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TO THE TWENTY-THIRD VOLUME OF THE
MERCHANTS' MAGAZINE AND COMMERCIAL REVIEW
NATHAN ALLAN, M. D. of Massachusetts.
Banking,” etc., of Englaitd.
Treatise on Banking, pu:" THOMAS P. KETTELL, Esq., of New York. SAMUEL MARTIN, A.M., of London, England. C. F. M'Cay, of the University of Georgia. A. NASH, Esq., of the New York Bar. J. S. Ropes, Esq., Merchant of Massachusetts. EZRA C. SEAMAN, of the United States Treasury Department, Author of Essays
on the “ Progress of Nations in Productive Industry, Civilization, Population,
Art. 1.—THE GOLD MINES OF CALIFORNIA.
The extraordinary fertility of the gold mines of California, no longer a matter of doubt, has naturally suggested the apprehension that the precious metals, or at least gold, will experience a depreciation similar to that which took place in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, in consequence of the discovery of America.
The subject is important from its bearing on all cases of perpetual ground rents ; on all money contracts extending over a long term of years ; on the value, and perhaps the regulation, of the specie currency everywhere; and on national debts. It behoves us, therefore, to make timely inquiries into the probable extent of this depreciation, that we may either guard against its mischiefs, or prepare
for those we cannot prevent. The depreciation of gold and silver caused by the American mines, would furnish us with the safe guide of experience on this subject, if our knowledge of its facts was at once authentic and precise—but they are rarely both, and are sometimes neither. To deduce the future depreciation from the past, we must know the amount of the precious metals in Europe at the time America was discovered ; the accessions to that amount furnished by the American mines at different periods; the depreciation at those periods; the quantity of those metals now in existence; and lastly, the amount the California mines are likely to furnish. But all these facts are founded more or less on conjectures; some of which, resting on loose and imperfect data, have differed very widely from one another. While precise certainty is thus unattainable, enough is probably known to enable us to make, within certain limits, approaches to the truth on which we may, with some confidence, rely.
According to approved authorities, the quantity of gold and silver in Europe, at the end of the fifteenth century, when America was discovered, was about $300,000,000. Mr. Jacob estimates the coin then in circulation at $170,000,000.
Of the amount drawn from the American mines Barɔn Humboldt's estimate is entitled to more respect than any other. He examined the several
previous estimates thoroughly; and he had means of information which probably no preceding inquirer had possessed. The result of his investigation was as follows :
From 1492 to 1500 the amount of gold and silver which flowed into Europe from America was $250,000 a year : in all $2,000,000.
From 1500 to 1545 it was $3,000,000 a year : in all $135,000,000.
From 1545 to 1600 it was $11,000,000 a year : in all $605,000,000 ; making the whole amount then received from America $742,000,000.
From 1600 to 1700 it was $16,000,000 a year : in all $1,600,000,000 ; making the whole amount received from America $2,342,000,000.
From 1700 to 1750 it was $22,500,000 a year: in all $1,125,000,000; making the whole amount received from America $3,467,000,000.
From 1750 to 1803 it was $35,300,000 a year: in all $1,870,000,000 ; and raising the total amount sent to Europe to $5,337,000,000.
From this estimate it would appear that in one century from 1500 the precious metals in Europe had received an accession of $740,000,000, or of 2463 per cent; in two centuries an accession of $2,340,000,000, or 780 per cent; and in little more than three centuries the accession had been $5,335,000,000, or nearly 1800 per cent.
To ascertain the present amount of the precious metals in Europe and America, we must add to the amount drawn from the American mines—1. The amount in Europe before the discovery of America. 2. The amount in America at 1803. 3. The amount drawn since 1803 from the American, European, and Siberian mines, and imported from Africa. From their aggre gate sum we must then deduct—1. What has been consumed by wear, or in the arts, and by losses at sea. 2. What has been transported to India and China. Thus :The whole amount received from America, including $25,000,000 of
booty obtained by the conquerors of Mexico and Peru, as estimated by Humboldt.
$5,445,000,000 The amount in Europe in 1492.
300,000,000 The amount in North and South America in 1803, according to Humboldt
153,000,000 Drawn from the American mines from 1803 to 1820, according to Mr. Gallatin...
750,000,000 Drawn from the same, from 1830 to 1850, at the same rate...
555,000,000 The product of the mines of Europe, and the gold dust from Africa, according to Mr. Gallatin .
450,000,000 The same since 1830-at $7,000,000 a year—20 years.
140,000,000 From the Russian mines.
$8,063,000,000 From this sum let us deductConsumed by the wear of the coin—about a five hundredth part annually*.
$600,000,000 Consumed by wear of utensils, &c., and lost.
700,000,000 Transported to India and China, according to Jacob.
$3,400,000,000 Now remaining in Europe and America...
$4,663,000,000 which is less than Mr. Gallatin's estimate, and more than Mr. Jacob's.
* This is indeed less than Mr. Jacob's estimate, but more than Mr. Gallatin's founded on the experience of the United States. He stated that the annual loss from the wear of coin in this country was $70,000 on $40,000,000, which is as 1 to 571.
It was the opinion of Adam Smith, from a comparison of the average prices of wheat in England through a series of years, that, in the course of about a century and a half before the discovery of America, the precious metals had doubled in value; or, in other words, that the average price of wheat had fallen in that time from four ounces of silver a quarter to two
This last price, he says, continued unchanged until about the year 1570, from which he infers that the mines of America seem not to have had any very sensible effect upon prices in England till after that year; but that in the course of the 70 years succeeding—that is, from 1570 to about 1640, or even 1636, there was a gradual depreciation of gold and silver to a third or fourth of their former value. From that period to the time he wrote1775—he considered that the value of those metals had been nearly stationary; or if not, that the value of silver had somewhat risen in the course of the eighteenth century.
If these views of Dr. Smith are well-founded, we should be warranted in inferring that there would be no depreciation of the precious metals in Europe and America until the quantity now existing there shall have received an accession correspondent to that which had been made to the quantity previously existing in Europe before any depreciation took place. As Dr. Smith's language seems to admit that there might have been some slight depreciation before 1570, let us strike off ten years, and suppose that it begun in 1560. What addition has then been made to the quantity in Europe in 1492, when America was discovered ? From 1492 to 1500 the amount received from America was $2,000,000 From 1500 to 1545 it was.
135,000,000 From 1545 to 1560 the average deduced from Humboldt's estimate was $8,000,000 a year.
257,000,000 Deduct for wear and loss beyond the supply afforded by
the mines of Europe, at about half of 1 per cent. 26,000,000 Exported to the East, suppose $1,000,000* a year. 68,000,000
94,000,000 The whole accession from the American mines in 1560...
$163,000,000 which is somewhat more than 54 per cent on the amount believed to be in Europe in 1492; consequently, we ought not to expect any depreciation whatever until the quantity now in Europe and America had received a similar accession of 54 per cent—equal to $2,528,000,000—which would require a net annual addition of $50,000,000 in 50 years, or $100,000,000 in
But these views of Dr. Smith must be received with considerable qualification. We now find, by the aid of lights which that eminent man did not possess, that his conclusions are not only irreconcilable to the estimates made by Baron Humboldt, but are inconsistent with one another, as may be thus shown.
The quantity of gold and silver in Europe, according to our estimate, increased between 1492 and 1560 from $300,000,000 to $463,000,000. From 1560 to 1640 the increase had been as follows :
* This trade, except a small portion overland, was then carried on exclusively by the Portuguese. It was only about the last of the sixteenth century (in 1595) that the Dutch, their first rivals, made a voyage to India by the way of the Cape of Good Hope.