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Alexander von Humboldt: „On the production of gold and silver and its fluctuations“, in: ders., Sämtliche Schriften digital, herausgegeben von Oliver Lubrich und Thomas Nehrlich, Universität Bern 2021. URL: <https://humboldt.unibe.ch/text/1838-Ueber_die_Schwankungen-18-neu> [abgerufen am 25.05.2024].

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Titel On the production of gold and silver and its fluctuations
Jahr 1849
Ort Baltimore, Maryland
Nachweis
in: The Bankers’ Magazine, and State Financial Register 3:9 (März 1849), S. 538–545; 3:10 (April 1849), S. [589]–595; 3:12 (Juni 1849), S. [709]–718.
Sprache Englisch
Typografischer Befund Antiqua; Auszeichnung: Kursivierung; Fußnoten mit Asterisken, Kreuzen, Doppelstrichen, Paragraphen und Absatzmarken; Schmuck: Kapitälchen; Tabellensatz.
Identifikation
Textnummer Druckausgabe: V.79
Dateiname: 1838-Ueber_die_Schwankungen-18-neu
Statistiken
Seitenanzahl: 25
Zeichenanzahl: 76583

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|538|

ON THE PRODUCTION OF GOLD AND SILVER ANDITS FLUCTUATIONS. by baron alexander von humboldt. Translated for the Bankers’ Magazine, from the Journal des Economistes; March,April, May, 1848.

According to Herodotus (iii. 106) the richest productions have beenassigned to the ends of the earth, in the unequal distribution of thewealth and treasures of the soil. This assertion is made not only uponthat mournful sentiment, belonging to the human race, of happiness be-ing always at a distance; but it expresses the fact that the Greeks,inhabiting a temperate zone, received in their commerce with otherpeople, gold and spices, amber and tin, from countries far remote. Inproportion as the commerce of the Phenicians, of the Edomites on thegulf of Akaba [Ezion-geber*] and of the Egyptians under the Ptolemiesand the Romans, lifted slowly the veil which had so long hung overthe coasts of Southern Asia, were received at first hand the products ofthe torrid zone; and men’s lively and active imagination continuallycarried farther and farther east, the deposites of the metallic treasuresof the earth. Twice, at epochs so important to commerce, (that of theLagides and of the Cesars) as well as at the close of the 15th century,during the Portuguese discoveries, the same people, the Arabs, showedto the West the route to India. At this moment, Ophir (the El-Doradofor Solomon) was pushed to the east of the Ganges. There, was ima-gined to be that Chrysos, sought so long by the travellers of the middleages and regarded, now as an island, now as a district of the GoldenChersonese. The quantity of gold which Borneo and Sumatra still putin circulation, according to John Crawford, accounts for the ancientfame of this region. Close by Chrysos, country of gold and aim ofIndian adventurers, must be found, by necessary relation and a sort ofsymmetry, according to the then ideas of systematic geography, acountry of silver, an island, Argyros; as if to blend the two preciousmetals—the riches of Ophir and of Iberian Tartessus [Tarshish.] Thegeographical myths of classic antiquity are reflected, but with varyingphases, in the geography of the middle ages. In the system of the ArabEdrisi and Bakoui, we find at the extremity of the Indian Ocean, anisland Sahabet with sands of gold; and beside it, Saila (which mustnot be confounded with Ceylon or Serendib) where the dogs and mon-keys wear golden collars. To this idea of remoteness, was joined another, as a characteristicsign of the veritable country of gold and of all the precious products ofthe earth, viz. that of tropical heat. “Until your Excellency shall havebeen finding men who are black,” writes in 1495, a Catalan lapidary,Jaime Ferrer, to the admiral Christopher Columbus, “you need notexpect any great things nor veritable treasures, such as spices, diamondsor gold.” This letter has been recently found in a book printed at
* Passages and words in brackets are the Translator’s.
|539| Barcelona, in 1845, bearing this singular title: Sentencias Catholicasdel divi poeta Dant. [Catholic Maxims of the divine poet, Dante.]The richness of the gold mines of the Ural, which extend in the north-ern basin of the Volga up to where the ground hardly thaws in thesummer months; the diamonds which have been discovered, near 60°N. latitude, on the European slope of the Ural, by two of my compan-ions in the Expedition, which I made in 1829 by order of the EmperorNicholas,* do not, to be sure, exactly support the hypothesis that wouldconnect the existence of gold and diamonds on the one hand, with theheat of the tropics and colored races on the other. Christopher Co-lumbus, who attached a moral and religious value to gold, since, (sayshe,) “the possessor of it attains every thing in this world and even canopen” (no doubt, by paying for masses,) “the gate of paradise to manya soul,” Christopher Columbus, I say, was altogether a partisan ofthe system of the lapidary Ferrer. He looked for Zipangou (Japan)which then was passing for the golden island Chrysos; and when on14 November 1492, he was coasting along the island of Cuba, whichhe considered a part of the continent of Eastern Asia (Cathay), he wrotein his journal: “Judging by the great heat which I am suffering, thecountry must be rich in gold.” It was thus that false analogies mademen forget what classical antiquity had told us of the treasures in metalof the Massagetæ and the Arismaspi in the extreme north of Europe;I say, of Europe, for the flat and desert country of Northern Asia,the Siberia of modern times, passed then with its forests of pine, for amonotonous continuation of the low countries of Belgium, along theBaltic and of Sarmatia.
If we glance at once over the whole history of the commercial rela-tions of Europe, we see that antiquity seeks in Asia for the richestsources of gold; while the middle ages and the three centuries since,place them in the New continent. But in fact, and since the commence-ment of the 19th century, it is once more in Asia, but only in a differentzone, that these richest sources spring. This change in the direction ofthe current, this compensation which accidental discoveries in the northafford, when in the south the extraction of this metal seemed suddenlyto fall off, calls for a grave and deep research founded upon numericaldata; for in political economy, as well as in the study of physical phe-nomena, numbers are always the most decisive element; they becomejudges, without appeal and inflexible, of the causes so variously reasonedby political economists. We learn from the profound researches of Boeckh|| how, when thePersian wars and the expedition of Alexander to India, had brokendown the barriers of the East, gold accumulated by degrees among the
* Reise nach dem Ural, etc. [Journey to the Ural, the Altaï and the CaspianSea; by A. v. Humboldt, G. Rose and G. Ehrenberg,] t. i. p. 352—373. El oro, (writes Columbus to Queen Isabella,) es excellentissimo, con el se hacetesoro y con el tesoro quien lo tiene, hace quanto quiere con el mundo y llega a quehecha las animas a paraiso. See upon this gold-eulogy my Examen Critique, etc.[Critical Review of the History of Geography and the Progress of Nautical As-tronomy during the 15th and 16th centuries, in fol.] pp. 38 and 131. Herodotus, iii. 116.|| Economie Politique des Atheniens, vol. i. p. 6–31.
|540| European Greeks; how in the times of Demosthenes, for instance, theprecious metals were worth five times less than in the days of Solon.The current then was from the east to the west; and the influx of goldwas so great that while, when Herodotus lived, the ratio of gold tosilver was as 1:13, it became at the death of Alexander and for ahundred years after, as 1:10.*
The less general and extensive were commercial relations in theancient world, the more great and sudden must, of course, have been thevariations in relative value of gold and silver. Thus, in Rome, we findthat in consequence of a local accumulation of one of the preciousmetals, a little while after the conquest of Syracuse, the ratio of gold tosilver was as 1:17⅐; while under Julius Cæsar, it fell for some timeto 1:8\( \frac{13}{14} \). Also the less the quantity of one metal existing in anycountry, the more easy it is to produce these enormous fluctuationsby an importation from abroad. The world at present, by the uni-versality and promptness of relations which must balance throughout,and by the magnitude of the existing quantities of gold and silver, tendsto maintain a stability in the relative value of the two metals. Afterthe wars of Independence, the product in metal of Spanish Americacontinued for some years to be only the third of its previous annualmean; and yet it is not to this circumstance even, that we are to attri-bute the slight oscillations which are manifested here and there. It isquite otherwise with the ratio of silver to another metal which hasbeen obtained as yet only in small quantity, and which is besides veryunequally distributed—I mean, platinum. We do not find among the ancients any statistical data indicatingsome general result to be compared with what we know of the actualmetallic product of entire countries. Their administrative policyoffered none of those controls which the complex and refined tariff-system of the Arabs—that commercial people, who calculated everything and tabulated all—communicated in after-times to the States ofsouthern and western Europe. The assertion of Pliny (xii. 18,) thatthe commerce with India, Serica, [China] and Yemen was drawing everyyear from the Roman Empire a hundred million sesterces in the pre-cious metals, that is to say, according to Letronne, estimating thesesesterces according to the value of silver at that epoch, 33000 mark-weights of silver; (the half only of what the silver mines of Saxonyproduce annually)—this assertion is isolated and problematical. In this defect of general results, it would be important to havenumerical instances of the partial wealth in money of certain miningdistricts; which we might compare with the yield of similar regionsnow, weight for weight in an absolute sense, and without consideringgold as the measure in value of determinate quantities of cereal grains.The treasure which a sovereign leaves as the fruit of conquest or oflong exactions, testifies only what may have been accumulated over anindefinite extent of country and in a period which we cannot count.
