« ElőzőTovább »
In the time of William III., the gold had ceased to represent any. thing like its value, from clipping and wear. It is said that sive pounds of coined money was intrinsically scarce worth forty shil. Îings. As to the silver, it was common to sell bullion for 6s. 3.1. an ounce of the common coin, and for 5s. 2d. of good and new coin; so that even the silver coinage passed at varieties of value. And yet this evil had been endured for many years, and no minister had dared to face it. In the reign of George Ill., it may almost be supposed that the government, not daring to attempt a complete l'ecoinage, would not venture to put out any new shillings, &c., which might bring the old ones into discredit. Small silver was struck in 1763, 1764, 1775, 1778, and 1787 ; but not enough to be put into general circulation. The consequence was, that honest illegal coining made a very good livelihood: little silver plates, exactly resembling government shillings and sixpences, and quite as valuable, were supplied by “private enterprise.” It is stated that the value of the counterfeit shillings was 8£d. ; the genuine shillings, as worn, could have been worth but little more. The continuer of Leake says, in 1793, that “ few, very few indeed, of the shillings and sixpences now in use, appear ever to have been legally coined.” The coiners evaded the law by putting a faint head of William III. on one side, and leaving the other quite plain; representing the coins, when detected, as buttons not yet shanked; and some actually escaped on this plea. From 1751 to 1793, at least, there was no coinage of crowns or half-crowns. Nothing was done to mend all this till the peace of 1815.
It may fairly be inferred that any establishment of a decimal coinage which contemplates a grand measure of recoinage, to be executed at one time, has no chance of success whatever. All the plans now recognise this: all the proposers declare that the existing coinage is to continue, until gradually absorbed by the Mint. But in all the plans, except that which adopts the pound and divides it into 1000 parts, this declaration is, in everything except intention, a subterfuge and an evasion. A system which invites us to begin reckoning in sums of £d., 2}d., 2s. 1d., and 11. Os. 10d., while our present coins exist, and while we are watching the gradual introduction of coins representing these sums, concurrently with the coins which now exist, will, we are satisfied, invite to nothing but laughter, when it becomes generally understcod. The same may be said of the system which proposes 10d. and 8s. 4d. on the same terms. And any system which only gives the option of decimal reckoning, and leaves the power of continuance in our present reckoning, will assuredly never succeed in introducing decinal reckoning at all.
We are now speaking of coinage, and therefore have only to compare with others our system in this one respect, referring to our number for 1854 for its description, &c. The farthing, halfpenny, and penny, might remain in circulation, at 4 per cent. under their present value, or at 25 farthings to the half. shilling. The principal new coin required would be the cent., ten new farthings, the hundredth of a pound. But this coin need not be fully introduced
at the moment of the change; it would be enough that reasonable diligence, such as would not seriously inconvenience the Mint, should be used to issue it, and to call in the silver threepences and fourpences, which would, in the meantime, pass for 12 and 16 new farthings. The recall of the half-crowns, and the circulation of florins, might proceed with deliberate steadiness.
Among the ancient difficulties of coinage was that of producing a perfectly round figure. The piece was beaten out to the proper size before it was punched. Hence the outer ring of the design could not come exactly upon the edge of the coin, or at equal distances from it throughout, so that there was an external space of which no one could say how large it ought to be, or how large it had been. The consequence was that clipping the coin was a trade, which many severe laws were passed to prevent. A piece of money was considered of good reputation, if it were not clipped within the ring; and various laws designate this expressly as the limit up to which the coin was legal tender. The coining mill, invented in France about 1553, was used in England in 1561, but only for a short time. Some partial revival of its use occurred, but it did not become a permanent instrument till 1662. The milled money was the first in which equal thickness was secured by coining from plates drawn out between rollers; and also the first in which letters were put on the edge, or in which what we still call a milled edge was produced. This put a stop to outrageous clipping, and transferred that name, which still remained in Acts of Parliament, to the less violent process of filing ; while at the same time it introduced the process of sweating. It is said that, about 1770, filing of English gold went on in open day in Parisian workshops, at a gain of two shillings on the guinea. At the same time, both silver and copper were coined too high; so that much of the new coin found its way to the melting-pot before the shine had left its face.
