Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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SILVER, one of the precious metals, of a white color, and, when polished, of a brilliant, shining lustre, scarcely inferior to that of highly polished steel. It is next to gold in malleability, ductility and resistance to oxidation in air and water. Relatively to gold, its tenacity is about one-fourth, and power of electrical conduction about one-third greater, and its power of conducting heat as 973 to 1,000. In modern chemistry, the symbol for silver is ag., from the Latin name argentum, denoting silver; its atomic weight, 108. Molecular weight, 216; hardness, 2.5-3. Specific gravity, when pure, 10.5. It fuses at about 1873 Fah., and volatilizes at a higher temperature. When melted, it absorbs oxygen, of which it may take up twenty-two times its own volume, and which it expels on cooling with a peculiar sound known as spitting.


—Silver is dissolved by nitric acid at all temperatures, and by hot concentrated sulphuric acid. It can be alloyed with many other metals. Alloys of gold and silver are of a greenish white color, more ductile, harder and more sonorous than either metal; 50 parts of silver in 1,000 are sufficient to lower the color of gold. Silver increases the toughness of gold, and gold coins containing a small per cent. of silver are less liable to abrasion than if alloyed with copper alone. Gold alloyed with 80 per cent. of silver has a greenish color; with two-thirds silver, pale or white. The color of silver is not modified by a copper alloy up to about 850 parts in 1,000. Alloys of silver and copper have a less specific gravity than the mean of the two metals, and are harder and more ductile, elastic and sonorous than pure silver. The maximum of hardness is reached by an addition of 200 parts of copper.


—Silver is found in its native state, and also occurs in combination with other substances in the form of ores and alloys, but is principally obtained from its sulphide, and from those ores of which it is a variable constituent, but existing in such large quantities as to be an object of metallurgical operations.


—The native metal is usually alloyed with a small quantity of copper, gold, and sometimes antimony, bismuth, mercury or platinum. It occurs in masses, and in fine and coarse threads, but generally has the appearance of metallic twigs and branches. A mass taken from the Konigsberg mines, in Norway, in the royal collection at Copenhagen, weighs upward of 500 pounds. A mass discovered at Huantaya, Peru, weighed 800 pounds; while another in Sonora, Mexico, is said to have weighed 2,700. A specimen from Batopilas, Mexico, weighed 400 pounds.


—Metallic silver has also been found in Saxony, Bohemia, Hungary, and in the Hartz, Altai, Ural, and some of the Cornish mines; while in the United States it is found in some of the mines in North Carolina, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California. In the Lake Superior region, the silver generally penetrates the copper in masses and strings, and is nearly pure, notwithstanding the copper about it.


—The following are some of the most important silver ores:

Silver in combination with Sulphur.

Argentite—Silver glance—Sulphide of silver. This is the common and most valuable ore of silver, and possesses considerable malleability. It has a metallic lustre, is of a dark gray color, shining streak and an uneven fracture. Its composition is: sulphur, 12.9; silver, 87.1. Hardness, 2-2.5. Specific gravity, 7.196-7.365.


Stephanite—Brittle silver ore. Lustre metallic, color and streak iron-black, fracture uneven. Composition: sulphur, 16.2; antimony, 15.3; silver, 68.5. Hardness, 2-2.5. Specific gravity, 6.269.


Polybasite. This mineral contains from 65 to 75 per cent. of silver, in combination with sulphur, copper, arsenic and antimony. Lustre, metallic; color and streak, iron-black; fracture uneven. Hardness, 2-3. Specific gravity, 6.214.


Pyrargyrite—Ruby silver—Dark red silver ore. The dark red or antimonial variety contains sulphur, 17.7; antimony, 22.5; silver, 59.8. Lustre, metallic, adamantine; color, black, sometimes approaching cochineal red; streak, cochineal red. Hardness, 2-2.5. Specific gravity, 5.7-5.9.


