Proposal preview

Global Production and Distribution of Silver, 1530-1900

What was the role of silver in the expanding global economy, 1540-1900? Silver has played a significant role in the world economy as a universally valued commodity and, in most places, a currency. Of the widely-traded commodities in early modern and modern economies, silver is exemplary, and it stands out as a commodity for which comprehensive documentation appears feasible. Indeed, if it were possible to develop comprehensive data on the production, exchange, and end-market locations of silver, while distinguishing monetary and non-monetary uses, resulting datasets would stand as a major advance in economic history analytics, and would provide a basis for global documentation of other major commodities, providing initial documentation of global economic activities in general up to the 20th century.

Mining engineers and historians have written widely about silver, but so have numismatists, those who study jewelry, and specialists in world literature. Still, various literatures remain disparate, as was emphasized at a 15-22 May 2016 conference, “From Underground to End-users: Global Monetary History in Scientific Context,” held in San Francisco, then Stockton, California, and Virginia City, Nevada. This conference generated a broad review of literatures built upon study of silver—some twenty scholars gave special attention to silver in context of global history.

By conference end, participants had developed a plan for research to document global production, exchange, and end-market locations of silver since 1540. A description of that research design is forthcoming: Manning, Flynn, and Wang (“Silver Worldwide: Initial Steps in Comprehensive Research,” Journal of World-Historical Information, 2017, in press). According to that research design, work will include (1) analysis of primary sources on rates of silver production, especially in the Americas, as shown in Guerrero (2016); (2) analysis of secondary and primary sources on levels and directions of silver exchange, as shown in Flynn, Manning, and Wang (in press) and in Von Glahn, Fountain of fortune (1996); and (3) studies of end-market inventory demand for silver, using methods developed by Dennis Flynn, “Tangible and Intangible Monies: Theory and Global History,” in G. Depeyrot and M. Marcher (eds), Documents and Studies on 19th c. Monetary History: Mints, Technology and Coin Production, pp.61-92. Wetteren: Moneta, 2015. This research has yielded results shown in Figure 1, estimating annual flow-production of silver at left and the annual stock (cumulative inventory) at right, showing various rates of annual loss through wear and tear.

Silver production, 1870-1900
Figure 1. Estimated global flow and stock of silver. Source: Manning, Flynn, Wang.

Global: log cumulated silver production, oz.
Figure 2. Global: log cumulated silver production, oz. Source: Manning, Flynn, Wang.

Further discussions of conference results, in context of a substantial literature, have led to proposal of this WEHC session. Sessions of this panel are designed to build empirical, analytical, and theoretical work on silver in the global economy from 1540 to 1900. Overall objectives of the session are, first, to develop consistent datasets on production and exchange and, second, to clarify ongoing debates as to the role of silver flows in allocating silver stocks among end-market regions. End-market regions to be examined include the Americas, Europe, Asian regions (West, South, East, and Southeast), and African silver markets from the 19th century. To address multiple overlapping issues, we propose a double session. One session will address production, exchange, and end-markets in the Americas and Europe; the other will address production, exchange, and end-markets throughout Asia.

Studies of silver production are an important part of the American-European portion of the session. (The Euro-American portion of the session will include Depeyrot, Flynn, Garcia, Guerrero, Manning, St.Clair, and discussant Giráldez.) The main geological sources of silver globally occur in subduction zones at edges of tectonic plates—especially mountains of the Americas, but also Japan on the western side of the Pacific, as well as northern shores of the Mediterranean. The source of most silver, since 1540, has been mines in South America and Mexico (and later in Nevada, Idaho, and Colorado). Central European mountains contained particularly important concentrations of silver ores, as did Ottoman Balkans and Anatolia. Production of mercury (essential to refining silver) in Spain was dominant, although important concentrations were discovered in Peru, in China, and in California during the 19th century. Studies on routes of silver flows are important in the American-European session: Relative shares of silver flows across the Atlantic and Pacific, as well as holdings of silver within the Americas, are to be examined.

