October 16, 2011

Adam Smith's Inquiry into the Wealth of Nations (Editor's Note)

A Note (XLI) by Marquis Garnier in the Second French Edition (after 1802) correctly translates von Humboldt's 1801 Colombian price "Fr 40 per libra" (castellano) as Fr 80 per kilogramme. The kilogramme was based on the poid of 2 marc (the marc divided into 8 ounces); the Castellano was analoguous to the marc.

By direct implication and logic, von Humboldt's cited Paris platina price was for the approximate 500 gram 'poids de marc' and not per kilogram. Otherwise, the estimation would nonsensically, double the weight, or halve the price of all precious metals.
Footnotes in the Second Edition manuscript date to 1821, when von Humboldt was still resident in Paris.  From 1815-20, the Paris price for the best platina (Fr 4.06 -5.08) was  approximately and consistently ~4x more expensive than the Colombian source ; cheap grades of ore were likely sold at lower rates.  It's interesting to note that Paris platina had often been only ~3x more expensive than the source earlier on (1800 - 1810) but rising global demand for Platinum intensified European speculation in the raw commodity around 1820 (more explicitly than Garnier revealed.)

Vulgar speculation in refined Platinum, in Paris & London, likely appeared two years later, in 1822/3, as rumors of the Colombian government's interest in coinage circulated.

The amount of platinum that comes annually to the European market is perhaps not a thousandth of the amount of money coming into the same market, yet a mark of platinum is not worth the two cinqu1èmes of a mark of money. According to Humboldt, platinum is worth only 80 francs per kilogram instead of the extraction, although the trade sell-often three to four times more expensive, because in an article also scarce, dealers are almost always the key to the law to those who seek to fill it.

Citation: Recherches sur la nature et les causes de la richesse des nations; Adam Smith Vol. 5 (1822) p.663

From von Humboldt's original (ms. of 1809):

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