Jan Lucassen and Rombert Stapel | International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam – Deep Monetization in the Low Countries. A case study of the copper coin circulation 1827/1828

This study covers current Belgium and Netherlands. It shows how difficult it is to relate occupational structure and small coinage.

  1. Differentiation of « general purpose money » according to numismatics and to archeology

A starting point is that the poor are the majority of the population. So the angle chosen is that of history of work. Weekly wages were paid in cash, in packets: coins, or banknotes… Until the late 1960s.

All kind of functions were associated to money: saving, wholesale trade, common purchases – and different currencies were in use.

  1. Deep monetization in general

This general outline was developed over the years. It is a concept to compare across time, countries and cultures, linked to hourly wages. Small coins are part of deep monetization if they have a value of one hour of work or less.

At a ratio of small coins supply to hourly wage of about ten and about, you have really high deep monetarization. At least in the 19th century, three regions do not compare to that: Northern Europe (occupational structure), Russia and the US (aftermath of slavery), Southern Europe (high figures in Spain and Portugal but they exported their coins to their colonies).

A big limit to the calculation of this ratio is the importance of token and notes circulation and also, especially in England, of book keeping credit.

It is not a teleological argument: the ratio sometimes goes down – see the end of the Roman empire.

  1. Sources

Archeologic evidence, not only because lack of written sources, but because they give a very different image as compared to written sources when they exist.

Relative market prices of common coins as a proxy for circulation.

Mints statistics.

Demonetization figures: suddenly one can count how many coins were demonetized. And real calculations started in the middle of the 19th.

The concept can be applied to the total of Eurasia for the last 2000 years: there was massive production of small denominations in Europe, India and China at that time.

  1. The Low Countries and a meso analysis

We started to map all the mints and coin productions sites, bearing in mind all the sources limits. Liège was a major producer of copper coins, but we have hardly any evidence of it.

It is important to study at the regional level or even at the micro level (something historians have done for decades, with probate inventories, wage payments, etc.), but there is problem: how representative are the data collected?

Natural experiment: the demonetization of old copper coins in the Low Countries, 1827-1828. But there are problems: in the northern part of the country, coins of the different provinces circulated. In the South, there were coins from Luxemburg, Liège, Spanish Low Countries in addition to those from the Netherlands… From its start, the new Kingdom had produced small coins, and so only in 1826 did the government think they had produced enough to recoin the remaining older coins in circulation.

66 collections points were established, giving detailed sources for this northern regions. For the south, there is only one nice volume in Liège and no correspondence. Nevertelss, it shows regional big differences. 4 main areas appear, 3 in current Belgium, 1 from current Netherlands. But in fact it is even more complex. Liège’s coins were used in the city area but also to its west down to the sea. Monetization also varied by region: stronger in the West than in the East. A long belt from Brussels to Liège and Verviers, but also near Groningen in the North, was more monetized.

  1. Provisional explanations

Our data showed expected but also unexpected patterns in monetization.

It also presented us with numismatic issues: to what extent were foreign coins used? Did people made coin rolls in paper to make larger payments that could replace silver?

  1. Unexpected results:

In West Flanderen, the high population density (highly proto-industrialized regions) comes with low level of monetization. One reason: they used Prussian and also French money.

Occupational structure: there is no yet evidence of a relationship – with no proper information for occupational structure for 66 districts, but only for larger regions. And the level of analysis is very important.

For example, the occupational structure (industry) does not match copper use (regional level). The same is true with the map of steam engines.

But we should also look at the different levels of hourly wage at the regional level.

  1. Conclusions

Still much work to do to reach clear results: need more information and data.

Questions

Jérôme Jambu – I expected a better correspondence between the maps. Two other factors are highlighted by Thuillier and Olivera: the role of specie buyers in the countryside, who offered agios and deposited the coins thus raked in places different from where they were collected. And where are the tax offices? Could these two factors explain the scale discrepancies?

A.: We planned to visit the SGB archives and the correspondences there. See also the prices and exchange rates in the North, or what the charitable institutions collected every Sunday in small change.

Anders Ögren – What about the difference between face value and content value?

Moya – You seem to all have the same assumption of an equivalence between the money of the poor and small change. Why? As anthropologists, we are usually stroke by the ways the poor can access huge amounts of cash. When it comes to daily life of course they use small change. But to what extent does the historical data back the fact that there is an equivalence between small change and money of the poor?

Abstract of workshop : Money of the poor (4 – 5 July / Juillet 2019)
O
rganization : Patrice Baubeau, U. Paris Nanterre / IDHES (UMR8533)
Grant UPL (Université Paris Lumières) 2019/2021


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