Coins, Weights and Measures,

[Gazetteer of Scotland Contents]

Scottish coinage cannot be traced higher than the twelfth century. Silver pennies were coined by William the Lion and his immediate successors; and this and other silver coins continued to be the only currency till the reign of David II. During the whole of the Scoto-Saxon period, Scottish money was of the same fashion, weight, and fineness, as the English, bore the same denominations, and was, in all respects, coequal with it in value. David II., amid the feebleness and the wretched circumstances of his reign, coined groats, half-groats, pennies, and half-pennies, of silver, but so debased the coinage, that it was, for the first time, prohibited in England, or rated at a depreciated standard. The amount of deterioration was one-fifth of the whole value; and was estimated nearly at that proportion in the calculations of the English. David’s successors not only followed his example, but carried out the principle of it with a boldness and a rapidity of expansion which excite surprise. Three, two, and one of the English pennies successively, and in speediness of change, became equal to four of the Scottish. The money of Scotland was at length carried so far along the career of deterioration, as, about the year 1600, to become only one-twelfth of the English in value; and, at this miserably depreciated rate, it has ever since stood in abstract or comparative reckoning. Robert II., who ascended the throne in 1371, introduced gold pieces, and coined £17 12s. out of one pound of gold. Mary coined royals of 10, 20, and 30 shillings, generally known under the name of Crookston dollars. James VI. coined merks, half merks, quarter merks, and half-quarter merks, and nobles and half nobles. Charles II. coined pieces of 4 merks and 2 merks, dollars of 56 shillings each in value, half-dollars, quarter dollars, half-quarter dollars, and sixteenths of dollars. James VII. coined 40 and 10 shilling pieces; and William and Mary pieces of 60, 40, 20, 10, and 5 shillings. At the epoch of the Union, nearly £900,000 existed in Scotland in the different coins of various nations; and the whole specie was recoined in uniformity with the English standard, and, with very little addition of paper currency, put into circulation, to the permanent exclusion of the old and wofully depreciated coins. – Copper money, or billon, generally known by the name of black money, was introduced to Scotland a century and a-half before it appeared in England. The copper coins of James II., III., IV., and V., – the largest of which is about the size of a modern shilling, but very thin, – were probably intended to pass for groats and half-groats. Mary coined placks, or fourpenny pieces; James VI. coined bodles, or twopenny pieces, and hardheads, or threepenny pieces; and Charles II., and William and Mary, besides repeating parts of the former coinage, coined bawbees. – The early weights and measures of Scotland were derived chiefly from England, during the 12th century; and, whatever may have been their variety, they long continued to serve every practical end among an uncommercial people. The parliament, desirous to maintain fairness and uniformity, appointed standards in the several departments; and, probably with a reference to the respective manufactures of the burghs, assigned the keeping of the standard ell to Edinburgh, that of the reel to Perth, that of the pound to Lanark, that of the firlot to Linlithgow, and that of the jug to Stirling. Yet these standards seem to have been very carelessly kept, – so much so, that one of them was, for a long period, actually lost; and they did not prevent the usages of Scotland from becoming discrepant with those of England, or even from assuming various and perplexing local peculiarities. An uniformity of weights and measures was, from time to time, desiderated and attempted as a great social benefit; it was decreed by the act of Union to extend over both divisions of the United Kingdom; and it was pleaded and abstractly exhibited in numerous elaborate pamphlets, which were fruitlessly lauded by the learned, and coolly neglected or stolidly gazed at by the ignorant. In spite of both laws and logic, the people remained so wedded to their practices, that, till the recent introduction of Imperial weights and measures, dissimilarities which arose during the torpidity and ignorance of the feudal times, continued, with many of the properties of an intricate puzzle, to perplex our theorists and embarrass our dealers. 

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