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GENERAL INFORMATION ON SUBJECTS OF MATHEMATICS, NATURAL PHILOSOPHY AND HISTORY, CHRONOLOGY, GEOGRAPHY, STATISTICS, &c.
1.-NOTES ON THE HISTORY OF THE
ENGLISH COINAGE. The discussions which have taken place on the decimal coinage give a present interest to the history of our coinage in general, and will justify us in putting together a few notes on the subject.
The most complete work on the coinage is the Annals, &c., by the Rev. Roger Ruding (London, 1817, 3 vols., 4to, and Suppi. 1819). Next to this comes the Historical Account, &c., by Stephen Martin Leake (London, 1726, 1745, 1793, 8vo). Camden's Romains (1605 and various other editions, 4to) contain a chapter on Money which has been much quoted : the same made be said of Bishop Nicolson's English Historical Library. Further references may be found in Ruding, Leake, Nicolson, and the Penny Cyclopædia, art. Coinage. A good popular book on the coinage is much wanted, which shall properly combine numismatics—coins considered as historical monuments —with the monetary history of the nation.
A Coin is a certain amount of precious metal, with the state mark upon it as a guarantee for weight and quality. In no coinage is it more necessary to remember this definition than in our own, in which, originally and for a long period, large sums were left to be weighed, and coinage was but a convenience for avoiding the trouble of weighing smaller sums. The Saxons and the early Normans coined only silver, and of this nothing higher than the penny. The Saxons had gold bizants or bezants, but these were coined at Constantinople (Byzantium). In the early Norman times, Italian, Flemish, and Jewish money-lenders brought foreign gold into the country. But it must be remembered that up to the time of Edward III. (excepting only the gold penny of Henry III., meant for twenty silver pence, and probably not circulated) there was no coinage of gold by an English sovereign. Pence, halfpence, and farthings, in silver, , formed the national currency for money counted and not weighed. When Edward I. coined fourpences, they
were called groats, or great' coins : but this coin did not become generally current till the time of Edward III. The Saxons had copper coins of eight to the penny; but no copper was coined after the Conquest, as a national coin, until the time of James I. Copper was considered a base metal; a kind of token: a copper halfpenny struck, but not circulated, in the reign of Elizabeth bears, not the word halfpenny, but the words pledge of a halfpenny: even King James's farthings were considered as tokens.
A look at the time of Richard I., in the novel of Ivanhoe, will illustrate what we have said. The knights ransom their armour in zecchins: the zecchin was an Italian gold coin, introduced by the Italian money-lenders. The readers of the Arabian* Nights know it as the sequin. The Jew, and the Abbot ransom themselves from Robin Hood in crowns, French or Flemish (for there was no such English coin), and probably gold. The baron who proposes to torture the Jew out of a thousand pounds of silver, produces his scales, and demands Tower weight. He offers to take a mark of gold for each six pounds of silver, the regular terms of the day : this again was weight, for the mark was never a coin, at any time, but only two-thirds of a pound. So far we have no fault to find. But when Prince John offers the archer twenty nobles, we may ask where the Prince was to find either the name or the coin. When he proposes to fill the horn with “ silver pennies,” we can imagine the yeoman wondering what choice of pence his Highness could possibly have, except silver ones. When the Saxon peasant grumbles at the Jews for not flinging him " a mancus or two,” he was more unreasonable than Sir Walter meant him to be : for the old Saxon mancus, mancusa, or manca, never was a coin, but only a money of account in the books, and a number of pence in payment; to say nothing of the bearer of a letter complaining that the receiver did not pay him the price of a small flock of sheep for his trouble.
Many readers will be surprised to hear that the early Normans coined nothing higher than a penny: but they ought to be more surprised that the same kings coined nothing lower than a farthing. The price of a sheep was fourpence : at least this was the price at which the king's purveyors compounded for a sheep, when they demanded one ; perhaps we may more safely put the market price at sixpence. How should we get on in our day, if we had no coin smaller than would buy the twenty-fourth part of a sheep fit for the Queen's table? The probable explanation is that the lower orders had very little to do with money; they were serfs who were fed and clothed by their masters.
