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Global silver: bullion or specie? Supply and demand in the making of the early modern global economy


  • Irigoin, Alejandra


In the early modern period the world economy gravitated around the expansion of long distance commerce. Together with navigation improvements silver was the prime commodity which moved the sails of such trade. The disparate availability of, and the particular demand for silver across the globe determined the participation of producers, consumers and intermediaries in a growing global economy. American endowments of silver are a known feature of this process; however, the fact that the supply of silver was in the form of specie is a less known aspect of the integration of the global economy. This chapter surveys the production and export of silver specie out of Spanish America, its intermediation by Europeans and the re-export to Asia. It describes how the sheer volume produced and the quality and consistency of the coin provided familiarity with, and reliability to the Spanish American peso which made it current in most world markets. By the 18th century it has become a currency standard for the international economy which grew together with the production and coinage of silver. Implications varied according to the institutional settings to deal with specie and foreign exchange in each intervening economy. Generalized warfare in late 18th century Europe brought down governance in Spanish America and coinage fragmented along with the political fragmentation of the empire. The emergence of new sovereign republics and the end of minting as known meant the cessation of the silver standard that had contributed to the early modern globalization.

Suggested Citation

  • Irigoin, Alejandra, 2018. "Global silver: bullion or specie? Supply and demand in the making of the early modern global economy," Economic History Working Papers 90190, London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Economic History.
  • Handle: RePEc:ehl:wpaper:90190

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Javier Mejia, 2019. "The Economics of the Manila Galleon," Working Papers 20190023, New York University Abu Dhabi, Department of Social Science, revised Jan 2019.

    More about this item


    silver specie; international currency; international trade; monetary capacity; currency trade; global Smithian growth; early modern global economy;

    JEL classification:

    • E42 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Money and Interest Rates - - - Monetary Sytsems; Standards; Regimes; Government and the Monetary System
    • E44 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Money and Interest Rates - - - Financial Markets and the Macroeconomy
    • E5 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Monetary Policy, Central Banking, and the Supply of Money and Credit
    • N10 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • N20 - Economic History - - Financial Markets and Institutions - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • P5 - Economic Systems - - Comparative Economic Systems

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