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(in bulk) of the total number of heavy and light coins ; the fear lest by asking too much, I should obtain nothing, restrained me from asking for more detailed weighing. At the same time I invited answers to any or all of the following queries :
1.--Do you observe any periodical ebb and flow of the circulation of Gold ? 2.-Do you, on the whole, receive more gold than you pay away, or vice versa ? 3.- Do you remit to, or receive from London, or your own locality, the amount
required to adjust yo ir transactions in Coin? 4.-Is the percentage of light Gold circulating in your neighbourhood cor
rectly represented by the proportion paid and received across your
counter ? If not, what in your opinion is the amount of the difference ? 6.-Have you any information as to the amount by which such light Gold
falls short of minimum legal tender weight ? 6.- Are you able to debit with the deficiency, or charge a premium to, those
who pay in light Gold ? 7.-Do you suffer any loss through light Gold, either directly or by having to
pay a premium to those who take it from you? 8.-Can you estimate the average annual amount of such loss, if any ? 9.-Have you any reason to suppose that the Gold coinage in your locality is
fraudulently tampered with to any considerable extent ? 10.- Are you at liberty to statea. How much Gold, on an average, you hold for the purposes of
your business? b. The proportion of Half-Sovereigns to Sovereigns ? 11.-General Observations.
These forms were sent out to almost every Bank in the United Kingdom, to some 14 Railways, about 50 Post Offices, and a number of large wage-paying firms. I have very fully to acknowledge the readiness with which many head-managers seconded my object, by sending out to and collecting the forms from their branchoffices. It is sufficient to say that from one English Bank I received 149 returns, and from three Scotch Banks together no less than 272. I was also able to test by internal evidence, the care which was bestowed in the filling up of each individual return. In this way I was furnished with 1,092 returns, showing an enumeration of 105,364 sovereigns, and 145,743 half-sovereigns taken from the ordinary circulation in every part of the Kingdom, made chiefly by bank-cashiers, for the returns from Post Offices, Railways, and Industrial firms, were not made in sufficient number to base an estimate of agreement with or discrepancy from the quality of coin found in the Bank-tills. But it will be sufficiently evident as we go on that such difference, if any, must be in the direction of an even yet greater deficiency than we shall prove to exist.
The result of this actual enumeration is shown on Table II., and it is immediately apparent that owing to natural causes, and also to the calling-in in July, 1842–March, 1845, of £14,137,000 out of a total then coined of £59,764,000, gold coins of the years 1817-40 are relatively very scarce, only 7,828 sovereigns, and 1,425 halfsovereigns per 100,000 now in circulation being anterior to the year 1840 ; but in subsequent years the number of coins found in
circulation is approximately proportional to the total annual coinage. Having omitted to call the attention of my correspondents to the fact that since 1871 gold coin issued by the Australian Mints is only distinguishable from that issued from Tower Hill by the minute letters M (Melbourne) and S (Sydney) placed below the Queen's head, my endeavour to ascertain the amount of Australian gold actually in circulation (a point indeed of no very great importanco) was frustrated, hardly any Australian coins being recorded after 1872 ; yet the extent to which they are to be found may be estimated by the fact that out of a total coinage at Melbourne since 1872 of £16,458,300, no less than £15,674,218 has been exported, leaving apparently only £784,082 for the service of the Colony. Again, if we compare the number of sovereigns found in circulation per 100,000 (Table II.) of the years 1875 and 1877, when no sovereigns were coined at the Royal Mint, all of which must therefore have been Australian, with the number found per 100,000 of 1876, when the coinage English and Australian was £3, 294,000 and £3,737,000 respectively, the extent to which our gold currency is supplemented by the Colonial mints may be readily appreciated.
