IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

The emergence of the Classical Gold Standard


  • Matthias Morys


This paper asks why the Classical Gold Standard (1870s - 1914) emerged: Why did the vastmajority of countries tie their currencies to gold in the late 19th century, while there was onlyone country – the UK – on gold in 1850? The literature distinguishes a number of theories toexplain why gold won over bimetallism and silver. We will show the pitfalls of these theories(macroeconomic theory, ideological theory, political economy of choice between gold andsilver) and show that neither the early English lead in following gold nor the German shift togold in 1873 were as decisive as conventional accounts have it. Similarly, we argue that thesilver supply shock materializing in the early 1870s was only the nail in the coffin of silverand bimetallic standards. Instead, we focus on the impact of the 1850s gold supply shock (dueto the immense gold discoveries in California and Australia) on the European monetarysystem. Studying monetary commissions in 13 European countries between 1861 and 1874,we show that the pan-European movement in favour of gold monometallism was motivatedby three key factors: gold being available in sufficient quantities to actually contemplate thetransition to gold monometallism for a larger number of countries (while silver had becomeextremely scarce in the bimetallic bloc, which was the single most important currency area interms of GDP), widespread misgivings over the working of bimetallism and the fact that goldcould encapsulate substantially more value in the same volume than silver (i.e. coinconvenience). In our view, then, the emergence of the Classical Gold Standard was imminentin the late 1860s; which European country would move first – which is often erroneouslyattributed to Germany – is of secondary importance.

Suggested Citation

  • Matthias Morys, 2012. "The emergence of the Classical Gold Standard," Centre for Historical Economics and Related Research at York (CHERRY) Discussion Papers 12/01, CHERRY, c/o Department of Economics, University of York.
  • Handle: RePEc:yor:cherry:12/01

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    File Function: Main text
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Bordo, Michael D. & Rockoff, Hugh, 1996. "The Gold Standard as a “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval”," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 56(02), pages 389-428, June.
    2. Oppers, Stefan Erik, 1996. "Was the worldwide shift to gold inevitable? An analysis of the end of bimetallism," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 37(1), pages 143-162, February.
    3. Friedman, Milton, 1990. "Bimetallism Revisited," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 4(4), pages 85-104, Fall.
    4. repec:ubc:bricol:88-36 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Barry Eichengreen and Marc Flandreau., 1994. "The Geography of the Gold Standard," Center for International and Development Economics Research (CIDER) Working Papers C94-042, University of California at Berkeley.
    6. Meissner, Christopher M., 2005. "A new world order: explaining the international diffusion of the gold standard, 1870-1913," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 66(2), pages 385-406, July.
    7. Allen, Robert C., 2001. "The Great Divergence in European Wages and Prices from the Middle Ages to the First World War," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 38(4), pages 411-447, October.
    8. Luca L. Einaudi, 2000. "From the franc to the ‘Europe’: the attempted transformation of the Latin Monetary Union into a European Monetary Union, 1865-1873," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 53(2), pages 284-308, May.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Fernholz, Ricardo T. & Mitchener, Kris James & Weidenmier, Marc, 2017. "Pulling up the tarnished anchor: The end of silver as a global unit of account," Journal of International Money and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 74(C), pages 209-228.

    More about this item

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:yor:cherry:12/01. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Doriana Delfino). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.