One focus of the Asian portion of the session treats production, including Japanese silver mine output that equaled an estimated half of total Spanish American output during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. (The Asian portion of the session will include Bytheway, Cao, Fujita, Kim, Ma, Metzler, Von Glahn, Vu, Yang, and discussants Westermann and Chen.) Another focus involves identification of major end-market centers of inventory demand, which in turn determined flows of silver (a) to China, (b) to and through India, and (c) to and through specific regions within Southeast Asia. Some papers will address periodization in output, inventory demands, and regional flows, as well as monetary and non-monetary uses of silver. Others will link silver to regional and global flows of agricultural commodities (e.g. sugar, tobacco, spices, tea) and manufactured goods (e.g. textiles, ceramics, metallic goods).

Organizer(s)

  • Patrick Manning Univ. of Pittsburgh pmanning@pitt.edu United States
  • Dennis O. Flynn Pacific World History Institute doflynn@pacific United States

Session members

  • Simon J. Bytheway, Nihon University
  • Jin Cao, Peking Univ.
  • Georges Depeyrot, Ecole Normale Supérieure
  • Dennis O. Flynn, Pacific World History Institute
  • Kayoko Fujita, Ritsumeikan University
  • Saul Guerrero, Universidad Metropolitana
  • Nanny Kim, Univ. of Heidelberg
  • Ning Ma, Univ. of Minnesota
  • Patrick Manning, Univ. of Pittsburgh
  • Mark Metzler, Univ. of Washington
  • Nuno Palma, Univ. of Groningen
  • Richard Von Glahn, Univ. of California Los Angeles
  • Luan Duong Vu, Vietnam National University at Hanoi
  • Yuda Yang, Fudan Univ.

Discussant(s)

  • Andrea Westermann, German Historical Institute westermann@ghi-dc.org
  • Boyi Chen, Washington Univ. in St. Louis boyichen@wustl.edu

Papers

Panel abstract

What was the role of silver in the expanding global economy, 1540-1900? Silver has played a significant role in the world economy as a universally valued commodity and, in most places, a currency. Of the widely-traded commodities in early modern and modern economies, silver is exemplary, and it stands out as a commodity for which comprehensive documentation appears feasible. Indeed, if it were possible to develop comprehensive data on the production, exchange, and end-market locations of silver, while distinguishing monetary and non-monetary uses, resulting datasets would stand as a major advance in economic history analytics, and would provide a basis for global documentation of other major commodities, providing initial documentation of global economic activities in general up to the 20th century.

1st half

Introduction: Silver Circulation Worldwide--Research Design and Current Findings

Patrick Manning

Published data on silver flows and stocks, gathered in volumes published by Moneta, provide a basis for initial steps in documenting flows of silver production and commerce from the sixteenth through the nineteenth century. Collection and publication of comprehensive data on silver flows will generate the first comprehensive study of flows of a commodity in the world economy of recent centuries, and will facilitate advances in global economic history. This article presents estimates from 1400 through 1900, showing annual flows of production, cumulative stocks (accounting for various levels of wear and tear), and the long-term rate of growth in silver stocks. Recent economic historical study of silver in the world economy, from the 15th century onward, has stopped short of comprehensive quantitative analysis. This group uses recently published date from the nineteenth-century silver boom and the international meetings associated with the gold standard to begin such comprehensive analysis. Results indicate...

Published data on silver flows and stocks, gathered in volumes published by Moneta, provide a basis for initial steps in documenting flows of silver production and commerce from the sixteenth through the nineteenth century. Collection and publication of comprehensive data on silver flows will generate the first comprehensive study of flows of a commodity in the world economy of recent centuries, and will facilitate advances in global economic history. This article presents estimates from 1400 through 1900, showing annual flows of production, cumulative stocks (accounting for various levels of wear and tear), and the long-term rate of growth in silver stocks. Recent economic historical study of silver in the world economy, from the 15th century onward, has stopped short of comprehensive quantitative analysis. This group uses recently published date from the nineteenth-century silver boom and the international meetings associated with the gold standard to begin such comprehensive analysis. Results indicate that, while world population grew at an annual rate of 0.45% per year, 1700– 1900, silver stock rose at an approximate 0.7% per year in the same period. To support this confirmation of rapid monetization of the world economy, the article describes the procedure of estimating global flows and stocks out of competing estimates of silver flows.

Inventory Demand in Global Quantification

Dennis O. Flynn

The aim of the Global Silver History session is to initiate an effort by diverse scholars to quantify the global history of silver, 1540–1900. Teams will work on interrelated themes: (1) quantities produced (flows), (2) quantities forwarded (trade flows), and (3) quantities reaching end-market destinations (accumulated stocks). This essay centers on theme 3: End-market destinations (accumulated stocks) determined by Inventory Demand. “Inventory Demand” plays an essential role in the unconventional Laws of Supplies and Demands (plural) model presented here, necessary to discuss final end-market destinations (accumulated stocks). Once explanation of this unconventional supplies-and-demands model is in place, the nature and purpose of global quantification becomes more coherent. Central attention shifts to assets, liabilities, and net worth in the sense of balance-sheet accounting concepts. Traditional income-and-expenditure concepts are then integrated via six (rather than two) supply-and-demand functions, an interactive system on history of silver production (flows), silver trade (flows), and end-market...

The aim of the Global Silver History session is to initiate an effort by diverse scholars to quantify the global history of silver, 1540–1900. Teams will work on interrelated themes: (1) quantities produced (flows), (2) quantities forwarded (trade flows), and (3) quantities reaching end-market destinations (accumulated stocks). This essay centers on theme 3: End-market destinations (accumulated stocks) determined by Inventory Demand. “Inventory Demand” plays an essential role in the unconventional Laws of Supplies and Demands (plural) model presented here, necessary to discuss final end-market destinations (accumulated stocks). Once explanation of this unconventional supplies-and-demands model is in place, the nature and purpose of global quantification becomes more coherent. Central attention shifts to assets, liabilities, and net worth in the sense of balance-sheet accounting concepts. Traditional income-and-expenditure concepts are then integrated via six (rather than two) supply-and-demand functions, an interactive system on history of silver production (flows), silver trade (flows), and end-market destinations of silver (stocks) at a global level.

The Environmental History of Silver Production, and its Impact on the United Nations Minamata Convention on Mercury

Saul Guerrero

The modelling by environmental scientists of background levels of legacy mercury provides technical guidance for policy decisions and implementation of the Minamata Convention on mercury by the United Nations Environmental Program, that regulates modern industrial use of mercury and its emissions. A critical input for these models is the historic data on global silver production using mercury, mercury production from cinnabar, and corresponding chemical consumption and physical losses of mercury from both processes. Based on historical records and the chemistry of the process, the projections proposed in this presentation establish the following order of historic levels of emissions: mercury contained in calomel (mercurous chloride), followed by losses of liquid mercury and by direct emissions to the air of volatile mercury during the processing of cinnabar ore. The historical records register very low measured levels of emissions of volatile mercury during the refining stage of silver ores.

The modelling by environmental scientists of background levels of legacy mercury provides technical guidance for policy decisions and implementation of the Minamata Convention on mercury by the United Nations Environmental Program, that regulates modern industrial use of mercury and its emissions. A critical input for these models is the historic data on global silver production using mercury, mercury production from cinnabar, and corresponding chemical consumption and physical losses of mercury from both processes. Based on historical records and the chemistry of the process, the projections proposed in this presentation establish the following order of historic levels of emissions: mercury contained in calomel (mercurous chloride), followed by losses of liquid mercury and by direct emissions to the air of volatile mercury during the processing of cinnabar ore. The historical records register very low measured levels of emissions of volatile mercury during the refining stage of silver ores.

