TABLE OF CONTENTS: Ancient Monetary System; TROY Weights; METRIC Weights; CARAT Weights; KARAT Purity; FAR EAST Weights; MILLESIMAL Fineness; BRITISH Sovereign (Sterling, Pennyweight); DOLLAR (U.S. 90% Silver, old Gold Coins); BIBLICAL MONEY (Table: TALENT/ Kikkar, Maneh, Shekel, Gerah); GOLD–SILVER RATIOS; WORLD COINS (Gold Content). By Denise Rhyne.
Gold and silver are like no other currencies and no other commodities. Precious metals occur in nature worldwide and they do not corrode. Both metals are easy to trade, recognizable, divisible, portable, and rare — which makes silver and gold the most natural money.
Histories of all great civilizations record the use of silver and gold to facilitate trade. However, societies in the distant past did not use precious metals in coin form. According to archæology, there were no coins or denominations of monetary value for thousands of years.
Harappan gold discs – Indus Valley c. 1800 B.C.
Early on, specific monetary values were not assigned to units of silver and gold. Instead, monetary units were measurements of weight. Money was the metal itself – kept in jewelry, rings, bars, and ingots.
Gold objects from Thrace.
THE ANCIENT MONETARY SYSTEM
International trade flourished in the ancient monetary system. Until the civilizations declined, Babylonians, Egyptians, Hebrews, Romans, Chinese, Greeks, Persians, Assyrians, Phœnicians, Harappans, and Sumerians all conducted trade with the same two currencies: GOLD and SILVER.
“MONEY” was the weight of gold or silver in any form: Greek MNÁ,
Latin MONETA, Hebrew MANEH, and Babylonian MENE.
Everyone measured the value of money in the same way. Throughout the ancient world, nations and tribes measured the value of un-coined silver and gold by placing the metal on one side of a balance and offsetting it with standardized weights.
In business transactions, merchants usually did not count the pieces of silver or gold. The only reason to add up the money was to make a rough estimate of the weight. (The Hebrew gold-to-silver ratio was 15-to-1.)
The oldest civilizations carried on seamless trade by using equivalent units of mass to weigh gold and silver. The Sumerians calculated the value of precious metals by using the same weights as the Hebrews and Greeks used. Convertible systems of weights were used by merchants from Sidon, Tyre, Nineveh, and Carthage – with astonishing consistency.
Hematite weights from Mesopotamia c. 1,700 B.C.
[a different weight system was for non-gold/silver things]
The bekah, gerah, maneh, kikkar [talent], and shekel [stater] were standardized weights, rather than stamped pieces of silver or gold.
Between 1,792 and 1,750 B.C., the King of Babylon measured money by the shekel [Code of Hammurabi]. Phœnicia used the same shekel 1,000 years later. King Sennacherib used the shekel to weigh money in Assyria circa 700 B.C. In commercial exchange, weights to evaluate precious metals were interchangeable (Biblical Conversion Table near end).
1 talent = 60 manehs = 3,000 shekels
3,000 Phœnician shekels, 3,000 Persian staters,
3,000 Hebrew shekels, 3,000 Assyrian shekels
were equal to
1 Egyptian talent, 1 Babylonian talent,
1 Phœnician talent, 1 Greek talent
Herodotus’s Table of Monetary Weights [484 to 425 B.C.] divided 1 Greek talent into 60 Greek minae. More than 1,000 years earlier, the Babylonians divided 1 talent into 60 maneh. The weight system for measuring the value of precious metals was globally integrated and unbelievably precise.
OLD CARAT SYSTEM OF WEIGHTS
Seeds and grains were used as standardized weights to weigh money on precision scales. Jewelers and traders used barley grains and the uniform seeds of carob trees as units of weight to determine mass. One grain taken from the middle of an ear of barley was used as a weight called a gerah:
1 gerah = 1 grain
A carob seed was used as a weight called a carat (Arabic qirat). The pod or seed of the carob tree has a consistent weight of four grains (gerahs):
4 gerahs = 4 grains = 1 carat
The carat system of weights measures mass,
and also measures the purity of gold alloys.
CARAT (abbreviated ct.) is the spelling used in North America when referring to the weight of gemstones such as diamonds and rubies. With today’s technology, the calculation is extremely precise:
1 carat = 0.2053 grams
1 carat = 3.17 grains Troy weight
120 carats = 1 Troy ounce.
