Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

recklessly tampered with. At Henry's last coinage in 1545, not only was the angel continued at eight shillings, as he had fixed it in 1544, but the assay of the gold, which in the latter year had been lowered from 23 to 22 carats, was further reduced to 20 carats. A coinage of Edward VI. continued the same standard for the gold coin*. The noble, or real, continued in circulation however, probably for the convenience of foreign trade: the last were struck by Philip and Mary.

Among the striking events of this turbulent period of our history, no occurrence is so astonishing as that the Catholic religion, after being abolished, should again have been tolerated in England, especially under the aggravating cruelties that accompanied its restoration by Mary. The sole act recorded of that queen which was likely to prove popular was the temporary restoration of the coin to its old standard. She had angels coined of 23 carats in fineness, and passed them current at the old value of 6s. 8d. The energy of the reformers is however demonstrated under Elizabeth, who stood her

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

ness.

ground, although obliged to raise the current value of the angel to ten shillings, and afterwards to lower its weight from 80 to 7899 grains. All her coins are but of 22 carats in fineUnder James I. the most unwarrantable depreciation of the current coin took place: his first coinage in 1605 reduced the angel to 715 grains: in the last coinage of his reign it was struck at the weight of only 644 grains. This weight was adopted by Charles I., who however reduced the current value, which James had raised to eleven shillings, to ten. Thus were the civil wars ushered in.

It is not difficult to see why a depreciation of the coin excites such deep and dangerous discontent, and why it inevitably lends power to factious disturbers, to whose patriotism or talent is ascribed the success of enterprizes, which would often have ended in defeat and disgrace if they had not been unexpectedly supported by the excited feelings of the populace. The chief effect produced by a depreciation of the current coin is the unsettling of contracts. Even in an age when

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

much was paid in kind this occasioned great distress, and the more so in a commercial country, that the depreciated coin in the general marts of trade was only taken at its real value. For this reason too it could only answer the momentary exigency of the sovereign at home. If he had foreign wars to carry on, he was no better off than before, because in all foreign markets the reduced coin had fallen in value. The depreciation, therefore, almost invariably made an addition. to the nominal taxation necessary, by which even those were reached who might have been screened from the loss that commonly ensued from the former measure. In nearly every other country in Europe the same lesson may be read from the alterations in the monetary standard*, but it would lead us too far to follow them here.

* Mr. Tooke recognizes the necessity of new settlements of the coinage when the quantities of gold disposable fluctuate in relation to the supply of silver. He says (p. 152 of the edit. of 1826):-" If, however, neither actual nor prospective degradation as compared with a gold standard be the object of the present plan, there must be a periodical, and perhaps a frequent re-adjustment of the proportions, according to the varying proportions in the market; and it is difficult to conceive how any mode can be adopted which shall not be liable to great practical inconveniences." We do not see why an increased demand should not also make an adjustment necessary, but we may venture to hope that Mr. Tooke will now grapple with the large view of the subject.

Table of the Depreciation of French Coins, by M. Denis.

[blocks in formation]

There is little doubt that similar depreciations would, from time to time, have become inevitable under the most conscientious sovereigns, for the reason before assigned, that the increase of the quantity of the precious metals in circulation did not keep pace with the demands of trade. But in such case the endeavours of a good sovereign to establish tranquillity within the kingdom, and to maintain peace abroad, would have softened each crisis. The reign of Elizabeth affords the strongest evidence of the truth of this assumption. The endeavours of the Reformers to diffuse intelligence, and the wisdom of her measures, caused the profits of trade to absorb the loss occasioned by the depreciation to which she was compelled. The voyages of Drake, the foundation of Gresham College, the embassies to Muscovy and her defence of Dutch independence, are monuments of the penetration and tact of her counsellors, and contrast strongly with the impotent selfsufficiency and pedantry of her successor and his favourites. Under James I. one-pound pieces were coined weighing 1543 grains, which like the angel he finally reduced in weight to 140 grains. Charles II. struck guineas weighing 129 grains, of 22 carats fineness, at which standard the gold coin remained. The shilling has since remained unaltered at 925 grains, from the reign of Elizabeth to that of George III. In order to detect the reason why so long a time could elapse without an alteration in the standard of money, we must recur once more to an earlier period.

8

The coin best suited to overland trade is gold, since a great value can be conveyed in a small compass. For this reason gold was so much prized in the earliest times, and its abundance, as we have seen, was fully commensurate with the demands of the early trader. Silver seems to be the companion of navigation. The substitution of a machine for animal power obviated one of the great difficulties of trade, and bulk became a secondary consideration. If caravans of camels had been the only means of communication which the Phoenicians were able to employ, it is probable that the tin of Britain would not so early have found its way to the markets of the East. Whilst gold continued to be the standard, power remained constant to the continents: with a silver medium, sway migrated to the maritime states. It is more probable

that the command of gold facilitated the conquests of Alexander in the East, than that it would have enabled him to overrun Italy, as he once meditated.

For distant trade silver is preferable to gold, where its bulk forms no objection to its use; for as long as a silver coin preserves something like its original size it will pass current with ease, because an accidental deviation from the standard is of less importance than in a gold coin. The tetradrachm of Athens was probably as widely circulated in the south of Europe as the darics of the Persian kings were in Asia; and it is interesting to see that the Roman aureus spread so far into the East as Pliny's tale warrants us in believing; while the continuation of the silver denarius, in the French denier, attests the superiority of a silver medium in unsettled times for Europe. It is needless to speculate upon the effect that railroads will have upon metallic coinage: these winged promoters of continental trade are incontrovertibly the offspring of credit: no railroad has as yet been constructed by the agency of the precious metals, and perhaps none will ever be so constructed.

But the annals of trading nations record at an early period the attempt to substitute something simpler for the double exchange which gold and silver facilitated. In Greece we find advances made on bonds legally drawn up. That the Romans were in the habit of taking drafts from creditors at home upon debtors abroad, instead of carrying money out to distant parts, is also substantiated upon sufficient evidence. In modern times the invention of bills of exchange, ascribed to the Lombards, was only an improvement upon the same method, necessitated by the growing scarcity of the precious metals in Europe as trade increased. As ready reckoners the Italians, especially the Florentines, seemed to have made themselves masters of the science of exchanges. Long before they obtained possession of the mouth of the Arno, by the purchase of Leghorn from Genoa, the Florentines had carried on a flourishing trade, sometimes through the mediation of Pisa, sometimes through that of Siena.

The names of Italians appear early as keepers of the mint in England. In 1270 Bartolomeo di Castello is named, and in 1359 Guy or Guido di Castilon is mentioned as keeper

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »