Front Page Titles (by Subject) Introduction. - A Select Collection of Scarce and Valuable Tracts on Money
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Introduction. - 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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THE first writers, who, after the revival of learning in Europe, made the Greek and Roman money an object of their inquiries, took great pains to collect and explain such passages in antient authors as related to it; but very little to discover its true value. In so much, that some of them have supposed the Roman Aureus to have been heavier than the Greek Philippic* ; and others, that the Denarius was heavier than the Attic Drachm; but most of them agreed in this, that the two last mentioned coins were exactly equal. All which opinions are proved to be erroneous by the coins themselves now in being.
Our learned countryman John Greaves, was, I believe, the first who discovered that the Attic Drachm was heavier than the Denarius† . He seems to have examined a greater number of Greek and Roman Coins than any other writer on the subject. His balance turned with the 80th part of a grain* ; and his weights were correctly adjusted to the English standard† , as appears from the comparison the Royal Society of London caused to be made, in the year 1742, of the Troy Ounce with that of Paris, which was found to agree precisely with what Greaves had so long before determined‡ .
His care and diligence in weighing the coins, and his fidelity in reporting them, have never been doubted; but he is not always sufficiently explicit; as, where he says he had perused many hundred Denarii Consulares, and found the best of them to amount to 62 grains English§ ; it is probable he found many such, for there are many of this weight and upwards in that noble repository the British Museum; but when he says in the same paragraph, that, weighing many Attic Tetradrachms, he found the best of them to be 268 grains, he may mean only one, for very few come up to that weight. Nor hath he given a particular description of this heavy Tetradrachm, but seems to think the weight of that coin was in all ages the same, which probably it was not.
He allows that silver is more liable to be oversized at the mint than gold? ; yet he determines the weight of the Attic Drachm from the Tetradrachm to be 67 grains,¶ though no gold coin, he ever saw, comes up to it by a quarter of a grain in the Drachm** .
He hath likewise made his Denarius above half a grain heavier than any he had perused, to agree with Villalpandus’s weight of the Congius†† ; which led him to suppose, that the Roman Aureus was just double the weight of the Denarius,* contrary to the express testimony of Pliny. And he hath not given a clear account of the Consular Aureus.
In the year 1708, John Caspar Eisenschmid, of Strasburg, published his book de ponderibus & mensuris veterum, &c. He is an accurate and a faithful writer, but wanted materials. He used Paris weights, which seem to have been correctly sized to that standard. Having seen no Roman gold older than the reign of Tiberius, which was not too imperfect to discover its original weight,† and finding the most perfect Consular Denarii to be very unequally sized, he took a mean from a pretty large heap of such as he thought unexceptionably perfect, rejecting some, which, though apparently so, were very deficient in weight, and thence determined the weight of the Consular Denarius to be 74 Paris grains, equal to 60 Troy.‡ But, as he hath not told us what number of pieces his large heap contained, nor the weight of the heaviest and lightest of them, his conclusion is not satisfactory.
Having no perfect Greek coins, either gold or silver, except one very ancient Attic Tetradrachm weighing 333 Paris grains, he derived the weight of the Attic Drachm from his Denarius, by a proportion between the Roman Pound and the Attic Talent, mentioned in the 38th book of Livy’s History, which happened to agree with the weight of his ancient Tetradrachm, giving a Drachm of 83¼ Paris grains, equal to almost 68 Troy.§
Neither he nor Greaves has taken notice of the Roman Scrupular gold coin, nor made such use of the Constantinopolitan Solidus, as might be expected, from the great number now remaining in the most perfect preservation, though the latter hath given the weights of 29 of them.