The Silver Question and the DAMIN Program

Georges Depeyrot

During the year 2012-2015, the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique funded a large program on the question of the consequences of the new silver on the monetary circulation and the shift from bimetallism to gold standard. Within this program, meetings were organized once or twice a year. As the transformation was linked to the first monetary globalization (in the nineteenth century), it was important to organize meetings to compare the situation in each main country, as well as the general interpretation of the situation as analyzed in the main International Monetary conferences. The first main goal was to collect all the data and to make this data available for academia. It was done with the publication of more than 50 volumes in the series Moneta (www.moneta.be). All the videos of the meetings are now visible at http://urlz.fr/6RpU. In this conference, we will present the volumes and the main conclusions.

During the year 2012-2015, the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique funded a large program on the question of the consequences of the new silver on the monetary circulation and the shift from bimetallism to gold standard. Within this program, meetings were organized once or twice a year. As the transformation was linked to the first monetary globalization (in the nineteenth century), it was important to organize meetings to compare the situation in each main country, as well as the general interpretation of the situation as analyzed in the main International Monetary conferences. The first main goal was to collect all the data and to make this data available for academia. It was done with the publication of more than 50 volumes in the series Moneta (www.moneta.be). All the videos of the meetings are now visible at http://urlz.fr/6RpU. In this conference, we will present the volumes and the main conclusions.

The Global Silver Trade and the Rise of the Novel East and West

Ning MA

This paper hopes to reveal a strong association between the history of the early modern silver trade and the multiple emergences of narrative realism in cultural spheres as diverse as those of China, Japan, Spain, and England between the late 1500s and the early 1700s. This finding challenges the exclusively European definition of the “rise of the novel” and illustrates the wide-ranging implications of the new visions of economic globalization being brought to light by silver historians. Given how fundamental theories of economic history have been to the understanding of the modern world, reorientations in the field have reshuffled the evidences upon which critical theories and cultural assumptions have evolved. There is thus much to be gained when we think across the quantitative and the qualitative, and across real and imagined worlds, when it comes to the rediscovery of a global era driven by silver flows.

This paper hopes to reveal a strong association between the history of the early modern silver trade and the multiple emergences of narrative realism in cultural spheres as diverse as those of China, Japan, Spain, and England between the late 1500s and the early 1700s. This finding challenges the exclusively European definition of the “rise of the novel” and illustrates the wide-ranging implications of the new visions of economic globalization being brought to light by silver historians. Given how fundamental theories of economic history have been to the understanding of the modern world, reorientations in the field have reshuffled the evidences upon which critical theories and cultural assumptions have evolved. There is thus much to be gained when we think across the quantitative and the qualitative, and across real and imagined worlds, when it comes to the rediscovery of a global era driven by silver flows.

Spending a Windfall: American Precious Metals and Euro-Asian Trade 1531 - 1810

Nuno PALMA

Asia ran a large current account surplus with Europe during 1500-1800. What can explain this large surplus? We show that the critical factor was not the new trading routes to Asia, but the access to American precious metals. We use a model of international trade with money to reproduce data and simulate alternative scenarios. We Önd that imports of Asian goods by Europe were up to thirteen times higher than what they would have been without new routes and without precious metals. The e§ect of American precious metals is six times larger than that of the new trading routes.

Asia ran a large current account surplus with Europe during 1500-1800. What can explain this large surplus? We show that the critical factor was not the new trading routes to Asia, but the access to American precious metals. We use a model of international trade with money to reproduce data and simulate alternative scenarios. We Önd that imports of Asian goods by Europe were up to thirteen times higher than what they would have been without new routes and without precious metals. The e§ect of American precious metals is six times larger than that of the new trading routes.

2nd half

Why we know so little and what to do about it: Silver mining, Confucian morality, and remains in late imperial China, 1400 - 1850

Nanny KIM

This paper reopens the question of silver mining in late imperial China. It discusses the sources of the period in the context of mentalities and administrative structures, arguing that both Confucian moralism and the overextended administration contributed to making avoidance of recording mines and to write about mining. The overall scarcity of sources and the low productivity reflected in them therefore may or may not reflect actual conditions. Substantial research on the topic therefore needs to tap new sources. In a cooperative project Yang Yuda and the author have worked on expanding sources and on systematically re-assessing the scope of silver mining not as a general regional phenomenon but by studying concrete mines. The paper shows that by drawing on industrial and mineralogist materials as well as by carrying out fieldwork to survey remains and to collect oral histories, we have realized a radically new perspective on the importance of...

