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STATISTICS OF THE COINAGE.
For the following pages we are indebted to a most elaborate and valuable quarto volume, entitled “A Manual of Gold and Silver Coins of all Nations; Showing their History and Legal Basis, and their Actual Weight, Fineness and Value, chiefly from Original and Recent Assays. By J. R. Eckfeldt and William E. Du Bois, Assayers of the Mint of the U. S Illustrated by numerous engravings of Coins."
To those who wish to pursue this subject further, and to possess a professional and complete work upon Coins and Coinage, this Manual of Coins will be very useful.
The coinage and monetary system of our own country, may properly claim in this treatise a somewhat extended notice.
The territory which now bears the name of The United States, was in the possession of savage tribes until the seventeenth century. In 1607 the first company of emigrants arrived from Europe, and established the colony of Virginia. At intervals of a few years, new settlements were made in various other quarters; and before the close of that century, the foundations were laid for twelve of the thirteen colonies, which eventually became a Union of free States.
The earliest metallic currency of each colony consisted chiefly of the coins of its mother country. In Massachusetts, however, (and doubtless in all the setilements,) specie was so scarce, that for many years it was common to pay taxes, and to carry on internal trade, by transferring, at certain rates, cattle, skins, and the products of the soil. Various considerations, enhanced by the inconvenience and uncertainty of such a medium, induced the Massachusetts colony in 1652 to establish a mint. The law enacted for that purpose, provided for the coinage of shillings, sixpences, and threepences, to be of the fineness of sterling silver (925 thousandths), and by a reduction of weight, to be 66 two-pence in the shilling of less valew than the English coyne." The mint met with much opposition from the British crown, whose prerogative was invaded by its operations, but continued in existence more than thirty years, during which time a considerable amount of coin was issued. These coins are now extremely scarce, and indeed are not to be found except in the cabinets of the curious. Only the shilling has been seen at this mint, the best specimens of which, at this day, weigh from 64 to 67 grains, and by a recent assay prove to be 926 thousandths fine; the intrinsic value, therefore, is about 164 cents. They are a rude coinage, very thin, and of various diameters; and there is some variety in the impressions; but the date of 1652 appears on all of them. The device of a pine tree on one side, has given to the series the common designation of the pine tree coinage.” They were taken in England at a discount of one-fourth of their home value.
The example of Massachusetts was followed by Maryland, where silver and copper coins were issued in 1662. These pieces were to be equivalent to the British, but in reality were not much heavier than the like denominations coined at Boston.
These were the only issues of silver coin previous to the independence of the States. There were, however, various pieces of copper struck at different periods; as, in 1694, the half-penny for the Carolinas, a two-penny piece and penny in 1723, another penny in 1733, and a half-penny for Virginia in 1773. After the revolutionary struggle of 1776–82, and before the establishment of the National Mint, there were various emissions of silver and copper by States and individuals, which will be noticed farther on.
As the population and trade of the colonies increased, foreign gold and silver coins found their way into the country, and became a part of the circulating medium. These were chiefly the guinea, the joe and its half, the doubloon and pistole, in gold; the dollar and its parts, the pistareen and its parts, and the British shilling and sixpence, in silver. French crowns were not known until the Revolution, when they became common. But of the specie currency, no piece was so well known as the Spanish-American dollar; insomuch that, about the epoch just referred to, it became the effective standard or unit of our moneys.
The pound of the colonies was at first the same as the pound sterling of England, being simply a money of account. This relation, in process of time, became greatly altered, in consequence of excessive issues of paper by the colonial authorities; but as these issues were greater in some of the colonies than in others, the proportion was very unequal and complicated. The following were the rates of the colo nial pounds, in sterling pounds and Spanish dollars, after the Revolution :
Peace was scarcely concluded, before the preliminary step was taken towards a national coinage. Congress directed the Financier of the confederation, Robert Morris, to lay before them his views upon the subject of coins and currency. 'The report was presented early in 1782, and is stated by Mr. Jefferson to have been the work of the Assistant Financier, Gouverneur Morris. It will be interesting to trace the steps by which three grand benefits have been secured to this country; the establishment of a uniform national currency—the rejection of mere moneys of account, or rather, making them the same with real moneys—and the adoption of a decimal notation.
