The recoinage and exchange of 1816-17
The Coinage Bill of 1816 was a turning point in monetary history, establishing Britain on the gold standard and making provision for a major recoinage and exchange of silver. The intention in this thesis has been to examine why the reform happened when it did, what its legacy was for the nineteenth century and what the surviving records, particularly of the exchange, reveal about the nature of the circulating medium. In Chapters 1 and 2 the eighteenth-century background is explored in order to clarify why government chose to allow the condition of the silver coinage to decline. The argument is advanced that economic stability for many years lessened the necessity for reform and the importance of gold in the economy made ministers wary of damaging its position through change. An investigation into the wear of silver coins has also been conducted which demonstrates that by the 1780s they were likely to have lost virtually all trace of design details. The reasons why reform was enacted in 1816 are discussed in Chapter 3, the explanation offered being the importance of war with France having ended and the Bank of England's needing to prepare for the resumption of redeeming its notes in gold. In Chapter 4 the political reputation of William Wellesley Pole is assessed together with his contribution to the recoinage, while in Chapters 5 and 6 the administration of the reform is described and analysed in detail. The traditional view of its being a success is confirmed by new research. The accounts from exchange stations set up to effect the change-over, listed in Appendices 3 and 4, and discussed in Chapter 6, reveal that although there were trading centres and manufacturing areas in which the old silver currency was concentrated, it was nevertheless fairly well distributed across Britain. I have attempted throughout to link the silver coinage to the other elements of the money supply. This approach is particularly evident in Chapter 7 in which the impact of the political and economic forces pressing for a resumption of cash payments are seen to shape the survival of the settlement of 1816-17.