature film in the 1930s

In 1936 a new Hollywood studio, 20th Century Fox, presented a film which featured an actor who became a new box office star, Tyrone Power. The film centered upon Power’s character and his career in the maritime insurance business during the Napoleonic Wars. The film was entitled Lloyd’s of London. As with most Hollywood renderings of history, it played fast and loose with historical facts and characters, substituting fictional drama for actual events, and changing the timeline of history to present its story. The young adventurer portrayed by Power and Lloyd’s of London, in the film at least, acted in a manner which allowed Horatio Nelson to win the Battle of Trafalgar.

Lord Nelson did have a lengthy relationship with Lloyd’s which continues to this day, though maybe it would be better said the other way around. Lloyd’s created the Patriotic Fund following his victory at the Battle of the Nile, and voted awards to him after subsequent victories, in the form of silver services, plates, and other honors. Many are on display at Lloyd’s today, in a hall set aside to honor Nelson’s memory. In truth Lloyd’s prospered mightily during the Napoleonic Wars – maritime insurance premiums were high – while the Royal Navy strengthened its grip as master of the seas. Nelson’s victories and those of his counterparts helped strengthen Lloyd’s, the opposite of what the 1936 film depicts.

Some Baffling Insurance Policies Issued by Lloyd’s of London
Abbott and Costello insured one of their most famous routines with Lloyd’s. Wikimedia

13. Lloyd’s insured a famous comedy routine by Abbott and Costello

Who’s on First? was a vaudeville routine which found acceptance from live audiences before it was presented during a national radio broadcast in 1938. It became so popular that Abbott and Costello performed it several times on radio, for President Roosevelt at the White House, in film, and onstage. They adlibbed in almost every performance, and it was rarely performed exactly according to script. It became the comic duo’s signature routine, and in the 1950s it was seen on television. It has been referenced countless times by other comics and parodists, and is a part of American folklore.

Abbott and Costello insured the routine with Lloyd’s for $250,000, over a term of five years. The routine was not insured against theft (who could steal it?) nor copyright infringement. It was insured against the chance that for whatever reason the duo was unable to perform the routine because they were no longer working together. Their partnership survived the five-year term and they did not renew it, unfortunately for them because they eventually did split up. Their partnership did not survive IRS audits and property seizures over unpaid taxes, when each blamed the other for the oversight.

Some Baffling Insurance Policies Issued by Lloyd’s of London
Despite scores of claimed sightings over the decades, the existence of the Loch Ness monster has never been proved. Wikimedia

14. The Loch Ness monster was the cause of a policy by Lloyd’s, but not because of potential havoc

Some people believe in a prehistoric monster lurking in the depths of Scotland’s Loch Ness. Some people don’t. Others have engaged in quests to either prove or disprove the monster’s existence, though the latter is far more difficult. The monster has been a favorite among advertisers for decades. In the 1970s Cutty Sark – the whiskey, not the museum clipper ship in Greenwich – offered a prize of £1 million to anyone who caught the monster, called Nessie. The offer, and the corresponding advertising campaign, were presented humorously, though the offer was real.

When someone involved pointed out that there was a possibility – however slim – that the monster existed and might be caught, the distillers had Lloyd’s cover the risk of potentially paying out £1 million. Written into the policy was a minimum length of the critter presented (20 feet), and the need to obtain certification from the Natural History Museum. The policy covered the period of the advertising campaign through the date the offer expired (imagine catching the beast a day too late) before expiring. Lloyd’s covered the offer, and never had to consider a claim.

Some Baffling Insurance Policies Issued by Lloyd’s of London
Actor Ben Turpin reviewing his fan mail circa 1922. Wikimedia

15. Lloyd’s insured crossed eyes against the possibility of them becoming uncrossed

Virtually forgotten today, Bernard Turpin, known as Ben Turpin, was a vaudeville and silent film star known for his physical comedy and his permanently crossed eyes. His work in silent films included appearances with Charles Chaplin at Essanay Studios in Chicago, Illinois. Later he worked with Mack Sennett in Hollywood, becoming one of the highest-paid studio performers during the silent era. He made a few sound films including, somewhat ironically, Million Dollar Legs, starring W. C. Fields. One of his most famous features was his constantly cross-eyed appearance, which he used to mug the cameras after one of his pratfalls. In fact, only one of his eyes was misaligned, the other he crossed deliberately for such scenes.

