Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER I.: A summary account of all the alterations that have been made in our standard of money, from the Norman conquest to the present time, with the opinions of some very eminent men upon those kinds of measures. - A Select Collection of Scarce and Valuable Tracts on Money
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CHAPTER I.: A summary account of all the alterations that have been made in our standard of money, from the Norman conquest to the present time, with the opinions of some very eminent men upon those kinds of measures. - 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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A summary account of all the alterations that have been made in our standard of money, from the Norman conquest to the present time, with the opinions of some very eminent men upon those kinds of measures.
THAT the reader may comprehend at one view, the several alterations that have been made in our money standard, ever since the Norman conquest; I have inserted the following table, computed to my hand by the late learned Martin Folkes, Esq.; and printed in his curious Table of English silver coins, &c. p. 142; to which I have added the proportion which, in our coins, fine gold bore to fine silver, at the respective times therein specified, fine silver being reckoned unity or 1.
1. A Table shewing at one view, the several alterations that have been made in the standard and weight of our silver money, from the Norman conquest to this time (1758).
Observations on the foregoingTable.
2. From the above table, it appears that the standard of money remained unaltered here, for the space of 234 years after the conquest; during which period, a pound in money was also a pound in weight. After the old standard had been once broke upon, it was again and again curtailed; however, they observed some measure, and the old standard of fineness was preserved, till the 34 Hen. VIII. This king afterwards reduced the standard to less than one third of what it had been for 63 years, before he began to tamper with it; and in the fifth year of the reign of his son young king Edward, the money standard was reduced to less than one fourth of what it is at present; and they were so extravagant as to raise up silver at the mint to about half the value of gold. What were the immediate effects of those wild measures, historians have not been particular in informing us; but they must needs have been calamitous in a thousand respects: That the evils were very grievous, may be conjectured from the bold step taken the very next year, of increasing at once the standard betwixt four and five times: A measure so extraordinary, that it must have been attended with infinite disorders, if the people in their dealings, during that short dark period of debasing the money, had not endeavoured to have kept to the standard, as it was in the preceding times. Besides the unavoidable evil of hoarding, or transporting of the old coins at under rates, and more especially the gold ones, to the very great loss of the nation; it appears by the following proclamation, that the people either refused to bring their goods to market, or not to sell them but at very high rates.
“3.* In 1550, Sept. 22. A proclamation was set forth, by which it was commanded, 1. That no kind of victual, no wax, tallow, candles, nor no such thing should be carried over, except to Calais, putting in sureties to go thither. 2. That no man should buy or sell the self-same things again, except broakers, who should not have more than ten quarters of grain at once. 3. That all parties should divide themselves into hundreds, rapes, and wapentakes, to look in their quarters what superfluous corn were in every barn, and appoint it to be sold at a reasonable price. Also that one of them must be in every market to see the corn brought. Furthermore, whoever shipped over any thing aforesaid, to the parts beyond sea, or Scotland, after eight days following the publication of the proclamation, should forfeit his ship, and the ware therein, half to the lord of the franchize, and half to the finder thereof; whoso bought to sell again after the day aforesaid, should forfeit all his goods, farms, and leases, to the use, one half of the finder, the other of the king; who so brought not in corn to market as he was appointed, should forfeit 10l. except the purveyors took it up, or it were sold to his neighbours.” King’s Journal.
“It further appears also, by the king’s journal,* that on the 19th of October, 1550, prices had been set of all kind of grains, butter, cheese, and poultry ware, by a proclamation;” and that, on the 20th of the following November, “there had been letters sent down to the gentlemen of every shire, for the observation of the last proclamation concerning corn, because there came none to the markets, commanding them to punish the offenders:” But that upon letters written back by the same, “the second proclamation had been abolished, on the 29th of the same month.”
To these authorities collected by this learned gentleman, I beg leave to add some of his sentiments upon this subject, in his† own words.
