A Banker Lends You His Umbrella When It’s Sunny and Wants It Back When It Rains

Mark Twain? Robert Frost? Ambrose Bierce? Ben Bernanke? Philippe Girardet? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: It is remarkably difficult to obtain a loan in a difficult economic climate. This notion can be expressed with the following adage:

A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back the minute it begins to rain.

Mark Twain is sometimes credited with this remark, but I know that means little. It seems every clever remark is eventually attributed to Twain. Could you figure out who really said it?

Quote Investigator: You are correct to doubt the ascription of the saying to Mark Twain. The invaluable TwainQuotes website of Barbara Schmidt has a webpage dedicated to this adage with the following warning notice: 1

This quote has been attributed to Mark Twain, but until the attribution can be verified, the quote should not be regarded as authentic.

1905 is the date of the earliest citation found by QI expressing the kernel of the idea in the maxim. The following words were published in a London-based weekly for chartered accountants: 2

A customer who was not getting what he wanted, once said to me: “You bankers only lend a man an umbrella when it is a fine day,” and I thought he expressed it exactly.

A version very similar to the questioner’s expression appeared in January 1930. The first cite found by QI attributing the remark to Mark Twain is dated 1944. In 1949 the adage was credited to the famous poet Robert Frost.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
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Notes:

  1. TwainQuotes editor Barbara Schmidt, TwainQuotes.com website, Banker quotation and attribution warning, “A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella…” (Accessed 2011 April 06) link
  2. 1905 April 15, The Accountant: The Recognised Weekly Organ of Chartered Accountants, [A paper read at a meeting of the Manchester Chartered Accountants Society on March 10th 1905], Notes on a Banker’s Accounts by John Moodie, Page 464, Column 1, Gee & Co., The Accountant Office, London. (Google Books full view) link