This paper reopens the question of silver mining in late imperial China. It discusses the sources of the period in the context of mentalities and administrative structures, arguing that both Confucian moralism and the overextended administration contributed to making avoidance of recording mines and to write about mining. The overall scarcity of sources and the low productivity reflected in them therefore may or may not reflect actual conditions. Substantial research on the topic therefore needs to tap new sources. In a cooperative project Yang Yuda and the author have worked on expanding sources and on systematically re-assessing the scope of silver mining not as a general regional phenomenon but by studying concrete mines. The paper shows that by drawing on industrial and mineralogist materials as well as by carrying out fieldwork to survey remains and to collect oral histories, we have realized a radically new perspective on the importance of silver mining during the Ming and Qing.

From Ricci's World Map to Schall's Translation of De Re Metallica: Western Learning and China's Search for Silver in Late Ming China

Jin Cao

Stimulated by the influx from the Americas and Japan, during the 16th century the importance of silver as a currency in China had increased remarkably. Consequently, Chinese authorities developed a great interest in gaining more direct access to vaguely known sources of this precious metal and obviously successful western methods of producing it. The first Jesuit Missionaries arriving in China were believed to possess secret alchemist methods to create silver and were among the first to provide information on its geographical origins. After a Chinese naval expedition to Luzon, entrepôt of global silver trade and arrival port of the Manila galleons, failed and culminated in disaster for the Chinese population of the Philippines, the focus of interest shifted to the western methods of mining and metallurgy with an aim to increase silver production from domestic resources. In an unprecedented project led by Jesuit Adam Schall von Bell, European knowledge on...

Stimulated by the influx from the Americas and Japan, during the 16th century the importance of silver as a currency in China had increased remarkably. Consequently, Chinese authorities developed a great interest in gaining more direct access to vaguely known sources of this precious metal and obviously successful western methods of producing it. The first Jesuit Missionaries arriving in China were believed to possess secret alchemist methods to create silver and were among the first to provide information on its geographical origins. After a Chinese naval expedition to Luzon, entrepôt of global silver trade and arrival port of the Manila galleons, failed and culminated in disaster for the Chinese population of the Philippines, the focus of interest shifted to the western methods of mining and metallurgy with an aim to increase silver production from domestic resources. In an unprecedented project led by Jesuit Adam Schall von Bell, European knowledge on the topic mainly from Georgius Agricola’s De Re Metallica but also from other related works, was translated and compiled into the Chinese book Kunyu gezhi 坤輿格致 (Invesitigations of Earth’s Interior). Results of this remarkable effort were believed to be lost during chaos of the Ming-Qing transition, but was surprisingly rediscovered in 2015. Based on this invaluable new source together with a multitude of Chinese and Western materials, this paper attempts to illuminate this phase of early Western learning in China.

Japanese Silver in Early Modern Maritime Asia: Dutch metal trade in the Asian maritime trade networks in the 17th century

Kayoko FUJITA

The arrival of the Dutch East India Company to East Asian waters coincided with the last phase of the century-long silver boom since the early 16th century. This paper traces the changes in the commerce in East Asian metals through Asian and European trading networks, with a particular focus on Japanese silver and gold, and Chinese gold; Dutch mercantilists established a new trade pattern in Asia by linking the East China Sea maritime zone and the Indian Ocean zone through the medium of Japanese and Chinese metals and Indian and Persian silk and cotton. Japanese domestic markets thereby received a large and stable supply of Indian textile goods, along with Chinese silk supplied by Chinese sea merchants, for the first time in history.

