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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/275

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271
SILVER

mintage. The remainder went into European coinage and plate. In those days it was not generally known that American silver always carried more or less gold, or else the methods of parting the two metals was very imperfect. Whichever was the case it is a fact that all the coins made in that period carried from two to five per cent of the yellow metal, and if any quantity of them could be now bought up at the commodity price of silver it would be a most profitable operation to separate the associated gold. This great store of what was, in those days, a money metal of unlimited legal tender value, enabled the new world to buy what it needed of Europe, and permitted the latter to resume its trade with the far east. Thus the old story was repeated. The pioneer, going westward, sends home the wealth he acquires through tremendous hardships, and upon this those who stay behind live luxuriously, or at least comfortably, as long as the good times last. And Spain, who was practically the parent and owner of those parts of the new world whence the metal came, prospered prodigiously, and became the wealthiest of the nations. But in 1810 its much-robbed and over-patient colonies began their struggle for independence. Spain resisted strenuously, and beggared herself in the effort to retain them. One by one, however, they tore themselves loose from her rule. The contest lasted through more than a decade,and during it the silver-mining industry suffered greatly. In South America it was almost suspended. The supply of the metal in Europe for coinage became scant, and trade with the orient again declined. In the middle of this period, when the destructive career of Napoleon was coming to an end, when all Europe was in financial distress, and vast amounts of plate had gone to the melting pot to be transformed into coin, with silver advancing in value (in terms of gold) until it commanded the equivalent of $1.40 to to $1.45 per fine ounce, with existing coinage of some of the nations in process of debasement by the addition of lead and tin to the alloy, England, in 1816, went on the mono-metallic gold basis, and started the train of conditions that later (in 1873) resulted in the complete demonitization of the white metal. And in this connection it is a most curious fact of history that while England in 1816 abandoned silver as a money metal because of its scarcity and high relative value in terms of gold, the rest of the great commercial nations followed her footsteps nearly fifty years later because of its abundance and falling value.

During the long struggle between Spain and her colonies the mining industry of Mexico was also greatly injured. When the country became independent in 1821 it passed into a condition of anarchy that lasted almost a half century. In this period its mines were operated under the greatest disadvantages, and the amounts of the metal exported was comparatively small. But as soon as political affairs in