* See the learned rectification of the monetary hypothesis of Garnier by Letronne:Considerations, &c. [General Considerations upon the value of the Greek andRoman Money.] 1817, p. 112.
|541| Results of this last kind may, however, be compared with the datawhich statists venture to give upon the quantity of precious metalsexisting in a State at some certain epoch. Thus Cyrus, in the accountof Pliny (xxxiii. 15,) collected from his conquest of Asia, 34000 poundsof gold, not counting what had been converted into plate; and yet thisquantity hardly equals the fruit of two years work in the mines of theUral. Again, Appian, upon documents, estimates the treasure of PtolemyPhiladelphus at 740000 talents; that is to say, 700 millions of Spanishdollars, if they were Egyptian talents, or 180 millions if they were thesmaller talents of Ptolemy. “This assertion seems fabulous” says thecelebrated author of the Political Economy of the Athenians, “but I donot venture to question the veracity of the historian. In this treasurewas a large quantity of gold and silver manufactured. The States ofthis Prince were entirely exhausted; imposts and taxes were extortedby greedy farmers-general with arms. The revenues of Cœle-Syria,Phenicia, Judea and Samaria, alone, were farmed out by PtolemyEvergetes for 8000 talents; and a Jew bought them at a hundred percent. advance.” Mr. William Jacob, in an excellent work published atthe request of Mr. Secretary Huskisson, under the title of HistoricalEnquiry on Precious Metals, (vol. i. p. 23,) confirms the assertion ofthe great German philosopher. The higher of the two estimates abovewould approach the quantity of coin actually in circulation in Franceand Belgium; the lower would nearly equal the coin circulating inEngland.* According to Strabo, Alexander succeeded in collecting atEcbatana 380000 talents. It must not be forgotten, that whilst now,the precious metals are spread more equally over great extents ofcountry and among dense populations; then, they were concentrated ata few points of the earth and in the treasuries of sovereigns.
Undoubtedly, the great quantity of gold which was pouring west-ward, came from the interior of Asia, from the north-north-east of La-dakh [Western Thibet] from the upper part of the basin of the Oxus (between the Hindoo-Khosh and the highlands of Pamez, on the westernslope of the Bolor) from Bactriana and the eastern satrapies of the Per-sian Empire; but it is easier to determine the direction of the current
* From the researches of Mr. Michel Chevalier, (Letters on N. America, v. i. p.394) the coin circulating in France, is valued at 3000 millions and, in England, at1000 millions of francs. Neckar had before estimated the circulation of France at2200 millions of francs; while Adam Smith rates that of Great Britain at 30 millionsof pounds sterling only. In the Prussian States, the circulation is, according toHoffmann, only from 90 to 120 millions of thalers. The minting in Prussia from1764 to 1836, of all kinds of coin, including the fifteenths of a thaler, amounts, sub-tracting what has been withdrawn during that time by the mint itself, to 182.856.020thalers. (Die Lehre vom Gelde, [Science of the Mint, by J. G. Hoffmann,] 1838,p. 171.) The assemblage of such large sums as these may throw some light uponthe data left us by antiquity. The treasure left by Cyrus was almost three times as large as this. Pliny(xxx. 3,) values it at 500000 talents in gold and silver. As this treasure may havediminished considerably after the death of Cyrus, Sainte-Croix (Examen Crit. desHistoriens d’ Alexandre, p. 429,) concludes that the whole of the precious metalwhich the Macedonian collected in Persia, amounted but to 330000 talents. Uponthe almost unexampled concentration of precious metals in Italy, under the Cæsars,see Letronne, u. s. p. 121. Burnes: Travels in Bokhara, v. ii. p. 265.
|542| of specie than the particular position of its different sources and theirrelative abundance. The place where grew the story of the gold-guarding ants, * scattered over the mountains of Derden, must be far offfrom the griffins of the Arimaspians. This story seems to belong tothe plains of Kaschgar and Askou, between the parallel chains of thecelestial mountains [the Thian-chan of the Chinese and Mouzdagh ofthe Turks] and of the Kouenloun where the river Tarim pours itselfinto the Lop. We shall recur presently to the Arimaspians dwellingmuch farther to the north, when we come to speak of the great masses ofgold found in the Ural, immediately under the surface. The fame of theriches of India echoed even as far as Persia; to be there, it is true, veryoften misinterpreted. Ctesias, of the family of the Asclepiades, thephysician of Artaxerxes Mnemon, describes, almost without being aware,under the image of a fountain of gold, an actual furnace whence thefluid metal run into vases, i. e. into clay moulds. Nearer to the Greekswere found Lydia channelled with rivers that flow from the Tmolus,Phrygia and Colchis, districts rich in gold. The nature of the auriferoussoil here, so easy to exhaust, explains to the practical miner how someof these countries visited again, seem barren to the explorer. If forinstance now, one were to examine the ravines and vallies of Cuba andof S. Domingo, or even the coast of Veragua, how difficult, without thehistorical evidence which we possess, would it be to believe the rich-ness of the mines of these very regions at the close of the 15th century!Under-ground mining, properly so called, of auriferous veins, lasts amuch longer time, when no external circumstance disturbs it. Preciselybecause we do not know in advance the whole deposite, for the minediscovers itself in proportion as it is worked, a more durable element isoffered to human activity. How few of the forty gold-washing sites,so carefully described by Strabo, can be recognized now! This obser-vation, founded upon positive analogies and upon the recognized prin-ciples of mining, is all the more to be made here, since a vain scepticismtriumphs in attempting to shake the traditions of Antiquity.
The part of Europe known to the Greeks, was in respect to its me-tallic wealth, as much behind Asia, as later, the whole European Con-tinent was behind the New World. This last ratio, that is to say,the relative intensity of product in Europe and America, was, at thecommencement of the 19th century, when the mines of the Spanishcolonies were worked in their greatest activity, for gold as 1:13 andfor silver as 1:15. I apprehend even, that such a ratio, at the periodof Alexander and of the Ptolemies, would be found, if one had onlystatistical data upon it, still more unfavorable for Europe, especially inregard to gold. Greece herself, it is true, together with the at first veryproductive silver mines of Laurium, had a considerable amount of gold
* [Herod. iii. 102. Plin. H. N. xi. 36.] Opp. reliq. ed. Bähr. Ind. cap. iv. p. 248, 271. The elements of this estimate are contained in the 11th chapter of my EssaiPolitique, &c. [Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain] t. iii. p. 400.[Paris, 1811, 8vo.] The relative produce of gold was then 1300 kil. and 17300kil. [2800 lb. and 38000 lb. avoirdupois, nearly:] and the relative produce of silverwas 52700 kil. and 795600 kil. [equal to 116000 lb. and 1750000 lb. avdp. nearly.]
|543| in the mines of Thessaly, in the Pangæan mountains on the frontiers ofMacedon and Thrace, and amid the early establishments* of the Phe-nicians opposite to the island of Thrasos. Iberia, too, was a region ofsilver for others than the Phenicians and Carthaginians. Tartessusand Ophir, (this last being either Arabia or the eastern coast of Africa,or even, as Heeren will have it, a generic appellative designating indefi-nitely the rich countries of the South) were the double object of theunited fleets of Solomon and Hiram. Although amid all the metallicwealth of Spain, the silver of Bœtica [Andalusia] and of the district ofCarthagena, a city founded by Hamilcar Barca, was for a long whilethe principal object of foreign commerce; nevertheless, during many ayear, Gallicia, Lusitania, and above all, the Asturias, furnished 20000pounds of gold, that is to say, almost as much as Brazil at the mostflourishing epoch of its mines. There is nothing astonishing, therefore,in the Iberian peninsula, early visited, acquiring with the Phenicians andCarthaginians the reputation of a Western El-dorado. There is no doubtthat in many localities which shew now only faint metallic traces, theoriginal soil formerly was covered quite near the surface with beds ofauriferous sand, or sown with the debris of some formerly massive orecontaining gold. The local importance of these mines of southernEurope is incontestable; but in comparison with Asia, their metallicproduct was small. This last continent remained for a long time theprincipal source of the precious metals; and the direction|| of the currentthat brought gold into Europe, could only be from East to West.
