Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/199

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
187
CHANGES IN VALUES OF PRECIOUS METALS.

metallic," nor "bi-metallic," but tri-metallic; and the three metals in the form of coin, have been used concurrently throughout the world ever since the historic period, and in all probability will always continue to be so used; because by no other system that has yet been devised can the varying requirements of trade in respect to instrumentalities of exchange and measures of value be so perfectly satisfied. And the only change in this situation of monetary affairs has been, that gradually and by a process of evolution as natural and inevitable as any occurring in the animal or vegetable kingdom, gold has come to be recognized and demanded as never before in all countries of high civilization, as the best instrumentality for measuring values and effecting exchanges. It has become, in the first place, the money of account in the commercial world and of all international trade; and any country that proposes to find a foreign market for the surplus products of its labor must employ the very best machinery of trade-railroads, steamships, telegraphs, or money-if it does not propose to place itself at a disadvantage.

In respect to portability, convenience for use, adaptation to domestic and foreign business alike, the balance of advantage for all transactions, above $25 or £5, is also largely on the side of gold; as will be evident when it is remembered that it required, even before its depreciation, sixteen times more time to count silver in any considerable quantity than an equal value of gold; sixteen times more strength to handle it; sixteen times more packages, casks, or capacity to hold it, and sixteen times more expense to transport it. In other words, in this saving age, when the possibility of extensive business transactions is turning on profits reckoned not in cents but in fractions of cents per yard, per pound, or per bushel, to use silver for large transactions in the place of gold, is a misapplication of at least fifteen sixteenths of a given unit of effort, time, expense, and capacity, when one sixteenth would accomplish the same result.

Another factor which has without doubt powerfully influenced public opinion in countries of large and active domestic and foreign trade in favor of gold as the sole monetary standard in preference to silver, has been the Advantage which gold seems to possess over silver in the element of stability of cost of production. The amount of labor involved in the mining or washing for gold has remained nearly constant for ages; while in the case of silver not only are new deposits of great richness continually being discovered, but many old mines hitherto unworked and unprofitable by reason of inaccessibility, or by the character of their ores, have been reopened and rendered profitable by improved facilities for transportation and cheaper processes of reduction.

Now it is not asserted that it was exactly these considerations, as thus specified, that influenced Germany in 1873 to take advantage of the opportunity afforded by the payment of the French war in-