Front Page Titles (by Subject) Currency by Weight. - Money and the Mechanism of Exchange
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Currency by Weight. - William Stanley Jevons, Money and the Mechanism of Exchange 
Money and the Mechanism of Exchange (New York: D. Appleton and Co. 1876).
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Currency by Weight.
The order in which I have enumerated the principal systems of metallic money, is not only the logical order, but it is the historical order in which the systems have, for the most part, been introduced. There is overwhelming evidence to prove that simple currency by weight is the primitive system. Before the invention of the balance, lumps and grains were no doubt exchanged according to a rude estimation of their bulk or weight; but afterwards the balance became a necessary instrument in all important transactions. In the Old Testament we find several statements clearly implying that the ancient Hebrews used to pass money by weight. In Genesis (xxiii. 16) Abraham is represented as weighing out to Ephron "four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant," but the silver in question is believed to have consisted of rough lumps or rings not to be considered coin. In the Book of Job (xxviii. 15) we are told that "wisdom cannot be gotten for gold, neither shall silver be weighed for the price thereof."
Aristotle, in his Politics (Book I., chap. ix), gives an interesting account of his view of the origin of money, and distinctly tells us that the metals were first passed simply by weight or size, and Pliny makes a similar assertion. That it was so, we may infer from the remarkable fact that, even when no use was made of it, the custom of bringing a pair of scales survived as a legal formality in the sale of slaves at Rome.
There can be little doubt that every system of coinage was originally identical with a system of weights, the unit of value being the unit of weight of some selected metal. The English pound sterling was certainly the Saxon pound of standard silver, which was too large to be made into a single coin, but was divided into two hundred and forty silver pennies, each equal to a pennyweight. In the English and Scotch pounds, and the French livre, we have the vestiges of a uniform international system of money and weights, the establishment of which is attributed to Charlemagne, but which unfortunately became differentiated and destroyed by the various depreciations of the coinage in one country or another. Most of the other principal units of value were originally units of weight, such as the shekel, the talent, the as, the stater, the libra, the mark, the franc, the lira.
In the Old Testament the notion of money is expressed three times by the Hebrew word kesitah, which is translated in certain old versions into words meaning lamb. This might seem to be an additional proof of the former use of cattle as a medium of exchange; but I am informed by my learned friend, Professor Theodores, that this translation probably arises from an accidental blunder, and that the original meaning of the word kesitah, was that of "a certain weight," or "an exact quantity." The corresponding word in the Arabic, kist, is said to denote a pair of scales.
Currency by weight still exists among considerable portions of the human race. In the Burman empire, for instance, three kinds of metal are current, namely, lead, silver, and gold, and all payments are made by the balance, the unit of weight for silver being the tical. In the Chinese Empire and Cochin China, there is indeed a legal tender currency of cash or sapeks but gold and silver are usually dealt in by weight, the unit being the tael. A very interesting account of Chinese money, by M. le Comte Rochechouart, will be found in the Journal des Economistes for 1869 (vol. xv. p. 103). According to this writer, both gold and silver are treated simply as merchandise, and there is not even a recognized stamp, or government guarantee of the fineness of the metal. The traveller must carry these metals with him, as a sufficient quantity of strings of cash would require a waggon for their conveyance. Yet in exchanging silver or gold he is sure to suffer great losses, both from the falsity of balances and weights, and the uncertain fineness of the metal. In buying a tael of gold the traveller may have to give eighteen taels of silver; but in selling it he will often not obtain more than fourteen taels.
Whatever be the inconveniences of the method, currency by weight is yet the natural and necessary system to which people revert whenever the abrasion of coins, the intermixture of currencies, the fall of a state, or other causes destroy the public confidence in a more highly organized system. Though the silver penny among the Anglo-Saxons was supposed to correspond with a pennyweight, there was a practice of giving compensatio ad pensum, which really amounted to taking the coins by weight, to allow for abrasion and inaccurate or false coinage. The as was at first equal in weight to a Roman pound, but it was rapidly lessened, so that at the epoch of the First Punic War, it did not exceed two ounces, and by the time of the Second Punic War it had sunk to one ounce. The Roman people had naturally reverted to weighing the metal, and the aes grave was money reckoned by weight instead of by tale.
In the present day currency by weight is far more extensively practised then might be supposed, because, in many parts of the world, the currency consists of a miscellaneous assortment of old gold, silver, and even copper coins, which have been brought thither from other countries, and have been variously worn, clipped, or depreciated. In such countries the only means of avoiding loss and fraud is to weigh each coin, and the impress passes for little more than an indication of the fineness of the metals. In all large international transactions, again, currency by weight is the sole method. The regulations of a state concerning its legal tender have no validity beyond its own frontiers; and as all coins are subject to more or less wear and uncertainty of weight, they are received only for the actual weight of metal they are estimated to contain. The coin of well-conducted foreign mints is bought and sold by weight without melting; but the coin of minor states, which have occasionally depreciated their money, is melted up and treated simply as bullion.