Proposal preview

From mining to currency and money markets in the early modern Atlantic: Digital approaches and new perspectives

The early modern Atlantic trade marked a key stage in the globalisation process. Precious metals –gold and silver – played a vital role: trading as commodities in the form of bullion or fueling merchant networks as specie. Due to its relative abundance, silver was the most heavily exchanged metal across the early modern Atlantic, whereas copper was used in local markets.

This session features recent approaches that track the transformation and trajectory of silver from its origins in ores located on either sides of the Atlantic, up to when it reaches financial centres in continental Europe, where it was traded mainly as currency. As a point of comparison, copper mining and its monetary use in the early modern Atlantic world will also be considered. The contributions rely mainly on economic and economic history methodologies, complemented by geographical and cultural history approaches. The use of novel software applications as tools to explain economic historical episodes is also a feature of some papers.

Part 1 of this session depicts specific aspects of mining activity, particularly in early modern Mexico (New Spain) between the 16th and 19th centuries. It starts by taking a geographical approach through the use of spatio-temporal sequences in order to explain mining patterns in early modern Spanish America. The second presentation focuses on an archaeological study on the environmental effects of copper mining in early modern Mexico. The section concludes addressing the volatility and risks of the silver mining sector, which go hand in hand not only with the nature of silver mining, but with the volatility spillovers from the mercury mining sector as well. The latter establishes a link between Spanish American and Chinese mining industries.

Part 2 will focus on the transformation of precious metals from bullion to currency, starting with a depiction of the way in which minting machines were represented in early modern literature. Further, an analysis of the effects of market volatility on the exchange rates between bullion and coins in early modern Mexico will be featured. The last chapter of this section highlights the relevance of the relationship between monetary demand and the functions of money, in the particular case of copper coins in 18th – century Mexico.

Markets in early modernity were articulated around financial centres and fairs. Exchange and interest rates were determined by the relative abundance of money and credit on money markets. Part 3 traces the effect of changing silver quantities on prices, exchange and interest rates, in various settings on either sides of the early modern Atlantic. Special attention will be given to interest rates and prices in Seville during the 16th century and in Mexico during the 18th century. This section concludes with the fairs of Leipzig, as a gateway to Eastern Europe in early modern times.

Mining and its outcome were strongly linked to political, theoretical and cultural issues. Part 4 discusses the policy of the Spanish Crown to overcome the volatility of American silver mining and its repercussions on Spanish mining affairs. The change over time of theoretical approaches related to precious metals will be presented. Focus will also be placed upon images and cultural concepts of silver in early modern Europe. Conclusions drawn from economic historians specialists in numismatics and art history will complete the session.

Organizer(s)

  • Claudia d L Jefferies City University London claudia.jefferies.1@city.ac.uk UK
  • Renate Pieper Graz University renate.pieper@uni-graz.at Austria
  • Markus A Denzel Leipzig University denzel@rz.uni-leipzig.de Germany

Session members

  • Werner Stangl, Graz University
  • Amélia Polónia, University of Porto
  • Johan García Zaldúa, University of Porto
  • Harald Kleinberger, University of Graz
  • José E Covarrubias, UNAM, Mexico
  • Manuel González Mariscal, University of Seville
  • Rafael M Pérez García, University of Seville
  • Manuel Díaz Ordoñez, University of Seville
  • Manuel Fernández Chaves, University of Seville
  • Rafael Dobado González, Universidad Complutense, Madrid
  • Andrés Calderón Fernández, Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico
  • Alfredo García Hiernaux, Universidad Complutense, Madrid
  • Juan Flores Zendejas, University of Geneva
  • Domenic Hofmann, University of Graz

Discussant(s)

  • Michael North Universiy of Greifswald 'north@uni-greifswald.de'
  • Georges Depeyrot CNRS, Paris Georges Depeyrot

Papers

Panel abstract

The early modern Atlantic trade marked a key stage in the globalisation process. Precious metals –gold and silver - played a vital role: trading as commodities in the form of bullion or fueling merchant networks as specie. This session features recent approaches that track the transformation and trajectory of silver from its origins in ores located on either sides of the Atlantic, up to when it reaches financial centres in continental Europe, where it was traded mainly as currency. As a point of comparison, copper mining and its monetary use in the early modern Atlantic world will also be considered. The contributions rely mainly on economic and economic history methodologies, complemented by geographical and cultural history approaches. The use of novel software applications as tools to explain economic historical episodes is also a feature of some papers

