Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/599

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THE DEBASEMENT OF COINAGES.

the weight and fineness of a piece of gold or silver could be easily determined was early felt.

The first forms which could be called by the name of money were ingots in various shapes, stamped or sealed with the seal of the ruler as a certificate of the quality and weight of the piece, no attempt being made to so fashion the coin as to guard against alteration of weight. Some of the early pieces were stamped on but one side, and it was only by very gradual steps that the handsome circular pieces which we know as coins were evolved. But these are still defined by Jevons as "ingots, of which the weight and fineness are certified by the integrity of the designs impressed upon the surface of the metal."

The stamping of the bits of metal has always been assumed as a prerogative of the ruler, and to supply the people with coin has come to be generally considered a function of government. It will be well to bear the above definition of coin in mind; for the fashioning, stamping, and certification, have often caused a very important fact to be lost sight of, which is, that throughout these changes the metals continue to be commodities and nothing more. The stamp works no alteration in the metal, any more than does the label on a bolt of muslin, showing the width and the number of yards, convert it into something other than cotton cloth. The conversion of the unfashioned metal into coin in no way affects the principle of exchanges, and its transfer is barter just as much as it was in the beginning.

Coins command other commodities by the amount of pure metal in them.

The silver dollar buys just as much food or clothing as would so many grains of silver in any other shape; and the stamp—whether it show the classical features of Kaiser William or the graceful figure of the Goddess of Liberty—does not increase its purchasing power, except to the very slight degree which is the measure of the convenience of having it converted from bullion into coin at public cost, but this percentage is so small that it may for present purposes be neglected.

But it has come about that, instead of being looked upon as simply certified bullion, coin is frequently regarded as something mysterious in its nature and function.

Gold and silver, from their physical properties, are the most fit of all known substances for mediums of exchange. From their general use as money they are commonly spoken of as measures of value, and there is no objection to this expression if it be understood to mean that they constitute a term or factor constantly used in arriving at the ratio which exists between the various articles of commerce; but it should be remembered that this factor is not constant, though for purposes of convenience it is generally assumed to be so. As a matter of fact, gold and silver measure the value of commodities in precisely the same way that the commodities measure the value of gold