Pyroustite—Ruby silver—Light red silver ore. The light red or arsenical variety contains sulphur, 19.4; arsenic, 15.1; silver, 65.5. Lustre, adamantine; color and streak, cochineal red; fracture, uneven. Hardness, 2-2.5. Specific gravity, 5.42-5.56.


Stromeyerite—Sulphide of silver and copper. Composition: sulphur, 15.7; copper, 31.2; silver, 53.1. Lustre, metallic; color, dark steel gray; streak, shining; fracture, subconchoidal. Hardness, 2.5-3. Specific gravity, 6.2-6.3.


Sternbergite—Sulphide of silver and iron. Composition, nearly equal parts of sulphur, iron and silver. Lustre, metallic; color, pinchbeck brown; streak, black. Hardness, 1-1.5. Specific gravity. 4.21. It resembles graphite, and, like it, leaves a tracing on paper.


Miargyrite—Sulphide of silver and antimony. Composition: sulphur, 21.8; antimony, 41.5; silver, 36.7. Lustre, submetallic; color, iron-black; streak, dark cherry red; fracture, subconchoidal. Hardness, 2-2.5. Sp. gr., 5.4.


Freieslebenite. An antimonial silver and lead sulphide, containing about 24 per cent. of silver. Lustre, metallic: color, steel gray. Hardness, 2-2.5. Specific gravity, 6-6.4.


Silver fahlore—Gray copper ore. A compound of silver, copper, iron, antimony, arsenic, sulphur, zinc and lead, and sometimes gold and mercury, containing silver in variable proportions up to 31 per cent. Sometimes this metal is almost entirely wanting, Lustre, metallic; color, steel gray to iron-black; streak, brown or black. Hardness, 3-4.5. Specific gravity, 4.5-5.1. This ore is quite common, but the silver is obtained from it with the greatest difficulty.


Silver in combination with Chlorine, Bromine and Iodine.

Cerargyrite—Chloride of silver—Horn silver. Composition: chlorine, 24.7; silver, 75.3; but usually contains a small quantity of the peroxide of iron. Lustre, resinous, passing into adamantine; color, pearl gray or grayish green, and when pure becomes a violet brown on exposure: streak, shining; fracture, conchoidal. Hardness, 1-1.5. Specific gravity, 5.552. This ore resembles and cuts somewhat like horn or wax, and will, by rubbing, silver the surface of an iron plate. Its varieties are:

Iodide of silver. An admixture of iodine with 46 per cent. of silver. Lustre, resinous; color, yellow; streak, yellow.


Bromide of silver. An admixture of bromine with 57.7 per cent. of silver. Lustre, splendent; color, bright yellow.


Embolite. Composed of chlorine 13, bromine 20, silver 67 parts.


Silver combined with other Metals.

Bismuth silver. An ore containing from 15 to 60 per cent. of silver. Lustre, metallic; color, grayish white.


Native amalgam. A compound of silver and mercury, the per cent. of silver varying from 26.5 to 86.6, dependent upon the manner in which it is combined.


Dyscrasite, or antimonial silver. Consists simply of antimony and silver; antimony 22, silver 78; and has a nearly white color. Hardness, 3.5-4. Specific gravity, 9.4-9.8.


Silver combined with tellurium, or Telluride of silver (Heasite). Composition: tellurium, 37.2; silver, 62.8. Lustre, metallic; color, steel gray. Hardness, 2-3.5. Specific gravity, 8.3-8.6. It is slightly malleable.


Silver in combination with selenium; naumannite or selenide of silver. Selenium, 20.8; silver, 73.2. Lustre, metallic; color and streak, iron-black.


Eucairite—Films of silver and copper containing selenium Composition: selenium, 31.6; copper, 25.3; silver, 43.1. Lustre, metallic; color, lead gray; streak, shining; so soft that it may easily be cut with a knife. It also tarnishes easily.