At the height of his success, which was largely based on the unusual alignment of his eyes (many of his early films had titles such as Idle Eyes, The Eyes Have It, etc.), Turpin purchased a $25,000 policy against the potential loss of income he would suffer should his eyes ever suddenly straighten themselves. Since only one of his eyes was permanently misaligned the policy was likely more a publicity stunt, but Lloyd’s issued the policy. Turpin never had to file a claim against it, he died in 1940, shortly after appearing in Laurel and Hardy’s Saps at Sea, a film in which his misaligned eyes were used for comic effect.

Some Baffling Insurance Policies Issued by Lloyd’s of London
Lloyd’s was aware of Titanic’s loss while many American newspapers were reporting the ship safe. Wikimedia

16. Lloyd’s built a worldwide communications network to keep abreast of shipping news

Because the news of ship sailings and arrivals was such a critical part of its business Lloyd’s created a network of communications stations to keep underwriters, brokers, and investors up-to-date regarding their interests. A signal station located in Nova Scotia at Cape Race was Lloyd’s station, the first to hear the news of Titanic sinking, as broadcast by the ship (“…sinking hard by the bow”), on the night of April 14-15, 1912. While other news services and newspapers were fed and further promulgated confused reports, with many claiming the ship was proceeding to New York, Lloyd’s was aware of the ship’s loss.

Both Titanic and its sister Olympic had been underwritten by Lloyd’s, through Willis Faber & Company, with the beneficiary the ships’ owner and operator, White Star Lines. The ship’s hull had been covered for £1 million, and several of Lloyd’s’ syndicates had taken part of the risk. Additional risks regarding passengers, loss of revenue, crew, and company equipment, were covered. Before the survivors reached New York aboard Carpathia and other rescue ships Lloyd’s was working to honor the policy. White Star’s claims were paid within a month of the loss of the ship, one of the largest disasters ever paid by the company.

Some Baffling Insurance Policies Issued by Lloyd’s of London
A 1912 Renault similar to this one sank with Titanic and was covered by Lloyd’s. RM Sotheby

17. Lloyd’s paid $5,000 for an automobile that sank in Titanic

In addition to passengers, Titanic carried cargo with a total value of $420,000 ($11 million today) all of which was underwritten by Lloyd’s syndicates. Among the cargo was a 1912 Renault Type CB Coupe de Ville. The car was owned by a first-class passenger named William Carter, who was aboard with his family and chauffeur. He had purchased the car in France, and was returning from there to the family home in Bryn Mawr, the Main Line community just west of Philadelphia. The Carters survived the sinking and upon return to the United States, Carter filed a claim against White Star line for the value of his lost Renault, $5,000 ($132,000).

In the history of insuring automobiles, it was unique, being the first claim for an automobile lost due to collision with an iceberg. $132,000 for a Renault also seems unlikely. Carter’s claim, as with all others submitted to Lloyd’s as a result of the loss of RMS Titanic was paid by Lloyd’s, with a speed unthinkable 100 years later. Titanic claims also featured what was to then the largest life insurance claim ever paid to that time, $50,000 ($1.3 million). Lloyd’s paid that amount to the widow of John B. Thayer, a senior executive with the Pennsylvania Railroad who died in the sinking.

Some Baffling Insurance Policies Issued by Lloyd’s of London
One marine insurance underwriter refused to insure Titanic, here to the right of its sister, Olympic, in 1912. Wikimedia

18. One British maritime insurance company refused to underwrite Titanic

Lloyd’s had no shortage of companies eager to sign on to participate in sharing the risk of insuring Titanic. One reason was the growing reputation of the ship’s design and construction representing the pinnacle of the shipbuilding art. While few outside the hyperbolic press claimed the ship was unsinkable (most waited until it actually sank before using that overwrought descriptive to create dramatic headlines) all agreed that it was the best-built and designed commercial vessel in the world. Modern innovations such as radio, which allowed ships to be informed of dangers ahead, also reduced risks encountered by ships at sea.

