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The Debasement Puzzle: An Essay on Medieval Monetary History


  • Rolnick, Arthur J.
  • Velde, François R.
  • Weber, Warren E.


We establish several facts about medieval monetary debasements: they were followed by unusually large minting volumes and by increased seigniorage; old and new coins circulated concurrently; and, at least some of the time, coins were valued by weight. These facts constitute a puzzle because debasements provide no additional inducements to bring coins to the mint. On theoretical and empirical grounds, we reject explanations based on by-tale circulation, nominal contracts, and sluggish price adjustment. We conclude that debasements pose a challenge to monetary economics.

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  • Rolnick, Arthur J. & Velde, François R. & Weber, Warren E., 1996. "The Debasement Puzzle: An Essay on Medieval Monetary History," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 56(4), pages 789-808, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:jechis:v:56:y:1996:i:04:p:789-808_01

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. N. J. Mayhew, 1974. "Numismatic Evidence and Falling Prices in the Fourteenth Century," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 27(1), pages 1-15, February.
    2. Riley, James C. & McCusker, John J., 1983. "Money supply, economic growth, and the quantity theory of money: France, 1650-1788," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 20(3), pages 274-293, July.
    3. Bordo, Michael D., 1986. "Money, deflation and seigniorage in the fifteenth century: A review essay," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(3), pages 337-346, November.
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