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Alexander von Humboldt: „Fluctuations in the Production of Gold“, in: ders., Sämtliche Schriften digital, herausgegeben von Oliver Lubrich und Thomas Nehrlich, Universität Bern 2021. URL: <> [abgerufen am 01.10.2023].

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Titel Fluctuations in the Production of Gold
Jahr 1839
Ort London
in: The Morning Post 21420 (18. September 1839), [o. S.].
Sprache Englisch
Typografischer Befund Antiqua; Spaltensatz; Auszeichnung: Kursivierung; Tabellensatz.
Textnummer Druckausgabe: V.79
Dateiname: 1838-Ueber_die_Schwankungen-09-neu
Seitenanzahl: 1
Zeichenanzahl: 11641

Weitere Fassungen
Ueber die Schwankungen der Goldproduktion mit Rücksicht auf staatswirthschaftliche Probleme (Stuttgart; Tübingen, 1838, Deutsch)
A. v. Humboldt über die Schwankungen der Goldproduction, mit Rücksicht auf staatswirthschaftliche Probleme (Augsburg, 1838, Deutsch)
Menge der seit der Entdeckung Amerikas von dort nach Europa gebrachten edlen Metalle (Wien, 1838, Deutsch)
Alexander v. Humboldt om Svingingerne i Guldproductionen (Oslo, 1838, Norwegisch)
On the Fluctuations in the Production of Gold, considered with reference to the Problems of State Economy (London, 1839, Englisch)
Humboldt on the Precious Metals (Dublin, 1839, Englisch)
Humboldt on the Precious Metals (Cheltenham, 1839, Englisch)
Humbolt on the Precious Metals (Devizes, 1839, Englisch)
Fluctuations in the Production of Gold (London, 1839, Englisch)
An essay on the fluctuations in the supplies of gold, with relation to problems of political economy (London, 1840, Englisch)
Silber und Eisen (Berlin, 1842, Deutsch)
Zilver en ijzer (Utrecht, 1842, Niederländisch)
Zilver en IJzer (Vlissingen, 1842, Niederländisch)
Silber und Eisen (Graz, 1842, Deutsch)
Silber und Eisen (Brünn, 1842, Deutsch)
Silber und Eisen (Graz, 1842, Deutsch)
Un mémoire sur la production de l’or et de l’argent, considerée dans ses fluctuations (Paris, 1848, Französisch)
On the production of gold and silver and its fluctuations (Baltimore, Maryland, 1849, Englisch)
Sulla produzione dell’oro e dell’argento considerata nelle sue fluttuazioni (Turin, 1856, Italienisch)


The Deutsche Vierteljahrschrift, a new Stuttgard periodical,contains a dissertation which, like all the writings of Alexanderde Humboldt, is replete with deep research and general andexalted views. The history of gold, the most precious ofmetals, was worthy of the pen of the illustrious author of the“Voyage to the Equinoxial Regions.” In ancient times gold was sought for in Asia: it was nextdrawn from the New World, the persuasion still prevailingas among the ancients that this metal existed only in thewarmest climates. In compliance with this notion the cele-brated geographer (Toscanelli) wrote to Columbus that heshould find no gold as long as he should meet with negroes.Recent discoveries have, however, confuted the opinion pre-dominating in antiquity and the middle-ages. Gold minesand quarries are now wrought in Siberia, and there is nolonger any adhering to the old doctrine, which held that heatwas necessary for preparing gold in the bosom of the earth. It would be interesting to compare the production of gold,such as it was in former times, with that now existing, butauthentic data are wanting for such inquiry. The ancientsspeak of enormous masses of gold left by conquering Kings,and of treasures equally immense found by conquerors in thecountries subjected to their arms. According to Appianus,who writes upon documents, the treasure of Ptolemy-Phila-delph amounted to 740,000 talents. It remains to be knownwhat talents history means, whether they were Egyptiantalents or little talents of Ptolemy. Even in the last case, thetreasure would be splendid enough, for it would exceed40,000,000l. However fabulous the assertion appears, Bœckh,the author of the learned work upon the political economy ofthe Athenians, dares not dispute it, seeing the rapacity of theancient despots of Asia, who scrupled not to employ themost odious and violent means in order to obtain posses-sion of the gold in circulation. If the great talentsbe admitted in the statement of Appianus, Ptolemy-Philadelph’s treasure would be equivalent to all thegold now circulating in France and in Belgium; andif little talents be reckoned, it would still be themass of specie circulating in Great Britain. Accordingto Strabo, Alexander the Great had eighteen myriads col-lected at Ecbatana, “Whereupon,” says M. de Humboldt. “itmust not be