“4. All ways had before this been tried, and all means had been found ineffectual, for the keeping up the value, and supporting the currency of the base money:—”‡ “It was now found by experience that gold and silver had, by the common consent of all people throughout the civilized parts of the world, acquired certain real and proper values: and that in such a nation as this, not destitute even then of all commerce with strangers, it was impossible that the arbitrary value set upon pieces of base metal could, for any considerable time, supply the want of the silver that used to be contained in the pieces of the same denominations. Whatever names were given to those pieces of base metal, or by whatever authority their imaginary value was supported; the people would either not bring their provisions at all to the markets, to exchange them for such money, or would there sell them at much higher rates than before: as the nominal sums they received for their goods, would not now purchase the same conveniencies elsewhere, as the same nominal sums of better money had formerly done. It was therefore judged absolutely necessary to reform and to amend the coin; the affair was very seriously considered, and the work was undertaken and carried on, with so much diligence and vigour, that within a few months a reformation of the money was brought about, truly memorable, and no less remarkable than the former abuses of it had been: for the new pieces that were coined before the end of this year 1551, were of more than four times the value of those of the same denominations, that had been coined in the former months of the same.* ”
5. The mischiefs occasioned by these base coins could not be fully subdued till queen Elizabeth’s time; and the conquering of that monster, as she called it, was deemed by that illustrious queen, as one of the most glorious acts of her reign. Queen Mary settled the standard at 11 oz. fine, and 60 shillings were cut out of the pound troy. Queen Elizabeth, in her second year brought the standard into its antient fineness of 11 oz. 2 dwts. and cut as before, just 60 shillings out of the pound troy. But in the 43rd year of her reign, the standard was debased once more, by cutting the said pound into 62 shillings.
6. The above last alteration remains yet to be regretted, as now none of our coins are aliquot or even parts of our weights. For about 50 years before, whilst the pound weight troy of silver, was cut into 60 shillings; the money pound being exactly 4 ounces, the crown-piece was one ounce, the shilling 4 dwts. and the penny 8 grains. Had this standard been continued, every one would have readily known, how much silver each piece of money ought to contain; and would naturally have led people to compare coins with weights, which probably would have produced long ago, some of the regulations now so much wanted in regard to money, and which would have saved this nation from great loss and perplexity. It were to be wished also, that our silver and gold coins were of the same fineness one with another; for then their respective values might have been the easier compared. This would now have been the case, if the silver standard of 11 oz. fine had been continued, as it was settled by queen Mary. But these things cannot now be remedied, without risquing a much greater inconvenience; as it is dangerous to meddle in any wise with the standard of money.
It is no wonder if amidst the various schemes for supplying the necessities of king Charles I. that also of debasing the coin should be taken into consideration: But the ministry seem to have been fully convinced of the vanity of such projects, by a speech made at the council table in July 1640 by Sir Thomas Rowe,* of which I have made the following extract. (See ante pp. 125—131.)
8. The above excellent speech is so clear and full to the point, as to need no remarks. It shews that the nature of money, however it came to be so much mistaken since, was formerly well understood; and by a passage in it, and in the† Report of a committee appointed by the privy-council to examine into the project of debasing the coin, we learn that the said project came from some officers of the mint, with whom were also joined certain goldsmiths or money-mongers; And to facilitate the scheme, it appears, that these gentlemen did not scruple to make allegations that were false in point of fact. It will be shewed hereafter, why mint-masters have an interest in promoting any alteration in the standard of money: And although nothing that hath been here or elsewhere said, is intended as a reflection upon any persons of the present age, as I do not think that they deserve such a censure; yet it may serve as a standing caution to those in power, not to trust too far to the opinions or glosses of those, who may be interested in deceiving them.
10. The several ways by which the standard of money might be debased.
What the standard of money is, hath been already fully* explained: But to prevent mistakes, I shall here recapitulate the several ways by which this standard may be debased, lowered, or curtailed; for all these words here are synonimous, and with these, the phrase raising the money, hath also the same signification.
First, By altering the denominations of the coins, without making any alteration at the mint, or in the coins themselves; as suppose nine-pence, or as much silver as there is now in nine-pence, should be called a shilling; then a shilling would be called sixteen-pence, and so proportionably of all the other coins; and three crown pieces, or fifteen of our present shillings, would be called a pound sterling, which is our money integer. The same loss would descend down to the penny, and by this reckoning, the real penny must be called 1? penny.