The mark, as we have said, never was a coin : and yet no name is more common in English monetary language. The prince's ransom, and the forester's bet upon his skill in archery, are equally in marks. A mark of silver might be counted in pence, or in foreign crowns, but the name was essentially descriptive of a weight. Thus it is no surprise to read that the duke who made a captive of Richard I. received the ransom in marks, of which he offered a portion to the Cistercians to make—not to buy-censers for their chapel services: an offer which the Cistercians refused, in contempt for the man who had taken so unfair an advantage of a brother Crusader. :
* The coin of the original Arabic is the dinar, of nearly the same value as the Italian zecchino This word zecchino, or sequin, is apparently not Italian, but Oriental : the original of it is a word meaning generally coin as distinguished from bullion, which we may spell sicca, since we know it under that spelling in the sicca rupee, &c.
It seems to have been an early principle that the great "valuers” of money should never be coins. These valuers were the shilling, a weight of the twentieth of a pound; the mark, a weight of two-thirds of a pound; and the pound, which was at last our pound troy, but which at first was, perhaps, the Tower pound, three-quarters of an ounce less than the pound troy. This troy pound, as every one knows, is of twelve ounces, each ounce having twenty pence, each penny, latterly at least, twenty-four grains. We say pence, not pennyweights, as now, for the penny was a weight; and we find such expressions as eleven ounces twopence farthing, meaning eleven ources two pennyweights and a quarter of our modern phraseology. The word pound has never been the name of a coin. The 20s. pieces of James and Charles were laureats and caroluses : that of George III. is a sovereign. To this day we think of the coin as a sovereign, of the debt it wipes out as a pound. In like manner the shilling was never anything but the twentieth of a pound weight of silver until Henry VII, coined a few shillings, and Henry VIII, circulated this coin extensively. But the name did not come in at once with the coin. That which is now the shilling was the groat of twelve pence, and the testoon, when first it appeared as a coin. .
When the gold coinage was introduced, there was wisdom in not attempting to coin an equivalent to twenty shillings. Both gold and silver were in the standard currency, and both were legal tender to any amount. While the relative values of the two metals were changing, it would have been impossible to preserve any gold coin in a state of equivalence to twenty shillings of silver. Our present silver coins* are only tokens, and pass for more than their value, as compared with gold; care is taken that it shall never be worth while to melt the silver coin into bullion. A coin passing for something very near 20s. the pound of account, would have been a serious inconvenience, especially if it had fluctuated, being alternately above and below the pound of account. No wise legislature will ever knowingly introduce into monetary arithmetic the necessity of adjustments which are sometimes additive and sometimes subtractive. Astronomers, many at least, have learnt the convenience of keeping the observatory clocks slow enough to insure the corrections necessary for true time being always additive. If, as has been proposed by some, a tenpenny coin were introduced, for the purpose of assimilation to the French franc, now 9 d. and a fraction, such a fluctuation in the exchanges as should throw the franc alternately above and below the 10d., would be the great arithmetical nuisance of its century, to all who should be concerned.
* A shilling only differs from a promise to pav a shilling in being of a more costly material than promises are usually written on. This costliness is the means of preventing forgery: the promise of government to receive the token at a shilling is signified on what is so nearly worth a shilling, that imitation could not be done at a sufficient profit, Thus the government will receive back its token, no matter how much worn or battered it may be, provided only so much of it hang together as to make it certain that no other part of it is circulating as another token. But gold circulates in another character, on its value as a commodity. Hence the necessity of government receiving it at value on its return to the Mint, and making a deduction for loss of weight. Many persons do not understand the distinction, and imagine that their loss upon the light gold is a hardship, because there is no loss on the light silver. Hardship or no hardship, the two cases are perfectly different. To make deduction for a light shilling would be much the same thing in the Mint, as it would be in the Bank to make deduction from a 51, note on account of stains, or crumpling, or tearing. Our silver is not money. Nobody is bound to take 458. of it in payment of 21. 5s. It cannot be legally tendered in sums of more than 40s.; and its meaning is, that the Mint will pay a gold sovereign for every 20s. of it, just as the Bank will pay five sovereigns for every one of its written promises called five-pound notes.