Greaves, very justly, observes, that, “gold coins are not subject to be consumed by time and rust, but only ex intertrimento; and therefore we may the safelier give credit to them. And because the difference, though but of a grain, is of some consideration in gold, the masters of the mint use to be more circumspect about them: whereas, in silver coins, since it is hardly worth the pains to stand precisely on the excess or defect of a grain, there are few of these so exact, but either exceed or want in the very mint one or two grains, and sometimes more.”*
I found, the heaviest of twenty new guineas, of the year 1768, fresh from the mint, to outweigh the lightest 1 grains. The didrachmal gold of Philip and Alexander is about 4 grains heavier than our guinea; and I never found the difference between any two of them, that appeared to be perfect and unworn, amount to two grains. The silver, likewise, of these two Princes is more correctly sized, than any other ancient silver money I have seen.
The Roman Consular Aureus is between 3 and 4 grains lighter than a guinea, and is not so correctly sized as the Greek gold; but much more so than the Denarius, which is so unequal, that the Roman mint-masters seem to have contented themselves, with striking a certain number of pieces out of the pound of silver, with very little regard to their equality. Therefore, as far as the discovery of the weight of the Roman pound depends on their coin, it must be obtained from the gold alone.
Eisenschmid supposes, that gold coins may have lost a sensible part of their original weight, though no appearance of wear can be discovered on them, even with a glass.* On the contrary, I have found guineas of George II, and Ann, whose wear, on the most prominent parts of the head, was visible at the first glance of the naked eye, which were above standard weight; therefore, where no appearance of wear, or other diminution, can be discovered on a coin, I see no reason to suppose it hath lost any sensible part of its original weight.
In the following discourse, I have collected the most authentic evidence I could find, of the weights of the Attic Drachm and the Roman Denarius; part of which I have taken from that very valuable publication of the Pembroke collection of coins. But, valuable as it is, it would have been more satisfactory to the accurate peruser, if the Noble Editor had distinguished the degree of preservation the several coins were in, and given the weights of the most perfect, nearer than to half a grain.
In the year 1759, by the favour of the learned and ingenious Dr. Gowin Knight, Principal Librarian of the British Museum, I weighed a considerable number of the most perfect Greek and Roman coins in that noble Repository.
The scales I used were good workmanship, of the common construction, made by Read; the beam 8 inches, and they turned freely with less than the 20th part of a grain. To avoid any error, I weighed each piece in both pans. My weights were most accurately sized; and, upon comparing the Troy ounce I used, with that in the archives of the Royal Society, in an exquisite balance of my late much esteemed friend, Dr. Henry Pemberton, it was found to be ? of a grain heavier, which I have allowed for in the following discourse.
This essay hath received very considerable additions from the inestimable treasury of ancient coins, in the possession of the learned Matthew Duane, Esq; who most obligingly assisted me in taking the weights of such as were for my purpose. And it was from the coins in this collection only, that I discovered the Eginean Talent to have been the money standard of Macedon, before Philip changed it for the Attic.
Dr. Hunter, likewise, very politely favoured me with the inspection of his curious cabinet of ancient coins, some of which I shall have occasion to mention in the following discourse; as well as some brought from Greece, by my learned friend James Stuart, Esq; who, it is hoped, will soon favour the Public with the second volume of his Antiquities of Athens.
[* ]See Gronovius, de pecunia vetere, l. ii. c. 8.
[† ]See the dedication of his Discourse of the Roman Foot and Denarius, printed in the year 1647, and reprinted, with other of his works, by Dr. Birch, in 1736. I quote the original edition, which contains 134 pages numbered after the dedication. That of Dr. Birch, begins at p. 181 (excluding the dedication), and ends at p. 356.
[† ]See his Discourse, p. 61.
[‡ ]Philosophical Transactions, No. 465.
[§ ]p. 61.
[? ]p. 103.
[¶ ]p. 66.
[** ]p. 72.
[†† ]Compare p. 94 and 120, with p. 61.
[* ]p. 103.
[† ]Eisenschmid, p. 34.
[‡ ]p. 33.
[§ ]p. 40 and 42.
[* ]Greaves, p. 103.
[* ]Eisenschmid, p. 34, 35.