History Of Silver Currency
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Next to gold, silver the second most commonly used noble metal for currency during the ancient times. The popularity of the silver coin over the gold coin actually varied depending on the availability of the metal, with some civilizations placing more stock on, and subsequently more value on silver over gold coinage. Due to the relatively wider availability of silver, many countries of the past ages have issued silver as the standard form of currency, a feature that remains to this day in the names of some currencies that had its origins as ancient silver coinage (i. e. dinar, real, dollar, etc.). The evolution of silver coins was said to have begun in ancient Lydia at around 600 BCE, where the earliest samples of silver currency were coins made from electrum, a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver found in significant quantities in the area. Neighboring regions such as Aegina later adopted the practice of purchasing using lumps of metal with incised or stamped details, and the practice soon spread all throughout Greece, and later, throughout the whole of the Mediterranean through the ever-expanding area of trading and purchasing good and commodities.
Other forms of coinage aside from silver were later developed, although silver remained the ‘standard’ coin of the Greeks, with each city state having its own coin design and mark to indicate its place of origin. Because of its widespread use, standards of coinage had begun to spring up, allowing for an equality of values that made purchase and exchange of good easier. These standards were not the standards or ‘face value’ that we know today, but were rather equivalent weights that denoted the equivalent value of a product (i. e. three silver coins weighing 4 grams was equivalent to 10 copper coins, and was the price of three bags of wool). The practice of creating or issuing silver coinage was later adopted by many other civilizations, among them the Persians, the Egyptians and many neighboring kingdoms and provinces going as far as central Asia and some parts of Europe.
Silver coinage was originally issues by city states up until the conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great, where the practice of ‘minting’ silver coins was then taken up by kings. The design of ancient silver coinage changed drastically during this period, and former motifs representing symbols, animals, or deities were later replaced by the profile of rulers and their respective names or titles. One of the most popular silver coins of the time was the drachm which would later give birth to many other silver currencies bearing corruptions or adaptations of its name, such as the dirham, the drachma, and, much later, the denarius.
During the 3rd century BCE, the Romans who were slowly expanding their power and control over much of Europe began to issue their own silver coins – the denarius – which would become the principal currency of the Roman Republic until its abolition and rise into the Roman Empire (prior to this, it was said that the Romans were paid in salt or salaries, from which the modern term ‘salary’ was said to originate),. Prior to Gaius Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul, the natives of the area (the Celts) were already issuing their own silver currency although they later adopted the Roman monetary unit after their conquest. After the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of both Christianity and Islam, silver coinage continued to remain a staple in currency, with the Byzantine Empire, India, and much of Sassanian (Persian) Empire under Islamic rule continuing to favor silver coinage as the standard staple currency. Due to the popularity of silver coinage in the ancient world, much of today’s currencies are named after silver coins of earlier eras, such as the dirham (from the Arabic dirhem), the dinar (from the Latin denarius), the rupee (rupyakam in Sanskrit, meaning ‘wrought silver’), and later, the European joachimsthaler which was the forerunner of the current universal currency – the dollar. Today, ancient silver coins are now highly collectible items of great value, and while their use is no longer commonplace, the spirit of the silver coin remains in many countries which still refer to their currency, in one language or another, as ‘silver’.
Modern silver currency is said to have dawned with the standardization of Germanic silver currency as an attempt to create a reliable equivalent to the diverse types of currency then issued by the Holy Roman Empire. The ordinance, known as the Reichsmunzordnung, was issued systematically (that is, in various stages) from between the 1530s to the 1560s. The first issue of the ordinance was made by Charles V in 1524 at Esslingen, where he declared that the standard currency pattern (weight, alloy composition etc.) to be used by the whole of the Empire was the Cologne Mark. This first ordinance didn’t sit well with many minor rulers of the Holy Roman Empire, and was largely ineffective in the standardization of the Imperial currency, although it ushered the era of the modern silver coin. With the standardization of the coinage of the Holy Roman Empire, many kingdoms followed suit with their own ‘standardized’ silver monies, giving rise to the era of modern coinage. In much the same vein as the modernization of gold currency, the modernization of the silver coin involved a change into a more uniform currency, with a standard weight, silver to base metal ratio, as well as a standard design or face that would identify one silver coin from another as being official coins of a specific realm. While ancient silver coins usually varied in the consistency of its silver content, the standardization allowed for an easier means for trade and currency exchange, as values became more reliable and dependable. Despite some minor squabbling and misunderstanding about the standardization of the silver coin, it slowly became accepted all throughout much of Europe, becoming the driving force of the whole of its economical power during the peak of its influence.
With accepted equivalents established, the content of silver coin became controlled, with specific coins of one realm being comparable to others, and some which did not comply being tallied with specific equivalents allowing for smoother trade between areas that possessed different currencies. With the introduction of the Reichstaler, a truly official Imperial coin was created (weight at 29.33 grams and composed of 88.9% silver), which later gave rise to what would later become the de facto universally accepted currency of the world – the dollar.
The use of silver coins as currency was commonplace until the latter part of the 18th century, however, the growing price of silver as well as social, economical, and wartime problems that arose caused the common use of silver coinage to slowly decline, with one country after another reducing the amount of silver per gram of coin until only trace amounts remained, and only its namesake had been retained. While some countries still issue silver coins as currency, this is no longer the norm. Silver coins of a specific reign or date then became collectibles, and, because of their precious content, they were hoarded in much the same way as gold coins. Nowadays, silver coins made of pure or near-pure silver are usually still issued as bullion coins, but are no longer used as currency. Some antique silver coins are considered collectibles due to both its historic and its inherent value, while bullion silver coins continue to be produced in limited runs for individuals who wish to invest in silver legally. Today, many countries issue their own specific silver bullion coins which are sold to interested collectors and investors.
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