The arrival of the Dutch East India Company to East Asian waters coincided with the last phase of the century-long silver boom since the early 16th century. This paper traces the changes in the commerce in East Asian metals through Asian and European trading networks, with a particular focus on Japanese silver and gold, and Chinese gold; Dutch mercantilists established a new trade pattern in Asia by linking the East China Sea maritime zone and the Indian Ocean zone through the medium of Japanese and Chinese metals and Indian and Persian silk and cotton. Japanese domestic markets thereby received a large and stable supply of Indian textile goods, along with Chinese silk supplied by Chinese sea merchants, for the first time in history.

The "Japanese Silver Rush" and the Reorganization of East Asian Maritime Trade 1540 - 1590

Richard Von Glahn

As is well known, the rapid development of silver mining in Japan beginning in the 1530s fed a boom in silver exports to China, inaugurating a century-long phase of commercial growth that fostered the emergence of a globalized trading system linking Asia, Europe, and the Americas. This study focuses on the initial phase of silver production and trade in Japan and traces the development of the transnational merchant networks, technological transfers, political alliances, and military conflicts that shaped the development of Japan’s silver exports to China. Control of the silver trade had important implications not only in stimulating economic growth and the formation of global trade networks, but also for state formation and the emergence of “port polities” that became the crucial interstices of East Asian maritime trade in this era.

As is well known, the rapid development of silver mining in Japan beginning in the 1530s fed a boom in silver exports to China, inaugurating a century-long phase of commercial growth that fostered the emergence of a globalized trading system linking Asia, Europe, and the Americas. This study focuses on the initial phase of silver production and trade in Japan and traces the development of the transnational merchant networks, technological transfers, political alliances, and military conflicts that shaped the development of Japan’s silver exports to China. Control of the silver trade had important implications not only in stimulating economic growth and the formation of global trade networks, but also for state formation and the emergence of “port polities” that became the crucial interstices of East Asian maritime trade in this era.

Contract Taxes, Land Sales, and the Volume of Money Circulating in Qing China

Yuda YANG

Recent research has shown that late imperial China not only absorbed large amounts of American silver but also relied on considerable production within China and in adjacent regions. The silver definitely entered the Chinese market, with far-reaching economic implications. The high degree of commercialization is well established, while the volume of money in circulation is virtually unknown. Down to the end of the 19th century, silver circulated as bullion money, assayed by purity and weight, but never minted or controlled by the state. Research on the question of money circulation has to employ indirect records. On the basis of population estimates, assuming that the property market in other provinces was less active than that of Sichuan province, and extrapolating only from the taxed transactions of Sichuan, the volume for the whole empire would have exceeded 600 million liang. The transaction volume during the high Qing can be expected to have...

Recent research has shown that late imperial China not only absorbed large amounts of American silver but also relied on considerable production within China and in adjacent regions. The silver definitely entered the Chinese market, with far-reaching economic implications. The high degree of commercialization is well established, while the volume of money in circulation is virtually unknown. Down to the end of the 19th century, silver circulated as bullion money, assayed by purity and weight, but never minted or controlled by the state. Research on the question of money circulation has to employ indirect records. On the basis of population estimates, assuming that the property market in other provinces was less active than that of Sichuan province, and extrapolating only from the taxed transactions of Sichuan, the volume for the whole empire would have exceeded 600 million liang. The transaction volume during the high Qing can be expected to have been on an at least similar level. Preliminary results of this ongoing project demonstrate that a re-assessment of the amount of money in circulation is required.

Silver Production and Circulation in Pre-Modern Vietnam, 1700 - 1880

Luang Duong VU

This paper focuses on silver mining in the China - Vietnam border area as a significant origin of silver flows to China and world markets, that transformed Vietnam from an importer of bullion and monetary metals, to an exporter in eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Previous studies have not entirely evaluated the importance of silver mining in countries neighboring with China such as Burma and Vietnam because of the small account of tax on mines. In this paper, however, I will demonstrate the inaccuracy of that approach by exploring the administration and the taxation system that was gradually established over formerly largely independent feudal fiefdoms; the notable flows and circulation of silver and the gap between the scope of mining that we can reconstruct from the sources and the importance of the industry reflected in glimpses from surviving sources and from remains of historic mines that are still visible in the...