But Asia itself, that is to say, the report spread by travellers in themiddle ages of immense treasures existing in Zipangou, (Japan) and theSouthern Archipelago, [Oronesia] produced a sudden change in thedirection of this metallic current. America was discovered, not as hasbeen erroneously said so long, because Columbus foresaw the existenceof another continent; but because he was seeking westward a shorterroad to Zipangou, so rich in gold, and to the spice countries in south-eastern Asia. Thus the greatest mistake of geography, (that is, theidea of Spain’s proximity to India) led to the greatest discovery ofgeography. Christopher Columbus and Americus Vespucius both diedunder the firm conviction of having reached Eastern Asia, (India withthe basin of the Ganges, the peninsula of Cattigara;) and hence therecan never arise any dispute between them as to the glory of discoveringa new continent. At Cuba, Columbus meant to deliver to the Great Khan of the Mon-gols, the letters of his sovereign. He believes himself in Mangi, the
* Otfr. Müller, History of the Hellenic tribes, t. i. p. 115. Gold-mine near SkapteHyle (Böckh, Corp. Inscrip. t. i. p. 219.) On this subject so often treated, see a Memoir of remarkable philological criti-cism, by Dr. Keil, of Dorpat. De la Navigation, &c. [On the Voyage to Ophir andTarshish,] 1834, p. 61, 70. Böckh, Economie Politique, t. i. p. 15. The port of Carthage even holds a sandof gold thrown in by the Mediterranean, between the river Miliana and cape Sidi-Bou-Saïd. The inhabitants, who are poor, turn it to profit at this day. Dureau dela Malle, Recherches, &c. [Researches into the topography of Carthage,] 1835, p.251.|| Letronne, p. 105, 123.
|544| southern region of Cathay, (China;) he looks for Quien-sai, the celestialcity described by Marco Polo, now Hang-tchen-fou. “The island ofHispaniola (Hayti)” writes he* to Pope Alexander VI. “is Tarshish,Ophir and Zipangou. In my second voyage I have discovered 1400islands and a shore of 333 miles, belonging to the continent of Asia (dela tierra firma de Asia.)” This West-Indian Zipangou produced gold-spangles (pepitas de oro) weighing 8, 10, and up to 20 pounds.
America, from the moment of its discovery, became the principalsource of the precious metals. The new current directed itself fromWest to East; indeed, it crossed Europe, inasmuch as in the develope-ment of commerce after navigators had doubled Africa, it became neces-sary to give to southern and eastern Asia a larger equivalent in exchangefor spices, silk and pigments. As before the discovery of the silver mines of Tasco, upon thewestern slope of the Mexican Cordilleras, (in 1522) America furnishedonly gold, Isabella of Castile found herself obliged, already in 1497, tomodify considerably the legal ratio of the two precious metals. Themonetary edict of Medina, whose date is so remote, and to which upto this time so little importance has been attached, can only be ac-counted for by this circumstance and by the accumulation of gold at afew points in Europe. I have elsewhere sought to demonstrate how,from 1492 to 1500, the whole quantity of gold drawn from the thendiscovered portions of the New World, amounted hardly to an annualmean of 2000 marcs, [1000 lb. avoirdupois, nearly.] Pope AlexanderVI. who thought that he was bestowing one-half of the earth upon theSpaniards, received in return as a present from Ferdinand the Catholic,some little spangles of gold from Hayti “as the first fruits of a countrynewly discovered,” to gild the magnificent dome [the soffit of the dome,(soffitto)] of the basilica of the S. Maria Maggion. Mention is made ofthe metal in an inscription; as being quod primo Catholici reges exIndiâ receperant [what the Catholic Sovereigns had first received fromIndia.] So great was then the activity of the Spanish Government, that alreadyin 1495, as the historian Mun̄oz has shown, a miner, Pablo Belvis, was
* Letter of February, 1502, found in the archives of the Duke of Varaguas. Thethird voyage, in which the continent of South America was discovered, (on 1 August,1498, thirteen months after the discovery of North America by Sebastian Cabot)and the fourth voyage which gave the first information as to the western coast of theNew world, only confirmed the aged Admiral in his preconceived opinion. It is notfrom any confusion of ideas that, in his letter to the pope and his manifest inclina-tion to shew there a certain amount of biblical learning, he represents the namesTarshish, Ophir and Zipangou as synonyms of San Domingo: this belonged, as wesee by other writings of Columbus, to his systematic notions. He considered, notIndia exactly, but Japan (Zipangou) certainly to be the Ophir of Solomon, whichhe calls also sometimes Sopora. He regarded Tarshish, not as the Iberian Tartes-sus, but with the Septuagint and many theologians of the middle ages, as a commonname. The voyage of Solomon, was not, in his view, a double navigation, havinga part in the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. It had no other point of departurethan Ezimgeber. Columbus knew Quien-sai from a letter of Toscanelli, and notthrough Marco Polo, whom he never mentions, though the contrary has beenhitherto maintained. Memorias de la R. A. &c. [Memoirs of the Royal Academy of History,] t. vi.p. 525. The edict of Medina changed the old legal ratio of 1:10,7.
|545| sent to Hayti with provision of quicksilver to facilitate the separationof the gold by amalgamation. Something very striking in this regard,we read in a passage, recently discovered and but lately published, ofthe Geography of Scherif Edrisi,* “that the negroes in the interior ofWestern Africa, as well as the inhabitants of the low and fertile districtcalled Wady el Alaki (between Abyssinia, Bedja and Nubia) work thegold-earth by means of quicksilver.” The Nubian geographer speaksin the middle of the 12th century, of this mode of extraction as a thingknown for a long time. Could this knowledge have been communicatedfrom the East, across Egypt to the country of Blacks, (Chemi) subtle indecompositions—to Africa? Antiquity, Greek and Roman, makes men-tion, it is true, of a very frequent employment of quicksilver to detachthe gold from the threads of old lace; but it never speaks of an artisticalapplication of mercury on a large scale in the detailed descriptions ofgold-washings it so often gives.
[Continued on p. 601, April No.]
|589|

ON THE PRODUCTION OF GOLD AND SILVER ANDITS FLUCTUATIONS. by baron alexander von humboldt. Translated for the Bankers’ Magazine, from the Journal des Economistes, March,April, May, 1848.

[Continued from p. 545, March No.]

It is rather the discovery of new and abundant sources than the dis-appearance of the old, which has modified the relative value of goldand silver at a given epoch. It is to this cause, subsequently to thediscovery of the greater Antilles, that we must attribute the new rise inthe price of gold about the middle of the 16th century; when the richsilver mines of Potosi and Zacatecas had been opened in Peru and inthe north of Mexico. From researches which I have carefully made, itresults that the importation of American gold was by weight to that ofsilver, in the ratio of 1:65; down to the first year of the 18th century,when they commenced the gold workings in Brazil. At this moment,taking in at one view the aggregate of the metallic commerce of Europe,the ratio is not higher than as 1:47; which is, at least, the result givenby comparison* of the quantities of the two metals simultaneouslyexisting in Europe in the state of coin. The data in the work, in otherpoints so excellent, of Adam Smith, are very inexact; in respect tothis ratio, they are in error by more than one-half. In commerce, therelative value of gold and silver among the civilized nations of Europe
* See my Essai Politique t. iii. pp. 400, 436, 448, 463. Jacob, Precious Metals,t. ii. p. 187. The result which I have found, has been illustrated with profoundpenetration by Say, [Political Econ.] t. ii. ch. 10, by analogies drawn from generalcommerce.
|590| in immediate intercourse with each other, oscillated during the first hun-dred years subsequent to the discovery of the new continent, between1:10,7 and 1:12; and in the two last, continues between 1:14 and1:16. This fluctuation is very far from depending solely upon therelative quantities of the two metals annually obtained from the bosomof the earth. The ratio of their values is very soon modified by thecost of mining, by the demand or necessities of consumers, by thegreater or less expense of transport, by the application of metals in themanufacture of plate and other metallic articles. The simultaneousaction of so many elements, joined to the facility of transmission amidthe so general and so rapid commerce of the world, and to the immensequantity of metals accumulated in Europe, prevents now any partialoscillation in the relative value of gold and silver, from being very con-siderable or long continued. Of this, we may be convinced at any sud-den interruption in production, as for instance, after the revolution inSpanish America; or even by instances of extraordinary employment ofone only of the precious metals in the operations of an active mint.Thus, during the ten years from 1817 to 1827, there has been coined inEngland more than 1.294.000 marcs [650.000 lbs. avoirdupois nearly]of gold; and yet this consumption of gold raised the rate of gold andsilver in London* only from 1:14,97 to 1:15,60. And still, at theclose of 1837, one buys in London a pound of gold for 16,65 poundsof silver. We shall offer presently the numerical elements for the solu-tion of a problem, in which it is proposed to determine what modifica-tions are to be expected from the gradual and simultaneous action ofthe recent mines in the Ural and those of North America.
The mass of precious metal reaching Europe since the discovery ofAmerica up to the Mexican revolution, amounts for gold, to 10.400.000marcs of Castile, [5.284.686 lbs. avoirdupois] and for silver, to533.700.000 marcs [271.195.843 lbs. avoirdupois;] and in value to-gether to 5940 millions piastres [say 6000 millions of American dollars.]The silver taken in this interval from the American soil is here calcu-lated upon the intrinsic value of the piastre, that is to to say, 0,903 fine;so these 533.700.000 marcs of standard silver make only 481.931.100marcs [i. e. 244.889.846 lbs. avdp.] of pure silver. This would beequivalent to a sphere of pure silver having a diameter of [90,15English feet.] Such a reduction to form and size is as admissible asother analogous figurative valuations. If, for instance, the product ofsilver from Spanish America for the whole period of 318 years, be com-pared with the product of iron from some European States for only a sin-gle year, [while we have for the former as before, a sphere of 90 English
* See the recent excellent work of J. G. Hoffman, entitled Lehre vom Gelde,[Science of the Mint] 1838, p. 7. Such a sphere represents the mass of pure silver which has come from Americato Europe in the space of 318 years, from 1492 to 1809. The marc of Castile is0,229 killogramme. [Taking its better attested weight of 3557 grains English, itcorresponds more nearly to 0,2305 kilogr. or 0,5081 lb. avdp. which is the factoractually used in the reduction for the text; which has retained] the specific gravityof silver at 10,474. Of the two analogous valuations in spheres given in the secondedition of my Essai Politique, &c. (t. iii. p. 418, 459,) and expressing the mass ofsilver from 1492 to 1830, both in silver of the piastre-standard and of fine, the firstis exact; in the second must be read 26,37 instead of 20,47 metres in diameter.
|591| feet in diameter] we find according to the estimate of M. de Dechen, adistinguished geologist, spheres of pure [malleable] iron for Great Britainof 148 Paris feet, [157,7 English feet] for France 111 feet, [118,3 Eng-lish] and for the Prussian monarchy 76 feet [81 feet English;] so greatis the difference of quantity in these two metals, silver and iron, foundin that portion of the earth’s crust which man has been able to pene-trate.*
While the current of gold and silver was thus directed from West toEast, it only passed through Spain. Very little of it remained with thenation; still less was deposited in the royal treasury. Ferdinand theCatholic (as the admirer and friend of the great monarch, writes a fewdays after his death) died so poor that they did not know how to pro-cure the money necessary for the suitable habiliments of the attendantswho were to wait upon the funeral procession. I give this remarkablepassage of his letter to the Bishop of Tuy: Madrigalegium villulamRegis tibi alias descripsi. Tot regnorum dominus totq. palmarum cu-mulis ornatus, Christianæ religionis amplificator et prostrator hostium,Rex in rusticana obiit casa; et pauper contra opinionem hominum obiit.Vix ad funeris pompam et paucis familiaribus præbendas vestes pullataspecumæ apud eum neque alibi congestæ, repertæ sunt; quod nemounquam de vivente judicavit. [Madrigalejos, the country-seat of theKing, I have elsewhere described for you. Lord of so many realms,wearer of so many laurels, diffuser of the Christian religion, and van-quisher of its enemies, the King died in a rustic cabin; and, contrary toall opinion, died poor. Hardly money enough for the ceremony of thefuneral and furnishing the few domestics with mourning suits, wasfound either upon him or elsewhere; what no one, while he lived, everwould have thought.] Ranke, in his dissertation on Spanish finances,has treated of the pecuniary embarrassments of Charles V. The inge-nious historian has completed and confirmed by new documents theofficial vouchers|| which I have given [elsewhere] of the small quantity
* The estimate for Great Britain is upon the mean product of crude iron during1828—30. (McCulloh, Dict. of Commerce, 1834, p. 736.) This mean is 617.352tons or 12.149.487 Prussian quintals. The diameter of a sphere of crude iron, theproduct of one year, will be consequently 175 Prussian feet, or 169 Paris feet, [180English feet.] Crude iron yields, when converted into bars, 5-7 of its weight.For the production of France has been taken that of the year 1835, (Resumé derTravaux Statistique, p. 61) 2.690.636 metrical quintals [of 100 kilog.] equal to5 227 905 Prussian quintals or 1.345.000 tons English very nearly. In the States ofPrussia, the production of crude iron was for the year 1836, 1.651.598 quintals [or83.932 tons English.] Petri Mart. Epist. lib. xxix. No. 556 (xxiii. Jan. 1516.) Nine years later, thegold-washings of Hispaniola were already exhausted. Sugar and hides are alonementioned as articles of export. Tres habemus ab Hispaniolâ naves (writes againAnghiera) saccareis panibus et coriis boüm onustas. (Ep. No. 806, Kal. Mart.1525.) This passage is important in the history of commerce; since the first sugar-cane was planted in S. Domingo only in 1520 by Pedro Atienza. Ranke; Fürsten u. Völker, &c. [Princes and People of the South of Europe]t. i. p. 347—355.|| Essai Politique, &c. t. iii. pp. 361—482, 421—428. The working of themines did not yield 3 million of piastres [dollars] a year, until 1545. The ransomof Atahualpa amounted, according to Gomara, to 52000 marcs of silver [about425.000 dollars of our standard] and the booty (the pillage of the temples at Cuzco)according to Herrera, to the value of 25700 marcs, only.
|592| of precious metals which the mines of America and the pretended trea-sures of the Incas yielded.
A more exact knowledge of the history of the metallurgic productionor of the gradual developement of the great metalliferous beds in theNew World, shews us why the lowering of the value of the preciousmetals, or (what is the same) the rise in price of wheat and other in-dispensable products of the soil and of human industry, was felt mostsensibly only about the middle of the 16th century, and especiallyfrom 1570 to 1595. It was then only that the masses of silver fromthe mines of Tasco, of Zacatecas and of Pachuca in New Spain, ofPotosi, of Porco and of Oruro, in the chain of the Peruvian Andes,begun to be distributed more uniformly over Europe and to affect theprice of grain, of wool and of manufactured goods. The true openingand working of the mines of Potosi by the Spanish conquistadores, datesfrom the year 1545; and the celebrated sermon of Bishop Latimerbefore Edward VI.,* in which he expresses his indignation at the rise inprice of all the most necessary articles, dates on 17 January, 1548.The laws relating to cereal grains, promulgated in England from 1554to 1688, evince still better, if possible, than the prices of grain whichhave been collected by Fleetwood, Dupré des Saint Maur, Garnier andLloyd, the accumulation of specie. The exportation of coin is, as weknow, only allowed there when the price of a certain measure reachesa scale determined by law. This limit was under Queen Mary, in1554, 6 shillings a quarter; under Elizabeth, in 1593, about 20 shil-lings; and in 1604, under James I. more than 26 shillings. Thesefigures are without doubt of great importance; but their explanationrequires special circumspection, inasmuch as the problem of the priceof grain, and indeed of prices generally, is highly complicated, and asthe legislation of each epoch was under the domain of theoreticalopinions very variable, was influenced by the aristocracy, the proprie-tors of the soil, and was controlled even by the unequal accumulationof money and merchandise at different points. Besides the changes oftemperature, (the mean of the Spring and Summer months) whichfavour the culture of cereal grains, do not extend at the same time overthe whole of agricultural Europe. Even the improvement in culture,the better employment of the productive forces of the Earth, modifiesprices. Material increase of population and the development of com-merce which results from this increase, augment the demand for specie.Thus, along with the standard which we look for and think to findamong the variable prices of grain, we have yet to keep count of twomagnitudes which may be simultaneously modifying themselves. Therise in the prices of cereals does not express, even for any countrytaken by itself, the proportionate increase in the quantity of gold andsilver, any more than it informs us of the general mean temperature,and (according to the theory of a great Astronomer) the number ofspots on the Sun. We are absolutely without synchronizing data toembrace a large part of Europe; and exact researches have shewn thatin Upper Italy, for instance, the rise in price of wheat, wine and oil
* Jacob: On Precious Metals: t. ii. p. 77, 132 and 138.
|593| was much less* between the 15th and 16th centuries, than might havebeen reasonably expected from what was known in England, Franceand Spain, where the prices of cereals rose quadruple and even sex-tuple. It is worth while to mention here a numerical result establishedupon the average prices for a period of fourteen years in the wholePrussian monarchy. This has been calculated with the greatest care,at my request, by the Director of our Statistical Bureau, Mr. Privy-Councillor Hofmann. In the year 1838, while we can buy at Berlin,for 1 pound of gold, 15\( \frac{9}{16} \) pounds of fine silver, 1611 pounds of copper,and nearly 9700 pounds of iron; the pound of gold is worth, upon themeans of the periods 1816–29, and 1824–37, likewise 20794 lb. ofwheat, 27655 lb. of rye, 31717 lb. of barley, and 32626 lb. of oats.
[For greater illustration, the following Table is constructed to shew at the givenepochs the relative value of equal weights of the several substances: Goldbeing unity; as follows:
metals. cereals.
Gold: 1. Copper: 0,000621 Wheat: 0,000048 Barley: 0,000032
Silver: 0,064103 Iron: 0,000103 Rye: 0,000036 Oats: 0,000028]
The fears which, on the appearance of the work of Jacob (on Pre-cious Metals,) a book of great merit, and which has not received in
* Gianrinaldo Carli; Opp. t. vii. p, 190. Savigny: Geschichte des Rechts [His-tory of Jurisprudence] t. iii. p. 567. Information upon prices in Southern Europe,goes certainly as far back as the 14th century; for, in 1321, Marino Sanuto pre-sented to Pope John XXII. an estimate of the expenses of a crusade which was todivert all the commerce of the East. From this estimate, as well as from the pricesgiven by Balducci Pegoletti, the standard of coins is susceptible of being determinedmuch more carefully than it has been yet by those who have occupied themselveswith the doctrine of trade and the history of commerce. Elemencin, in the Mem. of the Roy. Acad. of History; t. vi. p. 553. Wheat(trigo) per fanega [1,6-10 U. S. bushel very nearly] was worth in Spain, from1406 to 1502, at a mean, 10 reals; from 1793 to 1808, 62 reals, the coin being re-duced to the same standard. This result accords with the researches of Say intothe prices of cereals in France (Traité d’Econ. Polit. t. i. p. 352.) In the days ofthe Maid of Orleans, under Charles VII. the hectolitre of wheat, (weighing 75kilog.) [165⅜ lb. avdp. nearly = 2¾ bushels by Maryland standard] had fallen aslow as 219 grains of silver [267,45 English grains = 72 cents in money of Americansilver standard.] The average price a little before the discovery of America was268 grains [88 cents;] it had risen to 333 grains [$1 10, nearly] in 1514; underFrancis I., to 731 grains [$2 40;] under Henry IV., to 1130 grains [$3 72.]Lavoisier found that from 1610 to 1789, there had been an appreciation in the ratioof 1130 to 1342 grains. In 1820, a hectolitre cost in France 1610 grains [$5 30;]counting 9216 of these grains in a pound, or 0,489 kil. (See also Letronne: Con-siderations gener. sur les Monn. Grecques: p. 118, 123.) Ascending from themiddle ages, we find a rise in the price of cereals. Under Valentinian III., in 446,the hectolitre was worth 344 grains of silver; and in the decline of the Republic, atthe time of Cicero, as much as 528 grains. The results of Durean de la Malle giveprices still higher. (Comptes Rendus, July, 1838, p. 84.) The basis of this important statement are as follows: In the Statistical Bureauat Berlin, is registered, monthly, the market-price of the four principal kinds ofgrain in every port of Prussia; and the average is then taken for each separateprovince. From these averages, is then deduced at the end of the year, the meanprices for the whole year; and from a series of these means has been made up theaverages for fourteen years in this manner: from among the prices of the followingfourteen years is taken out, every time, the two highest and the two lowest, and theten terms left are then added; the tenth of this aggregate is considered as the meanprice of the fourteen years in question. In this operation, which embraces the time
|594| Germany the attention it deserves, were spreading on account of thediminished import of precious metals from the New Continent, havenot been realized. The metallic production, fallen so low from 1809to 1826, has nevertheless, in spite of the troubled state of SpanishAmerica, risen afresh to three-fourths of what it was when I left thosecountries. In Mexico, according to the most recent intelligence, whichI owe to the attention of the Prussian Chargé d’Affaires, Mr. de Gerolt,the working has amounted to 20 and even 22 millions of piastres; aresult for which, the chief contributions (besides that of Zacatecas)have come from the recently worked mines of Tresnilla, of Chihuahua,and of Sonora.
During the last peaceful epoch of the Spanish domination, I couldnot estimate the mean yield of the mines of Mexico at more than 23millions piastres (about 53.700 kil. [1.184.000 lb. avdp. nearly] of sil-ver, and 1600 kil. [3500 lb. avdp.] of gold. The account was then moreeasily ascertained; for there was but one central mint, and the lawsrestricted the commerce to a few ports. In no other place in the worldwas the activity greater then than in this central mint, which coined indomestic gold and silver, from 1690 to 1803, 1353 million piastres;and from the discovery of New Spain until its Independence,* about2028 million piastres, i. e. two-fifths of all the precious metals which
from 1816 to 1837, there results for the Prussian bushel [scheffel = 1,56 U. S.bushel, very nearly] the following prices: viz.
Thaler. Silbergroschen. Pfennig.
Wheat, 1. 23. 10,5-9
Rye, 1. 8. 1,5-9
Barley, 1. 28. 8,1-9
Oats, 1. 21. 8,1-3
[This table is given here just as it is printed; but there is manifestly an error.The two last cyphers in the column of thalers should be zeros] The correspondingpoints for the four cereals are per bushel in Prussian lbs. (of two marcs of Cologne)85, 80, 69, and 52. The pound of gold is estimated in the silver coin of Prussia at439 th. 11 sgr. 6,6-13 pf. The comparison of the two periods, 1816—29, and1824—37, shews a fall in prices in the Prussian States of 14,2-7 per cent. forwheat; 11½ per cent. for rye; 12 per cent. for barley; and 11,13-17 for oats;—adiminution which is attributable in great degree to enhanced production and betteruse of the soil. (Dieterich; Uebersicht des Verkaufs [View of Commerce] 1838,p. 174.) I consider this diminution here as entirely independent of the influenceor supply of precious metals.
* It is only this year [1837] that Mr. Ternaux Campans, in his extremely inter-esting collection of Original Memoirs of the Discovery of America (Conquest ofMexico, p. 451,) has published an official list of the sums sent between 1522 and1587 by the Viceroys of New Spain to the mother country. I did not find this listin the Mexican archives. It is very remarkable, and shews that my former esti-mates of the metallic yield of Mexico, (Essai Polit. t. iii. p. 414) were yet a littletoo high. A contrary opinion has been of late frequently expressed. From the ad-ministration of Fernando Cortez up to the year 1552, when the mines of Zacatecaswere just opened, the export rarely amounted in a year to 100000 peros [or piastres,dollars very nearly.] From this epoch, it took a rapid rise. In the years 1569,1578, and 1587, it was already respectively 931.564, 1.111.202, and 1.812.051 perosof gold. These sums are calculated, not upon the piastres, but upon these peros ofgold, [they must be multiplied at a mean by 11¼ in order to represent the value indollars.] See the instructive work of Mr. Joseph Burkhardt: Aufenthalt ú. Reisenin Mexico, &c. [Residence and Travel in Mexico from 1824 to 1834] 1st Part:p. 360, 385. Second Pt.: p. 74, 152.
|595| the whole of the New Continent has furnished during the same periodto the Old.
The allegations, then, growing out of the disappointments in fruitlessundertakings, as to the exhaustion of the mineral wealth of Mexico, isin contradiction with the geognostic facts of the country, and even withthe most recent experience. The Zacatecas mint alone, during thetroubled period from 1811 to 1838, has struck more than 66.332.000piastres from 7.758.000 marcs of silver; and in eleven latter years (from1822 to 1833) has yielded uninterruptedly from 4 to 5 million piastres;viz:
1829: 4.505.103 piastres.
1830: 5.189.902
1831: 4.469.450
1832: 5.012.000
1833: 5.720.000 piastres.
|709|

ON THE PRODUCTION OF GOLD AND SILVER ANDITS FLUCTUATIONS. by baron alexander von humboldt. Translated for the Bankers’ Magazine, from the Journal des Economistes, March,April, May, 1848.

[Continued from p. 595, April No.] At Zacatecas, a single vein, la Veta Grande, which has been workedsince the 16th century, and which up to 1738 furnished often in oneyear as much as 3 million piastres, has put in circulation the masses ofmetal, as below:
1828: 117.268 marcs of silver [=59.572 lb. avdp.
1829: 235.741 “ “ 119.706
1830: 279.288 “ “ 141.878
1831: 272.095 “ “ 138.224
1832: 258.498 “ “ 131.317
1833: 209.192 “ “ 106.270 lb. avdp.]
Guanaxuato which, it is true, used to furnish even in my time as muchas 755.000 marcs of silver [383.500 lbs. avdp.] a year, has on the otherhand fallen latterly to less than the half of this yield. Thus it gave in
gold. silver.
1829, 852 marcs [433 lb. avdp. 269.494 marcs [136.903 lb. avdp.
1830, 1058 “ 537 “ 284.386 “ 144.468 “
1831, 622 “ 316 “ 258.500 “ 131.318 “
1832, 1451 “ 737 “ 300.612 “ 152.711 “
1833, 1144 “ 581 lb. avdp.] 316.024 “ 160.540 lb. avdp.]
Whenever these superb countries, favored by nature in so manyregards, shall come, after a long fermentation and profound internal |710| agitations, to enjoy peace—new metallic deposites must necessarily beopened and developed in the cultivation of the soil. In what regionof the globe, outside of America, can be cited examples of wealth insilver so abundant? Let it not be forgotten that near Sombrereta,where some mines were opened as far back as 1555, the family ofFagoaga (Marquesses of Apartado) have derived, in the short space offive months, from a front of 16 toises [102 feet English] in the outcropof a silver mine, a net profit of 4 million piastres; and that in themining district of Catorça in the space of two years and a half (1781–1783) in ground full of mines of chloride of silver and of colorados, which the common people call the purse of God (la bolsa de Diospadre) an ecclesiastic, Juan Flores, made likewise a gain of 3½ millionpiastres. The production of gold in Spanish and Portuguese America hasdiminished in much greater proportion than that of silver; but suchdiminution dates from an epoch long anterior to the political troublesof the tropical regions. I have already adverted in another place* tothe error existing till the beginning of this century as to the durationof the richness of the Brazilian washings, and how the flourishing stateof these workings (from 1752 to 1773) has been confounded with itssubsequent condition. The report of the Bullion-Committee, so im-portant for the history of commerce, began to throw some light on thissubject. I am indebted for the most authentic information to the pri-vate communications of the former Director-General of Mines, Baronvon Eschwege. Jacob’s work upon precious metals contains only addi-tions of little moment. From 1752 to 1761, the gold-workings ofMinas Geraes, upon the returns of the fifth part for royalty, oscillatedbetween 6400 and 8600 kilogrammes [14.000 and 19.000 lbs. avdp.](The Portuguese arroba is equal according to Franzini to 14,656 kil.)[Balbi says 14,686⅓ kil. = 32,378 lbs. avdp.] This yield is certainlyvery considerable and much above that of the Ural and Altaï, [until1838; when the yield from the Russian districts equalled the higherof the Brazilian numbers;] but we must remember that in 1804, Span-ish America gave likewise nearly 10.400 kilog. of gold, as under:
  • New Granada, ........ 4700 kil. [10.340 lb. avdp.
  • Chili, ........... 2800 “ 6.160 “
  • Mexico, .......... 1600 “ 3.520 “
  • Peru, ........... 780 “ 1.716 “
  • Buenos Ayres, ........ 5001.100
  • 10.380 kil. = 22.836 lb. avdp.]
The yield of the Minas Geraes had already fallen, at a mean amongthe years
  • 1785–1794, to 3300 kil. [7260 lb. avdp.
  • 1810–1817, 1600 “ 3520 “
  • 1818–1820, 428 “ 932 lb. avdp.]

* Essai Polit. t. iii. pp. 448 – 452. Report of the Bullion-Committee of 1810. Append, 17–22. Vol. ii pp. 266 and 295.
|711| The assertion of Chev. Schaeffer, that in 1822 only 24 arrobas [775lbs. avdp.] went to the smelting furnace of Villa Rica agrees with theresult given before. Since this period, the working of the Braziliangold mines seems to have been a little stimulated by the industry ofsome English companies; but what has contributed more than the ex-haustion of the mineral deposites to the decline of the gold washings,is the inclination to the culture of colonial products favored by thetrade in slaves which always is kept up. Unauthorized commerce isso extensive in Brazil that it is much to be wished that some citizenthere, thoroughly acquainted with the situation of the country, wouldcharge himself with the task of elucidating the general relations of theannual production of gold since 1822. It is a fact worthy of remark in the history of mining by Europeans,that since the gold-workings in Brazil have fallen so low, the productof this metal should have risen to an unexpected height in northernAsia and in the southern portions of the United States;—in this lastcountry, it is true, but transiently. The chain of the Ural prolongingitself under the same meridian, like a wall, from Oust-ourt in thenorthern part of the isthmus of Truchmena up to the lcy Sea, and evenaccording to the excellent observations of the botanist, AlexanderSchrenk, and of Baer, to the islands of Waïgatz and to Nova Zembla,yields gold in an extent of more than 17 degrees of latitude. Thoughin 1821 and 1822, the Ural furnished only 27 or 28 poods [973,8 lb.to 1009,9 lb. avdp.] the ratio of its auriferous sands rose in the threefollowing years, 1823–4 and 5 successively to 105, 266 and 237poods [3787 lb., 9594 lb. and 8548 lb. avdp., respectively.] Accord-ing to a table of the precious metals mined in the Russian Empire andobtained pure at the mint of Saint Petersburg, a table which has beensent to me in MS. by Count Cancrin, Minister of Finance of Russia,the production of gold was in
  • 1828, 290 poods 39 pounds [10.494,77 lb. avdp.
  • 1829, 289 “ 25 “ 10.446,08 “
  • 1830, 347 “ 27 “ 12.539,80 “
  • 1831, 352 “ 2 “ 12.697,59 “
  • 1832, 380 “ 31 “ 13.709,29 “
  • 1833, 368 “ 27 “ 13.297,23 “
  • 1834, 363 “ 10 “ 13.101,56 lb. avdp.]
[These quantities differ from what has been more recently officiallypublished; and the following more complete table is therefore annexed.* The discovery of gold in the Ural dates back to 1819: the aurife-rous sands of Siberia were not developed until 1829. Since then theyield has been
  • 1819, 40 poods 9 pounds 55 zolotnics : 1451,34 lb. avdp.
  • 1820, 44 “ 3 “ – “ : 1589,68 “
  • 1821, 52 “ 4 “ 65 “ : 1879,73 “
  • 1822, 79 “ 21 “ 36 “ : 2865,61 “
  • 1823, 125 “ 19 “ 79 “ : 4526,32 “
  • 1824, 228 “ 13 “ 38 “ : 8235,49 “

* Tooke: History of Prices, p. 451, ed. 1848.
|712|
  • 1825, 257 poods 12 pounds 54 zolotnic : 9280,70 lb. avdp.
  • 1826, 257 “ 25 “ 15 “ : 9292,90 “
  • 1827, 307 “ 30 “ 95 “ : 11100,70 “
  • 1828, 317 “ 39 “ 44 “ : 11469,01 “
  • Epoch in Siberia: 1829, 314 “ 31 “ 1 “ : 11353,19 “
  • 1830, 378 “ 15 “ 79 “ : 13648,71 “
  • 1831, 396 “ 29 “ 37 “ : 14309,28 “
  • 1832, 410 “ 8 “ 61 “ : 14795,50 “
  • 1833, 408 “ 22 “ 71 “ : 14736,08 “
  • 1834, 406 “ 4 “ 64 “ : 14647,68 “
  • 1835, 413 “ 1 “ 8 “ : 14896,90 “
  • 1836, 426 “ 3 “ 74 “ : 15368,21 “
  • 1837, 469 “ 20 “ 75 “ : 16934,45 “
  • 1838, 524 “ 36 “ 69 “ : 18932,52 “
  • 1839, 525 “ 6 “ 38 “ : 18941,27 “
  • 1840, 585 “ 15 “ 60 “ : 21114,54 “
  • 1841, 681 “ 20 “ 34 “ : 24580,39 “
  • 1842, 950 “ 26 “ 68 “ : 34288,30 “
  • 1843, 1283 “ 2 “ 60 “ : 46277,09 “
  • 1844, 1341 “ 25 “ 60 “ : 48389,75 “
  • 1845, 1386 “ 6 “ 41 “ : 49995,50 “
  • 1846, 17222987 “ : 62135,38
  • 14335 “ 28 “ 45 “ : 517054,72 “
The Russian pood is divided into 40 pounds; and the pound into96 zolotnics. In the reduction, the pound is rated at 0,90169 lb.avdp. The aggregate amount is what is given in the authority quotedfrom. It will be seen from the table that the yield of the year 1846 ismore than the aggregate of the 10 years preceding the Siberian epoch.Taking the value of our gold coin as the index, fine gold is worth perlb. avdp. 301,46 dollars; which may be called in round numbers 300dollars per lb.: and the yield of 1846 was worth 18.640.614 dollars.The average yield of the whole 28 years is 18.466,24 lb. or 5.539.872dollars.] When, by order of the Emperor Nicholas, I made with my friends,Gustavus Rose and Ehrenberg, my expedition to Northern Asia, theextraction of gold by washing was restricted to that portion of the Uralwhich serves as the boundary of Europe. The Altaï (in Mongol, thegold-mountains, Altaïin-Oola*) furnished only a small quantity (about1900 marcs, say 950 lb. avdp.) which was extractible from the silverores (containing also gold) of the rich mines of Schlangenberg or Smeï-nogorsk, of Ridderski and of Syrianowski. But since 1844, this hasbeen amply compensated for in Siberia. Beds of auriferous sand havebeen discovered entirely resembling those on the slopes of the Ural.The House of Popof, whose influence has been so beneficial to thecommerce of the interior of Asia, has given here also a praiseworthyexample. Of 398 poods of gold which the whole Russian Empirefurnished in 1836, 293 p. 26 pds. came from the Ural and 104 p. 15pds. from the Altaï. [i. e. 75 and 25 per centum respectively.] In the
* Altaïin is a genitive form of the Mongol tongue. Klaproth, Memoires, [AsiaticMemoirs] vol. ii. p. 382. Besides, in platinum from the Ural, 118 p. 2 pds. or 8269 marcs of Cologne.
|713| year following, 1837, the workings in Eastern Siberia had become soextended that the Altaï gave 130 poods of washed gold; and the Ural(both from the Imperial and private mines) 309 poods. If to these beadded 30 poods, extracted from the friable strata of the Altaï and ofNertschinsk, we have for the whole production of gold in Russia for1837 an exact result of 469 poods. [This quantity is almost exactlyhe same with what is given in the preceding table. It may be addedthat of the whole aggregate of that table, there was furnished from the
  • Ural Imperial mines, .... 2926 P. 24 p. 32 z. = 105.555,74 lb. avdp.
  • “ Private mines, .... 4299 39 70 152.205,03 “
  • Siberian Imperial mines, ... 1293 7 28 46.641,98 “
  • “ Private mines, ... 5895 37 11 212.651,96
  • 14335 28 45 = 517.054,71 lb. avdp.
