Silver Monetary Depreciation and International Relations

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by Ursula Kampmann
translated by Annika Backe

June 11, 2015 – In the 19th century, the gold-silver ratio had been rather stable, generally speaking. It was 1:15, or perhaps 1:15.5. Since the middle of the 19th century, however, that ratio changed dramatically. First, it rose to 1:16, then to 1:18, to arrive at 1:32 at the end of the 19th century. Countries which had introduced a gold currency in time – as Germany, France, Great Britain or Japan – had a clear advantage. They could buy goods in countries which still stuck to silver currency – as India or China – at a fraction of the former price. The local goods, in contrast, therefore almost doubled their price. What used to cost 15.5 g silver, then cost 30 g silver – no wonder, that the fight of the western industrial powers for their sales markets became increasingly fierce.

Research has rather thoroughly studied how this monetary crisis affected the European nations. Its repercussions on Asia, though, have been assessed by only a handful of Western researchers so far. This is of course largely due to language problems, making it difficult to access the comprehensive records documenting this development.

This is the first aspect that DAMIN tackles. Over the last years, an incredible wealth of books has been published, making the relevant sources accessible, with an English translation for most of them. On Japan, for instance, nine books have been released over the last five years; seven for India, four for Hong Kong and China, ten for France and one for Great Britain. They are complemented by the proceedings of the great international monetary conferences held in the 19th century which make another twelve volumes. This adds up to 41 weighty tomes in the last five years, between eight and nine source editions every year on average!

This does not even include the four volumes with the proceedings of the meeting. Every year, DAMIN organizes an international Round Table in addition, focusing on a topic that revolves around the core area of research. One such meeting, for instance, dealt with the copper small change from ancient to present times, another one with the meeting of Orient and Occident. This year, the focus was on mints, technology and coin production. In 2016, it will be about gold and silver mines. A weighty text tome is published in the very aftermath of each conference. The text tome of the Round Table in June can be ordered with the publisher as of mid-July 2015.

What makes DAMIN so special exceeds mere historical research. Georges Depeyrot, coordinator and spiritus rector of the program, makes an effort to assemble a truly international team of researchers, bringing together many devoted academics, younger and older, from all around the world.

They come from a wide range of fields. They include numismatists – of course – as well as economic historians, economists and archaeologists. To give them the chance to keep up if they cannot make it to every single meeting, all presentations are can be viewed on the internet. Being sent polite but persistent emails on a regular basis, every conference participant conforms to a strict discipline and submits his abstract six months prior to the event. It takes only a few hours for this abstract to become available on the DAMIN website. The written manuscripts have to be handed in roughly two months prior to the meeting for the proceedings being published just two days after the conference.

The results which the DAMIN project has achieved over the previous years are remarkable.

It is to be hoped that, despite its official termination in December 2015, the project will be continued.

DAMIN has its own website.

Arranged according to countries, you can find all publications already released.

You can place an order for all books with Moneta.

To look at the video-recorded talks of the meeting, please click here.

Georges Depeyrot has written a readable introduction to ‘his’ project.

A report on the previous DAMIN Round Tables can be found here.