Page images

seated custom, which held England back from adopting anything distinctively French.

Since then nearly thirty years have passed. Conditions have changed. Men's ideas have“ broadened with the progress of the suns." All the leading commercial nations have now the same monetary standard. The main problem is stripped of the complications arising from collateral considerations.

Why should the nations endure longer the inconvenience and loss, the waste of time and labor incurred in making conversions from the money terms of one nation into those of others, with the further loss of exchange rates, the fees of money changers, and the cost of reminting the coins of one nation into those of others ? Why not have at least a common money of account if not of circulation, a common denominator in which can be expressed invoice values, market quotations, and all transactions of international interest ? The money of account should be and speedily would be money of circulation, but not necessarily or probably the only money of circulation. In the United States the money of account is simply dollars and cents, while the money of circulation embraces nickels, dimes, quarters, and half dollars, quarter eagles, half eagles, eagles, and double eagles. We speak of halves, quarters, and dimes; but we compute these only as cents. We handle eagles and double eagles ; but we add, subtract, multiply, and divide them only as dollars. So an international coin would not necessarily nor probably displace the distinctive coins of the different nations, but these should be made even multiples or sub-multiples of the common coin, so that computations might be simple and easy; and probably in time they would lose their distinctive names and be designated as multiples or fractions of the common denominator or international unit. This would not come at once; it might never be fully attained ; it would likely come more rapidly and completely in some nations than in others, according to the measure of their versatility and progressiveness and the extent of their foreign travel and commerce; but the probabilities are that such coinage would be eagerly sought, and for a time more or less hoarded. A coin known to be of unchanging value everywhere, behind which was the allied faith of many nations, itself a sort of emblematic expression of the brotherhood of man and of the growing unity of peoples, would possess a combined practical and sentimental

VOL. CLXIII.—NO. 476. 4

attractiveness which would overcome national exclusiveness and partiality for national things and make it in the end the measure and medium of all exchanges, except the smallest and most distinctively local and provincial.

But, even if the international coin were never struck at any mint, but simply its character as a common unit and its value definitely fixed and the coins of each nation made to correspond with it by even multiplication and division, get the adoption of such a common denominator, into and out of which the values of every country should be easily and evenly convertible, would be an immense advantage and convenience in international exchange and commerce.

We may assume it to be, I think, beyond dispute that a common coin of uniform value, current without discount in all the principal nations, would be a great convenience alike to the traveller, the merchant, the business man, the investor, and all who mingle in the broader affairs of life; and, if in its terms could be expressed all invoices, market quotations, and statistical returns, the store of knowledge of every people would be largely augmented, and the facilities for intelligent business transactions greatly increased. The value of the time saved which is now spent in figuring the conversions from the terms of one country to those of another cannot be estimated; but, when we reflect that the external commerce of the world, the aggregate of exports and imports, for 1893, is estimated at $17,500,000,000, we realize something of the inconvenience and loss attending the conversion of this almost incredible sum into and out of different monetary systems. The aggregate amount paid in discounts and exchange in passing from one system to another is also beyond calculation, and is a total loss so far as productive results are concerned.

The useless expense and waste in melting the coins of one nation only to transmute them into those of another could probably be approximately ascertained, but it is sufficient for present purposes to indicate the extent of such recoinage. In the last three years, recoinage has been carried on to the greatest extent probably by Germany and Austria-Hungary, and the following figures from the last report of the Director of the Mint will be of interest.

Germany reports that in 1894 there were furnished to the

mints, to be recoined into German gold coin, 22,128 and 13666 pounds fine of foreign gold coin. In 1893, Austria coined 866,324 florins from domestic gold coin, and 80,716,644 florins from foreign gold coin. In 1894, she coined 1,642,534 florins from domestic gold coin, and 28,219,465 from foreign gold coin. In 1893, the United States melted down and recoined foreign gold coins to the amount of $12,518,764.88, and foreign silver coins to the amount of $1,087,835.05.

To the saving of the unnecessary cost of recoinage should be added a material saving of loss from abrasion. This is largely avoided in our domestic circulation by the use of paper representatives of coin, but careful investigations in England, made a few years ago, showed that the coinage loss by abrasion on the sovereigns in circulation was on the average over one-half of one per cent., and on the half-sovereigns double as much ; and that 314 per cent. of the English sovereigns in circulation had thus been reduced below the weight which makes them legal tender. In 1893, $670,000,000 of gold and $578,000,000 of silver were moved between different countries, involving such loss by abrasion as was consequent thereon. International coinage would dispense with much of this transportation, and if to that there were added the issue of international certificates of coin deposits, much after the manner of our system of gold and silver certificates, most of the transportation of coin from nation to nation would be avoided. Such certificates, based on the deposit of international coin, and issued under proper treaty regulations, would accomplish much of the advantage, perhaps all that is practicable, of an international clearing house to adjust the balances of national obligations.

