Making Money in the British Atlantic, c. 16501750

Friday, January 4, 2019: 3:30 PM
Water Tower Parlor (Palmer House Hilton)
Mara Caden, Massachusetts Historical Society
Why did the British state in the 17th and 18th centuries centralize the production of money in London and prohibit mints in its Irish and American dominions? At the end of the seventeenth century, the British state undertook a massive monetary project: The Great Recoinage. The Royal Mint called in all the silver money of the kingdom, establishing five new mints in English provinces to accomplish the Recoinage. At the same time, administrators debated petitions from Ireland and America that asked for permission to open mints. In this paper, I argue that the British state restricted the production of money to England in order to maintain monetary standards and promote trust in the currency. Confidence in Britain’s silver currency had completely collapsed by the end of the seventeenth century, and The Recoinage restored trust in England’s silver currency by manufacturing money with a newly mechanized and centrally-controlled production process. However, the denial of mints to Ireland and America doomed these parts of the empire to chronic coin shortages and hindered manufacturing and internal trade there. From the 1660s through the 1740s, governors, mayors, assemblies, and entrepreneurs tried and failed to open mints across the Atlantic empire from Jamaica to New England. The Officers of the Mint leveraged their role as technical experts and routinely obstructed overseas mints because they believed that those mints would compromise the currency standard and destroy England’s credit. The absence of a predictable, trustworthy currency marked off American colonies as dependent peripheries and restricted industrial development to England. At the same time, debates about who had the right to coin money, where that money could be produced, and where it was allowed to circulate, put Britain’s American colonies on the path to revolution.
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