earl of Northumberland, drawn up in 1512, 
there are two different estimations of wheat
In one of them it is computed at six shillings 
and eightpence the quarter, in the other at five 
shillings and eightpence only. In 1512, six 
shillings and eightpence contained only two 
ounces of silver, Tower weight, and were 
equal to about ten shillings of our present 
From the 25th of Edward III. to the beginning 
of the reign of Elizabeth, during the 
space of more than two hundred years, six 
shillings and eightpence, it appears from several 
different statutes, had continued to be 
considered as what is called the moderate and 
reasonable, that is, the ordinary or average 
price of wheat. The quantity of silver, however, 
contained in that nominal sum was, during 
the course of this period, continually diminishing
in consequence of some alterations 
which were made in the coin. But the increase 
of the value of silver had, it seems, so 
far compensated the diminution of the quantity 
of it contained in the same nominal sum
that the legislature did not think it worth while 
to attend to this circumstance
Thus, in 1436, it was enacted, that wheat 
might be exported without a licence when the 
price was so low as six shillings and eightpence
and in 1463, it was enacted, that no 
wheat should be imported if the price was not 
above six shillings and eightpence the quarter
The legislature had imagined, that when 
the price was so low, there could be no inconveniency 
in exportation, but that when it rose 
higher, it became prudent to allow of importation
Six shillings and eightpence, therefore, 
containing about the same quantity of 
silver as thirteen shillings and fourpence of 
our present money (one-third part less than 
the same nominal sum contained in the time 
of Edward III.), had, in those times, been 
considered as what is called the moderate and 
reasonable price of wheat
In 1554, by the 1st and 2d of Philip and 
Mary, and in 1558, by the 1st of Elizabeth, 
the exportation of wheat was in the same manner 
prohibited, whenever the price of the quarter 
should exceed six shillings and eightpence
which did not then contain two penny worth 
more silver than the same nominal sum does 
at present. But it had soon been found, that 
to restrain the exportation of wheat till the 
price was so very low, was, in reality, to prohibit 
it altogether. In 1562, therefore, by 
the 5th of Elizabeth, the exportation of wheat 
was allowed from certain ports, whenever the 
price of the quarter should not exceed ten 
shillings, containing nearly the same quantity 
of silver as the like nominal sum does at present
This price had at this time, therefore, 
been considered as what is called the moderate 
and reasonable price of wheat. It agrees nearly 
with the estimation of the Northumberland 
book in 1512. 
That in France the average price of grain 
was, in the same manner, much lower in the 
end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth 
century, than in the two centuries preceding
has been observed both by Mr Dupré 
de St Maur, and by the elegant author of the 
Essay on the Policy of Grain. Its price, during 
the same period, had probably sunk in 
the same manner through the greater part of 
This rise in the value of silver, in proportion 
to that of corn, may either have been owing 
altogether to the increase of the demand 
for that metal, in consequence of increasing 
improvement and cultivation, the supply, in 
the mean time, continuing the same as before; 
or, the demand continuing the same as 
before, it may have been owing altogether to 
the gradual diminution of the supply: the 
greater part of the mines which were then 
known in the world being much exhausted, 
and, consequently, the expense of working 
them much increased; or it may have been 
owing partly to the one, and partly to the other 
of those two circumstances. In the end of 
the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth 
centuries, the greater part of Europe was approaching 
towards a more settled form of government 
than it had enjoyed for several ages 
before. The increase of security would naturally 
increase industry and improvement; 
and the demand for the precious metals, as 
well as for every other luxury and ornament
would naturally increase with the increase of 
riches. A greater annual produce would require 
a greater quantity of coin to circulate 
it; and a greater number of rich people would 
require a greater quantity of plate and other 
ornaments of silver. It is natural to suppose
too, that the greater part of the mines which 
then supplied the European market with silver 
might be a good deal exhausted, and have become 
more expensive in the working. They 
had been wrought, many of them, from the 
time of the Romans. 
It has been the opinion, however, of the 
greater part of those who have written upon 
the prices of commodities in ancient times
that, from the Conquest, perhaps from the invasion 
of Julius Cæsar, till the discovery of 
the mines of America, the value of silver was 
continually diminishing. This opinion they 
seem to have been led into, partly by the observations 
which they had occasion to make 
upon the prices both of corn and of some other 
parts of the rude produce of land, and partly 
by the popular notion, that as the quantity of 
silver naturally increases in every country with 
the increase of wealth, so its value diminishes 
as its quantity increases
In their observations upon the prices of corn
three different circumstances seem frequently 
to have misled them. 
First, in ancient times, almost all rents 
were paid in kind; in a certain quantity of