—The processes for extracting silver from ore may be grouped into three general divisions: amalgamation, smelting, and lixiviation. In amalgamation, the silver is collected by the use of mercury; in smelting, it is made to combine with lead or copper; and, in lixiviation, is drawn off in a solution containing silver as the base, in combination with acids. Each of these methods has processes which differ, each from the others, methods known by the names of the inventors, or of the localities where first introduced.


—Ores, for their metallurgical treatment, are generally classified in reference to their constituents, as well as the amount of silver contained. Those from which the silver can be obtained by simple mechanical processes, are called "free milling ores." Ores from which the silver can be extracted by fusion at high temperatures and then drawing off separately the earthy materials and metals, as they arrange themselves according to their specific gravities, are called "smelting ores." When ores do not readily part with their silver by fusion, or by the use of chemicals and the ordinary mechanical processes, they are called "rebellious" or "refractory."


Amalgamation. The method of extracting silver from ores by amalgamating them with mercury, was first discovered in 1557 by Bartolome Medina, a native of Pachuca, Mexico, and has since that time, with some modifications, been in general and continuous use. Ores treated by this process may be divided into classes, dependent upon the amount of silver contained and other substances associated with the silver, and require somewhat different metallurgical treatment. Ores containing silver combined with sulphur, chlorine, iodine or bromine, but free from arsenic and antimony, which largely increase the expense, together with the loss of both mercury and silver, are most easily worked by amalgamation. Such ores containing silver assaying less than $150 to the ton, are generally treated by the so-called Washoe or pan process, in which the ores are first crushed to a suitable size, and then, by means of a stamp mill, are pulverized in water into particles of the size of fine sand, and subsequently are ground in cast-iron pans or amalgamators with hot water and mercury, sometimes with, and sometimes without, the addition of chemicals. The silver and mercury, in the form of an amalgam, are placed in small bags, through the interstices of which the redundant mercury oozes and is strained out. The remainder of the mercury is afterward vaporized and separated, by heating the amalgam in an iron retort. The silver, alloyed with more or less of other metals left in the retort, is melted into bars, while the condensed mercury collected from the retort is again used for amalgam. Ores of this character assaying below $90 to the ton, require, for their treatment, a longer time for amalgamation and a greater quantity of chemicals and mercury. Ores assaying in silver over $150 per ton, and associated with arsenic, antimony or iron, so as to render their reduction difficult, are generally crushed dry, roasted with salt in a reverberatory furnace, and then amalgamated in barrels.


Smelting. Silver and lead in a state of fusion possess a strong affinity for each other, and advantage is taken of this in the reduction of argentiferous ores. When silver exists in the ore in a metallic state, an alloy is easily made by fusing together the ore and metallic lead, or the ores of lead. In case silver is associated with large quantities of iron pyrites or sulphides other than galena, the ore is frequently fused for a matte, which is then roasted and re-melted with lead, and from the alloy thus obtained the silver is afterward separated. Lead and other base metals are removed by different methods, dependent upon the cost of the agents and material employed, and the use to be made and value of the base metals or of the by-products obtained.


Leaching. To extract silver from ore by this process the silver must enter into chemical combination with some substance that will form with it a soluble compound. Chlorine, under the proper conditions, readily combines with silver, and has been found the cheapest and most suitable agent for this purpose. The silver is converted into a chloride by roasting the crushed ore in a furnace with common salt, of which from 5 to 20 per cent. is used, according to the richness of the ore. The chloride, being insoluble in water alone, is leached out from the mass by running through it a solution of calcium hyposulphite, from which the silver is afterward precipitated as a sulphide of silver by a solution of calcium polysulphide (pentasulphide). The precipitated sulphide, in the form of black mud, is collected, roasted, dried, roasted and then melted at a high temperature, with an addition of scrap iron, which takes up the sulphur remaining after the roasting, and reduces the silver to a metallic state. The leaching process is quite satisfactory in its results when it is desired to obtain silver bullion of the highest degree of purity.


