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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/274

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

tremely desirable qualities of the alloy it made with copper (bronze) became known. For many centuries primitive Europe poured its silver into Asia and sold it for tin. In due time the demand became greater than the supply, and at the same time the product of the European silver mines began to fall off. The price of tin in terms of silver increased greatly. So also did the value of silver. In this crisis, which threatened the very existence of the trade between the east and the west, two remedies were tried. The Greeks, the dominant nation of the time, under Alexander the Great, started out to conquer India, and to find and capture the Asian tin mines, but, as we know, he never got any farther on the way than the valley of the Indus in eastern Hindustan, where he died. Simultaneously the Phœnicians began to search the western world for the metal, and finally found it in Britain. When Cornish tin began to come into the market, the corner that Asia had for so many centuries had on tin was broken, the Malaysian mines fell rapidly into decadence, and the ancient value of silver in the east was resumed. Europe then had the advantage, but as its silver product was on the decline, its trade with India fell away, and the two far separated parts of the world almost forgot each other. Europe, now well supplied with tin and copper, devoted itself to strenuous war and destruction. A thousand years or so later, when the Roman Empire had passed its prime, new silver mines were found in central Europe, and trade with the east began to revive once more. Venice was then the commercial center of the world, and it nourished as long as the Austrian and German silver mines were in bonanza, and when the cream of these was skimmed it began to decline. From that day till the years when Spanish galleons began to bring in silver from the new world, times in Europe were hard, civilization languished, and humanity suffered. Historians call the period the "Dark Ages." History also records the wonderful change that took place when the Mexican and Peruvian silver mines began to pour their flood of treasure into Europe. There was a marvelous revival of industry and of the arts and sciences, and the greater part of it was directly due to the enormous coinage of Mexican silver dollars, and their wide distribution in trade. This coin for three centuries has had a larger circulation, and has become more extensively known than any other tangible product of the hand of man.

From the date of the discovery of America up to about the beginning of the last century, the source of the world's supply of silver was almost entirely the mines of Mexico and of the west coast of South America. The production in this period is estimated by statisticians at nearly 200,000 tons, and its value (then about $30,000 per ton), at $6,000,000,000. The bulk of this vast total went first to Europe, and more than half of it in the shape of coins of American