Look at bank-bills. There is the $10 bill, the $20 bill, the $50 bill. Technically, by the tables they should be bills for 1, 2, 5 eagles. Not so, in fact. Never yet did bank in America promise to pay to bearer, on demand, one eagle! So with fractional currency. You see 10-cent pieces, 50-cent pieces, but none for 1 dime or 5 dimes. Dollars and cents suffice.
"What of all this?" you may ask. Much. It is the embodiment of the ways of men: it is full of practice and suggestion to those who have eyes.
According to the tables, a certain sum is 253 eagles, 5 dollars, 4 dimes, 6 cents, 3 mills. Never was it so called. What says our curt mankind? 2,535 dollars, 46 10 cents. The mind scants denominations. It seldom uses more than two, if it can help itself.
On broad principles, indeed, it might be asked, "Why have denominations at all?"
Number, whole and decimal, with one unit for each subject-matter, is adequate to express any quantity whatever. No second denomination is essential in any table. Any weight, for example, can be expressed in pounds and decimals of a pound, without reference to other units. The largest quantities can be so expressed, and the smallest. In currency we express a national debt reaching to billions in the selfsame unit which is used for small daily transactions, say in dollars or in francs. This shows the unlimited capacity of number for exact expression without any table of denominations at all.
Indeed, in England and America it may safely be said that a single denomination in each table would be better than the present method with its irregularity and confusion, better for mental grasp of the quantity expressed, and better for calculation. A clearer idea is obtained by the expression 13,518.6 lbs. than by its equivalent in numerous denominations, 6 tons, 13 cwt., 3 qrs., 17 lbs., 11 oz., 5.6 drachms.
We would not be understood to limit a system to one denomination, or even to two. Yet two well-chosen units in each table, as compared with the present English system, would be a decided improvement. Suppose we had pounds and pound cents, yards and yard cents, etc., corresponding with the dollars and cents of currency; they would furnish incomparably superior advantages to the existing methods.
We will not, however, discuss the exact denominations needed for each table, and the maximum and minimum for each; nor the scale, whether it should be strictly decimal (a denomination for every 10), or one for every 100 (thescale); or eclectic, varying with the subject-matter. We will, however, remark that in nearly every table the number of denominations can be reduced, not only safely, but advantageously.
Our object, however, for the present is to suggest principles, not to elaborate details; too many denominations perplex, instead of aiding, the mind.