All these objects were in the eye of the Assistant Financier. He first labored to harmonize the moneys of the States; and found that the oth part of a dollar (Spanish) was a common divisor for the various currencies. Starting with this fraction as his unit, he proposed the following table of moneys:
Ten units to be equal to one penny.
The report contains this observation : “ Although it is not absolutely necessary, yet it is very desirable, that money should be increased in a decimal ratio; because by that means, all calculations of interest, exchange, insurance and the like, are rendered much more simple and accurate, and of course more within the power of the great mass of the people."
The subject was discussed repeatedly in Congress, but no further step was taken until 1784, when Mr. Jefferson, on behalf of a committee appointed for the purpose, brought in a report, disagreeing with that of the Financier, except as to the decimal system. The following remarks occur in this document: “ The most easy ratio of multiplication and division, is that of ten. Every one knows the facility of decimal arithmetic. Every one remembers, that when learning money arithmetic, he used to be puzzled with adding the farthings, taking out the fours, and carrying them on; adding the pence, taking out the twelves, and carrying them on; adding the shillings, taking out the twenties, and carrying them on; but when he came to the pounds, where he had only tens to carry forward, it was easy and free from error. The bulk of mankind are schoolboys through life. Certainly, in all cases, where we are free to choose between easy and difficult modes of operation, it is most rational to choose the easy. The Financier, therefore, in his report, well proposes that our coins should be in decimal proportions to one another."
He found fault with the unit of Mr. Morris, first, on account of its diminutive size : “ A horse or bullock of eighty dollars value would require a notation of six figures, to wit, 115,200 units;” secondly, because of its want of correspondence in value, with any known coins. In lieu of this the Spanish dollar was proposed, as being of convenient size, capable of easy actual division, and familiar to the minds of the people. It was added, that the course of our commerce would bring us more of this than of any other foreign coin; and besides, the dollar was already as much referred to as a measure of value, as the respective provincial pounds. Upon this basis, it was proposed to strike four coins, viz:
A golden piece, of the value of ten dollars.
The Assistant Financier conceded something to Mr. Jefferson's views, but adhered to the main principles of his own scheme. It would be out of place to enter into the arguments offered on behalf of each proposition; it is sufficient to say, that Congress in 1785 adopted Mr. Jefferson's report, and in the following year made legal provision for a coinage upon that basis.
All these proceedings were, of course, under the Confederation, which lasted from 1778 to 1787. An article in that compact provided as follows :: “The United States, in Congress assembled, shall have the sole and exclusive right and power of regulating the alloy and value of coin struck by their own authority, or by that of the respective States.” Some of the States issued copper coins during that period. How long they continued current cannot be stated; but at this day, those of them that remain, are in the custody of coin-collectors. The cent of Massachusetts varies in weight from 148 to 164 grains; the New Jersey piece, 128 to 154 grains; the Connecticut coin is the most irregular, varying from 96 to 144 grains. The Vermont cent of 1786, weighs about 1 10 grains. There are also other varieties, particularly the “Nova Constellatio,” of thirteen stars, and another piece with the same significant number of rings, conjoined, both of which were coined in Massachusetts.
The Constitution of 1787 arrested all these local issues, and vested the right of coinage solely in the general government. The establishment of a mint was, however, still delayed. In the well known report on moneys, weights and measures, made to Congress in 1790 by Mr. Jefferson, then Secretary of State, it was remarked : “ The experiment made by Congress, in 1786, by declaring that there should be one money of account and payment through the United States, and that its parts and multiples should be in a decimal ratio, has obtained such general approbation, both at home and abroad, that nothing seems wanting but the actual coinage, to banish the discordant pounds, shillings, pence, and farthings of the different States, and to establish in their stead the new denominations."
On the 20 April, 1792, a code of laws was enacted for the establishment and regulation of the mint, under which, with slight amendments, the coinage was executed for forty-two years.
