The Mises Institute published a review of George Selgin's 2008 publication, Good Money: Birmingham Button Makers, the Royal Mint, and the Beginnings of Modern Coinage, 1775-1821. Professor Selgin tells the fascinating story of the important yet almost unknown episode in the history of money—British manufacturers’ challenge to the Crown’s monopoly on coinage.
In the 1780s, when the Industrial Revolution was gathering momentum, the Royal Mint failed to produce enough small-denomination coinage for factory owners to pay their workers. As the currency shortage threatened to derail industrial progress, manufacturers began to mint custom-made coins, called “tradesman’s tokens.” Rapidly gaining wide acceptance, these tokens served as the nation’s most popular currency for wages and retail sales until 1821, when the Crown outlawed all moneys except its own.
Good Money not only examines the crucial role of private coinage in fueling Great Britain’s Industrial Revolution, but it also challenges beliefs upon which all modern government-currency monopolies rest. It thereby sheds light on contemporary private-sector alternatives to government-issued money, such as digital monies, cash cards, electronic funds transfer, and (outside of the United States) spontaneous “dollarization.”
George Selgin is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and BB&T Professor of Free Market Thought at West Virginia University. His research covers a broad range of topics within the field of monetary economics, including monetary theory, monetary history, macroeconomic policy, and the history of monetary thought.
Praise for Good Money
“George Selgin’s story of how private enterprise solved a monetary problem that threatened seriously to retard the Industrial Revolution is a splendid piece of historical analysis. He has done an incredible job of unearthing all of the details of what went on in Britain in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. It is a fine example of historical research.” —Milton Friedman, Recipient of the 1976 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics
“Almost all previous research and publication in the two contingent ﬁelds of the history of coinage and the metal industries has formed a dichotomy between two different groups of specialists: economic historians and numismatists. . . . A great strength of this book is that Selgin has mastered both bibliographies and integrated the ﬁelds. Two further aspects of the work, which enhance its academic status, lie in the extensive deployment of primary sources (particularly the Boulton archive, the Boulton and Watt papers and the records of the Committee of the Privy Council on coin) and the wide range of themes covered. . . . The prominent sub-plot in Selgin’s book breaks surface in the introduction, the conclusion and in the robust defence of ‘genuine’ private commercial tokens. He is clearly at one with Herbert Spencer (and The Independent Institute, a promoter of private enterprise and co-publisher of the book), in challenging—or at least questioning—the claims of the state to what has always been one of the earliest, most universal, and most ruthlessly enforced public monopolies. In exploring these issues, Selgin reveals much about the dynamic of the British economy in this period and the fractious relationship between private enterprise and the apparatus of the state.” —Economic History Review
Watch George Selgin present his book's core thesis at the Austrian Scholars Conference, March 14, 2009.
Lew Rockwell interviews George Selgin on "Libertarian Coinage".
Listen to George Selgin discuss the book on a radio interview.