Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/602

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was nothing left for the people to do but to go back to barter, and this they did more than once. They cannot be said now to have a coinage; 2,900 years ago they made round coins with a square hole in the middle, and they have made no advance beyond that since. The well-known cash is a cast-brass coin of that description, and, although it is valued at about one mill and a half of our money, and has to be strung in lots of 1,000 to be computed with any ease, it is the sole measure of value and legal tender of the country. Spanish, Mexican, and our new trade-dollars, are employed in China; they pass because they are necessary for larger operations, and because faith in their standard value has become established; but they are current simply as stamped ingots, with their weight and fineness indicated.

The coinage of England, although it has suffered less than that of any of the older countries, has still undergone great debasement, which has begotten misery and trouble enough to make her experience of great value. At the time of the Norman Conquest the silver or money pound weighed 12 ounces, the system of coinage being the same as that of Charlemagne, and it was continued untouched until the year 1300, when the standard was tampered with by Edward I. By increasing the number of shillings made from a pound, he set a pernicious example which was followed only too well, so that in the reign of Queen Elizabeth 58 shillings instead of 20 shillings were coined out of the pound weight of silver. Up to the reign of Henry VIII., although the weight was decreased, the sterling fineness of coins was not debased; but that eminent head of the Church, after dissipating the immense wealth which he received from his father, resorted to the most disgraceful means to supply his riot and extravagance. He so adulterated and degraded the silver coinage that the pound sterling contained but four ounces of silver, £2 8s. of it being equivalent to the pound sterling of 500 years before. Under the reigns of his children, Edward VI., Mary, and Elizabeth, the fineness of the coin was gradually restored, and its degradation arrested, so that it was the boast of Elizabeth that she "had conquered now that monster which so long had devoured her people." The coinage of England has had nothing further to endure at the hands of her princes.

The reign of James II., bad enough in all ways, was in no instance more disgraceful than the state to which he brought the coinage of Ireland during his brief kingship there. His coins of gun-metal, copper, brass, pewter, the sorriest tokens, were made unlimited tender, and forced into circulation by every device. His loyal Irish subjects were the sufferers from this swindle, for they had in their possession nearly the whole of his worthless money. As he was compelled to abandon England before his necessities became very great, her money escaped violation.

Of course, all this tampering with money has been accompanied