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Bull and Bear Markets
Bear and Bull in Frankfurt, Germany
Photo by Pete at Flickr CC-BY
The origin of these stock market terms.
Bull and Bear Markets refer to trends in a market, particularly the Stock Exchange. Their origin is unknown and open to speculation. But can we identify when the phrases first appeared in print?
Bull Market and Bear Market, as locations, were both found in London and New York in the 17th and 18th centuries, but there is no evidence that either gave rise to the term.
The Oxford English Dictionary cites the use of Bull Market from 1891 and Bear Market from 1903. These can now be antedated by History House with the use of newspaper archives which are now available online.
The earliest reference found is from the Dundee Courier 23 January 1844.
"Our bear market has been very excited for some time past, but there are indications that this article has now reached its maximum price for the present."
The next reference is from the Derby Mercury, 17 May 1848 
"as the Market is a Bear market, and stock is scarce."
An earlier version of our research gave this as the first print reference: The Pall Mall Gazette, 12 March 1873, in a report on the day's stock market:
"Home Railway Stocks are a "bear" market and there is a backwardation in Sheffield Stock." 
The following month a reference in the same paper to both types of market:
"With two or three exceptions contangoes are now being paid which shows the market to been changed from a "bear" into a "bull" market" 
A search on Google Books, Google News archive and other newspaper archives reveals that both phrases were starting to be used in the 1880s in both US and Britain.
One interesting article is from 1885 which appears to show that knowledge of the term was not restricted to just stock market traders. A waiter in hotel in New York when asked why business was slow is said to have replied,
"Oh! That's always the way in a bear market. The bears don't spend no money. But the bulls, they're livers. When the market goes their way they buy big dinners. Why, one of them came in last winter when the market was going up and spent thirteen or fourteen dollars for his lunch! I guess the bears have got dyspepsia, for they can't eat nothing when stocks are going down." 
I have no doubt that as further archives come online, the earliest use of these phrases may well be pushed back earlier in time.
Article updated 16/11/2012 moving back the first reference by almost 30 years.
 Dundee Courier January 23 1844
 Derby Mercury May 17 1848
 The Pall Mall Gazette March 12 1873
 The Pall Mall Gazette April 28 1873
 The Pall Mall Gazette January 28 1885
All papers available on The British Newspaper Archive.