he is likely to sell them. Half an ounce of 
silver at Canton in China may command
greater quantity both of labour and of the necessaries 
and conveniencies of life, than an 
ounce at London. A commodity, therefore, 
which sells for half an ounce of silver at Canton
may there be really dearer, of more real 
importance to the man who possesses it there, 
than a commodity which sells for an ounce at 
London is to the man who possesses it at 
London. If a London merchant, however, 
can buy at Canton, for half an ounce of silver
a commodity which he can afterwards 
sell at London for an ounce, he gains a hundred 
per cent. by the bargain, just as much as 
if an ounce of silver was at London exactly of 
the same value as at Canton. It is of no importance 
to him that half an ounce of silver at 
Canton would have given him the command 
of more labour, and of a greater quantity of 
the necessaries and conveniencies of life than 
an ounce can do at London. An ounce at 
London will always give him the command 
of double the quantity of all these, which half 
an ounce could have done there, and this is 
precisely what he wants. 
As it is the nominal or money price of 
goods, therefore, which finally determines the 
prudence or imprudence of all purchases and 
sales, and thereby regulates almost the whole 
business of common life in which price is concerned, 
we cannot wonder that it should have 
been so much more attended to than the real 
In such a work as this, however, it may 
sometimes be of use to compare the different 
real values of a particular commodity at different 
times and places, or the different degrees 
of power over the labour of other people 
which it may, upon different occasions, 
have given to those who possessed it. We 
must in this case compare, not so much the 
different quantities of silver for which it was 
commonly sold, as the different quantities of 
labour which those different quantities of silver 
could have purchased. But the current 
prices of labour, at distant times and places, 
can scarce ever be known with any degree of 
exactness. Those of corn, though they have 
in few places been regularly recorded, are in 
general better known, and have been more 
frequently taken notice of by historians and 
other writers. We must generally, therefore, 
content ourselves with them, not as being always 
exactly in the same proportion as the 
current prices of labour, but as being the 
nearest approximation which can commonly 
be had to that proportion. I shall hereafter 
have occasion to make several comparisons of 
this kind. 
In the progress of industry, commercial 
nations have found it convenient to coin several 
different metals into money; gold for 
larger payments, silver for purchases of moderate 
value, and copper, or some other coarse 
metal, for those of still smaller consideration. 
They have always, however, considered one of 
those metals as more peculiarly the measure 
of value than any of the other two; and this 
preference seems generally to have been given 
to the metal which they happen first to make 
use of as the instrument of commerce. Having 
once begun to use it as their standard
which they must have done when they had no 
other money, they have generally continued 
to do so even when the necessity was not the 
The Romans are said to have had nothing 
but copper money till within five years before 
the first Punic war[7], when they first began 
to coin silver. Copper, therefore, appears 
to have continued always the measure 
of value in that republic. At Rome all accounts 
appear to have been kept, and the 
value of all estates to have been computed, 
either in asses or in sestertii. The as was always 
the denomination of a copper coin
The word sestertius signifies two asses and a 
half. Though the sestertius, therefore, was 
originally a silver coin, its value was estimated 
in copper. At Rome, one who owed
great deal of money was said to have a great 
deal of other people's copper
The northern nations who established themselves 
upon the ruins of the Roman empire, 
seem to have had silver money from the first 
beginning of their settlements, and not to 
have known either gold or copper coins for 
several ages thereafter. There were silver 
coins in England in the time of the Saxons
but there was little gold coined till the time 
of of Edward III. nor any copper till that of 
James I. of Great Britain. In England, 
therefore, and for the same reason, I believe, 
in all other modern nations of Europe, all 
accounts are kept, and the value of all goods 
and of all estates is generally computed, in 
silver: and when we mean to express the 
amount of a person's fortune, we seldom mention 
the number of guineas, but the number 
of pounds sterling which we suppose would 
be given for it. 
Originally, in all countries, I believe, a legal 
tender of payment could be made only in 
the coin of that metal which was peculiarly 
considered as the standard or measure of 
value. In England, gold was not considered 
as a legal tender for a long time after it was 
coined into money. The proportion between 
the values of gold and silver money was not 
fixed by any public law or proclamation, but 
was left to be settled by the market. If a 
debtor offered payment in gold, the creditor 
might either reject such payment altogether, 
or accept of it at such a valuation of the gold 
as he and his debtor could agree upon. 
Copper is not at present a legal tender, except 
in the change of the smaller silver coins
In this state of things, the distinction between