Silver Refining. Silver is refined either by the dry method, fire, or the wet process, acid. In refining by fire the base metals are converted into their oxides and flow from the melted silver, or are removed by absorption or dissolved in alkaline fluxes. Where large amounts are to be operated upon, the silver is usually refined by cupellation in a reverberatory furnace. The bullion is placed upon a cupellation hearth, made of suitable material, such as crushed slag, quartz and clay, bone-ash, calcareous marl, composed chiefly of carbonate of lime and silicate of alumina, etc., etc., the chief requisite being that the cupel should be infusible, sufficiently porous to absorb the oxides of the base metals, and contain in its composition no reducing agent. The base metals are oxidized by a current of air, and run off as melted oxides, or are absorbed by the cupel. Silver is brought without difficulty by this process to a fineness of over 99 per cent.


—Refining by the use of oxidized fluxes is conducted in crucibles, and the agent employed is generally nitrate of potash or of soda. The nitrate is decomposed by the heat of the furnace; its oxygen, combining with the base metals, forms oxides, which are dissolved or held in suspension by silicious or alkaline fluxes. Borate of soda is the flux usually employed in the mints in refining.


—Silver is refined by the wet process by dissolving the bullion in acids, precipitating the silver by chlorine, and subsequently reducing it to a metallic state, or by precipitation with copper. This is rarely employed otherwise than as an incident to the parting of gold and silver, or when silver containing base metals can at the same time be advantageously melted and used as alloy for quartation in refining gold. This process is described in the article on GOLD in Volume II.


Occurrence. Silver, though not so widely diffused as gold, has been found in every grand division and in many of the principal islands of the globe. In ancient times it was obtained from Nubia and other parts of Africa, from western Asia and many countries in Europe, principally Spain, Hungary and Austria, Germany, Turkey, and Russia. Upon the discovery of America rich mines were soon opened in the countries of South America adjacent to the Pacific coast—Peru, Chili and Bolivia—and also in the northern and western portions of Mexico. Of late years it has been found in greater abundance in the territories and western states of the United States.


Production. Silver seems to have been one of the earliest metals known, and, as money, is the first mentioned by the ancient sacred and profane historians. From the mines known to them considerable quantities were obtained, although the methods employed for treating the ores and refining the metal were crude and expensive. Pliny states that silver was found in all the Roman provinces, and both he and Diodorus mention the Spanish mines as the principal source. From the latter it is said that Hannibal extracted 300 pounds daily (equal to $1,500,000 annually), and that one tunnel had penetrated a mile and a half into the mountain. Although new mines were from time to time discovered, the total annual production of silver, as well as the stock previously accumulated, became gradually reduced until the discovery of America. How much then existed in the world, either in the form of coin or personal ornaments, plate and bullion, is a matter of conjecture. The average yearly production for the first fifty-three years after the discovery of America (1492 to 1545) was, according to an estimate made in 1830 by John White for the secretary of the treasury, $640,000; according to Mr. Alex. Del Mar. formerly chief of the United States bureau of statistics, $600,000; and according to Dr. Soetbeer, $2,716,000. The total production of both gold and silver in the western world, America, Europe and Africa, from 1492 to 1800, on the estimates of Mr. Jacob, would be $5,708,000,000; on those of Danson, $5,482,000,000. Mr. White's estimate of the silver production for the period amounts to $3,725,000,000; Mr. Del Mar's to $4,260,000,000, and Dr. Soetbeer's to $4,855,000,000. Their estimates of the gold production during the same time are: White, $1,675,000,000; Del Mar, $1,872,300,000; Soetbeer, $2,332,000,000; which, added respectively to their estimates of the silver production, would make the total production, according to Mr. Del Mar, $6,560,000,000, and according to Dr. Soetbeer, $7,187,000,000, both of which amounts exceed those given by Danson and White. Mr. Del Mar's estimate of the yearly production of silver from 1800 to 1876 amounts to $2,638,500,000, and adding to this the yearly production for the remaining four years to 1880, as estimated by the director of the mint, amounting to $368,800,000, would bring Del Mar's estimate up to $3,007,300,000, which is $161,000,000 less than Soetbeer's estimate. The total production of silver in the western world, since the discovery of America, would be, according to Soetbeer, $8,034,819,000; according to Del Mar, $7,267,300,000.


