« AnteriorContinuar »
BOOK of two or three fheep. If, on the contrary, in
ftead of sheep or oxen, he had metals to give in exchange for it, he could eafily proportion the quantity of the metal to the precife quantity of the commodity which he had immediate occafion for.
Different metals have been made use of by different nations for this purpose. Iron was the common inftrument of commerce among the antient Spartans; copper among the antient Romans; and gold and filver among all rich and commercial nations.
Thofe metals feem originally to have been made ufe of for this purpose in rude bars, without any stamp or coinage. Thus we are told by Pliny, upon the authority of Timæus, an antient hiftorian, that, till the time of Servius Tullius, the Romans had no coined money, but made use of unstamped bars of copper, to purchafe whatever they had occafion for. These rude bars, therefore, performed at this time the function of money.
The ufe of metals in this rude ftate was attended with two very confiderable inconveniencies; firft, with the trouble of weighing; and, fecondly, with that of affaying them. In the precious metals, where a fmall difference in the quantity makes a great difference in the value, even the business of weighing, with proper exactnefs, requires at least very accurate weights and fcales. The weighing of gold in particular is an
*Plin. Hift. Nat. lib. 33. cap. 3.
operation of fome nicety. In the coarfer metals, CHA P. indeed, where a finall error would be of little confequence, lefs accuracy would, no doubt, be neceffary. Yet we fhould find it 'exceffively troublefome, if every time a poor man had occafion either to buy or fell a farthing's worth of goods, he was obliged to weigh the farthing. The operation of affaying is ftill more difficult, ftill more tedious, and, unlefs a part of the metal is fairly melted in the crucible, with proper diffolvents, any conclufion that can be drawn from it, is extremely uncertain. Before the inftitution of coined money, however, unless they went through this tedious and difficult operation, people muft always have been liable to the groffeft frauds and impofitions, and inftead of a pound weight of pure filver, or pure copper, might receive in exchange for their goods, an adulterated compofition of the coarseft and cheapest materials, which had, however, in their outward appearance, been made to resemble those metals. To prevent fuch abufes, to facilitate exchanges, and thereby to encourage all forts of industry and commerce, it has been found neceffary, in all countries that have made any confiderable advances towards improvement, to affix a public ftamp upon certain quantities of fuch particular metals, as were in those countries commonly made ufe of to purchafe goods. Hence the origin of coined money, and of those public offices called mints; inftitutions exactly of the fame nature with thofe of the aulnagers and ftampmafters of woollen and
BOOK and linen cloth. All of them are equally meant
to ascertain, by means of a public stamp, the quantity and uniform goodness of those different commodities when brought to market.
The first public stamps of this kind that were affixed to the current metals, feem in many cafes to have been intended to afcertain, what it was both most difficult and moft important to afcertain, the goodness or finenefs of the metal, and to have resembled the fterling mark which is at present affixed to plate and bars of filver, or the Spanish mark which is fometimes affixed to ingots of gold, and which being struck only upon one fide of the piece, and not covering the whole furface, afcertains the fineness, but not the weight of the metal. Abraham weighs to Ephron the four hundred fhekels of filver which he had agreed to pay for the field of Machpelah. They are faid however to be the current money of the merchant, and yet are received by weight and not by tale, in the fame manner as ingots of gold and bars of filver are at prefent. The revenues of the antient Saxon kings of England are faid to have been paid, not in money but in kind, that is, in victuals and provifions of all forts. William the Conqueror introduced the cuftom of paying them in money. This money, however, was, for a long time, received at the exchequer, by weight and not by tale.
The inconveniency and difficulty of weighing thofe metals with exactness gave occafion to the inftitution of coins, of which the ftamp, covering entirely both fides of the piece and fometimes
the edges too, was fuppofed to afcertain not CHAP. only the fineness, but the weight of the metal. Such coins, therefore, were received by tale as at prefent, without the trouble of weighing.
The denominations of thofe coins feem originally to have expreffed the weight or quantity of metal contained in them. In the time of Servius Tullius, who firft coined money at Rome, the Roman As or Pondo contained a Roman pound of good copper. It was divided in the fame manner as our Troyes pound, into twelve ounces, each of which contained a real ounce of good copper. The English pound fterling in the time of Edward I. contained a pound, Tower weight, of filver of a known fineness. The Tower pound feems to have been fomething more than the Roman pound, and fomething less than the Troyes pound. This laft was not introduced into the mint of England till the 18th of Henry VIII. The French livre contained in the time of Charlemagne a pound, Troyes weight, of filver of a known fineness. The fair of Troyes in Champaign was at that time frequented by all the nations of Europe, and the weights and measures of fo famous a market were generally known and efteemed. The Scots money pound contained, from the time of Alexander the Firft to that of Robert Bruce, a pound of filver of the fame weight and fineness with the English pound fterling. English, French, and Scots pennies too, contained all of them originally a real pennyweight of filver, the twentieth part of an ounce, and the
BOOK the two-hundred-and-fortieth part of a pound.
The fhilling too feems originally to have been the denomination of a weight. When wheat is at twelve fhilling's the quarter, fays an antient statute of Henry III. then wafiel bread of a farthing Shall weigh eleven fhillings and four pence. The proportion, however, between the fhilling and either the penny on the one hand, or the pound on the other, feems not to have been fo conftant and uniform as that between the penny and the pound. During the first race of the kings of France, the French fou or fhilling appears upon different occafions to have contained five, twelve, twenty, and forty pennies. Among the antient Saxons a fhilling appears at one time to have contained only five pennies, and it is not improbable that it may have been as variable among them as among their neighbours, the antient Franks. From the time of Charlemagne among the French, and from that of William the Conqueror among the English, the proportion between the pound, the fhilling, and the penny, feems to have been uniformly the fame as at prefent, though the value of each has been very different. For in every country of the world, I believe, the avarice and injuftice of princes and fovereign ftates, abufing the confidence of their fubjects, have by degrees diminished the real quantity of metal, which had been originally contained in their coins. The Roman As, in the latter ages of the Republic, was reduced to the twenty-fourth part of its original value, and, inftead of weighing a pound, came to weigh only