Or the alteration may be made at the mint, by either of the following methods.
Secondly, By continuing the same names and the same weights to the coins, but making them baser, or with less silver and more alloy.
Thirdly, By preserving the same fineness of the metal, but making the coins smaller or lighter.
Lastly, the two last methods, or all the three methods, might be compounded together.
And here it may not be amiss to repeat again, that by debasing the standard of money, I every where mean, the lessening of the quantity of pure silver in our money integer or pound sterling, or in the respective specie which by law is ordained to make up that sum, without regarding the particular manner, in or by which, this may be done.
Each of the preceding schemes for debasing the standard, have had their abettors. The first of these was Mr. Lowndes’s plan, and it must be owned that this is by far the least mischievous of them all; for by this means a recoinage is avoided, and all the old coins are continued to be useful under new names: but this is so glaringly foolish at first sight, that our modern projectors do not think it would afford them any countenance.
Those who are for debasing the metal without lessening the weights of the coins, say, that this would preserve the coin from wear: but this is saying either too much, or what is false; for were it true, the argument would bring us down to mere copper: But those who have been curious enough to make the experiment, know, that fine silver and fine gold, are less liable to wear than when alloyed.
The greatest number of the enemies to our standard, are to be ranged under the head of clippers, and perhaps this profitable trade is not quite out of their view; they are for reducing the coins to a less size, without altering the fineness of the metal; and with a grave air they shamelessly tell us, that this is not altering the standard of money.
[* ]Folkes’s table of English silver coins, page 35. We are much obliged to this learned author for the great pains he took in gathering many curious anecdotes relating to this subject.
[* ]Edw. VI. 1551.
[† ]Folkes’s table of English silver coins, p. 35.
[‡ ]Ibid. p. 36.
[* ]In p. 30, 31, of the above work, are two remarkable passages relating to this subject, extracted out of two sermons preached before the king, by the truly excellent bishop Latimer, in March 1549. In the first he says, “We have now a pretty little shilling, indeed a very pretty one. I have but one I think in my purse, and the last day I had put it away almost for an old groat, and so I trust some will take them. The fineness of the silver I cannot see: but therein is printed a fine sentence, Timor Domini fons vitæ vel sapientiæ.” In the next sermon, he says, “Thus they burdened me ever with sedition. And wot ye what? I chanced in my last sermon to speak a merry word of the new shilling, to refresh my auditory, how I was like to put away my new shilling for an old groat. I was therein noted to speak seditiously.—I have now gotten one fellowe more, a companion of sedition, and wot you who is my fellowe? Esay the prophet. I spake but of a little prettie shilling, but he speaketh to Jerusalem after another sort, and was so bold as to meddle with their coynes. Thou proud, thou haughty city of Jerusalem: Argentum tuum versum est in scoriam, thy silver is turned into, what? into testions? scoriam, into dross. Ah seditious wretch, what had he to do with the mint? Why should he not have left that matter to some master of policy to reprove? thy silver is dross, it is not fine, it is counterfeit, thy silver is turned; thou hadst good silver. What pertained that unto Esay? marry he espied a piece of divinity in that policy, he threatneth them God’s vengeance for it. He went to the root of the matter, which was covetousness; he espied two points in it, that either it came of covetousness, which became him to reprove: or else that it tended to the hurt of poore people; for the naughtiness of the silver was the occasion of dearth of all things in the realm. He imputeth it to them as a crime. He may be called a master of sedition indeed. Was not this a seditious fellow; to tell them this even to their faces?” I have cited these passages at large, because they not only shew in the clearest manner, this good bishop’s own sentiments of the pernicious consequence of the base money then current, but what most probably was also the common notions and talk at that time.
[* ]This speech was really made in 1626, by Sir Robert Cotton. See ante p. 123.
[† ]This Report is printed in the forecited speech of Sir Robert Cotton. See ante p. 132. We therefore omit the extract from it which Mr. Harris has here inserted.
[* ]§ 31 & 32, Part I.