The British Dominions Marine Insurance Company was a marine insurance policy writer which started in 1904, and participated in several Lloyd’s syndicates. When it came to Titanic, the company declined to join the syndicates eager to insure the vessel. Ship design experts hired by the company reported that the new liner “sat too low in the water”. Although Titanic was designed to sit lower to reduce the risk of being too top-heavy, the experts felt that the design did not “inspire confidence”, particularly in the rough waters of the North Atlantic. British Dominions Marine Insurance became Eagle Star in 1937, and is owned by Zurich Financial Services in 2019.

Some Baffling Insurance Policies Issued by Lloyd’s of London
The 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire devastated the city and the insurance industry. National Archives

19. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire made Lloyd’s reputation in the United States

The earthquake which rocked San Francisco in April, 1906, was one of the most devastating events in American history, and one which changed the insurance industry globally. Following the earthquake fires broke out across the largely wooden city, raging out of control for days, and aftershocks continued to add to the destruction. Over three thousand people died in the earthquakes and ensuing fires, including the city’s fire chief. Financial losses, measured in 21st century dollars, were in excess of $10 billion. Many insurers lacked the wherewithal to pay all of the claims of their policy holders. Some paid for fire damage, but not that attributed to the earthquake. Others did the opposite. Some didn’t pay at all.

Some buildings which the earthquake left relatively undamaged were dynamited by firefighters hoping to create firebreaks. Others were allowed to simply burn themselves out. Many if not most insurers hesitated to pay claims until the reasons behind them were sorted out, and more than 20% of all claims were denied. Lloyd’s leading underwriter, a man named Cuthbert Heath, cabled from London, “Pay all of our policy holders in full irrespective of the terms of their policies”. Lloyd’s paid more than $1 billion to policy holders (in today’s dollars) within weeks of the devastating event, and cemented their reputation in the United States. It took more than four decades for the company to recoup its losses.

Some Baffling Insurance Policies Issued by Lloyd’s of London
Lloyd’s helped pay for the recovery of Westar 6 by NASA astronauts and the space shuttle Discovery. NASA

20. Lloyd’s began insuring space exploration in 1965

Lloyd’s (as well as other insurers) began issuing policies on satellites launched by the United States in 1965, and since has insured satellites against loss for the civilian and commercial entities that own them. When satellites have malfunctioned or “gone dark” prematurely the company has paid its owners. It has also paid to retrieve the malfunctioning devices, in the hope that they could be repaired or refurbished, modernized, and sold to recoup the cost of their recovery (as well as some or all of the amount paid out to their original owner). In 1984 the US space shuttle Discovery flew on a mission in which part of the expenses was paid by Lloyd’s, for the task of recovering two such satellites.

The two satellites were the Palapa B-2, a communications satellite owned by Indonesia, and the Westar VI, a GPS satellite owned by the United States. Discovery recovered the satellites and they were sent to the original builder, Hughes Aircraft. In the end, with the costs for refurbishment included, Lloyd’s recovered about two-thirds of the money it spent when it resold the satellites, both of which returned to space in 1990. Lloyd’s was a pioneer in providing insurance to space missions, though the venture has continued to lose money as the cost of recouping losses has continued to increase over the history of space flight.

Some Baffling Insurance Policies Issued by Lloyd’s of London
A mother and calf Type C Orcas, similar in appearance to Namu. Wikimedia

21. A killer whale was insured by Lloyd’s against somewhat unusual possibilities

In 1965 an orca, then more commonly referred to as a killer whale, was captured in the Northern Pacific near the coastal town of Namu, British Columbia. He had entangled himself in a salmon net. The orca was purchased by the Seattle Marine Aquarium whose owner named the animal Namu, and arranged to have his new prize delivered to the aquarium for display. The cost of transporting Namu to Seattle was high, as was his daily upkeep, since he ate approximately 400 pounds of fish, nearly all of its salmon, each day for the year or so he survived in captivity. A female companion was found for him later in 1965, named Shamu.