KARAT (abbreviated k or kt.) is the spelling used in North America when referring to the purity of gold. Pure gold is 24 karat. All 24 karat gold is bright yellow. Metal mixed with gold changes the color to pink, blue, orange, purple, green, and white.
Different geographical regions have various karat standards for gold jewelry:
- India 22k
- United States was 10k, now 14k or 18k
- Far East 24k, Canton – Chuk Kam – min. 99% pure
- Russia 9k
- United Kingdom 9k
- Mediterranean Europe 18k
Divide the number stamped on your jewelry by 24 to find the percentage of gold purity:
8k ÷ 24 = 33.3% .3333 333/1,000 (repetend 3)
10k ÷ 24 = 41.6% .4167 416/1,000 (repetend 6)
14k ÷ 24 = 58.5% .585 585/1,000
18k ÷ 24 = 75 % .750 750/1,000
22k÷ 24 = 91.6% .9167 916/1,000 (repetend 6)
TROY WEIGHT SYSTEM
Troy weight was first used in Troyes, France. The system of weights for gold and silver is based on one Troy pound containing 12 Troy ounces or 5,760 grains (1 grain = .0648 grams).
1 Troy pound = 12 Troy oz = 240 dwt = 5,760 grains
1/12 Troy pound = 1 Troy oz = 20 dwt = 480 grains
1/240 Troy pound = 1/20 Troy oz = 1 dwt = 24 grains
1 Troy oz = 31.1035 grams (31.1034768 grammes)
32.151 Troy oz (32.1507) = 1 kilo bar
32,151 Troy ounces = 1,000 kilo bars = 1 metric tonne
HALLMARK OF MILLESIMAL FINENESS
The system of millesimal fineness for precious metals is a high-tech version of the carat system of weights. The Latin word for THOUSAND is “mille.” Millesimal fineness denotes parts per thousand of pure metal in a metal alloy – the purity of the metal.
The stamp on a bar is its “hallmark” of purity. The hallmark indicates who minted the bar and its millesimal fineness. If the mint is well-known and trusted, the numbers on the bar can be taken at face value. If the mint is unknown or is considered unreliable, the bar must be assayed.
A Standard Bar of silver weighs approximately 1,000 Troy oz, and has a minimum fineness of .999 (999 parts of pure silver per 1,000). A Standard Bar of gold weighs approximately 400 Troy ounces or 12.5 kilograms (12.5 x 32.151 = 401.8875 Troy oz); it has a minimum fineness of .995 (995 parts of gold per 1,000).
The current minimal acceptable fineness for a London Good Delivery Bar [LGD] is 995/1000 gold. A London Good Delivery Bar weighs between 350 and 430 Troy ounces of 99.5% pure gold. Former standards of purity varied from current standards by one decimal point.
Current world standards for millesimal fineness of precious metals:
- Gold .9950 to .9999
- Platinum .995 to .999
- Palladium .995 to .999
- Silver .999
England’s pound (£) was once a monetary unit of weight. The Latin word “pound” (abbreviated lb) means “weight.” A “pondus” was a weight used on a balance to weigh money. The British pound’s symbol -£- is the first letter of the word “libra.” A libra was a Latin balancing scale and a Roman coin.
In 1729, Sir Isaac Newton (Master of the Mint) adopted the gold standard for Britain, fixing the price at £3 17 s. 10½ p. per Troy oz. The British gold pound (£) is called the Sovereign (from 1817); the gold content of the quarter ounce coin is .2354 Troy oz.
Back in the day when the British gold pound (£) was used as legal tender, silver and gold coins had standard relationships. The gold pound was equivalent to 20 shillings or 240 pence (the sterling silver penny).
The weight of the sterling silver penny became a universal unit of weight — the “pennyweight.” The penny’s symbol is “d” after the Roman penny denarius. Pennyweight is abbreviated “dwt.”
This silver penny is from the reign of King Alfred (Ælfred, A.D. 871 to 899). The penny was Great Britain’s primary unit of coinage, beginning with the Anglo-Saxon “sceat” (from the 700s until 1946).
In 1158, Henry II of England ordained the original sterling coin. Today, the universal definition of “sterling silver” is silver that is 92.5% pure [925/1,000 or .925]. The “sterling” was a sterling silver penny that weighed 1/240th of a Troy pound. In other words, 240 pennies weighed one Troy pound of sterling silver — the “Pound Sterling.” The British Pound Sterling was the world’s standard for legal money and the world’s “reserve currency” until 1944.
“Dollar“ is the name for monetary units used in various countries all over the world. The definition of the word dollar is “weight.” The term dollar is from the Greek word taler, referring to the weight of gold or silver. The dollar came to America from Bohemia. The Bohemian coin called the thaler contained 451 grains of pure silver.
From 1792 until 1933 -almost 150 years- $1 was worth 1/20th of an ounce of gold. Anyone could have had an old $20 Gold Piece [below] for a $20 paper bill. The dollar was fixed to gold in a relationship of 20 to 1.
U.S. Constitution: “No State shall… make any thing but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts….” Article I, Section 10.
In 1792, America fixed the price of gold at $20.67 per Troy ounce. The coinage legislation under President George Washington was designed to preserve the integrity of the dollar. The Coinage Act defined a legal dollar:
$1 = .7734 Troy ounces of silver
$1 = .04375 Troy ounces of gold
The U.S. dollar and the British pound had a standard exchange relationship (a true gold standard) until 1933. Paper dollars, paper pounds, and gold coins were interchangeable currencies – for everyone. Except during times of war, bank deposits and notes -in dollars or pounds- could be converted into gold at $20.67/oz.
Until 1933, $4.86 could have been exchanged for the gold pound [£1 coin above]. In 1944, the U.S. dollar became the world’s “reserve currency” (replacing the British Pound Sterling). The dollar was gold-backed from 1792 to 1971. The dollar’s tie to gold was severed completely in 1971: FEDERAL RESERVE DOUBLE WHAMMY.
Today, U.S. 90% silver coins [pre-1965] halves, quarters, and dimes are traded according to the “face value” of the coins. A full ‘bag’ is $1,000 face value: 10,000 dimes [10¢], or 4,000 quarters [25¢], or 2,000 halves [50¢]. One full bag of “junk silver” contains 715-720 Troy oz of pure silver. ($1,000 face value bag of old silver dollars contains 765 Troy oz of pure silver.)
The new U.S. silver dollar is the American
Silver Eagle (first issued in 1987).
The Silver Eagle contains 1 Troy oz of pure silver.
The 1 oz Gold Eagle contains 1 Troy oz of pure gold.
American Gold Eagle Coins
1 oz · 1/2 oz · 1/4 oz · 1/10 oz
Gold and silver coins are usually “alloys” (usually 90% pure). The mixture of gold or silver with base metals strengthens coins for circulation. For example, the new American Eagle 1-ounce coin (above) contains 1 Troy oz of pure gold, but weighs 1.1 ounces.
EASTERN HEMISPHERE WEIGHTS
Gold bars are either “cast” [poured] or minted like coins. The international trend in gold trade is moving toward bars that are “4 nines fine” [99.99% pure gold]; but the purity of standard bars varies by geographical region [e.g.: Dubai = 99.9% or “3 nines fine.” Iran = 99.5% or .9950 fine].
TOLA – Indian Unit of Weight
[also Singapore, Pakistan, Singapore, Middle East]
1 tola = .375 Troy oz = 11.6638 grams
10 tola = 3.75 Troy oz = 116.638 grams
BAHT – Unit of Weight in Thailand [96.5% fine]
10 baht = 4.901 Troy oz = 152.44 grams
DON [Korea] 10 don = 1.206 Troy oz = 37.500 grams
CHI [Vietnam] 5 chi = .603 Troy oz = 18.750 grams
TAEL – Chinese Unit of Weight (God’s weight)
1 tael = 1.20337 Troy ounces = 37.4290 grams of gold
5 tael = 6.017 Troy ounces = 187.145 grams of gold
100 taels (120.337 Troy oz) = Hong Kong trade unit
Hong Kong tael bar nominal fineness is .99 (KIM-THANH).
Taiwanese 5 and 10 tael bars can be 999.9 fine (four nines fine).
Today, most of the available supplies of precious metals are travelling from the Western Hemisphere to the Eastern Hemisphere.
MONEY ACCORDING TO THE BIBLE
“Just balances, just weights, shall you have.” Moses
Money is one of the main topics in the Bible. In most transactions, the weight of monetary metals was estimated by the “shekel” or according to the number of “gerahs” [grains of barley] to which pieces of gold or silver [or jewelry] were equivalent.
“And I bought the field, and weighed him
the money in the balances.” Jeremiah
When Sarah died (c. 1,860 B.C.), Abraham purchased a family sepulcher in Hebron for his wife’s burial. There in the land of Canaan, the Hittites used the same “shekel” Abraham used as a standardized weight to measure the value of silver. (He was originally from Ur in Mesopotamia).
