Coin weights–

There was a time when the actual value of a coin was not as certain as it is nowadays.

We live in a relatively stable time period from that perspective. The value of the coin is no long based on its weight and the value of the alloy from which it is made .
A dollar is always worth a dollar and a euro is worth a euro … we can take currentness at face measure ( without losing face ) .
Sound logical? Not necessarily.
That was a coarse offspring in the past.

Coin weights

Always prove your heart metal

Prior to the 20th century (and even later depending on the country), the weight (or rather the mass to be more precise) of a coin reigned supreme.

furthermore, the confront value of the mint frequently referred to the correspond weight. For exercise, the beat sterling derives its identify directly from the pound as a unit of weight ( the origins of which go all the way back to Ancient Rome ). The same was true of the Mark, which was descended from the Cologne mark, itself a descendant of the carolingian pound …
The millesimal fineness of a coin indicates its precious metal contentedness. For exercise, the Canadian Silver Maple Leaf has a millesimal fineness of 999.9 thousandths, meaning it is made of about pure ash grey .
There were thus two parameters required to validate the value of an exchanged coin: its fineness (purity of the metal or alloy) and its weight.
Two parameters not constantly comfortable to verify in days long gone by .
between devaluations, revaluations, royal decrees from all countries, deceitful practices, counterfeiting, wear, artisanal mint, extraneous currencies, differences in aggregate standards, and the list goes on, it was unmanageable for a merchant to accept a mint with confidence for what it was deserving at foremost sight .

Coin weights

Ancient practices

This quest for preciseness goes back to very ancient times, with methods that are sometimes clever and frequently fundamental .

Various techniques were practiced during antiquity to determine the fineness.

first, the concentration was checked ( thanks, Archimedes ! ) by immersing the tested coin and a character aim in a receptacle filled with water. The volumes of body of water that overflowed were then compared .
Touchstones were besides used for assaying and remained popular until the nineteenth hundred. This technique consists in comparing a chemical reaction between a sample ( the standard ) and the mint being tested .
Weighing was far simpler, and there is evidence that the first scales and balances were used to weigh gold ingots in ancient Egypt around 2400 BC .

A question of weight

In France, the coin weight ( known as a dénéral ) appeared around AD 1330 under Philip VI and was initially employed to check the weight of write out coins .
generally, the coins which left mints were slightly heavier – quite measuredly – in order to allow for wear ( in other words, the lifelike abrasive effect of use on the metallic ) .
The coin weight was made from a alloy far less valued than the coins ( copper, iron, brass ). only its bulk counted. And it had to be claim .

Each coin had a corresponding coin weight.

Coin weights
From an aesthetic position, the stopping point is variable. Some are struck on both sides, whereas others are not. Some bear a motif, others a childlike dedication much mentioning the equivalent weight of the face rate in interview. In other words, this aim, which was all in all very utilitarian in its time and has since become collectible, is found in big variety.

It all hangs in the balance

It was in the 16th century with the proliferation of commercial exchanges and currency circulation that the use of the weighing box became popular.

At the time, it was a sort of kit containing a counterweight ( set of scales ) dedicated to this practice and an assortment of reference coin weights .

Balance monétaire trébuchet

numerous workshops across Europe adjust to work manufacturing these essential objects. From Antwerp to Birmingham via Cologne and Lyons, people weighed and weighed equally much as they could, checking, evaluating, and comparison, each using their own organization of reference units .
It should be mentioned that at that time sealed unscrupulous individuals had the devious habit of clipping the edges of coins and gathering the precious alloy shavings. This decreased the coins ’ measure .
Another proficiency, this time quite merely dishonest, was to stuff the coin with a cheaper alloy like an Oreo and add a thin coat of aureate or silver as a trompe l ’ oeil .
( It must be noted that these people were playing with fire, as the exercise was sternly punished in the Middle Ages. The forger was condemned to die a awful death, boiled in a pot of water or pitch in populace ) .
Coin weights

No one will ever know?

not truly ! Every understanding merchant equipped himself with a weighing box to protect himself. At the slightest misgiving, he set down his scales, selected the mention weight from the box, placed it in one of the pans and added the mint to the early .
If the scale tilted in favor of the coin, the transaction could take place. If the opposite was true, weights of grain were added until the balance was reached and said grains deducted to give the mint its actual value .
however, if the misgiving remained, the perspicacious seller could employ the older and true reasonably less scientific proficiency of dropping the coin on a hard airfoil and listening to the audio it made. A gain sound indicated high-quality metallic element .
by the way, the combination of these two techniques, the weighing with the scales ( trébuchet ) and the clarity of the fathom ( son ) when dropped, gave us the democratic french expression “ en monnaie sonnante et trébuchante ”, which translates as cold, harsh cash – in early words : real money .

Elsewhere in the world…

Of course, the use of reference weights was not confined to Europe.

In West Africa, for model, we find gold weights designed by the Akans between the 15th and 19th centuries .
Made of brass section, these Baoulé weights or “ mrammou ” were used to determine the mass of aureate scatter, a precious debris which was used in the region for commercial exchanges at that prison term .

Translation : Michael Wright

Iconography :

  • “Archimède” by Giovan Battista Langetti (between 1665 and 1670) (Public domain)
  • “Une dame âgée pesant de l’or” by Jacques de l’Ange (1642) (Public domain)
  • Weighing box with 21 weights and a balance, circa 1650, made by André Le Fran, Musée des Arts et Métier in Paris (Creative Commons)
  • “Un homme âgé pesant des pièces de monnaie” by Salomon Koninck (between 1629 and 1656) (Public domain)

Sources :

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