Lloyd’s was approached to insure Namu before he was even transported to Seattle, and the policy covered a wide variety of catastrophic possibilities. One, which seems improbable at first glance, was a successful rescue operation carried out by other orcas as he was being transported by sea to the aquarium in Seattle. Farfetched perhaps, but after Namu died recordings of his calls allowed researchers to identify him as a member of a well-known and very large pod known as C-1, one of the North Resident Pods. Researchers believed that the pod’s matriarch, known as C-5, was his mother. Whether Namu could have called his mother for help as he was transferred to Seattle will never be known.

Some Baffling Insurance Policies Issued by Lloyd’s of London
Tom Jones, seen here with Janice Joplin in 1969, insured his chest hair with Lloyd’s. ABC Television

22. Lloyd’s became the insurer to the stars, as in rock stars

Lloyd’s has long been the insurer of choice for performers and promoters involved in the rock music industry, and has protected some of the most famous against losses caused by cancellations, damage, theft, or other loss of equipment, and vagaries of the performers themselves. Besides the aforementioned coverage of Keith Richards’ hands, other musicians have gone to Lloyd’s for protection of their professional assets. Bruce Springsteen insured his voice with Lloyd’s. They provided the Boss with a £3.5 million policy. Tom Jones, believing his chest hair to be a major part of his appeal, asked Lloyd’s to insure it. They did.

Personal effects have also been covered, as have loss of potential income due to concerts being canceled, regardless of the cause of cancellation. Among the stars who have used Lloyd’s to insure their potential losses over the years were Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Eurythmics, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Elton John, the Police, Michael Jackson, Rod Stewart, and many others. Calamities protected against have included loss of hair, loss of voice, loss of equipment, loss of hearing, and loss of members of the touring company, among others.

Some Baffling Insurance Policies Issued by Lloyd’s of London
Lloyd’s Register of Ships is not and has never been affiliated with Lloyd’s of London. Wikimedia

23. Lloyd’s Register of Ships

In 1764 Lloyd’s printed its first Register of Ships, a listing of all ships and the condition of both their hulls and upper works. The register was printed in order that marine insurance underwriters had a ready reference of the material condition of the vessels they were asked to insure. Hulls were graded alphabetically (A being the highest rating) and upper works, which at the time was the masts and rigging, were graded numerically (1 being best) which gave rise to the British expression A1 at Lloyds referring to something being above reproach.

The register continues publication annually in the 21st century, listing all self-propelled vessels of 100 tons or greater. Once a vessel is listed in the register it remains there with each subsequent edition until it is removed as a result of the vessel being sunk or otherwise wrecked, sold for scrapping, or hulked (rendered incapable of going to sea, but afloat). Lloyd’s Register is not part of the company known around the world as Lloyd’s of London, nor are they affiliated today, though both trace their history to the coffee shop owned by Edward Lloyd in Tower Street in London in the late 17th century.

Some Baffling Insurance Policies Issued by Lloyd’s of London
Entertainer Jimmy Durante insured his famous nose with Lloyd’s, likely as a publicity stunt. Wikimedia

24. Some other body parts and people which have been insured by Lloyd’s

Until 2017, Lloyd’s insured the bodies of wrestlers, and before the company discontinued the practice professional wrestlers Ric Flair, Rick Rude, and Bret Hart, among others, were covered (in insurance terminology) by Lloyd’s. Betty Grable was not the only actress to insure her legs with the company, Mary Hart and Brooke Shields did likewise, as did singer Tina Turner. Jimmy Durante once insured his nose with Lloyd’s, though it was likely a publicity stunt inspired by a studio executive. Regardless, Lloyd’s wrote the policy, just as it did for American football player Troy Polamalu’s hair when he began appearing in commercials for an anti-dandruff shampoo.

