An Economic History of England: the 18th Century

By T. S. Ashton | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
Money, Banking and Foreign Exchange

I

I N the eighteenth century the unit of account in England was (as it is today) the pound sterling. From the time of Queen Elizabeth this had been identified with a fixed quantity of silver, which was hence said to be the standard of value. The coins in circulation consisted of a variety of pieces of money, made of silver, gold or copper, which were supplied without charge to those who presented bullion for coining. In spite, however, of the absence of seigniorage the supply of legal money was far from adequate to the needs of an expanding economy, and much inconvenience and social disharmony arose from a shortage of coins of a kind suitable for the payment of wages and for retail transactions.

For this state of affairs part of the responsibility lay with the Royal Mint, a body which, though answerable to the Treasury, preserved many of the features of the privileged corporation of Stuart times. At the head was an official, known as the Master and Chief Worker, who exercised loose control over a number of specialists (the Assayer, Melter, Refiner, Engraver, and Medallist) and entered into contracts with a Company of Moneyers which was responsible for the manufacture of the coins. Until as late as 1799 the Master of the Mint received his remuneration in the form of a commission on output. Each of the specialists was allowed to combine the execution of his public duties with work on his own account. And although the individual moneyer was guaranteed a small, fixed annual payment 'lest he be too exposed to temptation', he drew the bulk of his income from the profits of the contracts made with the Master. Membership of the Company was restricted by the imposition of high fees for apprenticeship: about the middle of the seventeenth century there had been fifty-nine moneyers, but by 1705 the number had been reduced to sixteen, and by 1774 to eight (assisted by four apprentices). The large profits on the recoinage of gold in 1773-4, it is said, raised the status of the moneyers well above that of day labourers or artisans, and enabled the Company

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An Economic History of England: the 18th Century
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Title Page vii
  • Chapter I - The People of England 1
  • Chapter Two - Agriculture and Its Products 30
  • Chapter Three - Internal Trade and Transport 63
  • Chapter Four - Manufactures 91
  • Chapter Five - Overseas Trade and Shipping 130
  • Chapter Six - Money, Banking and Foreign Exchange 167
  • Chapter Seven - Labour 201
  • Appendix 237
  • Index 255
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