Sunday, August 3, 2014

What’s a silver coin?

According to Coins of Fletnern (yep - it’s FREE), the standard silver coin is the Brinston crown: “The silver Crown measures approximately an inch across and is roughly an eighth of an inch thick. While this is roughly the same diameter of a U.S. quarter, it is twice the thickness. It is however three times the weight, because silver is heavier (actually denser) than the zinc and copper used in the quarter.”

But what is it worth? The average salary in the USA (based on the social security records for 2012) is roughly $44,300. (Remember that this average includes those 1%ers that everybody always gets so jealous of.) That’s $21-22 per hour. That feels to me like someone who has a skilled job and some experience at it. I’m going to compare this rate to a skilled craftsman in Grain Into Gold, or about 12sc a day. Doing the math - That means one silver coin represents about $15USD in 2012. That’s a lot! When we first wrote Legend Quest in 1991, I remember thinking 1sc=$5. (The same math says that really would have been about $7.25, so not entirely wrong, but a bit low.)

Why does it matter? Well, the main reason it matters is that I only have copper, silver and gold coins. 100cc=10sc=1gc. This means that 1cc=$1.50. I created “bits” for Rhum, which are quarters of copper coins. That worked really well in the 1sc=$5 world, because 2 bits = $0.25, just like it did here. Now my smallest coin is effectively $0.375. It makes me wonder how the poor buy things.

I’ve recently done some math on the minting of coins, and the truth is, the person who mints the coins loses money on minting copper and silver coins. He makes quite a bit on the gold coins, no matter how I go about the math, so that’s good, but it means that unless the government is either minting the coins themselves or strictly controlling the coin minters, no one would be making silver or copper coins. That’s OK, because if you look at the US Mint’s site, they spend $0.024 per penny and $0.1118 per nickel. Dimes and quarters do pay for themselves, because dimes are cheaper to make then nickels. Still - I hate the idea that copper coins are actually a loss. (In one of my best case tries, silver coins came out really close to even. If you get the metal straight from the mine (instead of from foreign coins you buy/trade), you make money on silver and gold, but still not copper, but these guys cannot just be making brand new coins. Also, if you have to pay tax to bring the silver into the city (assuming the mint is in the city), you’re back to losing on the silver coins, though a government would probably not have to pay their own tariffs.

In Rhum, I wrote that the coins get reminted every five years. This was both an anti-counterfeiting measure as well as a means of controlling the currency. I think I need to alter that to say that the silver and gold coins are reminted, but the coppers are left as is - it just isn’t worth the effort.


  1. I've always tried to think of a "silver coin" as being the general amount that the ATM spits out at us, in Canada, it's a $20 bill. A $20 bill will buy enough to eat and drink, drive hoe with gas, etc. for the day, generally. If you can get a deal, it'll get a six pack and pack of smokes. So, a "silver"=$20 (Earth) or an hours work for a skilled tradesman. An unskilled labourer gets half, so four or five silvers if a labourer (assuming in a fantasy/medieval setting a labourer works eight or ten hours, which I think would vary if the labourer is more of a homesteader, like at the sawmills here, where men work the mornings, then go home to cut their own wood, feed animals, etc plus a few hours in the evening to wittle wood for their cottage industry).
    That gets us close to the same amount...$20 for a silver. I think of "copper coins" in a different way. I try to think that below a silver, copper is more of a direct barter, like, say, a woman could trade a dozen eggs for a few copper pieces which (in theory) could be beaten into a copper spoon. Maybe ten copper for a stewing ladle. This would be a fair trade. Given this, a copper generally is a base value, so a copper for an egg, a copper for a slice of bread, a drink of water or cheap beer...etc. I don't concieve of things being worth less than a copper as being worth trading for currency. Which is what I guess you were getting at with the bits. Here in Canada, we got rid of pennies, and use just the nickel. Truth is, a quarter is really only good for a phone call (not so much anymore, you need a few) so a dollar is roughly equal to a "copper". In game terms, our Canadian Twoonie, or two dollar coin, is worth a "copper coin" which are one ounce of copper, instead of the half ounce "silver coins". It's tricky, currency, but I agree that a

    Silver 1/2 ounce = approx. $20
    Copper 1 ounce = approx. $2
    1/2 ounce copper= approx. $1

    one could do an LCD on this and say silver -- $10, Copper--$1, With gold @1/2 oz -- $100.

    This system sort of works with todays fluctuating commodity prices for these metals. Generally, an ounce of copper is worth less than a tenth of the value of an ounce of silver -$100 --$200. Silver is worth a tenth (generally) of an ounce of gold --$1000-$2000. This method gives the minter a reason (profit). This equation makes a copper coin worth around $5 @ 1/2 ounce, and we have the same issue that you pointed out earlier, copper worth more than its face value. However, copper is valued much more highly because of electricity and industry. In our games, copper need only be worth slightly less than the mint price.

    Of course, this is fantasy...we can simply explain the discrepancy about minting silvers and coppers to availability of the commodity, but I think like you that it's worth exploring and explaining. It is something that always bothered me. I have turned to electrum, such as was used by the Romans and Greeks and Byzantines, a rough half/half silver/gold as it was found there. Perhaps alloys are an answer, but then we get into coins being not worth their real value...for me, and I'm thinking you as well, confusion.

    For all of this, I have made a copper the base value of buying such simple commodities. Grain Into Gold gave me the idea about having real values for things.
    Bread slice = cp, cup of beer =cp, bowl of stew = 3cp, making a 5 cp meal for a laborer, or a $5 meal at McDonald's in our world. Not perfect, but it works on the consumer side. The minting...well....I'll leave that to you ; )


      this site has some good historical info on the subject...not helpful so much, but informative for ratio values as commodity prices

    2. Here’s where reality and fantasy diverge - I don’t use inflation or commodity prices. I believe that relies on too much math for a GM. So while I fully agree that your site is really cool (thanks for that), I don’t want anyone to start thinking about copper vs silver vs gold price differences. I hate to admit it, but I also don’t want to have to worry about one city’s gold purity being much lower than another’s so the one coin is therefore more valuable than another. As much as I love the realism, I want to focus on the characters and not have to teach an accounting class at the beginning of every campaign or at the end of every adventure. I’m not suggesting that’s where you were going, but I do want to stress what I think is important.
      By the way, I do explain both of these in my world: During a siege (of Rhum) the government made it illegal to “gouge” on pricing. In other words, anyone caught jacking up their prices was jailed. Thus - inflation is actually outlawed. I know - a little too arbitrary, but at a very quick glance, it seems to make sense. And there is a vast conspiracy known as the Gold Guild. These are the producers of gold throughout the world. When someone else makes a gold strike, they step in and cause problems. They hold back on production when needed to keep the 100:10:1 ratio correct. Think of them as De Beers, but for gold and not diamonds.

    3. But I could teach an accounting class if I wanted to!