In 1931 a young Canadian named Harvey Lowe bought a yo-yo, his first, and rapidly exhibited a talent with the toy. The following year he won the World Yo-Yo Contest, held at London’s Empire Theater. By 1934 Lowe had developed or mastered over 2,000 tricks with the yo-yo. He continued to yo-yo for the rest of his life, appearing in the 1960s with Tommy Smothers on the The Smothers Brother Comedy Hour. Eventually, he hosted a weekly radio show, Call of China, which was based on his own experiences while living there in the 1930s. At the height of his fame with the yo-yo, Lloyd’s insured his hands for $150,000.

Some Baffling Insurance Policies Issued by Lloyd’s of London
Food critic and former restauranteur Egon Ronay had Lloyd’s insure his taste buds. Daily Telegraph

25. Lloyd’s continues to thrive as an insurance market in the 21st century

Despite a series of scandals at Lloyd’s in the 1980s which nearly destroyed the company, it recovered and for 2018 posted profits of £4.4 billion after taxes. It controlled about 20% of the global maritime insurance market, though in the United States most people know of the company only through its reputation for insuring items considered by some to be quirky. Lloyd’s doesn’t decide what it will insure and what the cost will be, its syndicates do, through considering the items to be insured through written documents called slips. They decide what portion of the slips they wish to cover.

In the 1950s a European food critic named Egon Ronay, an experienced restauranteur and writer of a food column for The Daily Telegraph, published the first edition of Egon Ronay’s Guide to British Eateries. He refused to accept advertising from the restaurants, pubs, and hotels listed in the guidebook, which was published annually, in order to ensure comments regarding them were open and impartial. He also announced that his taste buds, so critical to his judgment and success, had been insured for $400,000. The insurer was, of course, Lloyd’s. The guides continued to be published until 1997, though Ronay sold his interest in them in 1985.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Slave descendants sue Lloyd’s for billions”. Conal Walsh, The Guardian. March 27, 2004

“British Naval Captains of the Seven Years’ War: The View from the Quarterdeck”. A. B. McLeod. 2012

“Lloyd’s of London: The Early Days”. John A. Bogardus Jr, IRMI Expert Commentary. September, 2007. Online

“The British Insurance Industry Since 1900: The Era of Transformation”. Robert L. Carter, Peter Falush. 2009

“Betty Grable Was Famous For Her Legs. Here’s What She Thought About That”. Claire Suddath. TIME Magazine. September 1, 2010

“History in the Making”. Article, Dr. Adrian Leonard. Insurance Museum. Online

“The Richard Burton Diaries”, Richard Burton. 2012

“HMS Lutine”. Article, Lloyd’s. Online

“NYC Fire Museum Displays Hindenburg’s Insurance Policy”. Associated Press, Insurance Journal. May 8, 2017

“Lloyd’s of London (1937)”. Article, American Film Institute Database. Online

“Iconic Lloyd’s of London Insurance Policies”. Brian Marx, PSA Financial. January 2, 2013. Online

“8 of the Weirdest Insurance Policies”. Jay MacDonald, Fox Business. May 6, 2011

“The Cross-Eyed Comic”. Randor Guy, The Hindu. September 20, 2014. Online

“Titanic Centenary”. Pdf, Online

“Titanic went down 107 years ago today, taking a French luxury car with it”. Jeff Peek, April 15, 2019

“Decisions to pay claims from quake were momentous”. Roberto Ceniceros, Business Insurance. April 16, 2006. Online.

“Lloyd’s Says Insurers Will Lose More Than $120 Million On Satellites”. Larry Thorson, Associated Press. February 7, 1985. Online

“Lloyds: Insuring the famous and the bizarre”. BBC Business. October 29, 1999

“Lloyd’s Register FAQ”. Lloyd’s Register Foundation. Online

“The Yo-Yo King of Chinatown dies at 90”. John Mackie, The Vancouver Sun. March 13, 2009

“Celebrity Insured Body Parts”. Jill Weinberger, Joseph O’Dell, CNBC. January 3, 2012. Online