Passing by the vast effect of the use of checks and drafts, we may say that increased facilities and rapidity of transportation have largely increased the exchange power of the world's stoek of money; and the adoption of a common system of coinage, with auxiliary coin deposit certificates, would still further greatly increase the effectiveness of the present stock of the world's money metals for currency purposes.

A union of nations on a common system of coinage would render practicable and probably advisable the imposition of a small but uniform mintage charge, which would operate to retain in coin form, and hence for currency uses, all coins struck. The melting of coin for use in the arts and industries

now so largely carried on, the amount of which can never be definitely ascertained, would thus be rendered unprofitable and expensive and would cease. The work and expense of coinage would thereafter not be wasted, the coins once struck would remain exclusively for money uses, and much more accurate estimates of the amount thereof in circulation could be made. The imposition of such a mint charge has been generally approved by political economists; but, in the rivalry and strife of nations bidding against each other for the world's production of precious metals, it has not been practicable.

A coinage resting on national compact would be not only universal in character, but also stable and permanent. The tendency of individual nations to change and generally to debase their coinage seems irresistible. During this century the United States has not only changed the fineness of the metal in her coins of silver and gold, but has reduced the weight of gold in all her gold coins and of silver in all her subsidiary coins. Germany has just completed a radical change in her coinage. England, by various changes, has reduced the pound sterling from the weight of a pound of silver in the time of William the Conqueror to 3 oz. 12 dwt. 16 grs. at the present day. The German florin dropped by successive changes from the value of $2.40 to forty cents. The French livre, once worth $18.50, and containing a pound of silver, came in time to contain only nineteen cents' worth of silver. Such changes could hardly happen if they could only be made with the concurrent assent of many nations.

While the larger nations of the world maintain distinctive and different coinage systems, the smaller, the less enlightened, and the non-coining nations recognize the one or the other system or maintain their own, as their tastes, interests, or whims may dictate, the result being a coinage mixture of dubious character and uncertain value. A common coin of the great nations would inevitably become the coin of the smaller nations, through the forces of trade and use, if not of formal adoption. The tendency in this direction is shown by the adoption of the French system by so many of the smaller nations of Europe and of Central and South America. Its decimal character, and the prestige of its adoption by the Latin Union, with the aggressive but diplomatic urgency of the French, have carried it so far into general accepttance as to make its adoption in outline, if not in detail, not only


a matter of speculative and theoretic interest, but a question of practical importance, likely in the not very distant future to demand careful consideration.

In the time of Cæsar Augustus, the world had practically a common money; but the breaking up of the Roman Empire, and the wars that followed, individualized the nations in many of their customs, their weights, measures, coins, and money terms. War isolates peoples and sharply defines not only physical boundaries but national characteristics, customs, habits, and appli

A favorite expression of sovereignty and independence was found in the creation of distinctive coins and currencies by different tribes and nations. Hence, in the passage of centuries and through the growth of nationalities, came the multifarious monetary systems now in existence. They were the outgrowth of an era of strife and war, when international communication took place mostly on the battle-field, and international exchanges were mainly the blows of conflicting armies.

We are now in an era of peace, of trade, of general progress, of common enterprise, of easy and constant intercourse, social and commercial, of widening cosmopolitan ideas, of lessening national prejudices. Natural barriers to communication and intercourse are being surmounted or annihilated. Why should those which are purely artificial be allowed to remain ?

Conceding, as perhaps all will do, the desirability and importance of a common standard coinage among nations and the many advantages that would come from its adoption, we are confronted with the problem : How shall it be attained ? To determine that, we may first inquire what are its essential requisites ?

We may say without hesitation that such coin should be of uniform fineness of metal. The coins of Great Britain are 11 fine ; of the United States, France, and Germany, 1 fine. Some nations drop below this grade of fineness for their subsidiary coins : others rise above it with their gold coins. A uniform degree of fineness would be essential for a common coin, and experience has demonstrated that the rate of fine, which is most nearly universally accepted now, is best for coinage purposes. It is not likely that any difficulty would be encountered in agreeing on that.

Such coin should be of uniform size and weight. It might properly have on one side a common device or legend, and on

« PreviousContinue »