Notes on the State of Virginia (1853)/Query 21
THE WEIGHTS, MEASURES, AND THE CURRENCY OF THE HARD MONEY? SOME DETAILS RELATING TO THE EXCHANGE WITH EUROPE?
Our weights and measures are the same which are fixed by acts of Parliament in England. How it has happened that in this as well as the other American States the nominal value of coin was made to differ from what it was in the country we had left, and to differ among ourselves too, I am not able to say with certainty. I find that, in 1631, our House of Burgesses desired of the Privy Council in England a coin debased to twenty-five per cent.; that, in 1645, they forbid dealing by barter for tobacco, and established the Spanish piece of eight at six shillings, as the standard of their currency; that, in 1655, they changed it to five shillings sterling. In 1680 they sent an address to the King, in consequence of which, by proclamation in 1683, he fixed the value of French crowns, rix dollars, and pieces of eight at six shillings, and the coin of New England at one shilling. That in 1710, 1714, 1727, and 1762, other regulations were made, which will be better presented to the eye, stated in the form of a table, as follows:
British gold coin not milled, coined gold of Spain and France, chequins, Arabian gold, moidores of Portugal,
|— —||5s. the dwt.|
Coined gold of the empire,
|— —||5s. the dwt.||— —||4s. 3d. the dwt.|
English milled silver money, in proportion to the crown, at
|— —||5s. 10d.||6s. 3d.|
Pieces of eight of Mexico, Seville, and Pillar, ducatoons of Flanders, French ecus, or silver Louis, crusados of Portugal,
|3¾d. the dwt.||— —||4d. the dwt.|
Peru pieces, cross dollars, and old rix dollars of the Empire,
|3½d. the dwt.||— —||3¾d. the dwt.|
Old British silver coin not milled,
|— —||3¾d. the dwt.|
[In the States where the Dollar is valued at 6s., the coincidence of their currency with the Greek and Roman moneys is so singular as to be worthy of notice, and to found a suspicion that this object may have had some influence in fixing our moneys at this particular point, at a time when the value of Greek and Roman learning was more justly estimated than at this day. The Penny Lawful is precisely the Roman As, which was their unit; 10 of which, equal to Ten Pence Lawful, made the Attic Drachma, according to Pliny, L. 21, c. 33. In the latter ages of their history the moneys of these two people were interwoven so as to make parts of the same series, which were in some degree decimal.
|The As (L. at first Libralis, but latterly ½ an ounce of copper, and called Libella)=ld. lawful.|
|10 As made the Denarius (X.,) or Attic Drachm=10d.|
|100 Denarii made the Mina or Pondo=l,000d.; or, £4 3s. 4d.|
The Denarius having been divided into fourths of 2½ As each, the fourth was called
|A Sestertius, or Nummus, (LLS., or HS.)=2½d.|
|100 Sesterces made an Aureus latterly=250d., £1 0s. 10d.|
|1,000 Sesterces made the Sestertium=£10 8s. 4d.|
|The Libra=96 X.=£4 lawful.|
|The Talent of Silver=60 Mina=£250.|
|The Talent of Gold was the decuple of the talent of silver, at the proportion of 10 for 1, as among the Romans=£2,500.|
|And was the Miliary of the Libra, if valued at 16 for 1, as among moderns=l,000 Libræ=£4,000.|
It is understood that the Attic Drachm of silver was exactly our Drachm Troy of 60 grains; the Denarius of the Romans was the 7th part of their Ounce, which is supposed to have been exactly our Avoirdupois Ounce; but this is of 437½ grains Troy, which would make the Roman Denarius 62½ grains; and consequently 1 more than the Attic Drachm, contrary to the testimony of antiquity, that the Denarius and Drachm were equal. We may very probably conjecture that our Troy weight is taken from the Grecians, from whom our physicians derive their science, and, in copying their recipes, would, of course, preserve their weights, which fix the quantum and proportion of ingredients. We may as probably affirm that our Avoirdupois weight is taken from the Romans, from whom, through their colonies and conquests in France, Spain, Germany, Britain, we derive our agriculture and commerce. Accordingly we observe that, while we weigh our physic by the Troy or Grecian weights, we use the Avoirdupois or Roman for the productions of agriculture and general articles of commerce; and since antiquity affirms that these two series were united by the equality of the Drachm and Denarius, we must conclude that in progress of time they have become a little separated in use with us, to wit, 1 part as before noted.
But the point at which their separation has been arrested and fixed is a very remarkable one: 1,000 ounces Avoirdupois make exactly a cubic foot of water. This integral, decimal, and cubical relation induces a presumption, that while deciding among the varieties and uncertainties which, during the ruder ages of the arts, we know had crept into the weights and measures of England, they had adopted for their standard those which stood so conveniently connected through the medium of a natural element, always at hand to be appealed to.
The ounce Avoirdupois being thus fixed at the thousandth part of a cubic foot of water, the Winchester bushel, of 2,150.4 cubic inches, filled with water, would weigh 77.7 ℔ Avoirdupois, and, filled with wheat of statute quality, weighed 64 ℔. Amidst the varieties discovered between the standard weights, Avoirdupois and Troy, in their different depositories, it would be observed that all of them were a little over or under this proportion; and this would suffice to give this proportion the preference, and to fix the standard relation between the Avoirdupois and Troy pounds at that which Nature has established between the weights of water and wheat; and the Troy grain, 5,760 of which make the pound Troy, would be so adjusted as that 7,000 of them would make the pound Avoirdupois—for 7,000 : 5,760 :: 77.7 : 64. Exactly the same proportion is known to exist between the dry and liquid measures—for the corn gallon contains 272 cubic inches, and the ancient liquid gallon of Guildhall 224 cubic inches—so that the system of weights and measures, Avoirdupois and Troy, dry and liquid, are found to be in the simple relation of the weights and measures of the two obvious and natural subjects, water and wheat; that is to say, the Pound Avoirdupoise : Pound Troy :: the weight of water : weight of wheat :: the bulk of the corn gallon : the bulk of the liquid gallon; or, 7,000 : 5,760 :: 77.7 : 64 :: 272 : 224.
These weights and measures seem to have been so combined as to render it immaterial whether a commodity was dealt out by weight or measure; for the dry gallon of wheat, and the liquid one of wine, were of the same weight; and the Avoirdupois pound of wheat, and the Troy pound of wine, were of the same measure. A more natural, accurate, and curious reconciliation of the two systems of Greece and Rome, which happened to be found in use, could not have been imagined; and the extension of the connection, from weights and measures to coins, as is done so integrally by our lawful currency, which makes the penny of 6 grains of silver as was the Roman As, has completed the system.
It is true, we find no trace, either in English or American history, that these were the views which determined the relations existing between our weights, measures and moneys; but it is more difficult to conceive that such a series of combinations should have been merely accidental, than that history should have been silent about them.
I am aware that there are differences of opinion as to the ancient weights and coins. Those here stated are taken from Brerewood, Kennet, Ainsworth, and the Encyclopedia, and are as likely to have prevailed with our ancestors as the opinions opposed to them.]
The first symptom of the depreciation of our present paper money was that of silver dollars selling at six shillings, which had before been worth but five shillings and ninepence. The assembly, thereupon, raised them by law to six shillings. As the dollar is now likely to become the money unit of America, as it passes at this rate in some of our sister States, and as it facilitates their computation in pounds and shillings, and e converso, this seems to be more convenient than its former denomination. But as this particular coin now stands higher than any other in the proportion of 133⅓ to 125, or 16 to 15, it will be neceesary to raise the others in the same proportion.