The combined action of the Mint and the Bank has supplied a heart to the circulation of coin; and better knowledge of the conditions of health, in conjunction with the stimulating power of regulated paper currency, has prevented the alternate overactions and underactions of this organ. We have but one more great change to look for, the establishment of a coinage which will naturally lead to a decimal mode of reckoning : and it is fortunate that this can be done without any greater change than trivial and gradual additions to and withdrawals from the silver, a change of only four per cent in the copper, and no change of any kind in the gold. University College, London,
A. DE MORGAN. October 20, 1855.
II.-SCHEMES FOR OBTAINING AGRICULTURAL
STATISTICS. Johnson's famous aphorism about that man being a benefactor to his race who made two blades of grass to grow where one grew before, is somewhat hackneyed. That the aphorism is true, no one can doubt; but it is singular to note how the subject of Agricultural
Statistics starts into prominence when the comparison is distinctly made between one and two. Who can tell the one, and who the two, of English agriculture. Who knows how much grass grows upon a given area? Who can inform us whether one county be more rich in this particular, and by how much, than another? What test offers itself whereby county may be compared with county, or one age with another age? When Johnson spoke of grass, he of course included corn. Farmer Stubble can tell to a bushel how much wheat he drew from his forty-acre field in 1855, and in all probability he has noted in his memory the weight per bushel ; but he does not know the average produce of his county for the same year, nor of the whole country, nor the breadth of corn sown and reaped in that year, nor the total average as compared with that of 1854, nor the average under corn culture in the whole county, nor the quantity required for the daily wants of the nation, nor the proportion of this quantity which must necessarily be derived from foreign sources. On none of these points can he form anything more trustworthy than mere vague guesses. He may compare notes with his brother farmers, but their consultations are enveloped in a good deal of mist, from the paucity of reliable facts. Merchants, statesmen, and political economists are placed in similar uncertainty.
This subject has now become one of national importance, and is at length attracting a degree of attention commensurate with its value. In June 1855, the House of Lords appointed a Committee to inquire into “ The best mode of obtaining accurate Agricultural Statistics from all parts of the United Kingdom.” A valuable Report was presented by the Committee in August; and it now remains to be seen whether legislation will take up the subject in 1856.
The absence of information on the Statistics of Agriculture, as the Report of the Committee clearly shows, is found to be productive of inconvenience and injury to all classes—and to none more than to the agriculturists themselves. There is uncertainty concerning the quantity of land under different kinds of crops in each year; uncertainty as to the supplies of food that exist in the country at any given time ; uncertainty in respect to the quantities which may be required from abroad to make up the deficiency in homegrown produce ; uncertainty in the amount of variations in price caused by variations in abundance; and uncertainty respecting the range of hazardous speculations hence arising. Trustworthy Agricultural Statistics are further important, as a basis whereon a correct appreciation may be formed of the social and economical progress of the people; for it may reasonably be expected, that when the conjectural and uncertain data on these subjects are replaced by ascertained facts, much light will be thrown upon many important questions connected with the well-being of the great masses; and it can as little be doubted, that the risk of error in dealing with such questions will be diminished.
The bearings of this topic, as affecting the farmer himself, are thus adverted to by. Mr. Buckland, in his evidence before the Committee :-" It is quite clear we are in a position at the present moment in which we cannot depend upon foreign supplies with any
certainty. We have always, without such information, been in a situation in which the agriculturist has been at the mercy of the importer ; the Government has been totally ignorant of the wants of the country, and of its consumption and growth ; and it has been left entirely to speculative persons, who have continually derived benefit from the disadvantage of the agriculturist. That the farmer himself should possess a knowledge of agricultural statistics, I think will appear very evident; and many of them now are much more strongly convinced of that than they were twenty-five or thirty years ago; because, by the returns being published at a period which would enable them to decide upon the cultivation of their crops for the ensuing spring, and by seeing the number of acres under any particular crop during the season which has passed, they may regulate very much their future cropping; and to that extent there would in the spring cropping be a material advantage derived by farmers. The farmer, at present, is also very much at the mercy of false representations as to the crops of the country; they may be false from accidental errors, because the facts are not really known; or they may be false from wilful misrepresentation. Certain individuals may derive a benefit from representing them to be more, and others, from representing them to be less, than they really are; and yet in the very cases of those individuals, the utmost ignorance must prevail.”
