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(bīmĕt`əlĭz'əm), in economic history, monetary system in which two commodities, usually gold and silver, were used as a standard and coined without limit at a ratio fixed by legislation that also designated both of them as legally acceptable for all payments. The term was first used in 1869 by Enrico Cernuschi (1821–96), an Italian-French economist and a vigorous advocate of the system. In a bimetallic system, the ratio is expressed in terms of weight, e.g., 16 oz of silver equal 1 oz of gold, which is described as a ratio of 16 to 1. As the ratio is determined by law, it has no relation to the commercial value of the metals, which fluctuates constantly. Gresham's law, therefore, applies; i.e., the metal that is commercially valued at less than its face value tends to be used as money, and the metal commercially valued at more than its face value tends to be used as metal, valued by weight, and hence is withdrawn from circulation as money. Working against that is the fact that the debtor tends to pay in the commercially cheaper metal, thus creating a market demand likely to bring its commercial value up to its face value. In practice, the instability predicted by Gresham's law overpowered the cushioning effect of debtors' payments, thereby making bimetallism far too unstable a monetary system for most modern nations. Aside from England, which in acts of 1798 and 1816 made gold the standard currency, all countries practiced bimetallism during the late 18th cent. and most of the 19th cent.


See J. L. Laughlin, The History of Bimetallism in the United States (1897, repr. 1968).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



monetary system under which the role of money is assigned legislatively to two metals—gold and silver—and coins minted from both metals perform all the functions of money without limitation and circulate on an equal basis. Bimetallism, inherited from the Middle Ages, was widespread in Western Europe in the 16th to 19th centuries, since the development of capitalism placed ever-increasing demand on the monetary material—gold and silver. The mining of silver in Europe and the influx of it from America, in turn, promoted the spread of bimetallism. Two varieties of bimetallism existed—parallel bimetallism and dual bimetallism. The parallel-currency system, under which the value ratio between gold and silver is established spontaneously in accordance with the market value of gold and silver, suited an earlier historical period and was inconvenient for computations, since the ratio of the value of the metals, and hence the ratio of the prices of goods, was in continual flux. Under the dual-currency system, which was established in a number of countries beginning in the 18th and 19th centuries, their governments determined the value ratio (parity) between gold and silver. For instance, in 1865 this ratio in European countries was 1:15.5. The minting of gold and silver coins and their acceptance in various transactions were carried out according to the established ratio; if one metal proved to be undervalued by the government, it went out of circulation and was exported abroad, or, conversely, it came in from abroad if it was overvalued. For example, in England in the 16th to 18th centuries, gold, which was ultimately overvalued by the government, remained in circulation, while undervalued silver disappeared from circulation. The dual-currency system existed in France from the beginning of the 19th century and in the USA from the end of the 18th century until 1873, when the silver dollar still retained its unlimited power as the means of payment although the open minting of silver had been abandoned. In conditions of bimetallism, bank notes were exchanged, according to the wishes of the banks of issue, for either gold or silver, so that the country’s currency reserves consisted of two metals. The last step of bimetallism in Europe was the creation of the Latin Monetary Union (1865).

Bimetallism does not meet the needs of a developed commodity economy and contradicts the very nature of money as a single commodity designed to perform monetary functions. The contradictory nature and instability of bimetallism as a monetary system, the increasing gap between the growth of silver production and the decline in its value beginning in the 1870’s (the ratio of silver to gold was 1:18 in 1880 and 1:40 in 1907), and several other factors caused the transition to gold monometallism.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
"Bimetallism in the United States Before 1850." Journal of Political Economy, 76, 1968, 428-42.
Rothbard about the struggle to resume normalcy in monetary matters after the war, with the resumption of redemption in specie, is about the compromise on bimetallism and silver purchases that in 1879 came into being along with the return to a redeemable currency.
The goal of bimetallism, where the monetary standard is a ratio of gold to silver as fixed by government mandate, was a return to increasing the money supply due to the abundance of silver while hiding under the banner of hard currency by using a commodity.
He wrote about a widespread confusion, which he discerned in the then-current debate about bimetallism, in the interpretation of interest rates.
If you want a detailed exposition of Bryan's electoral strategy in 1908, an examination of the economics of bimetallism, or a tick-tock account of his struggle against America's entry into World War I, this is not the book for you.
Weber, 2000, A model of bimetallism, Journal of Political Economy 108, 1210-1234.
The other great economic controversy in American political life contemporaneous with the emergence of pragmatism was the "money question," the debate over whether the United States should switch from the gold standard to one based on bimetallism. At a deeper level, however, it was also a conflict between different conceptions of what the function of money was.
Although many of the topics are touched on in comprehensive textbooks (e.g., bimetallism, Mugwumps, protective tariffs), most listeners will find this challenging because of the fast-paced reading.
Dunham, whose intent was to move the country away from bimetallism to a monometallic (gold) standard, similar to that used in Great Britain.
In the words of his biographer Stephen Kantrowitz, Tillman regarded bimetallism as a "bridge between disaffected producers in the Democratic South and their brethren in the Republican West." The senator believed that this regional alignment would "redefine American sectionalism and rally white producers everywhere against their common enemies in the seats of monopoly [and] finance." Tillman's attempt to redefine sectionalism in Chicago, however, proved disastrous.
William Jennings Bryan, as nominee of the Democratic Party in the presidential election of 1896, campaigned on a platform to reverse the so-called "crime of 1873." The phrase referred to the change in the United States' monetary system from bimetallism, in which gold and silver are used concurrently, to the gold standard.
The gold standard arose out of bimetallism in the 1870s, after silver had been effectively demonetised in major countries and no country was willing or able to maintain the bimetallic ratio.