forgotten that in those times the precious metalswere concentrated upon some points of the globe, and in thetreasuries of conquerors; whereas, now-a-days, they are moreuniformly spread over large extents of countries, and amonglarge populations.” But whence came, in ancient times, those quantities of goldwhich flowed into the hands of rapacious despots? That itcame from the interior of Asia, from the Upper Oxus, Bac-triana, and the Oriental parts of the empire of the Persians iscertain; but when the source of this Pactolus is sought for,fabulous accounts are all that assist the inquirer. The an-cients mention ants that found gold among the mountainouspeople of the Derds, and of griffons that guardedthe treasures among the Arimasps. It would seem tobe the plateau of Cashgar and Acsoa, between theparallel chains of the Himalaya and Kuenlon moun-tains, that fable considered the source of gold. In Thibet,indeed, all the rivers yield gold. The Greeks consi-dered as gold countries Lydia, or the banks of the streams is-suing from the Imolus, Phrygia, and Colchid. Those coun-tries may have had gold sands; those sands may have beenexhausted, as have been those of the streams of Cuba and St.Domingo. M. de Humboldt observes that in general the goldmixed with sand is more easily removed than that which mustbe extracted from mines; such is the reason for which of fortyplaces where, according to Strabo, gold sands were to befound, scarcely a few can now be recognised; the others havebeen exhausted. In Greece itself precious metals originally existed. Lauriowas renowned for its silver mines. Gold was found in Thes-salia near the borders of Macedonia and Thrace, as well as inthe island of Thases, situated facing Thessalia. Iberia alsofurnished gold to the Phenicians and Carthagenians. Therewere years when 20,000lbs. weight were drawn from Gallicia,Lusitania, and, above all, the Asturias. This, M. de Hum-boldt observes, is almost as much as the Brazils have sup-plied at their most flourishing period. As for silver, itabounded in Bahia and the neighbourhood of New Carthage(Carthagena). There is no doubting (continues the author)that the earth formerly contained near its surface layers ofgold sand or strata filled with wrecks of gold ore. Nevertheless the production of gold in Europe was greatlyinferior to what it was in Asia; it was towards that quarterthat the eyes of conquerors were turned; it was to reach theimmense treasures supposed to exist in Zipango that Columbussought a shorter way by the Atlantic Ocean. Having landedin the island of Haiti, he believed himself at Tarsis, Ophir,Zipango, and on seeing some particles of gold fancied he hadgot possession of the richest mines of the Old World. It wasothers who supplied so much gold that, as early as the year1497, the Spanish Government was obliged to alter the rela-tive prices of the two precious metals. This ratio between the prices of gold and silver again under-went a change when, towards the middle of the sixteenth cen-tury, the rich silver mines of Potosi and Zacatecas, in Peru,and in northern Mexico, were discovered. “According toresearches carefully made by me.” says M. de Humboldt,“the importation of American gold was to that of silver fromthe same country, as regards weight, in the ratio of 1 to 65,until the opening of the gold washing in Brazils, at the be-ginning of the eighteenth century. At present, if we con-sider the general trade in metals carried on by Europe withother parts of the world, the ratio between the two metals is nolonger but as 1 to 47. In the first century after the discoveryof the new Continent the relative value of the two metalsamong commercial nations fluctuated between 1:10 7-10thsand 1:12; in the two last centuries between 1:14 and 1:16.”This ratio, adds the author, does not depend only on thequantity of those metals annually extracted from the bosom ofthe earth; it is also determined by the expense of work-ing the mines, by the demand and wants of thepublic, by the unequal deterioration; and, lastly, bythe more or less expensive employment of either metalin jewellery and other articles. As a very consider-able mass of the two metals already circulates, and asthey are by degrees put into circulation, they easily andpromptly spread in commerce, there can be no more largeand permanent fluctuations in the ratio between those values.Instances of this occurred after the great commercial commo-tion caused by the American revolution, as well as after thecoining of a considerable quantity of money of one of the twometals. Thus, in London, though from 1817 to 1827 goldmoney was coined there to the amount of 1,294,000 mares,the ratio between gold and silver rose but from 1:11,97 to1:15.60. From that period it has scarcely fallen, for, at theend of 1837, one still had in London one pound of gold againstfifteen pounds 65-100 of silver. The mass of precious metals which, from the discovery ofAmerica to the period of the Mexican revolution, flowed intoEurope amounted to 2,381,600 kilogrammes of gold, and122,217,300 kilogrammes of silver (110,362,222 kilogrammes offine silver.) This last metal, if melted into a mass, wouldform a ball of the diameter of 83 7-10ths feet. It is knownthat all the gold and silver procured for the Spaniards didnot pass through Spain. Ferdinand the Catholic retained solittle of it that at his death scarcely enough was found for theexpenses of his funeral. According to common opinion the mines of America nowyield but little. This is an erroneous notion. In 1837 themines of Mexico still furnished the value of twenty to twenty-two millions of piastres. Those of Zacatecas alone yielded ineach of the years elapsed, between 1822 and 1833, the sum ofbetween four and five million of piastres. Guanaxuato, it istrue, yields now but a half of what that province formerlyfurnished. In 1833, 1,144 marcs of gold and 316,021 marcs of silverwere drawn from those mines. At the beginning of this cen-tury the production of silver was still of 755,000 marcs. Theproduction of gold has diminished in the New World much morethan that of silver, but this diminution is not to be tracedfurther than the revolution of the Spanish colonies. On the other hand, new mines have been opened in theOural; the following is, according to the statement commu-nicated to M. de Humboldt by the Russian Minister ofFinances, what the gold mines of Siberia have supplied, dur-ing the seven years they have been wrought, to the Mint ofSt. Petersburgh:—
  • In 1828.............. 290 Poods 39 Pounds of Gold.
  • 1829.................. 289 .. 25 ..
  • 1830.................. 347 .. 27 ..
  • 1831.................. 352 .. 2 ..
  • 1832.................. 380 .. 31 ..
  • 1833.................. 568 .. 27 ..
  • 1834.................. 363 .. 10 ..
The working had been at first confined to the Oural, whichhad been found to yield gold upon an extent of near seven-teen degrees of latitude; but, since 1834, the Altai, which theMongols call the Gold Mountain, has been found rich in goldsands similar to those of the Oural; in 1836, 293 poods 26pounds were exracted from the Oural, and 104poods 15 pounds from the Altai, altogether 398 poodsor 27.884 mares of gold. In the next year the Ouralsupplied 309 poods, and the Altai 130; to which mustbe added 30 ponds of gold which were extracted from theores of the Altai and the Nertchinsk; so that Russia, in 1837,produced 469 poods or 7.644 kilogrammes of gold. This isan eighth less only of the produce of the Minas Geraes, inBrazils, at their most flourishing period, or from 1751 to1761; it is a third less than the produce of the gold mines ofNew Granada, Chili, and Mexico, a short time previous tothe revolution of the colonies. M. de Humboldt does notthink that the working of the Siberian mines has reached itsmaximum. The Altai is, perhaps, what Herodotus designatesas the gold country. In Siberia masses of gold have been found beneath thegreen turf covering the soil; in ancient times pieces even tornfrom the mountains by the water, may have been found onthe soil itself, and have given rise to the fabulous accountspropagated on the subject. A proof that of old gold circulatedamong the barbarous tribes of Siberia is that in the oldtombs very heavy ornaments of that metal have been found,so much so that the extraction of all this gold from the tombslowered the value of the metal. Another source has been opened in North America. Goldbeds exist in the soil of some of the United States, such asVirginia, the Alleghany, Carolinas, Georgia, Tenessee, andAlabama. From 1824 to 1836 all of them together havevielded a quantity valued at 4,844,500 dollars. This is littlecompared with the mines of Siberia and Mexico. However,the gold countries can no lenger be restricted to such a zone,or such a climate; for, as is seen, gold is spread about theglobe without regularity; and if, on the other hand, the oldmines supply less, others recently discovered make up fortheir deficiency, and it is but the ancient march of commercewhich is disturbed by the new discoveries.