1st half

Understanding Spatial Patterns of Colonial Spanish America’s Silver Miningin the the Digital Age

Werner Stangl

This paper focusses on the contribution that digital tools can make to representing different aspects of colonial Spanish American mining. The first part takes up well-known numbers of silver production across the Americas, visualizing them in novel form as spatio-temporal sequences, and asks for their relationship with institutional developments in New Spanish and Peruvian mining administration. The second part revolves around patterns of categorizing and representing mining geography, focusing on the creation and abandonment of mining settlements. Special focus is placed on the analysis of two documents on different colonial provinces (Tarapacá and Guadalajara). The last part takes on Alexander von Humboldt, through the analysis of his effort to understand spatial patterns using the cutting-edge tools of his time. His findings will be compared to the ones obtained through by cutting edge tools of the digital age. This research suggest that the possibilities of representing and comparing information through this...

This paper focusses on the contribution that digital tools can make to representing different aspects of colonial Spanish American mining. The first part takes up well-known numbers of silver production across the Americas, visualizing them in novel form as spatio-temporal sequences, and asks for their relationship with institutional developments in New Spanish and Peruvian mining administration. The second part revolves around patterns of categorizing and representing mining geography, focusing on the creation and abandonment of mining settlements. Special focus is placed on the analysis of two documents on different colonial provinces (Tarapacá and Guadalajara). The last part takes on Alexander von Humboldt, through the analysis of his effort to understand spatial patterns using the cutting-edge tools of his time. His findings will be compared to the ones obtained through by cutting edge tools of the digital age. This research suggest that the possibilities of representing and comparing information through this method does contribute to produce novel findings.

Manufacturing landscapes in Spanish America. The case study of copper mining in Mexico (16th-18th centuries)

Amélia Polónia, Johan García Zaldúa

Minting the picture final_0710

Harald Kleinberger-Pierer

Historiography has highlighted the importance of visual elements of coins as well the technical drawings of minting technology to show the evolution of minting and its process of mechanization. But the design of the drawings was largely neglected. However, a comparison of drawings of coining technology from the 16th to the 19th century shows a significant, and in some way even revolutionary, alteration of technical documentation in practical engineering. In particular, two major changes in early modern times have been addressed. First, the development or rediscovery of the linear perspective, which made it possible to create an exact geometrical abstraction of an object. Second, the replacement of the linear perspective with the orthogonal view for a better technical documentation of machine designs around 1700. This was an important step to make engineering knowledge more visible and to establish technical drawings as a powerful tool for communication in the field of...

Historiography has highlighted the importance of visual elements of coins as well the technical drawings of minting technology to show the evolution of minting and its process of mechanization. But the design of the drawings was largely neglected. However, a comparison of drawings of coining technology from the 16th to the 19th century shows a significant, and in some way even revolutionary, alteration of technical documentation in practical engineering. In particular, two major changes in early modern times have been addressed. First, the development or rediscovery of the linear perspective, which made it possible to create an exact geometrical abstraction of an object. Second, the replacement of the linear perspective with the orthogonal view for a better technical documentation of machine designs around 1700. This was an important step to make engineering knowledge more visible and to establish technical drawings as a powerful tool for communication in the field of engineer

Local exchange rates and credit flows in early modern Mexican mining sites, 16th -17th centuries

Claudia de Lozanne Jefferies

Silver bullion produced in mining towns in 16th and 17th century Mexico was exchanged against specie, which bore a seemingly high premium. This exchange mechanism was part of a wide network of transactions, which involved credit instruments that linked Spanish colonial mining towns with European financial centres. The so called “rate of discount” charged by silver merchants on mine owners for exchanging bullion against specie was one of the main reasons of discontent amongst mine owners, who perceived it as grasping. An analysis of the rate of discount will be carried out by placing it within the context of credit and exchange markets, as well as by highlighting its links to variations in the price level .Further, exchange rate fluctuations in European currency markets will be compared to rate of discount variations in order to assess whether they were set arbitrarily by silver merchants, or if they were consequence of...

