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New Estimates of the Money Stock in France, 1493–1680

  • Debra Glassman (a1) and Angela Redish (a1)

The money stock in France from 1493 to 1680 has not been well understood. Changes in the money stock have usually been represented by moving sums of annual mint output. Mint output, however, included large amounts of recoinage, resulting in double-counting. A model of mint output is estimated to determine the amount of recoinage. The money stock estimates are also improved by incorporating a constant rate of loss of coins.

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1 Spooner Frank C., The International Economy and Monetary Movements in France, 1493–1725 (Cambridge, Mass., 1972), pp. 307–9.

2 The importance of bills of exchange, full-bodied money, and black money in the monetary circulation of sixteenth-century France is described in Meuvret Jean, “Monetary Circulation and the Use of Coinage in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century France,” translated by Doran Patrick, in Essays in European Economic History, 1500–1800 (Oxford, 1974).

3 Munro John H., “Monetary Contraction and Industrial Change in the Late Medieval Low Countries, 1335–1500,” in Mayhew N. J., ed., Coinage in the Low Countries (880–1500) (Oxford, 1979). It is of course well known that by the eighteenth century bimetallic arbitrage was significant.

4 The livre tournois was the French money of account. It was subdivided into 20 sols, each of which was equal to 12 deniers.

5 Spooner, The International Economy, pp. 334–41.

6 The mint price data are from de Wailly Natalis, Mémoire sur les Variations de la Livre Tournois depuis la Régne de Saint Louis jusqu' à l' Etablissement de la Monnaie Décimale (Paris, 1857), pp. 7981, 173–75.

7 The Paris marc (244.7529 grams) was subdivided into 4,608 grains. Henceforth the term silver will refer to silver argent-le-roi.

8 To ensure that a fixed number of grains is contained in a particular coin, coins with the same name but different specie metal content are distinguished by a following letter: for example, the teston minted between 1488 and 1521 is called the teston-a.

9 Data on fineness and weight are from Kelly P., The Universal Cambist (London, 1831); and Gadoury V. and Droulers F., Monnaies Royales Francaises (n.p., 1978).

10 Gould J. D., The Great Debasement (Oxford, 1970), p. 11.

11 Gold coins frequently circulated at values above their official value. For example, in 1628 the gold écu au soleil circulated at 80 sols, although its official value was 75 sols. Similarly in 1634 the silver quart d'écu circulated at 17 and 18 sols, although its official value was only 16 sols. Spooner, The International Economy, p. 179.

12 See Gadoury and Droulers, Monnaies Royales, p. 36, for a discussion of the demonetization of the franc and p. 129 for the quart d'écu.

13 See Gadoury and Droulers, Monnaies Royales, p. 259; and Spooner, The International Economy, p. 194.

14 The data are from Mar Alexander Del, Money and Civilization (London, 1886);Shaw W. A., The History of Currency 1252–1896 (1896; reprinted New York, 1967);Soetbeer A., Edelmetali Produkzion und Werthverhältniss zwischen Gold und Silber seit der Entdeckung Amerika's bis Gegenwart (Gotha, 1979); and Tooke T. and Newmarch W., A History of Prices and the State of the Circulation (London, 1857), vol. 6. A gold-silver ratio can be calculated as either the ratio of mint prices or the ratio of mint equivalents. The appropriate comparison when deciding which metal to use in settling a trade debt is the difference between the mint price ratio in the country receiving the metal and the mint equivalent ratio in the country exporting the metal. Since we are interested in imports of specie metal to France, all these explanatory variables should take the form of the French mint price ratio minus the foreign mint equivalent ratio. It is unclear from the source (Shaw, History of Currency) whether the ratio for venice is the mint price or the mint equivalent ratio.

15 Some of the unexplained variation in the mint output equations may be due to minting of tax revenues that were collected in unminted metal. Since tax revenues are unrelated to the economic incentive variables included in the model, the omission of such a variable would not bias the coefficient estimates.

16 Morineau Michel, “France”, in Parker Geoffrey, ed., An Introduction to the Sources of European Economic History, 1500–1800 (London, 1977), p. 178.

17 As noted above, this may include some recoinage of underweight domestic coins. While the exact amount is unknown, it was apparently relatively small and is therefore ignored in later calculations.

18 Spooner Frank C., L'Économie Mondiale et Les Frappes Monétaires en France, 1493–1680 (Paris, 1956).

19 Braudel F. P. and Spooner F., “Prices in Europe from 1450–1750”, in Rich E. E. and Wilson C. H., eds., The Cambridge Economic History of Europe (Cambridge, 1967), vol. 4, p. 445.

20 King Gregory, Natural and Political Observations and Conclusions upon the Slate and Condition of England (London, 1696), reprinted in The Earliest Classics (London, 1973), p. 50. By a very dubious procedure (based on Vespasian's estimate of the money stock in Roman times) Jacob also concluded that there was £27.4 million sterling of coin in Europe at that time. Jacob William, An Historical Inquiry into the Production and Consumption of the Precious Metals (1831; reprinted New York, 1968), vol. 2, p. 53.

21 Mar Alexander Del, “Minute on the World's Production of Gold and Silver”, in Report of the U.S. Monetary Commission (washington, 1877), p. 61.

22 The population share of 18 percent is obtained from McEvedy Cohn and Jones Richard, Atlas of World Population History (New York, 1978), pp. 18, 57. Prorating in this way is obviously flawed, but it is the best available procedure. The pound sterling contained 1,718 troy grains of pure silver, which is 0.4548 marcs, and the dollar contained 371.25 troy grains of pure silver. The estimates are converted to marcs of silver argenr-le-roi by multiplying by 24/23.

23 These estimates were obtained by running Tobit regressions of billon and copper mint output on dummy variables for the recoinage years (1550/52 for billon, 1654/56 for copper; see Spooner, The International Economy, pp. 140, 189). The independent variables from the gold and silver equations were not included in these regressions since billon and copper mint output responded to different incentives.

24 Patterson C. C., “Silver Stocks and Losses in Ancient and Medieval Times”, Economic History Review, 25 (1972), p. 220.Mayhew N. J., “Numismatic Evidence and Falling Prices in the Fourteenth Century”, Economic History Review, 27 (1974), p. 3.

25 Baulant Micheline and Meuvret Jean, Prix des Céréales Extraits de la Mercuriale de Paris (1520–1698) (Paris, 1960), vol. 1, pp. 243–49.

26 Riley James C. and McCusker John J., “Money Supply, Economic Growth, and the Quantity Theory of Money: France, 1650–1788,” Explorations in Economic History, 20 (1983), pp. 274–93.

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