As we all know, money can be exchanged for goods and services. Before debit cards and paper notes money was represented by coins, which at one time were made of the precious metal it represented in value; in silver or gold.
Coin clipping, the practice of cutting off small slivers of metal from the edges of the coin, was considered High Treason in 1600’s Great Britain. The threat of hanging did not stop the practice though, as the cuttings and filings could be collected and melted into bars and then remade into counterfeit coins. Woo, free money!
However, clipped money was unwanted by merchants. “Heavy money”, coins that weighed as much as they should, was prized. Merchants would hoard heavy money and pass clipped coins along. Foreign merchants would only accept heavy money. By the end of the century tiny, misshapen coins were a pitiful but only sight in every pocket in the land, and an estimated 10% of all coins in circulation were counterfeit.
Parliament decided enough was enough and on 13 January 1696, they passed passed the ‘Act for Remedying the Ill State of the Coin of the Kingdom’. All the silver coin, plate and bullion in the country was to be melted down and reissued in what was called The Great Coinage.. The deadline to hand in old coinage was set as July 1696. Old coin was taken back by weight rather than face value, which I imagine punished the poor more than usual, unsurprisingly.
With mints set up across the country to produce the new coinage it was a tumultuous time of unrest and great expense, which in the end proved to make little difference. Tidier coins certainly, but the variations in the value of gold and silver meant it was hard to maintain this monetary system. The only way to maintain silver as coin was to reduce the silver content so that the coin’s nominal value was more than that of the bullion of the same weight.
This didn’t happen until The Great Coinage 2: Electric Boogaloo, which was undertooken in 1816 to stabilise the British currency when the country faced crippling debts thanks to their grand adventure fighting the French for a generation.
Have a grand day everyone!