Silver bullion produced in mining towns in 16th and 17th century Mexico was exchanged against specie, which bore a seemingly high premium. This exchange mechanism was part of a wide network of transactions, which involved credit instruments that linked Spanish colonial mining towns with European financial centres. The so called “rate of discount” charged by silver merchants on mine owners for exchanging bullion against specie was one of the main reasons of discontent amongst mine owners, who perceived it as grasping. An analysis of the rate of discount will be carried out by placing it within the context of credit and exchange markets, as well as by highlighting its links to variations in the price level .Further, exchange rate fluctuations in European currency markets will be compared to rate of discount variations in order to assess whether they were set arbitrarily by silver merchants, or if they were consequence of the volatile nature of currency markets.

Copper Money in Mexico, the transition from the 18th to the 19th century

Enrique Covarrubias

Colonial Mexico was an important producer of copper. Mining centres in Michoacán and other regions provided enough copper to satisfy local needs and also, from the Eighteenth Century on, to supply the military and sugar industries in Cuba and Spain. After an initial minting in the 16th Century, copper minting was resumed at the end of the Spanish colonial period. Subsequently, the only means to purchase small quantities of items were the tokens fabricated by local merchants and shopkeepers. The late colonial copper currency solved some problems but it posed many others, which were passed almost entirely from the colonial era on to the early years of the Mexican Republic. Excessive currency in circulation, continuous counterfeiting and confused views about the sense and usefulness of this coinage figure among these problems, which damaged seriously the economy of the poorer classes and impeded the creation of a national monetary system.

Colonial Mexico was an important producer of copper. Mining centres in Michoacán and other regions provided enough copper to satisfy local needs and also, from the Eighteenth Century on, to supply the military and sugar industries in Cuba and Spain. After an initial minting in the 16th Century, copper minting was resumed at the end of the Spanish colonial period. Subsequently, the only means to purchase small quantities of items were the tokens fabricated by local merchants and shopkeepers. The late colonial copper currency solved some problems but it posed many others, which were passed almost entirely from the colonial era on to the early years of the Mexican Republic. Excessive currency in circulation, continuous counterfeiting and confused views about the sense and usefulness of this coinage figure among these problems, which damaged seriously the economy of the poorer classes and impeded the creation of a national monetary system.

2nd half

American Treasure and interest rates in Seville, 1501-1600

Manuel González-Mariscal, Rafael Mauricio Pérez Garcia, Manuel Díaz Ordóñez, Manuel Fernández Chaves

This chapter features a revision of the explanations offered by leading scholarly literature regarding the causes behind the inflationary period in 16th- century Spain. Special focus will be placed on the supply and demand for money and credit in Seville, an important financial centre and gateway of the Anerican precious metals into Europe. Novel calculations of interest rates series in Seville during the period in question (1501- 1603) will be presented. Further, correlation analysis will be carried out in order to establish if there were common features between the calculated interest rate series and series of silver production and imports of precious metals to Spain. This research aims at shedding new light upon the current knowledge about prices in early modern Seville and challenges the existing views on inflation and interest rates in early modern Andalusia.

This chapter features a revision of the explanations offered by leading scholarly literature regarding the causes behind the inflationary period in 16th- century Spain. Special focus will be placed on the supply and demand for money and credit in Seville, an important financial centre and gateway of the Anerican precious metals into Europe. Novel calculations of interest rates series in Seville during the period in question (1501- 1603) will be presented. Further, correlation analysis will be carried out in order to establish if there were common features between the calculated interest rate series and series of silver production and imports of precious metals to Spain. This research aims at shedding new light upon the current knowledge about prices in early modern Seville and challenges the existing views on inflation and interest rates in early modern Andalusia.

Interest rates, silver production and money in Mexico, 1770-1850

Rafael Dobado González, Andrés Calderón, Alfredo García Hiernaux, Juan Flores Zendejas

This chapter presents an analysis of interest rates and their effect on the main financial markets of early modern Mexico during the period when the country was the world’s largest silver exporter. New interest rate series will be presented and compared against silver production series, in order to determine the effect of changes in silver production on interest rate levels. Further, an assessment of the nature and volume of credit will be carried out in order to compare the credit markets before and after Mexican independence. The conclusions aim at shedding new light upon Mexican financial history, and at assessing the effect of wars on credit markets

This chapter presents an analysis of interest rates and their effect on the main financial markets of early modern Mexico during the period when the country was the world’s largest silver exporter. New interest rate series will be presented and compared against silver production series, in order to determine the effect of changes in silver production on interest rate levels. Further, an assessment of the nature and volume of credit will be carried out in order to compare the credit markets before and after Mexican independence. The conclusions aim at shedding new light upon Mexican financial history, and at assessing the effect of wars on credit markets