The denominations of coin, with their rates, were as follows:
Gold. The eagle of ten dollars, to weigh 270 grains, the half and quarter in proportion; all of the tiveness of 22 carats, or 917 thousandths.
Silver. The dollar of 100 cents, to weigh 416 grains; the hall, quarter, tenth or dime, and twentieth or half-dime, in proportion; the fineness to be 1485 paris in 1664, or 892:4 thousandths.
Copper. The cent, to weigh 254 grains; the half-cent in proportion.
Since the act of 1792, the following alterations in the standards have been made :
On the 14th January, 1793, the weight of the cent was reduced to 208 grains; the half-cent in proportion.
January 26th, 1796. President Washington issued a proclamation (as he had been empowered to do by law), that “ on account of the increased price of copper, and the expense of coinage," the cent would be reduced to 7 dwts. or 168 grains, and the half-cent in proportion. The copper coins have since remained at this standard.
June 28th, 1834. An act was passed, changing the weight and fineness of the gold coins, and the relative value of gold to silver. Before stating the alterations, it may be proper to observe, that the estimate of gold as being worth fifteen times as much as silver, which was the original basis, was found too low at the market value; which, although always fluctuating, was nearer sixteen to one, upon a general average. The effect of our legal proportions was to reduce the coinage of gold, and to restrain its circulation; being always at a premium, the coin was immediately exported to Europe, in the course of trade, and there quickly wrought into other shapes.
To provide a remedy for this evil, engaged the attention of some of our most eminent statesmen for a series of tifteen years. At length, in June 1834, the weight of the eagle was reduced by law to 258 grains (the parts in proportion), of which 232 grains must be fine gold, making the fineness 21 carats 214 car. grains, or 899 *r thousandths. This was an increase of 6,870 per cent. on the former value of gold. The silver coinage was not changed.
The disadvantages of the complex standards of fineness, both in gold and silver, which were difficult to be expressed or remembered, and very inconvenient in regard to the frequent calculations which were based upon them, early determined the present Director to endeavor to effect an improvement. The standard of nine-tenths fine, as adopted in France and some other countries, was obviously the most simple, and, upon every consideration, the most suitable. To bring our silver coins to that proportion, without changing the amount of fine silver in them, it was only necessary to put less copper, by 3} grains, in the dollar, reducing its weight to 4124 grains. The weight of the gold was not to be changed, but the fineness increased about three-fourths of one thousandth, a difference far within the scope of the legal allowance, and of course hardly appreciable. These proportions were incorporated in a carefully digested and consolidated code of Mint Laws, which was enacted by Congress in January 1837. By that act, the eagle is to be 900 thousandths fine, and to weigh 258 grains; the half and quarter in proportion ; and the dollar, at the same fineness, to weigh 412} grains; the parts in proportion. The allowed deviation in fineness, for gold, is from 898 to 902; for silver, 897 to 903.
Recapitulation of the various standards of the Gold and Silver Coins.
GOLD EAGLE. Weight, grs. Fineness, thous. 270
SILVER DOLLAR. Weight, grs. Fineness, thows, 416
Act of April 2, 1792,
900 It will be proper, in concluding this article, to explain briefly the organization of the Mint of the United States. Until ihe year 1835 there was but one institution, which was located at Philadelphia. In that year three branches of the mint were created by Act of Congress. Two of these were for the coinage of gold only, and were to be situated at the towns of Charlotte in North Carolina, and Dahlonega in Georgia-central points of the gold mining region. The third branch was for both gold and silver, and located at New Orleans, the commercial emporium of the south west. These three institutions, which, in the view of the law are not distinct mints, but rather branches of the mint, are respectively managed by Superintendants, who are under the control of the Director of the parent mint. The branches went into operation in the year 1838. Their coinage is uniform with that of the establishment at Philadelphia, being systematically tested there for approval.
The whole mint establishment, thus constituted, is itself a bureau or branch of the Treasury Department of the general government, and is under the supervision of the Secretary of the Treasury. Its operations are annually reported through the President to Congress, and are laid open to the public through that body.