Front Page Titles (by Subject) PREFACE. - A Select Collection of Scarce and Valuable Tracts on Money
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PREFACE. - John Ramsay McCulloch, A Select Collection of Scarce and Valuable Tracts on Money 
A Select Collection of Scarce and Valuable Tracts on Money from the Originals of Vaughan, Cotton, Petty, Lowndes, Newton, Prior, Harris, and Others, with a Preface, Notes, and Index (London: Printed for the Political Economy Club, 1856).
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This Volume has been printed by the Political Economy Club of London for distribution amongst its members and their immediate friends. The Tracts contained in it have been taken from originals supplied by J. R. McCulloch, Esq., who has also contributed the Preface and Notes
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This collection of scarce and valuable Tracts and Treatises on Metallic Money, comprises the following articles, viz.
The first of these tracts, by a member of the legal profession, though published in 1675, must have been written long previously, probably in the interval between 1630 and 1635.* It is the earliest work in the English language that gives a general view of the origin of money, the materials of which it has been formed, its uses, and the abuses to which it has been subjected. It could hardly be expected that a treatise on subjects involving so many rather abstruse principles and delicate considerations, should be put forward at this early period with uniformly correct or just views. On the whole, however, the reader will, perhaps, be disposed rather to wonder at the general soundness of the writer’s conclusions than at the errors into which he has occasionally fallen. The old and deeply-rooted heresy that the value of coins was to a considerable extent dependent on the stamp by which they were impressed, retained, in the early part of the 17th century, a powerful influence. And this circumstance, combined with the erroneous notions then very prevalent respecting various points in the theory of exchange, have, in great measure, occasioned the tedious discussions in which the author engages in regard to the effect of reductions in the standard of the coin, of the expediency of regulating the coins of one country with reference to those of others, and so forth. In most instances, however, he arrives, though by a very circuitous route, at the right conclusion; and the correct principles on the subject are so admirably stated in the treatise of Harris, in a subsequent part of the volume, that the errors in that of Vaughan can no longer impose on any of its readers.
The editor of this treatise, though, as he tells us, a near relation of the author, appears to have been very ill-fitted for his duty. It is printed with such extreme incorrectness that the statements are frequently quite erroneous, and in parts all but unintelligible. And though we have endeavoured to obviate these defects, we are not sure that we have always succeeded in apprehending the meaning of the author, or that the dates and figures we have supplied are in all instances correct. But we flatter ourselves that the errors by which it may still be infected are of no great consequence, and that they cannot sensibly influence any part of the reasoning.
The next tract in this volume,* the “Speech of the celebrated Sir Robert Cotton, before the Privy-Council in 1626,” has been much referred to, and possesses a very high degree of merit. It was made in opposition to a proposal then entertained for degrading the standard of the coin. And we do not know that the arguments against such a proceeding have ever been stated more briefly or with greater force. It is creditable to the parties to whom it was addressed that they were so impressed by it that they abandoned the project.
The prohibition of the exportation of the precious metals was long regarded as a sound principle, which it was endeavoured to enforce in this and most other countries. But the opening of the trade to India, which has always afforded an advantageous outlet for these metals, and more especially for silver, gradually led to the adoption of a more liberal policy. The old system had been relaxed in favour of the East India Company, when it was established in 1600. And the advantages resulting from this relaxation, with the experience of the impossibility of enforcing the prohibition, produced in the end a strong desire among commercial men for its repeal. In 1660, the matter was referred to the consideration of the Council of Trade; and the “Advice” or “Report” of the latter forms the third article in this volume. It is a clear, well-reasoned, conclusive paper. The reference to the Council related only to the exportation of bullion and foreign coins, the trade in which they recommended should be made perfectly free. But no one who reads the Report can doubt that such, also, was the opinion of its authors, in regard to native coins. But, while the latter did not officially come under their cognizance, they probably thought that their free exportation would be reckoned too bold a measure; and that by recommending it they might endanger the loss of the other, which was of incomparably more importance. The Council’s recommendation was carried into effect in 1663, by stat. 15, Ch. II. c. 7, § 12.
The next tract, by the famous Sir William Petty, entitled “Quantulumcunque Concerning Money, addressed to the Marquis of Halifax,” was printed in 1682. It was republished in 1695, during the discussions on the recoinage; but it has been excluded from the collection of Petty’s tracts published in Dublin in 1769, and is now very scarce. In this brief but remarkable tract, Petty shows the folly of supposing that we should gain anything in our intercourse with foreigners by reducing the value of the coins, a measure which can be productive only of the most injurious consequences. He has also condemned the laws which then, and down to a late period, limited the rate of interest, justly observing that there may as well be laws limiting the rate of exchange and the premium of insurance.
