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In 1848 there were over 30 different types of gold and silver coins in circulation, both national and foreign. Such a confusing array of coins could be dealt with this coin balance, which had specific weights for 14 different gold denominations. Weighing coins was an important procedure to determine their value and detect possible counterfeits.

COIN BALANCE

Portugal

1848

Wood, steel, and tin

Did you know that…

Among the gold coins that were given legal tender status and that could be weighed with this balance was the dobrão, a coin minted in Brazil more than 120 years before?

In 1846-1847 Portugal went through a severe political, banking, and monetary crisis. Popular uprisings and civil war destabilised the economy and revealed the weaknesses of the banking and financial system. The circulation of currency was affected in a dire way, through the flight of precious metals abroad and the shortage of coinage in the country.

Seeking to address the scarcity of coinage, the government issued several decrees that conferred legal tender status upon a number of foreign coins – silver and especially gold – and readmitted old Portuguese coins into circulation. In 1848 more than 30 different silver and gold coins circulated side-by-side in Portugal.

This balance was made in that same year, and was used to check the weight of 14 types of Spanish, Spanish-American, North American, English, Brazilian, and Portuguese gold coins. In the label on the lid of the case the user could consult the legal weight of each coin, expressed in eighths and grains, as well as their legal value, expressed in reis.

In a world ruled by the metallist conception of money, and considering the great variety of coins in circulation, verifying the weight of coins helped to avoid losses incurred by accepting underweight coins and counterfeits.

With the decree of 30 January 1851 the legal circulation of foreign coins was restricted to British sovereigns and half sovereigns, ending the utility of balances such as this.

Excerpts from the History of the Portuguese Banking System, vol. I, on the monetary crisis of 1846-1847

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