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Weight In Silver

COINAGE CONTENT CHANGES REFLECT THE TIMES

Worth Its

In 1652, Massachusetts began striking silver coins for public use. (Photo courtesy Heritage.)

The 1792 half disme was the first silver coin struck by the United States Mint. The portrait may have been that of Martha Washington. (Photo courtesy Heritage.)

When the first settlers from Britain came to what is now the United States, there was little in the way of coined money to use in the marketplace. Barter was the order of the day, and crops, such as tobacco in Virginia, were oThen used to pay taxes.

By 1652, this lack of a circulating coinage had become serious enough that Massachusetts began minting its own silver coins, suitably debased from the legal English standard. This reduced weight kept the silver at home and provided a measure of relief for hard-pressed merchants. In 1684, however, the coinage was halted when the London government refused to tolerate it any longer.

During the early 1700s, a continuing shortage of gold and silver forced Colonial governments to issue paper money in ever-increasing amounts, which soon depreciated when measured against specie. Parliament repeatedly passed laws forbidding such issues but made little eff ort to provide Colonial marketplaces with sufficient coinage.

One of the underlying causes of the American Revolution was the second- class status of the American economy. Political leaders, such as Benjamin Franklin, wanted the colonists to manage their own aff airs, including the monetary system, without interference from the British Crown.

It took money to fund the Revolutionary War, and the colonists had little of that. So like the alchemists of old, they created a paper currency backed by the Spanish milled dollar. But it would have been a rare citizen indeed who could have persuaded the government to honor that pledge.

The Continental Congress was not as naïve as it appears, however. It had little or no taxing power and the issues of paper depreciated, creating a reverse tax. In eff ect, those who were forced to use the Continental currency thus paid for the war as the value of the bills continued to fall.

When the war was over, the public had seen enough of paper currency and a nearly bankrupt national government was barely able to remain in existence. In the 1780s more than one attempt was made to create a monetary system, but all failed because the government could not even find enough money to build a mint.

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About COINage Magazine

COINage February 2019, Inside Look, First U.S. Silver Coins, Scott Travers' Top 12 Coins for 2019, And More......