The tract next in order, which attracted a great deal of attention when published, viz. a “Report, containing an Essay for the Amendment of the Silver Coins,” by Mr. William Lowndes, Secretary to the Treasury, appeared in 1695. This Essay contains an elaborate and valuable investigation of the successive changes made in the standard and weight of English coins, from the earliest times down to the period when it was written. But its notoriety rests on a very different and less solid foundation, that is, on the proposal made by the author, and which he has strongly recommended, for adding 25 per cent. to the nominal values of the coins. We regret to have to add that this nefarious project met with considerable encouragement both in and out of Parliament. Happily, however, it was defeated, principally by the efforts, which cannot be too highly appreciated, of Montagu, Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the House of Commons, and of Locke, out of doors. It was then that this great philosopher published his tracts on money, which, though involving sundry errors, refute the various arguments brought forward by Lowndes and others, in favour of a reduction of the standard, with an amplitude, or rather a redundancy, of illustration, that leaves nothing to be desired. We have not reprinted Locke’s tracts, because they may be found in all the editions of his works, and would make of themselves rather a large volume. But we have printed a Note on the re-coinage of 1696-99; and have given tables which exhibit in a brief space the various changes in the purity and weight of English and Scotch coins, from the Conquest down to 1717.
It would be an impertinence to direct the reader’s attention to the “Representations by Sir Isaac Newton,” which follow Lowndes’ tract. Sir Isaac was then Master of the Mint, and in this capacity he was called upon to advise government in regard to the rating of the coins in Ireland, and the exportation of the new silver coins from England. Nothing can be clearer or more conclusive than his statements. The disorders which were at the time incident to the coins of both countries, were, to some extent, similar, and sprang in a considerable degree from the same causes. In England the silver coins of the great recoinage of 1696-99, had no sooner been issued than they began to be melted down and exported; and the inconveniencies thence arising forced themselves, in no long time, on the public attention. On Newton being consulted, he saw at once that the exportation complained of resulted from the over-valuation of the guinea, which passed current for 21s. 6d. Having inquired into the comparative values of gold and silver, he suggested that the value of the guinea should be reduced to 21s. or 20s. 8d.; and pursuant to this advice, the guinea was made legal tender in 1717 for 21s. But despite this reduction, it still continued to be over-valued; and it consequently became in practice the only legal tender, while all silver coins of the standard weight and purity were either melted down or exported.*
The next tract, “Observations on Coin in general, with some Proposals for regulating the Value of Coin in Ireland,” was published at Dublin in 1729. It is by the author of the “List of Absentees from Ireland,” that is by Thomas Prior, Esq., of Rathdowney, a genuine patriot, the friend and correspondent of Bishop Berkeley and the Earl of Chesterfield. The “List of Absentees,” which was long looked upon as of standard authority, is valuable for the information which it gives with respect to the number of absentees, the value of their estates, and so forth. But, while the reasoning in regard to the injurious influence of absentee expenditure is as fallacious as can well be imagined, it tended, by fostering and perpetuating popular prejudices on the subject, and fixing the public attention on an imaginary grievance, to withdraw it from the real causes of the poverty and barbarism of the Irish. The tract here reprinted is of a very different character, and is, speaking generally, correct in its statements and sound in its principles. With the exception, indeed, of Mr. Simon’s “Treatise on Irish Coins” (4to. Dublin, 1749), it is the most valuable work on the coins of Ireland that had appeared down to a recent period.
We come now to one of the best and most valuable treatises on the subject of money that has ever seen the light, the “Essay on Money and Coins,” in two parts, which respectively appeared in 1757 and 1758. Though anonymous, it is known to be the work of Joseph Harris, Esq., then Assay-master of the mint. It is clearly and forcibly written. And, in addition to an exposition of the circumstances which determine the value of coins and the course of exchange, it contains some good illustrations of the influence of commerce and of the division of labour in furthering the increase of wealth. Part II. is principally occupied with an investigation and refutation of the various statements that have been from time to time put forward in vindication or excuse of a degradation of the standard; and all who read this convincing and masterly exposition, will be inclined to sympathise with the author, when he says that, “Whatever may be the fate of future times, and whatever the exigencies of affairs may require, it is to be hoped that that most awkward, clandestine, and most direful method of cancelling debts, by debasing the standard of money, will be the last that shall be thought of.” (See post. pp. 502, 503.)
