How did states cope with financial crisis before the birth of modern economic thought? England turned to Sir Isaac Newton when faced such a quandary a little over 300 years ago...
This was an age when coins were manually hammered out, not milled with serrated edges as they are now, and people known as Clippers would scrape or "clip" bits of silver from the edges of these coins with no definite outline. Along with Coyners (who manufactured counterfeit coins), they contributed to an alarming devaluation of English money in the late 17th century, and -- coupled with a very expensive war with France and other economic and political factors -- these fraudsters helped bring England into a financial crisis.
Lacking a staff of professional economists, the government turned to Isaac Newton and seven other men in 1695. Together they successfully argued for recoining the English currency, and this was underway by the time Newton was installed as Warden of the Mint in May of the following year.
Over 100 clippers and coyners were prosecuted while Newton was in this post, and at the same time he was instrumental in overseeing the production of new currency -- up to £100,000 per week at the peak.
In the document shown here, Newton accounts for "all the Gold & Silver monies coyned by the Mill & Press" between 1663 and 1698. The initial figure is listed as £18,713,052.07.02, but Newton notes that "Gold is here recconed at £44.10.00 the pound weight [which] is 20s the Guinea. But if Gold be recconed at £1.2.0 the Guinea, the whole Coynage of Gold will amount to 8,958,919.9.0 & that of both Gold & Silver to £19,527,499.11.00" -- a huge figure for 1698!
For more information about our collection of Isaac Newton documents related to coinage and the Royal Mint, click here.
The Leon Levy Foundation is generously underwriting a major project to upgrade catalog records for the Morgan's collection of literary and historical manuscripts. The project is the most substantive effort to date to improve primary research information on a portion of this large and highly important collection.