In approaching the far more important subject of the weight of the gold coin as actually found in circulation, I had first to consider what division of the returns supplied to me I should attempt, and it speedily became evident that owing to the wide ramifications of many of our large Banks, and the extent to which the needs of one branch are supplied through the head office from the redundancy of another, or by friendly exchange with other neighbouring or even distant Banks, any sub-division into geographical districts, agricultural, manufacturing, or other categories would serve no useful purpose, and that
any anomalies which might under such a sub-division appear to exist, would be misleading. I was therefore content to divide the returns into the following classes, distinguished by letters of which I have made use in the tables appended to this paper,
viz:-A.- Cities in which there is a branch of the Bank of England
50 Returns. B.--London and Suburbs
70 C.-English Provincial Banks
610 D.-Irish Banks
1,092 Owing to the small number of returns from the last three classes, as mentioned above, these have been grouped together when used at all in tho tables. Table VI. shows the application of this method to the returns supplied as to the number of heavy and light coins of each decade, while in Table Vla. the figures are raised in each class to their proportional ratios to 100,000. The imperfect facilities for accurate weighing possessed by the majority of banks caused the returns of the actual weight in bulk of the heavy and light coins to be comparatively few. The result is given in Tables VII. and VIIa., the latter showing the number of coins in each class raised to its proportional ratio to 100,000, and the average weight of each heavy and light coin respectively. But though I have reason to know that in some cases tho utmost care was exercised in weighing, I am forced to the conclusion that in many cases accuracy has not been obtained, by finding that in the case of the English Provincial Banks the total weight of the balfsovereigns returned as heavy, when divided by the number of coins, gives an average of gr. 61:119 each, or .006gr. light! After a vain endeavour to alter the figures which lead to this conclusion, I am obliged to infer that the scales used must in some cases unduly have favoured the coin, and that a number of the half-sovereigns which passed the scale when weighed individually must in reality have been light; if this be so the number of light half-sovereigns per cent. in this class must in reality be greater than appears in the returns, while the average weight of the light coins would be pro tanto increased. It will be seen that there is an even yet greater “ remedy” to be taken into account in the case of the halfsovereigns returned as heavy from Ireland.
Before entering on the direct experiments which were made in order to check or confirm the returns thus furnished to me, it may be well to glance as far as time and space permit on the answers which my correspondents supplied to the questions set forth in the returns.
Q. 1-3.— While in some few cases the circulation was reported to show neither ebb nor flow throughout the year, but to remain in the stagnant condition of a tideless sea, in others, especially in places where owing to the presence of troops, of sailors, of dockyards, or of great manufacturing industries, there is developed an incessant demand for coin in payment of wages, and this coin does not always find its way back to the banks whence it is supplied. Some it may be hoped finds its way to London through the Post Office Savings Banks, much no doubt passes through the hands of the publicans to the collectors of brewers, who keep their banking accounts elsewhere. If we may keep up the metaphor, these places are like those inland seas which absorb the waters of great rivers, and return it by an insensible evaporation. But in the great majority of instances there is a periodical ebb and flow such as can be readily accounted for by the circumstances of each locality, and we may easily follow in imagination a sovereign, which after doing duty in the tourist season in Scotland or Yorkshire, next assists in the harvest operations of the autumn; then at the fishing industries
of the east coast. As that harvest of the sea is gathered towards the close of the year, it may be suddenly transported to meet the requirements of the winter season at Brighton or Torquay, and complete the round as the advancing spring causes increased activity in the manufacturing and exporting centres of population. It is, moreover, not inconceivable that some such circuit as this might be made within the sphere of operations of a single bank; the coin, especially if a light one, passing more than once through the head-office in the course of its career.
Q. 4.-In very few cases was any doubt expressed that the coin in common circulation differed in quality from that paid and received across the counter of my informants; in these few there was occasionally a suspicion lest the acknowledged “culling” of the gold and the withdrawal of the best of it from local circulation might cause the outside circulation to be even more deterivrated than would appear from the returns made. In one or two instances on the other hand a constant demand for gold supplied from a local branch of the Bank of England might raise the average quality to an abnormal degree.