But though there be no longer much to fear from any attempt being made to disturb the measure of value by tampering with the coins, we must not fancy that there is in this respect any material improvement in the morality of statesmen, or of the public. What was formerly done by degrading the standard of coins, is now done with greater facility, and to an inconceivably greater extent, by making that paper legal tender which has ceased to be exchangeable for the coins it professes to represent. This though a less direct, is a more dangerous and disgraceful species of fraud. A degradation of the standard is an open and avowed act of injustice, of which the extent and limits are defined and known to every one; but none can tell how far the depreciation of paper may be carried. It has frequently, indeed, arrived at such an excess, as to appear almost incredible. In France, for example, after the explosion of the Mississippi Scheme, and again, after the country had been deluged with assignats, a man might have died of want, with notes of the nominal value of 100,000 frs. or 1,000,000 frs. in his pocket! Even in this country, we have had, and at no distant period, ample experience of the baleful influence of the over-issue, and consequent depreciation, of paper. This, in truth, is one of the sins which most easily beset us; and there is none that should be more vigilantly guarded against. Instead of weakening in any degree the obstacles that stand in the way of a more copious supply of paper, they should be carefully maintained and strengthened. Its depreciation necessarily subverts every existing contract and engagement. And while it produces universal confusion and insecurity, it enriches certain classes who have no peculiar merits, at the expense and by the spoliation of others quite as deserving, and as well entitled to that protection against injustice which it is the bounden duty of every government to afford to every portion of its subjects.
The short treatise, entitled “Reflections on Coin in general, on the Coins of Gold and Silver in Great Britain in particular, &c.,” was published in 1762. It contains a singularly clear and neat summary of the principles that should be kept in view in the issue of coins. It also shows the cause, arising from the over-valuation of gold as compared with silver, why coins of the latter of full weight were sent to the melting pot and exported. It further shows the advantage of using only one metal, and that the most precious for the standard of the currency; and of employing paper as a substitute for gold.*
The last treatise in this volume, “An Inquiry into the Value of the Ancient Greek and Roman Money,” by Matthew Raper, Esq., F.R.S.,* was printed in the Philosophical Transactions for 1771. It is a work of the highest excellence, and in its own line is probably unrivalled. But notwithstanding their importance, inquiries into the values of the monies, weights, and measures of the Ancients, were for a lengthened period but little attended to in this country. And, owing partly to this circumstance, and partly to its being buried in the vast mass of the Royal Society’s papers, this Treatise was almost entirely lost sight of, and its existence generally ignored. Latterly, however, these inquiries have begun to command some portion of the attention to which they are eminently entitled; and Raper’s Tract has in consequence been brought to the knowledge of the public, and elicited the most honourable mention. In his valuable Essay, on the monies, weights, and measures of the Greeks and Romans (8vo. Oxford, 1836), Mr. Hussey refers to it as follows:—“In 1771, his (Raper’s) Essay appeared in the Transactions of the Royal Society; a work of which it is not too much to say, that it is the best attempt yet made to combine a general view of the money of the Greeks and Romans in their best times, with an accurate statement of the proofs on which the system rests.” (Introduction p. 8.) And Mr. Smith, the learned author of the excellent articles, on weights, measures, &c., in Smith’s Dictionary of Antiquities, does not hesitate to call Raper, “the best of all writers on metrology.” Nothing that we could say could add to the weight of these recommendations; and we beg to congratulate the reader, on his being at length supplied with this admirable Essay in an accessible and commodious shape.
To complete the work, we have added from Smith’s Dictionary of Antiquities, tables showing the denominations and values of the principal Greek and Roman Coins.
The first Invention, Use,
Matter, Forms, Proportions and
Differences, ancient & modern: with
the Advantages and Disadvantages
of the Rise or Fall thereof, in
our own or Neighbouring
Nations: and the Reasons.
Together with a short Account of our Common
By Rice Vaughan, late of Grayes-Inn, Esq;
London, Printed by Th. Dawks, for Th. Basset,
at the George, near Cliffords-Inn, in Fleetstreet.
[* ]It is evident from the statement on p. 29 that it must have been written during the reign of Louis XIII. of France, who died in 1643, and apparently some eight or ten years before that date.
[* ]See note p. 123.
[* ]See Note on the Recoinage of 1696-99.
[* ]Literature of Political Economy, p. 163.
[* ]Mr. Raper also translated from the German, and published in 4to. in 1787, the learned and interesting work of Grellmann on the “History, &c., of the Gipsies.”