Front Page Titles (by Subject) Deficiency of Weight of the English Gold Coin. - Money and the Mechanism of Exchange
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Deficiency of Weight of the English Gold Coin. - 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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Deficiency of Weight of the English Gold Coin.
It is the theory of the present English monetary law, as we have seen (p. 107) that every person weighs a sovereign tendered to him, and assures himself, before accepting it, that it does not weigh less than 122.5 grains. In former days it was not uncommon for people to carry pocket-scales for weighing guineas, and such scales may still be occasionally seen in old curiosity shops. But we know that the practice is entirely given up, and that even the largest receivers of coins, such as the banks and railway companies, and even tax-offices, post-offices, etc., do not pay the least regard to the law. Only the Bank of England, its branches, and a few government offices, weigh gold coin in England. The result is that a large part of the gold coinage is worn below the least current weight, and all persons of experience avoid paying old sovereigns to the Bank of England. Only ignorant and unlucky persons, or else large banks and companies which cannot otherwise get rid of light coin, suffer loss. The quantity of light gold coin withdrawn by the bank did not for many years exceed half a million a year; during the last few years it has varied from £700,000 to £950,000. As the average amount of gold coined annually is four or five millions, and the coins melted or exported are for the most part new and of full weight, it follows necessarily, that the currency is becoming more and more deficient in weight.
In 1869 I ascertained, by a careful and extensive inquiry, that 31½ per cent. of the sovereigns and nearly one-half of the ten-shilling pieces were then below the legal limit. The reader who has attended to the remarks on Gresham's Law (p. 80), will see that no amount of coinage of new gold will drive out of circulation these depreciated old coins, because those who export, or melt, or otherwise treat the coins as bullion, will take care to operate upon good new ones.
Great injustice arises in some cases from this defective state of the gold currency. I have heard of one case in which an inexperienced person, after receiving several hundred pounds in gold from a bullion dealer in the city of London, took them straight to the bank of England for deposit. Most of the sovereigns were there found to be light, and a prodigious charge was made upon the unfortunate depositor. The dealer in bullion had evidently paid him the residuum of a mass of coins, from which he had picked the heavy ones. In a still worse case, lately reported to me, a man presented a post-office order at St. Martin's-le-Grand, and carried the sovereigns received to the stamp-office at Somerset House, where the coins were weighed, and some of them found to be deficient. Here a man was, so to say, defrauded between two government offices.
It should be stated that the government made, in July, 1870, a slight effort to promote the withdrawal of light gold, by engaging to receive it through the Bank of England at the full price of £3 17s. 9d. per ounce by weight, the price previously paid by the bank having been only £3 17s. 6½d., owing to the old sovereigns being a little below the standard in fineness. A certain increase in the amounts withdrawn has no doubt followed this measure; but the loss by deficiency in weight is still thrown upon the public, and as long as this is the case the withdrawal of light gold will continue inadequate to maintain the coinage at its standard weight.