Exchange rates and silver prices in European fairs 16th-18th centuries

Markus A Denzel

Exchange rates and silver prices at European fairs 16th-18th centuries Markus Denzel, University of Leipzig International fairs were always more than just places where goods and information were exchanged; the latter functions could also be observed by large annual markets. International fairs also fulfilled the function of monetary and, more importantly, credit markets. Therefore, they needed large amounts of precious metals as means of payment. If fairs were located in the vicinity of relevant mining areas, it was appropriate to trade these products on site, thus making available part of the necessary precious metals. This paper will analyse the interconnection between fairs and the availability of precious metals, as well as the consequences resulting from this relationship. One famous example will be Leipzig, where silver trade from Freiberg originally, and later, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, from the Erzgebirge (Saigerhandel) was carried out. In return, the trade in these...

Exchange rates and silver prices at European fairs 16th-18th centuries Markus Denzel, University of Leipzig International fairs were always more than just places where goods and information were exchanged; the latter functions could also be observed by large annual markets. International fairs also fulfilled the function of monetary and, more importantly, credit markets. Therefore, they needed large amounts of precious metals as means of payment. If fairs were located in the vicinity of relevant mining areas, it was appropriate to trade these products on site, thus making available part of the necessary precious metals. This paper will analyse the interconnection between fairs and the availability of precious metals, as well as the consequences resulting from this relationship. One famous example will be Leipzig, where silver trade from Freiberg originally, and later, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, from the Erzgebirge (Saigerhandel) was carried out. In return, the trade in these mining products contributed towards the gradual ascent of Leipzig’s large annual markets to international fairs

Diversifying risk - Attempts to prevent silver shortages in Spain at the height of the American mining boom (1580-1630)_

Domenic Hofmann

Despite a large production of copper coins in the 17th- Century, silver bullion was of high political importance for the Spanish Crown in early modern times. Historiography has stressed the importance of American mining, especially in wartimes. However, especially in the late 16th and first half of the 17th centuries, the high dependence on the American mining sector’s silver supplies posed a risk to the Spanish Crown. Alongside technological worries, the uncertainties stemming from the Atlantic passage were problematic. Therefore, a proposal was issued by the Consejo de Hacienda to promote silver mining in Spain itself. Even though no profitable mining could be set-up, the Spanish Crown was most interested in the development of a Spanish silver mining sector

Despite a large production of copper coins in the 17th- Century, silver bullion was of high political importance for the Spanish Crown in early modern times. Historiography has stressed the importance of American mining, especially in wartimes. However, especially in the late 16th and first half of the 17th centuries, the high dependence on the American mining sector’s silver supplies posed a risk to the Spanish Crown. Alongside technological worries, the uncertainties stemming from the Atlantic passage were problematic. Therefore, a proposal was issued by the Consejo de Hacienda to promote silver mining in Spain itself. Even though no profitable mining could be set-up, the Spanish Crown was most interested in the development of a Spanish silver mining sector

American silver objects ideas

Renate Pieper

For almost three centuries, large galleons heavily laden with silver bullion, jewelry and coins left Spanish America annually. On their safe arrival on the shores of the Iberian Peninsula, masses of thanksgiving were sung. At the same time, European silver mines, the pride of their princes, fell into bankruptcy or had to be financially supported. And while more and more silver found its way into European churches and cabinets of curiosity, and appeared in everyday objects like cutlery or buttons, current research on the influence of silver from the New World on the cultures of the Old, and subsequent repercussions on Spanish America, have received rather scattered attention. The aim of this paper is to uncover the cultural agency of Spanish American silver and its contribution to the entanglement of distant cultures of the old and the new worlds

For almost three centuries, large galleons heavily laden with silver bullion, jewelry and coins left Spanish America annually. On their safe arrival on the shores of the Iberian Peninsula, masses of thanksgiving were sung. At the same time, European silver mines, the pride of their princes, fell into bankruptcy or had to be financially supported. And while more and more silver found its way into European churches and cabinets of curiosity, and appeared in everyday objects like cutlery or buttons, current research on the influence of silver from the New World on the cultures of the Old, and subsequent repercussions on Spanish America, have received rather scattered attention. The aim of this paper is to uncover the cultural agency of Spanish American silver and its contribution to the entanglement of distant cultures of the old and the new worlds