Opening the mint to gold and silver - then and now

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From the Archives : Originally published July 20th, 2010
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Category : Gold University

Opening the mint to gold and silver - then and now

By : Hugo Salinas Price

President, Mexican Civic Association Pro Silver 

From the archive.

Some people think that one of the fundamental institutions of the 19th century should be restored; I will single out Great Britain as the great leader embracing this institution.

This institution was the free minting of gold practiced by Great Britain in its heyday of growth, world economic and financial power. Under this system, any owner of gold bullion could take his bullion to the Royal Mint and have it minted into coins containing the same amount of gold as provided to the Mint by the owner of the bullion delivered. This was done at no cost to the owner of bullion as a government service to the economy.

Thus, the owner of gold bullion converted his bullion directly into money which could be saved, invested or spent at will. The new gold was turned into money and increased the money supply because gold was money.

Another idea has been floated, regarding doing the same with silver: “Opening the Mint to Silver” is the same idea as free coinage of gold, outlined above, but applied to silver.

As I said above, some people suppose that re-instituting this practice of centuries prior to the 1800’s, which was indeed entirely wholesome and beneficial in its time, would produce the same wonderful results today; supposedly, this institution would be the central institution capable of restoring stability, growth, savings and true and lasting prosperity.

Much as I should like to agree with this proposition, I have my doubts about the possibility of obtaining the marvelous results expected of it.

Free coinage of silver considered

Let me start with silver, which I have considered first due to my interest in monetizing a silver coin, the Mexican “Libertad” silver ounce.

First we must think of what sort of “free coinage” we are thinking of. Would we propose the free coinage of a coin with a face value, or with no face value?

If we propose the free coinage of a coin with a face value, then the face value must be superior or equal to the intrinsic value of silver. No one is going to take silver bullion to the U.S. Mint, for instance, and have it turned into silver coins with a face value that is less than the bullion value of the silver in the coins!

If the face value is equal to the intrinsic value of the silver, then within a week’s time it would probably be on its way back to the refinery, the price of silver having gone up in the meantime and made the melted coins worth more than the coins themselves.

Now, if the face value is superior to the bullion value of the silver in the coins, then the miners who are taking their silver to the Mint are obtaining a State subsidy of their mining operations.

This is objectionable.

Alternatively, if we are proposing the free coinage of a coin with no face value, then the situation is different. There is no subsidy at all involved; if there is a cost for minting, it could reasonably be attributed to social and economic policy for the benefit of the community in general. It would be an acceptable State expenditure, indeed, a quite legitimate function of the Treasury.

However, the miner having turned his silver bullion into coins with no face value – or with a face value far below the intrinsic value, which negates the coin’s monetary function - is now faced with the problem of what to do with them.  The coins are valuable, indeed, but – what is their value? They can be designated as “legal tender”, they are a product of the Treasury, but the problem does not go away – what is the value of these coins?

Each individual would have a different idea regarding the value of these coins with no face value! And the ideas of each individual would change hourly, according to the quoted price of silver on the international exchanges. Each transaction with these coins would necessitate a process of haggling about the correct value of the coins.

Some people, but most definitely not all people, would wish to save these coins, and under present conditions, they would most likely be doing something wise and prudent; however, they would be speculating on a rise in the price of silver, either long-term or short-term, according to the views of each individual saver. Speculators are a small portion of the total population, especially among the less-affluent savers who are the most interested in silver as a means of saving.

The fact is that silver coins with no face value, or with a face value so low as to be meaningless as in the case of the American Silver Eagle 1 oz. coin, are generally available in quantities sufficient to cover the needs of American speculators on the price of silver, who wish to speculate by purchasing Silver Eagles.

For this reason, if the US Mint or any other Mint were open to “free coinage of silver”, there would probably not be a great increase in the amount of such silver being minted. Such miners who turned in large amounts of silver to be minted, would be well and truly stuck with them and have a great deal of trouble in placing them among the public, which in the U.S. for instance, is already largely satisfied with the production of Silver Eagles by the U.S. Mint.

The dilemma

If free coinage refers to a coin with a face value as legal tender, then this implies a subsidy to the mining interests. This is unacceptable, politically.

If free coinage refers to a coin with no face value, even if by Law classified as legal tender, this means that any important amount of additional minting is going to lead to piles of coins stuck in the hands of the miners who delivered the bullion to the Mint for minting into coins. This is unworkable economically, as there is insufficient market.

Why did free coinage work at one time, and why would it not work again today?

The reason is not hard to find: in the past, in earlier centuries, silver was money in itself. There was no “price of silver”! The price of silver was expressed in the amount of things that a given amount of silver could purchase.

Miners digging up silver – which they did with great zeal – were actually “digging up money”. With free coinage of silver, all the miners had to do was take their silver to the Mint, and - presto! – the miners had money.

How did we get from there, to where we are today?

It’s a very long story but I’ll try to abbreviate it.

The greatest minter of silver in history was the Spanish Empire.

