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Silver Standard

The silver standard is a monetary system in which the standard economic unit of account is a fixed weight of silver. The silver specie standard was widespread from the fall of the Byzantine Empire until the 19th century. Following the discovery in the 16th century of large deposits of silver at the Cerro Rico in Potosí, Bolivia, an international silver standard came into existence in conjunction with the Spanish pieces of eight. These silver dollar coins played the role of an international trading currency for nearly four hundred years.

In 1704, following Queen Anne's proclamation, the British West Indies became one of the first regions to adopt a gold standard in conjunction with the Spanish gold doubloon coin. In 1717, the master of the Royal Mint, Sir Isaac Newton, introduced a new mint ratio as between silver and gold, and this had the effect of putting Britain onto a de facto gold standard. Following the Napoleonic Wars, the United Kingdom introduced the gold sovereign coin and formally adopted a gold standard in 1821. At the same time, revolutions in Latin America interrupted the supply of silver dollars (pieces of eight) that were being produced at the mints in Potosi, Mexico, and Lima, Peru. The British gold standard initially extended to some of the British colonies, including the Australasian and Southern African colonies, but not to its North American colonies, British India, or to Southeast Asia. The Province of Canada adopted a gold standard in 1853, as did Newfoundland in 1865. In 1873, Imperial Germany changed over to the gold standard in conjunction with the new gold mark coin. The United States changed over to gold de facto in the same year, and over the next 35 years, all other nations changed to gold, leaving only China and the British colonies of Hong Kong and Weihaiwei on the silver standard. The silver standard finally came to an end when it was abandoned by China and Hong Kong in 1935.


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