—The yield of silver from the mines of all the countries of the world in each century since the discovery of America, has been estimated by Dr. Soetbeer as follows:

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—Among the silver-producing countries of the world the United States stands first, and, with Mexico and Bolivia, furnishes four-fifths of the entire amount. Germany is fourth, with a yield from her mines of nearly $9,000,000, followed by Chili with $5,000,000, and Spain with $3,000,000. The amount of silver obtained from the principal silver producing countries of the world in 1882 was stated by the director of the mint to be:

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The special report of the director of the mint on the production of the precious metals in the United States for 1882 makes the total yield for that year in the United States $46,800,000. The largest amount was obtained from Colorado, which produced $16,500,000, the greater part from the Leadville mines. Arizona comes next, with $7,500,000, mostly obtained from the Tombstone district; then Utah, furnishing $6,800,000; while Nevada, once first among the silver states, with a production in 1878 of $28,000,000, now stands fourth with but $6,750,000.

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Use and Consumption of Silver. Silver is largely used in ornamentation, manufactures and coinage. For these purposes it is almost invariably alloyed with copper. In the United States the standard for coin is 900 parts silver and 100 parts copper. The English standard, called "sterling silver," contains 7.5 per cent. copper, with a fineness of 925. In France several standards are employed: 950 parts for metals and plate, 900 for standard silver coin, and 850 for bullion and subsidiary coin.


—A considerable amount of silver is annually consumed in the arts, and a larger quantity converted into plate or articles for personal ornamentation. Silver is also dissolved in solutions, or used in combination with acids, metals, or alkaline bases in chemical and medicinal preparations, and for manufacturing purposes, in a manner which prevents its recovery for further use. When silver is used for electro-plating, or beat into thin leaves, but a small proportion, if any, can be again collected. Nearly the whole is practically lost, and unavailable for use in coinage or the arts, although ornaments and plate of solid silver are often remelted and used in coinage. But the statistics of all countries show that the plate and jewelry annually brought to their mints for coinage are less than the amount of bullion of recent production found to be annually appropriated for ornamentation and in the arts, etc. At the United States mints the silver of this character deposited for conversion into coin or bars is scarcely one-tenth of the $6,000,000 estimated to be consumed in the United States in the arts, manufactures and ornamentation.


—Efforts have been made to ascertain the silver appropriated in various countries and in the world for these purposes. In 1830 Mr. W. Jacob published his work on the production and consumption of the precious metals, which contained much valuable information on this subject. He placed the annual consumption of silver, other than for coinage, at $4,000,000 for Great Britain, and of gold and silver for Great Britain at $12,000,000, and for Europe, $28,000,000. The inquiries instituted in 1879 by the United States director of the mint, and continued for three years, to ascertain the amount thus consumed in the United States, elicited replies which for the year 1881 showed that 1,143 persons and firms consumed in their business over $3,000,000 of silver for the purposes and of the character and description stated as follows:

United States coins... $72,190
Fine bars... 3,127,432
Foreign coin, jewelry, plate, etc... 188,799
   Total... $3,388,421


—Inquiries were also made, at the request of the director of the mint, through representatives of the United States government, as to the consumption of silver in foreign countries. From the information obtained in this manner, and from other sources, the director in 1881 estimated that the annual consumption in the world for uses other than coinage was not less than $35,000,000.