In 1535 the Spanish Crown established a Mint in Mexico City, to mint coins which already existed in Spain before the Conquest of Mexico. I refer to the “Pieces of Eight”, which was a coin that bore in inscription “Ocho Reales” – meaning “Eight Reales”. A “Real” was the name given to a certain weight of pure silver, about 3 grams. I think this size of coin derives from the Arabian Rial, for as you know, Spain was under Moslem domination for about seven centuries until the Moors were expelled from Spain in 1492. And the Rial itself is another name for the Koranic “dirham” which is defined in Islamic Law as a silver coin of about 3 grams in weight.

Eight reales of 3 grams each made a coin of 24 grams. And since the U.S. silver dollar was modeled by Thomas Jefferson upon the Spanish “Pieces of Eight” used by the American Colonies before Independence, the U.S. Silver Dollar as defined by the Constitution contains – 24.05 grams of pure silver!

The ratio between the values of gold and silver, at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, was fixed in the U.S. at 16:1. The gold dollar contained 1.505 grams of gold, while the silver dollar contained 24.05 grams of silver. 24.05 / 1.505 = 15.984, that is, very close to the ratio of 16:1.

We must pause to understand something with regard to the peculiar valuation which humans give to gold, a valuation which is quite different from that accorded to silver.

Gold has, for practical purposes, no declining marginal utility. What this means is that for humans, generally speaking, no one ever has so much gold, that he ceases to value any additional gold. Regarding the world as a whole we can say that the demand for gold is insatiable. At the end of 1970, there was an above-ground stock of 90,000 tonnes of gold, and the price of gold was $35 dollars an ounce. At the end of 2008, the above-ground stock of gold in the world was 162,500 tonnes, and yet the price has gone up to close to $1,000 dollars an ounce at this writing. Additional gold is added to this pile at a rate of less than 1.5% per year, and it all has an immediate market.

Silver, on the other hand, does have a declining marginal utility.

The old ratio of 16:1 between the price of gold and the price of silver was established before the Industrial Revolution, when the extraction of silver from the ground was still a primitive labor-intensive process. This changed radicall

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Hugo Salinas Price is the founder of Mexico's Elektra retail chain. Hugo Salinas Price currently is retired from retailing and focuses on being a proponent of a sound financial policy for Mexico[1]. Salianas Price is President, Mexican Civic Association Pro Silver, A.C
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It would be quickest to just use weight in grams for silver coinage. Paper notes in the form of silver certificates would be denominated the same way; grams of silver. Current fiat would be cycled back to the Treasury for destruction. Not everyone will want silver coinage or bullion. Imagine going shopping with a kilogram or more of silver. Ergo, the need for silver certificates with the attendant metal safely tucked away in the Treasury's vault.

The only way bimetallism will work is if gold is allowed to float. Let the market deal with the conversion ratio. Besides, Gresham's Law will almost certainly force gold into deep savings. It might re-emerge as collateral or for very large purchases but quickly go deep again. No matter what, gold is scarce enough that it will be revalued far higher. If my math skills aren't totally screwed up, there is only enough gold above ground that if evenly distributed among the world population, each person would only get between 1/2 and 3/4 of an ounce or about 15-25 grams. But it isn't evenly distributed any more than wealth is. Though I must admit the sight of an Indian woman, wearing her gold jewelry while working barefoot in the field, being vastly more wealthy than the American housewife sitting in her dark and soon-to-be-repossessed house humorously ironic.

If we use the weight as the denominator for gold and silver and perhaps 999 fine, the market would accept private mintage as well. The US Constitution would permit this under strict interpretation. See Liberty Dollar and the most liberal interpretation.

Article I section #8 paragraph 6, "To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States." Please note: "current Coin of the United States."

Good article even if somewhat dated.
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How would we/they compensate for silver, especially .9999, being bought up by industry thereby driving up the price and taking physical out of storage? Would current production be able to keep up with demand, especially if we look at demand in the long run, not just the next 12 months. While I'm all for having PM's in reserve I'm somewhat leery about the wild swings that may happen and how well pricing and consumer mindset could adjust. What process other than manipulation could ensure reasonable stability? Fiat doesn't have any value, no industry needs to use paper cash for any process in which the paper is converted into something other than fiat bills. Ages ago when PM's were valued and used as a means to conduct barter the effect of valuation swings was minimal (not going to get into the abuse that some kings and governments used) but today with industrial uses increasing for both metals it appears to me that we consumers would be competing with big business to get our hands on the metals. With so many new uses being found for silver it's virtually guaranteed that demand will be greater than what can be produced in a timely manner. We may see some recycling of silver if the price rises high enough but with some of the new uses, things like silver micro fibres in clothes to kill the bacteria that cause body odor, medical salves, or used in water filtration, the return still wouldn't be worth the expense involved in reclamation and in cases such as salves, being totally consumed and taken out of the pool.

Sorry, I know that has been covered many times, fiat vs. physical being used for currency, and at great length but so far none of the proposals has adequately addressed the above.
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How would we/they compensate for silver, especially .9999, being bought up by industry thereby driving up the price and taking physical out of storage? Would current production be able to keep up with demand, especially if we look at demand in the long r  Read more
Hart - 9/7/2013 at 4:36 AM GMT
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