Mr. Buckland's line of argument may be illustrated by the supposed case of a merchant who, about to send out goods on a venture to Australia, is embarrassed in his determination of kinds and quantities, because he does not know what is the stock and what the demand in Australia at a given time. Accurate knowledge on these points might possibly enable him to double his profit, or to convert a loss into a profit. So the farmer, by being unacquainted with the acreage of wheat or any other crop in England, and with the probable demand, is in doubt what crop to lay down in the next season. TI repeal of the corn-laws has rendered this matter doubly important. The farmer, free to crop his land as he may please, without being biassed by absurd and fallacious protective enactments, is naturally interested in knowing which kind of crop is likely to be most in demand in the next season or the next year. Shall it be wheat, for man's food ; or oats, for horses; or turnips, for cattlefeeding; or grass, for the hay-market? He can form a humble guess, derived from his own immediate neighbourhood ; but unless he know what amount of each crop is at that moment growing over the country generally, or what the amount of the last harvest, he must perforce make a sort of leap in the dark.
Nothing can be more striking than the inter-dependence, the mutual influence, the action and reaction of the nicely-adjusted clements of an industrial and commercial system. How could a dry table of Agricultural Statistics affect the Three per Cents., or the discount of bills in the City, or the foreign dealings of a large commercial house, or the bankruptcy of a great firm? What are the links which bring all these into one chain ? Mr. Leoni Levi, Professor of Commercial Law in King's College in his evidence
before the Committee, supplied the means of giving, to a certain extent, an answer to these questions. Thrown into a different form, the steps of his reasoning may be made to apply--first to merchants ; next to capitalists; and next to shippers or freighters.
As to corn-merchants, the matter stands thus : Such persons deeni it very important to obtain access to any statistical returns, or practical estimates if nothing better offer, of the corn crops of the country; they desire to know, if it' be possible, how far the homegrowth will meet the home demand within a certain definite period. The corn-merchant lays all his plans with reference to securing the means of having a stock on hand when the demand shall be brisk; and this he can only do by foreknowing, as it were, the state of the crops three or six months hence. If nothing better be obtainable than vague guesses on this point, he may over-buy or under-buy through his ignorance: in the one case a good harvest might find him with a heavy previous stock on hand, in consequence of too large purchases from abroad; while in the other contingency a deficient crop might meet his view at a time when his granaries were nearly empty, consequent on a neglect of making purchases from other countries in good time. In the former case, he would make but little profit, although the people would obtain cheap bread; in the latter case, there is neither good profit for the merchant nor cheap bread for the people. The question is not here one of grasping monopoly—a buying up of all the corn by a few wealthy individuals, with a view of giving an artificially high price to grain in the market; but one of reasonable foresight in preparing for the worst -discounting a calamity, as it were, by spreading its consequences over a considerable space of time. If corn-merchants could correctly ascertain the probable amount of the year's crops, there is every likelihood that profits and prices would be subject to less violent fluctuations than those which are attendant upon ignorance. If this reasoning be correct, then do Agricultural Statistics tell upon the daily bread of every one of us.
Next comes the reaction between the corn-merchants and other merchants, and between merchants generally and the capitalists. The prices of grain exercise a marked influence on the prices of all other commodities; because bread is the first of material necessities to the bulk of the people. The “ Mark Lane Express” becomes a barometer, whereby the prices of all commodities are more or less affected. A merchant, dealing in other commodities than corn, would regulate his exports or imports in part by the prospective necessity of bringing more corn into the country; because relative prices of different commodities in two countries are likely to be much shaken by a large transference of corn from the one to the othercorn being a mighty disturber of commerce, when harvests are unequal in different parts of the world. Then again the financier, the banker, is soon affected by fluctuations in this sensitive barometer. If much grain must come in from abroad, much gold will in all probability be sent out to pay for it; and this transfer of the precious metals will affect the quantity of bullion in the Bank, the price of the funds, the rate of discount on bills,