This paper focuses on silver mining in the China - Vietnam border area as a significant origin of silver flows to China and world markets, that transformed Vietnam from an importer of bullion and monetary metals, to an exporter in eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Previous studies have not entirely evaluated the importance of silver mining in countries neighboring with China such as Burma and Vietnam because of the small account of tax on mines. In this paper, however, I will demonstrate the inaccuracy of that approach by exploring the administration and the taxation system that was gradually established over formerly largely independent feudal fiefdoms; the notable flows and circulation of silver and the gap between the scope of mining that we can reconstruct from the sources and the importance of the industry reflected in glimpses from surviving sources and from remains of historic mines that are still visible in the landscape today.

Silver Inflation versus Gold Deflation in the Late Nineteenth Century

Mark Metzler

For centuries, the rate of exchange between gold and silver was remarkably stable in Europe and the Americas. Then came a great change after 1873, when the value of gold doubled vis-a-vis silver in the span of a quarter century. Commodity prices in general fell by half in terms of gold: this was the great deflation, or Great Depression, of the late nineteenth century. Commodity prices declined in terms of silver also during the 1870s, but after 1885 commodity prices in silver showed a moderate inflationary trend. These differential price movements had profound social and economic consequences—but what were the basic supply and demand conditions that underlay them? This paper focuses on two fundamental points: mining output, and the demand for monetary metals, especially as conditioned by the spread of national monetary systems based on the gold standard. 

For centuries, the rate of exchange between gold and silver was remarkably stable in Europe and the Americas. Then came a great change after 1873, when the value of gold doubled vis-a-vis silver in the span of a quarter century. Commodity prices in general fell by half in terms of gold: this was the great deflation, or Great Depression, of the late nineteenth century. Commodity prices declined in terms of silver also during the 1870s, but after 1885 commodity prices in silver showed a moderate inflationary trend. These differential price movements had profound social and economic consequences—but what were the basic supply and demand conditions that underlay them? This paper focuses on two fundamental points: mining output, and the demand for monetary metals, especially as conditioned by the spread of national monetary systems based on the gold standard. 

Silver and the Yokohama "Gold Rush" of 1859

Simon James Bytheway

Great Power gunboat diplomacy brought a host of problems to Japan’s shores. The initial Kanagawa Treaty of 1854 was innocuous enough, but subsequent “unequal” treaties created disputes over property, jurisdictions, trade, and more than anything else, over money. Indeed, financial conflict over the exchange of silver and gold specie was to be defining feature of Japan’s forced opening. In the historical narrative, these conflicts have often been condensed into a single event: the Yokohama Gold Rush. The outflow of Japan’s gold has been long portrayed as the exploitation of a small, peace-loving Asian nation by the rapacious, imperialist West. A more nuanced, global look, however, tells a different story, a story of a newly opened economy being flooded with silver currencies in coordinated international arbitrage operations. These battles over gold and silver specie exchange caused localized hyper-inflation and wider socio-economic failure: instabilities that culminated in revolution and regime change.

Great Power gunboat diplomacy brought a host of problems to Japan’s shores. The initial Kanagawa Treaty of 1854 was innocuous enough, but subsequent “unequal” treaties created disputes over property, jurisdictions, trade, and more than anything else, over money. Indeed, financial conflict over the exchange of silver and gold specie was to be defining feature of Japan’s forced opening. In the historical narrative, these conflicts have often been condensed into a single event: the Yokohama Gold Rush. The outflow of Japan’s gold has been long portrayed as the exploitation of a small, peace-loving Asian nation by the rapacious, imperialist West. A more nuanced, global look, however, tells a different story, a story of a newly opened economy being flooded with silver currencies in coordinated international arbitrage operations. These battles over gold and silver specie exchange caused localized hyper-inflation and wider socio-economic failure: instabilities that culminated in revolution and regime change.