—Upon information contained in official reports, and additional facts collected from various sources, Dr. Soetbeer, of Germany, made a detailed estimate of the consumption of silver in various countries, and placed the net amount in the civilized world at 471,000 kilograms ($19,500,000), distributing that amount as follows:

United States... $4,239,000
Great Britain... 2,992,000
France... 3,117,000
Germany... 3,117,000
Switzerland... 997,000
Austria-Hungary... 1,330,000
Italy... 790,000
Russia... 1,330,000
Total of above countries... $17,912,000
Other civilized countries... 1,663,000
In all... $19,575,000


As by his estimation the United States and seven countries in Europe consumed $17,900,000 of the whole $19,500,000, leaving but $1,600,000 for the remaining countries of Europe, North and South America, while the large consumption of China and India (the latter placed by the director of the mint at $10,000,000) is wholly omitted, the director's estimate of $35,000,000 as the total consumption of the world is probably below the real amount.


Coinage. Silver coins are reported to have been struck and used in Greece and Rome as early as the third century preceding the Christian era. The amount of silver coined, however, in that period, and subsequently until the discovery of America, is insignificant, compared with the amounts issued from the coinage mints in the nineteenth century. The records of the English coinage show an annual average coinage of silver of less than $35,000 in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, while the value of the silver coinage of Great Britain from 1816 to 1876 exceeded $120,000,000, being over $2,000,000 annually.


—In England, however, as well as in Portugal, where the value of the silver coinage from 1852 to 1880 was $48,174,692, the coin circulation consisted of gold rather than silver; but in France, where silver largely circulates, its coinage in sixty years, 1726-85, is stated to have been 1,500,000,000 livres, while from 1795 to 1880, inclusive, silver to the value of 5,511,952,864 francs was coined, equal to $1,100,000,000, being over $12,000,000 annually.


—The silver coinage in Mexico in 1809 was $26,172,000, in 1812 $4,409,000, then varying with the disturbed condition of the country, but of late years it has averaged from twenty-two to twenty-eight million dollars.


—During the eight years from 1875 to 1883 the silver coinage of a number of the principal countries—the largest portion of which, for the last five years, was executed by the United States, Mexico and India—was as follows:

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—In 1882 Mexico manufactured into coin nearly all the silver obtained from its mines, while the United States used for that purpose but seven-twelfths and Germany three-fourths of its silver product. The India mints coined the largest amount. The coinage of silver for the year for the principal countries was:

United States... $27,972,035
Mexico... 25,146,260
Great Britain... 1,021,381
India... 29,386,322
Germany... 6,407,157
Austria-Hungary... 3,122,819
France... 223,853
Netherlands... 608,312
Norway... 123,280
Sweden... 19,703
Spain... 10,671,842
Japan... 3,294,988
Total... $107,997,952


—The following silver coins of the United States can now be legally issued, except the trade dollar, the coinage of which was, in 1878, suspended by order of the secretary of the treasury as authorized by law:

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—The principal silver coins of chief European countries, now in circulation or coined by the mints in Europe, their weight and fineness, with the quantity of fine silver they contain, are shown in the following table.


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Abrasion of Coins. In all estimates of the amount of silver in the world at any period, an allowance must be made for the loss by abrasion, which will vary with the composition of the coins and the frequency of their circulation. The loss by friction is less when coins are alloyed with copper. Silver coins lose by abrasion, according to Mr. W. Jacob, more rapidly than gold coins. He placed the wear of English standard silver at about 1/200 part annually. Tests were made at the London mint in 1826 to ascertain the loss on silver coins of different denominations respectively in circulation for three brief periods, taking 300 coins of each denomination for each period, with the following results:

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—The experiments made by the officers of the English mint in 1787 to ascertain the deficiency in weight of the silver coins in actual circulation at that time, showed a loss upon the crown pieces of 3.3 per cent.; half crowns, 9.9 per cent.; shillings, 24.6 per cent.


