“A Treatise on the New Money,” originally written in Latin, is believed to be created by William de Turnemire, a Master of Mint, or probably a foreigner, who was a Master of Mint as well, circa 1290. The treatise is devoted to the issue of coinage, purchasing silver, and alloying it to produce coins. The author examines the nature of money, makes his own moral and political assumptions, and challenges the common views on coinage that existed in this period.
The author of the treatise addresses English noblemen to explain to them the right way to acquire silver according to its purity and, therefore, worth, and the proper way to run a mint. Given that the author sees a necessity to educate the nobility of the country on the monetary issues, and that he is probably a foreigner (or even if he is not), it can be concluded that the author most likely supposes that monetary issues are not handled well in 13th-century England. The treatise is challenging the assumptions that existed at that particular time and country. It is establishing quality standards for making coins, which sound obvious nowadays, but were not of common knowledge in medieval England. The author mentions his intention to make his argument understandable to those, who are not professionals: “I must concentrate on the parts of the subject which can be distinguished and understood by the use of reason,” i.e. people with no experience are able to understand this using only their reason (“The Treatise,” 2009, p. 66).
The treatise aims to make the audience understand the following things. First, mints should not produce money as they please; there has to be some common standard. “Before there is any money,” the author argues, “there must be a statute clearly and distinctly determining the proportion of alloy, the weight and number of the coins” (“The Treatise,” 2009, p. 66). This statute must be issued and signed by the prince and must be proclaimed to the general public to make it common knowledge. Nobody should have an opportunity to reject it without being punished. The author feels a need to remind that forgers should be exposed to corporal punishment for their deeds.
Next, the author explains what has to be done to choose and use silver properly. He speaks about the ways to find out the purity of the proposed metal and gives five examples of different English coins (sterling, penny, halfpenny, etc.), for the production of which different methods of buying silver can be employed, depending on the amount of copper these coins are allowed to contain in them (“The Treatise,” 2009, p. 66-68). “All kinds of silver,” the author claims, “must be coined and bought by the same method of reasoning, according to as they are found to be better or worse” (“The Treatise,” 2009, p. 68).
After that, the author touches on the issue of alloys and the control of their purity. The writer wishes the authorities of England to enhance the role of the Masters of Mint, making their opportunities match their responsibilities. It is even more evident, considering that the author himself was a Master of Mint. It is the Master, who chooses to make a coin finer, i.e. to add less copper to its silver, so the quality of the coin depends wholly on the Master. Therefore, Masters should be given an opportunity to choose the billions of silver, from which the coins are to be made, to make a careful examination of the billions before purchasing them. But in England, as the writer complains, the persons responsible for the acquisition of silver are the Warden and the Changer of the Mint, who merely bring the silver to the Master. The change that the author suggests is to make the Masters responsible for the purchase of silver and punish all the Wardens and Changers, who made improper purchases (“The Treatise,” 2009, p. 75-76).
Apart from that, the author of the treatise develops a specific argument on the nature of money. He starts from an excursus into the origin of the names of coins, such as “denarius,” “moneta,” “penny,” and “sterling.” Next, the author explains that “all money consists of two things, matter, and form” (“The Treatise,” 2009, p. 66). What he means is that the matter is the material, of which the coin is made, i.e. silver and copper, and the form is engraving and imprinting, which changes the nominal value of that material. He compares a die without an imprint to wax without a mark; the former is not a coin like the latter is not a seal (“The Treatise,” 2009, p. 66). From this fact, he derives the necessity of having some knowledge of the material, its disposition, and its testing.
The author of the treatise proposes serious improvements in the financial sphere of 13th-century England. The possible implications of this argument could affect both the political and moral spheres.
As for the political consequences, the things that the author suggests would influence the amount of power possessed by the authorities of England. The writer believes that it is the authorities, whose prerogative is the control over the financial sphere. For instance, he proposes that the prince issue and signs a statute, in which the standards of coinage are established, to control the process of coin production better. He advises punishing any person, who is guilty “of injuring the king’s coinage by his dishonest purchases of silver” (“The Treatise,” 2009, p. 76), referring to the king as the one who must be offended for such a misdeed. Therefore, the political implications of “The Treatise” consist in the enforcement of the state authorities’ control over the coinage and the financial system in general.
Speaking of the possible moral implications of this argument, it is necessary to mention that the author suggests that corporal punishment be adopted as a penalty for forgery (“The Treatise,” 2009, p. 66). Additionally, the writer proposes that the employees of the Mint, who purchase low-quality silver for coinage, be severely punished (“The Treatise,” 2009, p. 76). Corporal punishment is a humiliating sanction, and that would make the public, first, respect the law and the king, and second, regard forgery as a grave misdeed. The possibility of punishment would lower crime rates as well.
To conclude, the author of “The Treatise” rejects the assumptions about the coinage of 13th-century England and examines the nature of money. He suggests several changes, which would have serious moral and political implications. The intended audience of the text is English authorities, to whom the author applies to influence their opinion on the matters of coinage.
A Treatise on the New Money (c. 1290). (2009). In C. Johnson (Ed.), The De Moneta of Nicholas Oresme and English Mint documents. Auburn, AL: The Ludwig von Mises Institute.