A Comparative Chronology of Money

Monetary History from Ancient Times to the Present Day

1500 - 1599

© Roy Davies & Glyn Davies, 1996 & 1999.

Based on the book: A History of Money from Ancient Times to the Present Day by Glyn Davies, rev. ed. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1996. 716p. ISBN 0 7083 1351 5. (Page numbers in the 3rd edition published in 2002 may be slightly different).

1452-1519 Life of Leonardo da Vinci
Among Leonardo's drawings are designs for a press to produce more uniform coins quickly using a water driven mill. This innovation is widely adopted and the new money is termed milled money.

p 178-179

1500-1540 Huge supplies of New World gold reach Spain
On average between 1,000 and 1,500 kg. of gold reach Spain each year during this period. Initially these supplies are obtained by plunder, especially from the Aztecs and Incas, and later by applying new mining methods to the New World gold deposits.

p 176,186-187

1504-1507 Large-scale exports of manillas from Portugal to West Africa
During this short period alone a single trading station on the Guinea coast imports 287,813 manillas. (A manilla is a metal anklet, bracelet or front section of a necklace, usually made of copper or brass, used for money which can be conveniently and ornamentally carried on the person).

p 45-46

1504 Henry VII issues shilling coins
Up to this time the English shilling has simply been a unit of account.

p 191

1511 The Protestant Reformation begins
Although Luther, Calvin and Zwingli condemned traditional forms of usury they weakened the church's power and influence over economic affairs. Later on in England, Henry VIII, after breaking with Rome, legalises the charging of interest and seizes monastic property.

p 193-194,220-221

1519-1521 Cortés conquers Mexico
Before the arrival of the Spaniards the Aztecs and Mayas used gold dust (kept in transparent quills) and cocoa beans (kept for large payments in sacks of 24,000) as money.

p 47

1519 Minting of Thalers begins in Joachimsthal in Bohemia
This coin made from locally-mined silver is known as the Joachimsthaler, or thaler for short, from its place of origin, and is widely imitated. The Anglicised form of the name, dollar, is later used for the Spanish peso and the Portuguese eight-real piece which circulate widely in North America both before and after the United States gains its independence.

p 459

1526 Nicholas Copernicus writes his Treatise on Debasement
With many provinces of his native Poland, and other parts of Europe, suffering from debasement the great astronomer argues that it is the total number of coins in circulation, rather than the weight of metal they contain, that determines the level of prices and the buying power of the currency.

p 230

1532 Pizarro lands in Peru and begins the conquest of the Incas
The Incas were unique in reaching a high degree of civilization without the use of money even though they possessed huge amounts of gold and silver. The more rigid a state's planning system the less the need for money.

p 47

1534-1540 Dissolution of the Monasteries
Henry VIII seizes control of the property of the monasteries, partly to promote the Reformation in England but mainly because of his need to find money for the defence of the realm.

p 193-194

1540-1640 The Price Revolution in Europe
Europe, including Britain, experiences a prolonged period of inflation, partly because of the huge influx of gold and silver from the Spanish colonies in America and partly because the increase in population is not matched by an increase in the output of the economy. Compared with many earlier and later inflations this hardly deserves being described as a revolution.

p 211-217

1542-1551 The Great Debasement
Henry VIII debases the coinage of England as a means of raising revenue. In Ireland the debasement started earlier, in 1536, and does not finish until 1560.

p 197-202

1545 Henry VIII legalises interest charges on loans
An upper limit of 10% per annum is set.

p 221

1545 Discovery of an enormous source of silver in Potosi
This is a mountain of silver, 6 miles in circumference, in what later becomes Bolivia.

p 187

1551-1574 Thomas Gresham works in Holland
During these years Gresham lives, on and off, in Antwerp learning the arts of large-scale lending and borrowing as well as foreign exchange. The skills he acquires equip him to become one of the leading advisers of Elizabeth I.

p 232

1553 The first English joint stock company is founded
This is the Russia Company which is the product of the search for the North-East passage to Asia.

p 235

1560 Elizabeth I begins the reform of England's debased coinage
This is a first step towards the complete replacement of the debased coinage she inherited from her predecessors. Thomas Gresham, after whom Gresham's law ("bad money drives out good") is named, is an influential adviser. The debased coins are recalled and melted down and the base and precious metals separated. The recoinage programme is completed in 1561.

p 202-206

1563 Discovery of mercury deposits at Huancavelica
These deposits enable silver to be extracted from Potosi by the mercury amalgam process already used in silver mines in Mexico. Thereafter huge supplies of silver are sent to Europe and China.

p 188

1566 The Royal Exchange is built
This shows the new importance of banking, and particularly foreign exchange dealing, in England.

p 232

1568 First inland joint-stock companies in England founded
These are the Mines Royal and the Mineral and Battery. German metalworkers are prominent in the development of both.

p 235

1577-1580 Francis Drake's circumnavigation of the globe
The booty seized from the Spaniards (estimated at between £300,000 and £1,500,000) has been described by Keynes as the fountain and origin of British Foreign Investment.

p 213

1585 Bank of Genoa founded

p 233

1587 Francis Walsingham attempts to delay the Spanish Armada by economic warfare
Walsingham's agents reputedly corner large numbers of bills drawn on Genoan banks in order to delay the build up of resources to equip the Spanish Armada which sets sail against England the next year.

p 232

1587 Banco di Rialto, Venice, founded

p 233

1597 Spanish exports of silver to China reach a peak
In this year 345,000 kg. of Peruvian/Bolivian and Mexican silver are shipped from Acapulco to China via Manilla.

p 189

1599 The Dutch attempt to corner the pepper market
Pepper has a high value-to-weight ratio especially at times of real or artificial scarcity. On some rare occasions it is worth even more than its weight in gold. The Dutch action prompts the formation of the London East India Company the following year.

p 184-185

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Roy Davies - Last updated 25 May 2005.