“…and Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver… 400 shekels
of silver, current money with the merchant.” Genesis 23: 16
Later, Abraham sent his oldest servant back to Mesopotamia to search for a bride for his son, Isaac. When the servant found Rebekah at the well, he gave the bride-to-be gifts from the bridegroom.
“And… the man took a golden earring of
half a shekel weight, and two bracelets for her
hands of ten shekels weight of gold.” Genesis 24: 22
“A false balance is not good.” Solomon
KIKKAR (circle, sum, a round number) was the largest weight, weighing about 125 lbs. KIKKAR was translated TALENT. The talent was a weight used to measure gold and silver in several Biblical accounts. Talent is from the Greek taler (weight). A “talanton” was a scale. The English word “tally” means to weigh or measure.
MANEH (number, part, portion) means to measure out, to weigh. The maneh was a weight that was translated in the English Bible as the word “pound.”
SHEK EL (God’s weight) was a common weight used for silver. In the Bible, a piece of silver was about a shekel’s weight; the shekel weighed about 1/2 Troy oz. The shekel of the sanctuary was double the profane shekel.
BEKAH (to break, to divide) was a fractional weight.
GERAH (grain, kernel, bean) was the smallest weight.
“Ye shall have just balances.” Ezekiel
BIBLICAL TABLE OF WEIGHTS: The table for gold and silver was different from the table used for non-monetary commodities. (It was customary for rabbis to have scales attached to their girdles for weighing gold and silver.)
- 1 bekah = ½ shekel = 10 gerahs
- 20 gerahs = 1 shekel
- 50 shekels = 1 maneh = 100 bekahs = 1,000 gerahs
- 60 manehs = 1 kikkar (talent) = 3,000 shekels
- 1 kikkar (talent) of gold = 3,000 shekels of silver
COINS WITH SPECIFIED VALUES ARE NEW.
The Greeks and people influenced by the Greeks in Asia Minor started using coins as early as the eighth century B.C. Persia began using coinage about 500 B.C. Tyre, Carthage, and Sidon started using coins sometime between 425 to 400 B.C.
Aegina Stater [STATER = WEIGHT]
12.23 grams silver, c. 445 B.C.
According to Herodotus, Aegina (Αἰγινήτης) was the site of the first European mint. Herodotus said the Lydians (Λυδία) were the first to strike silver and gold coins. The Aeginan mint used Babylonian and Phœnician weights as standards.
National coins had likenesses of rulers and gods, but did not specify monetary values until much later.
Roman Republic Denarii, circa 211-41 B.C.
Coins with specific monetary values became the norm with the advent of the Roman Empire. Israelites were required to pay a Roman tax with Roman coins (depicting Roman gods), but offered only Hebrew coins in the Temple at Jerusalem.
The shekel was an international unit of weight long before it became a Hebrew coin. The shekel became a coin denomination -rather than a weight- during the Second Temple period. The Maccabees and the Hasmonean Dynasty produced coins impressed with stamps indicating weight and fineness of the metals beginning between 141 to 110 B.C. (coins rarely had dates).
Divide the spot price of gold by the spot price
of silver to get the gold-to-silver ratio.
The Bible provides an historical record of the natural relationship of gold to silver; the normal ratio was 15 to 1. When the shekel was a standardized weight, the value of one shekel of silver was usually 1/15th of the value of one shekel of gold.
According to monetary scholars: the ratio was 12 to 1 when David was King; 5 to 1 in ancient Syria; 10 to 1 at the time of Hezekiah; 13 to 1 in Greece before Alexander the Great set the relationship of gold to silver at 10 to 1. The ratio was 12 to 12½ to 1 in the Roman Republic; 8 to 1 in Japan; 2½ to 1 in Egypt under Menes; 4 to 1, then 10 to 1, and later 12 to 1 in China. In Europe -from the Greek Testament to about 1492 – the ratio averaged 10 to 1; from 1492 until 1834, the average ratio was 15 to 1. England set the ratio at 16 to 1; Napoleon set the ratio at 15½ to 1. In 1792, Congress under President George Washington fixed the U.S. gold-to-silver ratio at 15 to 1.
The ratio for the entire world came close to historical norms in 1980, briefly touching 16 to 1. In 2011, the ratio was 38 to 1 and dropped to 30 to 1. Today, the ratio of gold to silver is higher than 70 to 1. Silver is a tremendous bargain!
“An ounce of gold will commonly purchase
from fourteen to fifteen ounces of silver…”
Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations.