Due to overwhelming popular demand *cough* I mean, as I had a couple of requests for it at Christopher Moses’ talk on Money Matters at the IHR a few weeks back, I’m posting the PDF of an essay I wrote 10 years ago on alchemy and economics. I’ve done a little tidying up, but it’s substantially unchanged.
I’ve been interested in monetary crime since reading George Caffentzis’ remarkable Clipped Coins, Abused Words and Civil Government (Open Library record). This led me to write a dissertation on coin clipping and the ‘Great Recoinage’ of the 1690s for my B.A. at the University of North London, and also gave me a taste of the delights held by the archives. The present essay, for an M.A. course, was a spin-off from that, as I had a sense of an alchemical subtext lurking in the background; the clippers were accused of being alchemists, their nemesis Isaac Newton was one, and there are fleeting mentions of it in the voluminous contemporary pamphlet literature.
A couple of disclaimers: as Moses mentioned at the seminar, the technologies developed at Potosi for extracting gold is an important element in this story, and one absent from this essay. There’s nothing about the coin clippers themselves, yet they’re the most interesting part of the whole story. I don’t like the way it is written; rather thick with academese.
But for all that, the economic aspects of alchemy have been ignored, and it does have the merit of giving voice to George Starkey’s marvellous espousal of inflation!
This article is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England and Wales License.