The proportion therefore of the Ural to the Siberian yield is as257.760,77 lb. to 259.293,94 lb., which is a ratio of equality very nearly;and the productiveness of the Imperial mines to the private ones hasbeen as 152.197,72 lb. to 364.856,99 lb., or nearly as 2 to 5. Thewhole of the gold from the Russian mines since 1819 to 1846, inclu-sive, is equivalent to a sphere of 9,36 feet in diameter.] It is only very recently that we have had information upon the ex-traction, properly so called, of the beds of auriferous sand by a verydistinguished geologist, my former comrade in the Southern Ural. Mr.Helmersen. The gold washed out for some years and in constantlyincreasing quantity in the Eastern part of the government of Tomskdoes not belong to the great mass of mountain which we call the prin-cipal chain of the Altaï* which Ledebour, Bunge and Gebler havevisited; and in which Mount Beloucha with its snowy peaks rises abovethe sources of the Catouïnia to a height of 11.000 feet, the level of theWetterhorn and of the Peak of Teneriffe. The beds of sand mixedwith gold shew themselves upon the two slopes; but more especiallyupon the eastern exposure of a little spur which the Altaï (whosedirection is east and west) throws out to the north under the meridianof the lake of Telesk, and which is prolonged up to the parallel ofTomsk. My friend, Mr. Helmersen, says: “Upon the maps, thisspur which contains gold capable of being washed out, is designatedby the names of the Abassanki, the Kusnezki and the Alatan Moun-tains. In respect to direction, structure and form, it has the most
* This has been called, very improperly, the little Altaï. Mr. Helmersen par-takes of my incredulity as to the existence of the great Altaï (Asiatic Fragments;vol. i. p. 28.) He says: “one of those wide and long vallies traversing the centralchain of the Altaï, is the valley of the upper Buchtarma: it separates the northernportion, belonging to Russia, from the southern belonging to China. This southernpart has been frequently and even very recently designated as the Great Altaï, asdistinguished from the northern, called the Little Altaï. Apart from the impro-priety of these denominations, which do not appear founded in nature, and whichare not accepted by the inhabitants of those regions, they only serve to perpetuatethe error which one map-maker hands over to another. The Chinese and the Rus-sian Altaï make only one and the same whole; and there is no motive for consider-ing them as two mountain chains different even in their direction.” Helmersen, in the Bulletin of the Academy of S. Petersburg; vol. ii. p. 107.See also Erman; Reise, [Journey round the World] vol. ii. p. 19 – 21.
|714| entire similarity with the Ural; it is, in fact, a repetition of the Uralupon a smaller scale. The analogy even holds that there also theeastern slope is rich in gold while the western is much less so. As ithappens that this western slope is the side reserved for the crown, upto this time private undertakers only have realized a profit from theworkings of the Alatan, the northern spur of the Altaï.” Geologists,familiar with my researches upon the direction of the mountain-systemsof inner Asia, and with the ingenious ideas of Elie de Beaumont uponthe parallelism and the relative succession in age of the spurs andchains of mountains, cannot fail to recognize the importance of Mr.Helmersen’s observations. I have not myself seen the northern depo-sites of the auriferous sand of the Altaï (of the Kusnezki) because myjourney was from Tobolsk, by Tara and across the steppe of Barabinski,towards the western and southern Altaï; and thence towards the boun-dary point of China, Chounimaïlekhou, in the province of Ili north ofthe Lake Saïsan.
The auriferous sand of the Altaï is a little richer in silver than thatof the Ural. Siberian establishments, strongly encouraged by the Im-perial administration of the Mines, have even set up washing-concerns,[lavoirs,] for winter time; and the results of this new branch of indus-try are the more remarkable and satisfactory since the workmen areonly voluntary and are well paid. According to very recent informa-tion which I owe to the Minister of Finance, Count Cancrin, there havebeen just discovered rich beds of sand both in the chain of Salairskiand along the river Biriousa which separate the governments of Jenis-eïsk and Irkoutsk.* For the whole of Siberia, there have been alreadydistributed 240 licenses to work the auriferous beds. Such is the importance attributable in these later times to the currentof gold from the East to the West; the changes in which current, ithas been the principal object of these researches to indicate. The 469poods [16.934 lb. avdp.] of gold from the Ural and the Altaï, the yieldof the year of 1837 are worth in Prussian money 7.211.000 thalers [say5.080.000 dollars.] This amount is only the one-eighth less than theproduct of the Minas Geraes in Brazil during the most favorable yearsof the brilliant period from 1752 to 1761; but it is almost one-thirdless than the precise product of New Granada, Chili and Mexico ashort time before the commencement of the Revolution in SpanishAmerica. When we consider the immense extent of the Siberian Con-tinent and advert, too, to the rapid increase of the Ural mines during1822, 1823 and 1824, we have ground for believing that the afflux ofgold from Siberia, from the East to the West, from Asia to Europe hasnot attained its maximum. [We have the more ground for such antici-pation when we see that the actual yield of the ninth year afterwardshas nearly quadrupled that of 1837: and that the 20.000.000 dollars of1846 almost equals the product of both gold and silver of Mexico inher palmiest state.] The yield of Eastern Siberia will augment perhaps
* The village of Biriussinsk, upon the road from Kansk to Nijneï-Udinsk, occu-pies a very picturesque position between two very deep glens; even on the easternside, the ground is very much broken up to the sandstone escarpments of Nijneï-Udinsk. (Erman, Handschriftliche Nachr. [Epistolary Correspondence.])
|715| more rapidly than the decrease of the lavoirs of the Ural; where havebeen worked at first and unfortunately in too hasty a manner, the rich-est beds of sand. In the hydrostatic methods used, there is undoubt-edly wasted a large quantity of precious metal, attached as it is to grainsof oxide of iron and other light substances. This is not the place todiscuss if the ingenious mode proposed by Colonel Anossow, the in-tendant at Slatoust, which promises such excellent results and whichconsists in fusing the mineral with iron and treating the mass with sul-phuric acid—is susceptible of employment on a large scale under allthe circumstances of the size of the fused masses, the labor in trans-porting sand containing such a small per centage of gold, and the greatquantity of fuel which would be required. Trials, long and well-directed, seem hitherto to pronounce against the practicability of thismethod.
The notions, which have been obtained in the last fifteen years, of thegold-riches still waiting to be derived from Northern Asia, make oneinvoluntarily think of the Issedonians, the Arimaspians and those grif-fins, guardians of immense treasures, which Aristæus of Proconnesusand, two hundred years after him, Herodotus, have made so famous.* I have had the good fortune to visit, in the Southern Ural, localitieswhere, a few inches below the surface, have been discovered, near to-gether, brilliant masses of gold of 13, of 15, and even of 24 Russianpounds: [11.7 lb., 13.5 lb. and 21.6 lb. avdp. respectively.] It maybe that masses much larger have been found formerly in the shape ofrounded lumps and lying exposed on the surface. There would benothing astonishing, then, if from the most remote antiquity, this goldhas been gathered by a hunting and pastoral people,—if the report ofriches so considerable, echoed afar and spread from the shores of theEuxine Sea to the Hellenic colonies who very soon had relations withthe North-east of Asia beyond the Caspian Sea and Lake Aral. The merchant Greeks and even the Scythians did not themselvespenetrate as far as to the Issedonians; they trafficked only with theArgippœans. Niebuhr, in his researches upon the Scythians and theGetians (researches that have failed of confirmation from what weknow at the present day of the difference of races and the affinities oflanguages among the people of Northern Asia) places the Issedoniansand the Arimaspians to the north of Orenburg and therefore just inthat gold region now so well known, lying on the eastern slope of theSouthern Ural. This opinion is supported in the solid work (quite re-
* In the Fragments of Alcman which Mr. Welcker has commented on, as well asin those of Hecatæus and of Damastes, there is alike mention made of the Issedones.(Hec. Milet. Fragm. ed. Klausen. n. 168, p. 92.) The largest lump of gold found as yet in the Ural (at Alexandrowsk, nearMiask) is 8 inches long by 5⅜ wide and 4¾ thick. It weighs 24 pounds 69 zolotnicRussian [22.29 lb. avdp.] and is preserved at S. Petersburg in the magnificent col-lection of minerals of the Mining Corps. Among the lumps of platina of Nischne-Tagilsk (the property of Demidoff) have been found three weighing 13, 19 and 20pounds Russian, respectively. Rose: Reise nach dem Ural, vol. i. p. 41. Klein historiche und philologische Schriften; p. 361. (See also the HerodotischeWelt-tafel of Niebuhr.)
