Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/183

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

culation—was accordingly called in, and replaced by a new system of gold and silver coinage and paper currency. In this new system, gold was established as the sole monetary standard of the empire, unlimited of necessity in respect to legal-tender powers, while to silver was assigned the function of subsidiary service; and for the latter purpose an issue of silver coinage was provided, not to exceed in the aggregate 10 marks ($2.50) for each inhabitant of the empire (a comparatively low figure), with its legal-tender value limited to 20 marks ($5). An issue of new paper currency was also authorized, with a prohibition of the use of notes of a less denomination than 100 marks ($25), to be distributed according to population among the various states, and redeemable in the new imperial coinage. A proportion of the old silver coinage, which, having been supplanted by gold, was not needed for recoinage under the new system, was offered for sale in the open market as bullion, and the amount actually sold between 1873 and the end of May, 1879, when the sales were suspended, realized $141,784,948. Of this aggregate, $45,644,311 was sold between the years 1873 and 1876, and $96,140,627 between 1877 and 1879 inclusive.

Concurrently with this action of Germany the bullion price of silver began to decline, and this decline was undoubtedly further promoted by the subsequent action of the so-called "Latin Union"—comprising the four countries of Europe using the franc system, namely, France, Belgium, Italy, and Switzerland—which, fearing lest the silver liberated from use in Germany, and offered for sale, would flow in upon and flood their respective mints, to the entire exclusion of gold if the free coinage of silver was continued; first restricted (in 1874), and finally (in 1877-'78), owing to the continued decline in the value of silver, entirely suspended the coinage of silver five-franc pieces. The coinage of subsidiary silver, or silver of smaller denominations than five francs, was, however, permitted and continued.

In 1873, also, the Congress of the United States, in revising its coinage system, dropped from the list of silver coins authorized to be there-after issued from its mint, the silver dollar of 4121/2 grains, although providing for the unlimited issue and coinage of silver in pieces of smaller denominations than the dollar; and mainly for the reason, that this particular silver coin was not then in circulation in the country, and indeed had not been for a period of more than twenty-five years.

The extent of the decline in the price of bar-silver per standard ounce, in pence, upon the London market since 1873, is shown by the following exhibit of annual average quotations:

1873, 591/4 d. 1879, 511/4 d.
1874, 585/16 d. 1883, 503/4 d.
1875, 567/8 d. 1885, 489/16 d.
1876, 523/4 d. 1886, 453/8 d.

In July, 1886, the price of silver temporarily fell to 421/2 d. per ounce—the lowest price ever known in history—but reacted in October of