Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/611

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RECENT ECONOMIC CHANGES.

keep up high profit-assuring prices, one of two things would eventually happen: either new factories would be started; or the inventive spirit of the age would devise cheaper methods of production, or some substitute for the product they furnished, and so ruin the first combination beyond the possibility of redemption. And hence we have hence another permanent agency, antagonistic to the maintenance of high and remunerative prices.

 

CURIOUS CHANGES IN PRICES.

The record of extreme changes in prices, by reason of circumstances that are acknowledged to have been purely exceptional, is also most instructive, and removes not a few commodities from the domain of any controverted economic theory respecting monetary influences.

The price of manufactured Mediterranean coral—the trade in which is extensive—has been greatly depressed in recent years by reason of the discovery of new banks of coral on the coast of Sicily, from which the raw material has been obtained most cheaply, and in large excess of demand. The consequent decline in prices has, however, opened new markets in Africa, where the natives now purchase coral ornaments in place of beads of Venetian and German manufacture.

Few commodities have fluctuated more violently in price in recent years, or more strikingly illustrate the degree to which supply and demand predominate over all other agencies in determining price, than the vegetable product hops. In 1881 there was an almost universal crop failure, and the highest grade of English hops (East Kent) commanded 700s. per cwt. In 1886 the German Hop-Growers' Association estimated the quantity grown throughout the world at 93,340 tons, and the annual consumption at only 83,200 tons, so that there was an excess of production over consumption for that year of nearly 10,000 tons. As might have been expected, there was a notable decline in the world's prices for hops, and the same quality of English hops which commanded 700s. per cwt. in 1882 sold for 74s. in 1887, and in June, 1888, for 68s. Later in the year, with unfavorable harvest reports, the price advanced to 147s.

 

DIAMONDS.

The recent price experience of diamonds is in the highest degree interesting. Diamonds were first discovered in South Africa about the year 1868, and a business of searching (mining) for them immediately sprang up. At the outset the mining was conducted by individuals, but, in consequence of the expense, the work gradually and necessarily passed into the control of joint-stock companies with command of large capital; and it was not until 1880 that operations on a great scale were undertaken. The result of