A Discourse of Trade

Barbon, Nicholas
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Jacob H. Hollander, ed.
First Pub. Date
Baltimore, MD: Lord Baltimore Press
Pub. Date

Of the Value and Price of Wares.


THE Value of all Wares arise from their Use; Things of no Use, have no Value, as the English Phrase is, They are good for nothing.


The Use of Things, are to supply the Wants and Necessities of Man: There are Two General Wants that Mankind is born with; |14|* the Wants of the Body, and the Wants of the Mind; To supply these two Necessities, all things under the Sun become useful, and therefore have a Value.


Wares, useful to supply the Wants of the Body, are all things necessary to support Life, such are in Common Estimation; all those Goods which are useful to supply the Three General Necessities of Man, Food, Clothes and Lodging; But if strictly Examined, nothing is absolutely necessary to support Life, but Food; for a great Part of Mankind go Naked, and lye in Huts and Caves; so that there are but few things that are absolutely necessary to supply the Wants of the Body.


Wares, that have their Value from supplying the Wants of the Mind, are all such things that can satisfie Desire; Desire implys Want: It is the Appetite of the |15| Soul, and is as natural to the Soul, as Hunger to the Body.


The Wants of the Mind are infinite, Man naturally Aspires, and as his Mind is elevated, his Senses grow more refined, and more capable of Delight; his Desires are inlarged, and his Wants increase with his Wishes, which is for every thing that is rare, can gratifie his Senses, adorn his Body, and promote the Ease, Pleasure, and Pomp of Life.


Amongst the great Variety of things to satisfie the Wants of the Mind, those that adorn Mans Body, and advance the Pomp of Life, have the most general Use, and in all Ages, and amongst all sorts of Mankind, have been of Value.


The first Effects that the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge wrought upon the Parents of Mankind, was to make them cloath themselves, and it has made the most Visible |16| Distinction of his Race, from the rest of the Creation: It is that by which his Posterity may write Man, for no Creatures adorn the Body but Man: Beside, the decking of the Body, doth not onely distinguish Man from Beast, but is the Mark of Difference and Superiority betwixt Man and Man.


There was never any part of Mankind so wild and barbarous, but they had Difference and Degree of Men amongst them, and invented some things to shew that Distinction.


Those that Cloathed with Skins, wore the Skins of those Beasts that are most difficultly taken; thus Hercules wore a Lyons Skin; and the Ermins and Sable, are still Badges of Honour. The Degree of Quality amongst the Affricans, is known by the waste Cloth, and amongst those that go naked, by adorning their Bodies with Co|17|lours, most rare amongst them, as the Red was the Colour most in Esteem amongst the Ancient Britains.


And the most Ancient and best of Histories, the Bible, shews, That amongst the Civilized People of the World, Ear-Rings, Bracelets, Hoods and Vails, with Changeable Suits of Apparel, were then worn: And the same Ornaments for the Body are still, and ever since have been Worn, only differing in Shapes and Fashions, according to the Custom of the Country.


The Shapes of Habits are much in use, to denote the Qualities of several men; but things rare and difficult to be obtained, are General Badges of Honour: From this Use, Pearls, Diamonds, and Precious Stones, have their Value: Things Rare are proper Ensigns of Honour, because it is |18| Honourable to acquire Things Difficult.


The Price of Wares is the present Value; And ariseth by Computing the occasions or use for them, with the Quantity to serve that Occasion; for the Value of things depending on the use of them, the Over-pluss of Those Wares, which are more than can be used, become worth nothing; So that Plenty, in respect of the occasion, makes things cheap; and Scarcity, dear.


There is no fixt Price or Value of any thing for the Wares of Trades; The Animals, and Vegetables of the Earth, depend on the Influence of Heaven, which sometimes causes Murrains, Dearth, Famine, and sometimes Years of great Plenty; therefore, the Value of things must accordingly Alter. Besides, the Use of most things being to supply the Wants of |19| the Mind, and not the Necessitys of the Body; and those Wants, most of them proceeding from imagination, the Mind Changeth; the things grow out of Use, and so lose their Value.


There are two ways by which the value of things are a little guessed at; by the Price of the Merchant, and the Price of the Artificer: The Price that the Merchant sets upon his Wares, is by reckoning Prime Cost, Charges and Interest.


The Price of the Artificer, is by reckoning the Cost of the Materials, with the time of working them; The Price of Time is according to the Value of the Art, and the Skill of the Artist. Some Artificers Reckon Twelve, others Fifteen, and some Twenty, and Thirty Shillings per Week.


Interest is the Rule that the |20| Merchant Trades by; And Time, the Artificer, By which they cast up Profit, and Loss; for if the Price of their Wares, so alter either by Plenty, or by Change of the Use, that they do not pay the Merchant Interest, nor the Artificer for his Time, they both reckon they lose by their Trade.


But the Market is the best Judge of Value; for by the Concourse of Buyers and Sellers, the Quantity of Wares, and the Occasion for them are Best known: Things are just worth so much, as they can be sold for, according to the Old Rule, Valet Quantum Vendi potest.

Notes for this chapter

Double vertical bars, ||, denote page breaks in the original 1690 Barbon text, with page numbers when available (e.g., |2|). The bars and numbers were inserted by Hollander and are preserved in this Econlib edition.—Econlib Ed.

End of Notes

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