—In 1872-3 a quantity of light gold coins were sent to the mint for recoinage; among them 6,000,000 gold dollars were found to be deficient in weight .478 per cent., being little less than ½ per cent. As the issue of these coins was authorized in 1849, and not quite 20,000,000 were issued, and after 1863, during the suspension of specie payments, they were practically out of circulation, twelve years may be considered as the average period of their circulation, which would give a loss by abrasion of about 1 per cent. in twenty-five years. The loss on 5,000,000 quarter eagles was .00506, being a little over ½ per cent. These doubtless were coined since the reduction of the value of gold coins in 1834, and had been in circulation under forty, and probably not over thirty, years; the loss by abrasion was at the rate of a little over 1 6/10; per cent. in a century. The loss on 10,000,000 half eagles was .005214. These may have been in circulation for the same length of time as the quarter eagles, in which case the loss by abrasion would be at the rate of about from 1¼ to 1¾ per cent. in a century.


Silver Circulation. It is impossible to tell with certainty the amount of silver in circulation at any given period in any particular country, or the total amount used by commercial nations. Mint reports of most countries furnish meagre information as to the character of the bullion used in coinage, and seldom state the country from which it was obtained, or whether it consisted of bars or coins remelted. Where, however, the recent legislation of a country has changed the denomination or legaltender character of its coins, an approximate estimate of the coin circulation can be made by deducting from the total coinage subsequent to the change that portion exported and estimated to have been recoined, and used in the arts. Such an estimate is more reliable where the silver coins are valued relatively to gold higher than the value of the bullion they contain, in which case few will be exported, except to those countries where they pass at the legal home valuation. In this case, and in countries where the customs returns give the amount and character of the coin exports, the silver circulation can be stated with sufficient exactness and reasonable certainty.


—As to the silver circulation of the United States at the present time (1883), it can be stated approximately without much hesitation, because the country had no silver in general circulation in 1873, and its present stock has been accumulated since that time, with the exception, possibly, of five millions. In 1883 the silver coin in the country on the first of October was estimated by the director of the mint to have been 154,000,000 silver dollars, and $81,000,000 in fractional silver.


Relative Value of Silver to Gold. As the principal ultimate demand for silver has been to coin or use it as money, the legislation at different periods of the world and in different countries, establishing for each country the relative debt-paying power of given weights of gold and silver, has, probably, more than any other cause, affected the market value of the two metals. Tables have been published giving their relative values at various periods; but an inspection of their dates, compared with the legislation of the country, shows that either the relative value of the gold and silver coins, or, in some cases, their value less mint charges, is given as the market value of the metals. The production of silver and gold, and their relative values for stated periods subsequent to the discovery of America and prior to 1881, were examined for each country by the eminent German statistician. Dr. Adolph Soetbeer, and his conclusions have been given to the public. During that period the production of gold and silver, and values relatively to each other, as stated by him, were as follows:

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This comparison, as remarked by Seyd, shows that the relative value of the two metals has been largely affected, though doubtless not wholly controlled, by other causes than the relative amount produced. In the legislative changes made by different nations in the relative value as established in the coinage, it will be found that the higher valuation of the one or the other metal, and the course of exchange and balances of trade between nations, have had much to do with the disturbance of their values, and a great, if not a controlling, influence in determining their relative price.


—Alexander Hamilton, in his report as secretary of the treasury to congress on the establishment of a mint, in 1791, clearly stated the effect of such legislation: "If two countries are supposed, in one of which the proportion of gold to silver is as one to sixteen, in the other as one to fifteen, gold being worth more, silver less, in one than in the other, it is manifest, that, in their reciprocal payments, each will select that species which it values least to pay to the other, where it is valued most. Besides this, the dealers in money will, from the same cause, often find a profitable traffic in an exchange of the metals between the two countries. And hence it would come to pass, if other things were equal, that the greatest part of the gold would be collected in one, and the greatest part of the silver in the other. The course of trade might, in some degree, counteract the tendency of the difference in the legal proportions by the market value; but this is so far and so often influenced by the legal rates, that it does not prevent their producing the effect which is inferred. Facts, too, verify the inference. In Spain and England, where gold is rated higher than in other parts of Europe, there is a scarcity of silver; while it is found to abound in France and Holland, where it is rated higher in proportion to gold than in the neighboring nations."


