The tontine, with its underlying premise that the living participants benefit from the death of their fellows, does not deserve its shadowy reputation. It had some success in its original purpose, as a means of government fund raising. It was most successful as a means of private development and investment from around 1780 through the 1850's. However, it was used as a gimmick in the selling of life insurance and as a cover for outright fraud in the latter part of the 19th Century. It was also subject to attack from writers who found the notion of gambling on other people's deaths unseemly. The tontine developed an aura of shadiness, and was eventually abandoned. If re-developed as a form of insurance for the long-lived, it may be worth rehabilitation as an investment tool.[To explain the illustration: I'm a great fan of Michael Caine and will seize upon any excuse to post an image of him, in this case, a poster relating to the only film I know of with a plot revolving around a tontine, "The Wrong Box" (1966). The film also featured many great British comedic actors of the day, including Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, and Peter Sellers.]
Popular Culture Update: Kent McKeever writes that he mentions "The Wrong Box" in footnote 4 of his paper, "along with the epoch-making exploration of the tontine in a mid-Nineties episode of the Simpsons."