|716| cently published) by the Counsellor of State, Eichwald, under the title:* Ancient Geography of the Caspian Sea. Heeren and Völker place thegold-region of Herodotus in the Altaï; and, I confess, this opinionseems to me the more justified by the configuration of the localities.Herodotus describes a commercial route by which the gold of theNorthern Altaï (or rather as I suppose the repute of this gold) mightreach the Euxine by the intermediary Issedonians and Scythians. Topenetrate to the Argippæans with their bald heads, flat noses and largechins,|| the Scythians and the Greeks of the Pontic colonies had tohave recourse in their commerce to seven interpreters of as many dif-ferent languages.§
Since the discovery of such rich deposites of auriferous sand in thespur which the Altaï throws out to the North as far as the parallel ofTomsk, the opinion of the Arimaspians having inhabited a country eastof the Ural and very far from this mountain-chain, gains certainly prob-ability. In the conjecture of a learned and acute traveller, AdolphErman, the myth of the griffins attaches to the fossil remains of theantediluvian pachyderms so frequently occurring in Northern Siberia,and in which the hunters believe they see the talons and head of agigantic bird. If, concludes Mr. Erman, we will agree to see in thisancient tradition the prototype of the Greek myth, we have entire foun-dation for saying that the miners took the gold from the bosom of thegriffins; for nothing is more common at this day, as formerly, than tomeet with auriferous sand in strata containing fossils of the kind.However plausible this explication, there is one fact against it, viz. themention of these fabulous creatures, the griffins, in the poems of Hesiodwhere under the form of monsters half lion, half eagle, they adorn thegates of Persepolis; and that they early reached Greece by way ofMiletus. A celebrated Russian academician, Mr. Gräfe, is inclined to regard amonster with enormous teeth—the odontotyrannus spoken of by theByzantine Historians** and by Julius Valerius whose works have beendiscovered by Maï—as a vague reminiscence of the Siberian mammoth,as a distant echo from the primeval world.†† This tyrannus, however,
* Eichwald, like Reichard, derives the name Issedonian from the river Isset; andregards this people as a tribe of the Vogul. Heeren: Ideen über Politik und Verkehr; vol. i. sec. 2, p. 281—287, ed. 1824. Völker: Mythische Geographie der Griechen und Römer; vol. i. p. 188 and191, and the commentary on this work by Klausen in the Scheuzeitung for 1832, p.653. Völker has collected with the greatest care the passages from the ancient au-thors, which I do not specially cite here.|| These Argippæans lived on the fruit of the arbor Ponticus whose juice wascalled aschy; the mass of which after having been strained is kneaded into cakes orballs. [Herod. Melpom. c. 23.] Nemnich and Heeren have already thought to findin this the Prunus padus (vol. i. sec. 2, p. 385.) See also Erman: Reise um dieErde; vol. i. p. 307.§ Herodotus: iv. 24. C. O. Muller: Dorier [the Dorians] vol. ii. p. 276. Upon the Griffin of Ctesias,as a Bactro-Indian animal, see Heeren n. s. vol. i. sec. i. p. 239; and Böttiger:Griech. Vasengemälde; vol. i. n. 3, p. 105. Herodotus also (iv. 79. 152) speakstwice of griffins as images and ornaments.** [Cedrenus: Collect. Byzant. T. ix. p. 153. Glycas: ib. T. xi. p. 142—143.]†† Gräfe: in the Mem. of the Acad. of S. Petersburg; 1830, p. 71 and 74. JuliusValerius in the Res Gestæ Alexandri etc. [Milan 1817] lib. iii. c. 33. See besidesthe Chronique Hamartol; which Hase has obtained in the MS. of the Paris Library.
|717| as well as the ancient myth of the griffins does not seem to me to haverisen from the icy bosom of these northern alluvial lands; they appearto me rather the imaginative creatures of a southern zone and a warmerclime.
I mentioned just now that they find in the Ural enormous masses ofgold some inches below the surface. Little water-drains, or a goodmany other operations equally insignificant, may have by degrees baredthose masses until they appear some day at the very surface itself. Canwe see aught but a myth in the story of the sacred gold of the Scythianswhich Herodotus tells, and in that of the agricultural implements ofgold which fell from Heaven and which the two princes, the sons of theking [Targitaus] who first approached could not touch without beingburnt, while the youngest, Colaxais, bore unharmed the cooling metalhome? or is it rather a remote memory of a fall of aëroliths in a stateof ignition?* Iron and gold, are they here taken for one another; andwas the sacred gold but a meteoric stone, like the mass found by Pallas,out of which implements of labor could be forged, just as the Esqui-maux of Baffin’s Bay make yet to this day their knives from aërolithshalf buried in the snow? I know that physical explanations of ancientmyths and of modern miracles are not in favor now, and that I run therisk of straying into the errors of the Alexandrian grammarians: but itis pardonable for a naturalist to suggest the fall of bolids. Perhaps theheavenly metal only burned to drive off the elder brothers? Even ac-cording to the popular belief in Germany, the place of buried treasuresalways bakes and burns. But considerations like these take us off fromresearches purely physical. These beds of auriferous sand in Northern Asia on this side the Obi,this amount of 130 poods [4688.77 lb. avdp.] the yield of one year[1837] in the Altaï or Kusnezki, is an event in the history of the com-merce of gold; and an event the more important, since it happens inthat part of Asia which is under the immediate domination of Europe,and since the product of the workings, flowing towards the West, ex-ercises its influence altogether upon the commerce of Europe. How-ever ancient may be in Asia the workings of the mineral (so to speak) in place—known under the vague denomination of Tchoudic veins, the existence of considerable masses of manufactured gold found at theearliest occupation of the country in the sepulchres and of which suchremarkable specimens exist in the collections of S. Petersburg, is ex-
* [Herodotus: Melpom. c. 5. Mr. Humboldt has here given at length the wholechapter in the Latin of Schweighaüser. It is a perplexed passage in the original;but as the undoubted substance is retained above in the text, I have thought itallowable to be omitted.] The Massagetians, a tribe of Alans according to Am-mianus Marcellinus, used for the furniture of their horses gold as other people doiron. Herod. Clio, c. 215. [See also Judges viii. 26, for the mention of the goldenchains for the camels; which the Ishmaelitish Midianites yielded to Jerubbaal.] What are called Tchoudic veins and the Tchoudic mines of North Asia do notbelong to the same stock. The name of this Cabirian race who hunted the mineraland forged the metal, originally signified only foreigners, not Russians [outside bar-barians;] but in a more emphatic manner among the Russian annals, according toKlaproth (Asia Polyglotta, p. 184) and the more recent and learned researches ofSiogren (Mem. of the Acad. of S. Petersburg; vi. series, vol. i. p. 308) it coversall the Finnish and the Uralian tribes.
|718| plained more perfectly by the discovery at remote epochs of lumps ofgold in the alluvium immediately below the surface of the ground.Müller, the excellent historian of Siberia, says that the first discoveriesof gold in the sepulchres (kourganoui) lowered in a most surprisingmanner the value of this metal at Krasnojarsk.* Internal Asia, confinedbetween the chain of the Himalaya and the volcanic range called theCelestial Mountains [Thian-chan] forms like China a close realm, aswell in a political as (almost in the same degree) in a commercial pointof view. However uncertain may be our notions as to this part of theglobe, nevertheless from the brilliant epoch of the Mongol Dynasties tothe end of the 13th century, since the travels of the Venetian Polo, thefame of these beds of auriferous sand in the interior of Asia has beenpenetrating to Europe—on the south by the way of India, on the north,through Siberia.
The Calcutta journals report that in all Western Thibet, the streamsbring down gold; and that the natives extract the metal by amalgamation.Ancient Indian myths make the sovereign of the North, Kouwera, tobe the god of riches; and it is remarkable that the residence of thisgod (Alakâ) is not upon the range of the Himalaya itself, but on theKailâsa on this side of the Himalaya, in Thibet. It is more tothe north-west, on this side of the chain of Kouen-loun whichseparates the districts of Ladakh and Khotan, that Heeren places, withmuch probability in my opinion, the great Sandy Desert so rich in goldwhich the Indians bordering on Caspatyrus visited and where ants,smaller than dogs but larger than foxes, burrowed for their nests. TheBolor, whose eastern slope leads to Khoufaloun (a region which thegeographers designate under the name of Little Thibet or Kaschgar,)and to the Lake Lop among the steppes, offered also on its westernslope to the distinguished traveller who has last explored this terra in-cognita, Alexander Burnes, the auriferous beds of Durrvaz and of theupper waters of the Oxus, which he has described.|| In China theextraction of gold by washing, dates from the highest antiquity; andwe can distinguish in the metallurgic nomenclature of this pedanticpeople the fields of gold § (beds of gold-ore of vast extent in the plains)and lumps of gold under the name of dog-heads, of wheat-grains, andof millet-seed. Unfortunately in Choco, in Sonora and in the Ural, asevery where, there are fewer dog-heads than millet-seed.

* Journal Asiatique, t. ii. p. 12. Albert Höfer: Translation of the Urwasi and the Kalidâsa; 1837, p. 90. Herod. iii. 102—106. Heeren: 1st part, 2d sect. p. 90, 102, 340—345. Com-pare Ritter: Asia, vol. ii. 657—660.|| Burnes: Travels, vol. ii. p. 165. In 1831, they still found in the Oxus lumps ofgold as large as a pigeon’s-egg. Like the Rhine, the Oxus (Djihoun) rolls its sandsof gold down to its mouth; and the unfortunate expedition of Prince AlexanderBekewitsch, undertaken for Peter the Great in 1716, was induced by exaggeratedand untruthful statements as to the accumulation of gold near the ancient embou-chure of the Oxus, south of the little chain of the Balkan and near the easternshore of the Caspian Sea.§ Landresse: upon the Auriferous Alluvion of China, in the Asiatic Journal,vol. ii. p. 90.