It appears from what has preceded, that up to the time of Edward III. the English currency was silver, all the gold in use as coin being foreign : that large sums of money were weighed, not counted, the round of silver being the chief unit, though hardly better known than the mark, or two-thirds of a pound: that the coinage was entirely of pence, halfpence, and farthings; so that coinage was no more than a convenience for preventing the constant weighing of small sums. It is further said that the cross, which was always marked upon the reverse of the penny, was used to facilitate the fracture of the piece into four farthings; but it is a matter of discussion whether this was really done to any extent. The occurrence of the cross on the small money gave rise to the description of extreme poverty conveyed in “ He has not a cross to bless himself with."
From a very early period, the English coinage was called sterling, a name by which it has been known throughout the world. It is also obvious that by this name came to be signified the superior soundness and good faith of the English coinage; from which, as an adjective, it has come to stand for that which can be fully depended on. The account of the origin of this word which the antiquaries prefer, is as follows:- That in or before the time of Richard I., money coined in the east of Germany began to be in request in England for its purity, and was called Easterling money, those Germans being called Easterlings; that shortly afterwards some of their best coiners were sent for into England, and that from that time the money was called Easterling and sterling. Another account derives the word sterling, esterling, or starling (as according to Spelman it was sometimes written), from the little stars which were frequently on the English penny, and which were almost universal in the pence of the time at which the English coinage began to be of high reputation. In our minds there is no doubt that the second is the true derivation, for which opinion we proceed to give reasons.
In the first place, the word sterling or csterling meant a penny, not coin in general, but the 240th part of a pound. By statutes of Henry III. and Edward I., the English penny, which is called a sterling (qui vocatur sterlingus), shall weigh &c. &c. By an ordinance of Henry II., his French subjects must pay two pence each, his English subjects one sterling each. By an ordinance of Henry III., every sterling which is under weight is to be melted.
Richard II. gives the King of Scotland, not tria inillia librarum sterlingarum, 3,000 pounds sterling, but tria millia librarum sterlingorum, 3,000 pounds of sterlings. This saine idiom occurs frequently, namely, a case inflexion which proves that sterlingus is a substantive, and not an adjective expressing quality. Nor was it an English substantive only. A Cologne ordinance prescribes that 20 sterlings shall weigh an ounce. David I. of Scotland, who reigned before coiners were ever said to have come from the east into England, ordains that the sterling shall weigh 32 grains of wheat. And David II. ordains that our money, that is to say sterlings (moneta nostra, videlicet sterlingi), shall not be carried out of the kingdom.” We might multiply testimonies of this kind : those we have cited are all in Ducange (at the word Esterlingus), with proper references, except the 3,000 millia, &c., which is from a charter in Hoveden. So late as Henry V., the word sterling meant a penny; for in the last year of Henry IV., there is a proclamation against Venetian pence, of which it is said that three or four are hardly equal to one sterling (Ruding). We may also note, that in becoming the name of a coin, the word sterling also became the name of a weight. An old explanation of the purity of the silver of the time of Edward I. (Camden), states that eleven ounces two easterlings and one ferling (farthing) should be silver, and the rest alloy. The next paragraph refers to this as eleven ounces and two pence ferling.
But if the word sterling mean the little-star coin, how comes it to be esterliny in at least half the mentions of the word, and, specially, in all the French records without fail ? How come the French to be more addicted than the English to that part of the word which, if the syllable mean east, does not belong to their own language ? In this way, we think : the old French for star is Estelle, a form which they still keep as a female name, and from which they get the modern étoile. The r in Esterlin comes from the English, we suppose, but they do not always use it. In an old French ordinance it is said that Chaque Estellin doit pezer 3. oboles Tournois (Ducange). And the same writer cites an old French romance, in words which we leave the reader to decipher:
Més je ne suie mie venus
Més pour la terre tout avoir. From the time of the Saxons it had been customary to put on the reverse of the penny small birds, fleur-de-lys, studs, annulets, stars, &e. The same usage also prevailed elsewhere. The penny with simple round studs or buttons, which might be looked upon as stars. became exceedingly common about the time of Henry II. and Richard I. The great reformer of the coinage was Henry II.: “this king,” says Leake, “seems to have been the first, from the Conquest, that made any considerable regulations for money affairs." One of his pence has stars before the bust of the sovereign. We cannot pretend to determine what particular stars, and whether on