Q. 5. In a great many cases it was stated that on an average 100 sovereigns required a half-sovereign as a make-weight to turn the scale, and it will be seen later on how nearly this rough and ready estimate agrees with the result of an elaborate experiment: the estimate as to the deficiency on 100 half-sovereigns was more variable, extending from 7s. 6d. to 25s. per cent.
Q. 6. The practice of closely scrutinising gold as received, and charging for any deficiency, appears once to have been not uncommon; but mainly, as it would appear, through the competition of rival banks, it is one that has fallen into desuetude. This seems to be the explanation of the frequent answer that it has of late years been abandoned. A charge of 7-10 days' interest, or a commission on large parcels taken in, or a periodical commission on accounts which supply light gold constantly, are exceptional ways of recouping the loss or lock-up caused by its defective condition. I only have one record of a practice to refuse to accept light gold.
Q. 7.-The loss incurred by holders of light gold, who I need hardly say are almost without exception banks, may arise either from direct loss on sending it in to the Bank of England, a loss which is incurred with extreme reluctance, as will presently appear; from loss of interest while it is lying worse than useless in the vaults; or from the charge made by those who for a consideration are willing to receive it, this premium taking the shape either of a cash payment or of a draft at 7 to 14 days' currency. It need not be said that this loss, in whatever shape it may present itself, is one which a banker is especially anxious to avoid. The numerous cases in which it was stated that there was no loss, might at first sight suggest the inference that no great grievance exists; but this
exemption from loss is only attained by the unanimity with which we defy the regulations (unpenalised) of the present Coinage Act-it must be added that we are equally candid in our admission that we do so. I have only found two cases of banks that draw their gold from no source except the Bank of England, yet as in these cases they are always in the condition of requiring gold, it is no detraction from their ancient and honourable reputation to say that they can only claim the negative virtue which those possess who have never been tempted.
Q. 8. In those cases where a loss was admitted, it was in many cases but slight. It is remarkable that some of the most conspicuous exceptions should come from beyond the Tweed, where gold is mainly required to cover the more popular note circulation, and three Scotch banks return an average annual loss of some £300 each. A yet more signal example comes from nearer home, in the case of a London bank, whose operations entail the use of a very large proportionate amount of coin, and which estimates that if it paid in all gold to the Bank of England it would suffer a loss of £4,500 per annum. We have recently seen in the Times the complaint of a bank burdened with £100,000 in gold lying unavailable by reason of its lightness, and I have an instance in which a bank, overburdened by an ever-growing, and at last intolerable accumulation of half-sovereigns, finally paid into the Bank of England £47,000 in this shape, of which £33,241 proved light, and entailed a loss of £757. 8s. 11d. Such instances are no doubt exceptional; in the majority of cases the loss in holding the useless store, until it can be passed again into circulation, is less than the direct loss of several weeks' interest incurred by sending it in. Yet the recent high rates of money no doubt attracted a considerable quantity of gold to the Bank, and it may not be altogether fanciful to suggest that possibly bankers as a class may have been recouped for their loss under this head by rates of interest which would never have been attained had the Bank of England been in a position to accept hy tale their hoards of light gold. But even if they, the lending class, have thus found compensation, the borrowing class has in the meanwhile suffered.
Q. 9. It is some consolation to find that in the majority of cases the depreciation of the coin is due to honest wear and tear; very few complaints of fraudulent tampering are made by banks in country districts. This dishonest industry, where it takes place at all, is exercised, as might be expected, in large cities. The means employed are either mechanical or chemical, the former embracing the various forms of "sweating," either by mere attrition, by filing the edges, or by perforation; it is by no means safe to conclude that a romantic or sentimental history attaches to every coin with a hole bored in it. It may have been done with the object of earning a dishonest penny. The chemical agents are the battery and the bath, whose attack is at