—To understand all the causes which have affected the relative price of gold and silver, it would be instructive to trace the history of the successive changes of each nation, and their contemporaneous valuations. This is not easy to do, because the legal rating of the coins seldom corresponds with the relative amount of bullion necessary to be brought to the mints to obtain them, by reason of deductions for seigniorage to the sovereigns, and fees for the mint officers and workmen. Some of the more important changes have been as follows: For twelve hundred years prior to the time of Xenophon (400 B. C.) the ratio of gold to silver is stated to have been 13.33 to 1. The Greeks and Romans established in their coinage a value of 12 to 1; although it is said that at the time of the return of Julius Cæsar to Rome the value of gold had fallen to the ratio of 7.5 to 1. For the first centuries of the Christian era the relative value of gold in the Roman empire appears to have been as 12.5 to 1. Different countries have from time to time established different ratios, none of which permanently stood, and the rate of valuation was about or a little above or below 12 to 1 until the close of the fifteenth century. But early in the seventeenth century the valuation of gold was raised, first by England to about 13.7, and subsequently by Holland to 13.62, and again raised about the middle of the century by Holland to 14.93, and later, in 1665, by edict of Charles II., to 14.5 in England; and the coinage of both gold and silver, in the succeeding year, was made free to all at current rates, at which time the valuation in Italy and Spain is stated to have been 15 to 1.


—The value of gold and silver in European countries in 1640 is reported by reliable authorities to have been: France, 13¾ to 1; Flanders, 12½ to 1; Germany, 12 to 1; Netherlands, 12½ to 1; Milan, 12 to 1; England, 13 1/3 to 1; Spain, 13 1/3; to 1; France (1726), 14½ to 1.


—In the eighteenth century Great Britain, in 1717, made the value 15.21 to 1. France, nine years later, established the ratio of 14.42 to 1, and Spain, in 1730, 16 to 1. In 1785 France adopted the ratio of 15½ to 1, Portugal had increased the valuation of gold compared with silver to 15.8 to 1, and Spain, first to 16 and then to 16.5 to 1. In 1798 England suspended silver coinage, without, however, changing the ratio. The average valuation during the eighteenth century was a little less than 15 to 1, while the United States adopted as the basis of its value 15 to 1.


—In the nineteenth century the most notable change was made by Great Britain, which demonetized silver, increasing its valuation and the amount to be offered in legal tender, and excluding the public from the right to deposit it at the mint for coinage. In 1834 the amount of pure gold in the gold coins of the United States was reduced, bringing the relative value as nearly 16 to 1. In 1835 gold was demonetized in British India, and silver made the only legal tender. In 1847 Holland demonetized gold, and adopted an exclusive silver standard.


—The increased production of gold, after its discovery in California and Australia, affected prices in Europe, and largely increased the imports from India, necessitating a greater export of money to that country to settle balances of trade. As silver only was legal tender coin, gold having been demonetized, the demand for silver for transportation raised its price in the London market above the French mint value, as compared with gold, of 1 to 15½ and for some years, until a greater supply from the mines was able to satisfy the demand, silver was generally higher in London than its coining value at the European mints open for public coinage. The countries giving the lowest legal valuation to silver were denuded of their silver coins. The scarcity of the latter induced the United States, in 1853, following the example of Great Britain, in 1816, to commence the coinage of silver on government account, and to issue fractional silver coins of reduced weight and limited legal tender. All United States silver coins of less denomination than one dollar, issued since that date, are of a weight that makes the value of the silver contained, compared with gold, as 1 to 14.88.


—In 1870 Germany, and in 1873 the United States, passed laws demonetizing silver and discontinuing the privilege to the public of coining it at their mints. This action was followed later by the states of the Latin union agreeing to suspend the coinage of silver, which, following the large increase in the production of silver from the mines of the United States, largely depressed its value, which, compared with gold, has averaged in the London market, for the eight years subsequent to 1875, about 1 to 18.


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