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The gold standard is a monetary system in which the standard economic unit of account is a fixed weight of gold. There are distinct kinds of gold standard. First, the gold specie standard is a system in which the monetary unit is associated with circulating gold coins, or with the unit of value defined in terms of one particular circulating gold coin in conjunction with subsidiary coinage made from a lesser valuable metal. Similarly, the gold exchange standard typically involves only the circulation of silver coins, or coins made of other metals. But here the authorities guarantee a fixed exchange rate with another country that is on the gold standard. This creats a de facto gold standard, in that the value of the silver coins has a fixed external value in terms of gold that is independent of the inherent silver value. Finally, the gold bullion standard is a system in which gold coins do not actually circulate as such, but in which the authorities have agreed to sell gold bullion on demand at a fixed price in exchange for the circulating currency.
A gold specie standard existed in some of the great empires of earlier times. One example is the Byzantine Empire, which used a gold coin known as the Byzant. But with the ending of the Byzantine Empire, the civilized world tended to use the silver standard. An exmample is the silver pennies that became the staple coin of Britain around the time of King Offa in the year 796 AD. The Spanish discovery of the great silver deposits at Potosi and in Mexico in the 16th century led to an international silver standard in conjunction with the famous pieces of eight, important until the nineteenth century.
In modern times the British West Indies was one of the first regions to adopt a gold specie standard. Following Queen Anne's proclamation of 1704, the British West Indies gold standard, was a 'de facto' gold standard based on the Spanish gold doubloon coin. In the year 1717, master of the Royal Mint Sir Isaac Newton established a new mint ratio between silver and gold that had the effect of driving silver out of circulation and putting Britain on a gold standard. However, only in 1821, following the introduction of the gold sovereign coin by the new Royal Mint at Tower Hill in the year 1816, was the United Kingdom formally put on a gold specie standard. The United Kingdom was the first of the great industrial powers to switch from the silver standard to a gold specie standard. Soon to follow was Canada in 1853, Newfoundland in 1865, and the USA and Germany 'de jure' in 1873. The USA used the American Gold Eagle as their unit, and Germany introduced the new gold mark, while Canada adopted a dual system based on both the American Gold Eagle and the British Gold Sovereign. Australia and New Zealand adopted the British gold standard, as did the British West Indies, while Newfoundland was the only British Empire territory to introduce its own gold coin as a standard. Royal Mint branches were established in Sydney, New South Wales, Melbourne, Victoria, and Perth, Western Australia for the purposes of minting gold sovereigns from Australia's rich gold deposits.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century some of the remaining silver standard countries began to peg their silver coin units to the gold standards of the United Kingdom or the USA. In 1898, British India pegged the silver rupee to the pound sterling at a fixed rate of 1s 4d, while in 1906, the Straits Settlements adopted a gold exchange standard against the pound sterling with the silver Straits dollar being fixed at 2s 4d. Meanwhile at the turn of the century, the Philippines pegged the silver Peso/dollar to the US dollar at 50 cents. A similar pegging at 50 cents occurred at around the same time with the silver Peso of Mexico and the silver Yen of Japan. When Siam adopted a gold exchange standard in 1908, this left only China and Hong Kong on the silver standard.
The gold specie standard ended in the United Kingdom and the rest of the British Empire at the outbreak of World War I. Treasury notes replaced the circulation of the gold sovereigns and gold half sovereigns. However, legally the gold specie standard was not repealed. The end of the gold standard was successfully effected by appeals to patriotism when somebody would request the Bank of England to redeem their paper money for gold specie. It was only in the year 1925 when Britain returned to the gold standard in conjunction with Australia and South Africa, that the gold specie standard was officially ended. The British act of parliament that introduced the gold bullion standard in 1925 simultaneously repealed the gold specie standard. The new gold bullion standard did not envisage any return to the circulation of gold specie coins. Instead, the law compelled the authorities to sell gold bullion on demand at a fixed price. This gold bullion standard lasted until 1931. In 1931, the United Kingdom was forced to suspend the gold bullion standard due to large outflows of gold across the Atlantic Ocean. Australia and New Zealand had already been forced off the gold standard by the same pressures connected with the Great Depression, and Canada quickly followed suit with the United Kingdom.
Dates of adoption of a gold standard * 1704: The British West Indies 'de facto' following Queen Anne's proclamation. * 1717: Kingdom of Great Britain 'de facto' following Isaac Newton's revision of the mint ratio, at 1 guinea to 129.438 grains (8.38 g) of 22 carat crown gold . * 1821: United Kingdom 'de jure' at one sovereign to 123.27447 grains of 22 carat crown gold. * 1818: Netherlands at 1 guilder to 0.60561 g gold. * 1853: Canada in conjunction with the American Gold Eagle coin equal to ten US dollars and also the British gold sovereign equal to four dollars eighty-six and two thirds cents. The Canadian unit was made equal to the American unit in the year 1858. * 1854: Portugal at 1000 réis to 1.62585 g gold. * 1865: Newfoundland The only country in the British Empire to introduce its own gold coin apart from the British gold sovereign. The Newfoundland gold dollar was equal to the Spanish dollar unit that was being used in the British Eastern Caribbean Territories and in British Guiana. * 1873: German Empire at 2790 Goldmarks to 1 kg gold. * 1873: United States 'de facto' at 20.67 dollars to 1 troy oz (31.1 g) gold. (See Coinage Act of 1873). * 1873: Latin Monetary Union (Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, France) at 31 francs to 9.0 g gold * 1875: Scandinavian monetary union: (Denmark, Norway and Sweden) at 2480 kroner to 1 kg gold. * 1876: France internally. * 1876: Spain at 31 pesetas to 9.0 g gold. * 1878: Grand Duchy of Finland at 31 marks to 9.0 g gold. * 1879: Austrian Empire (see Austrian florin and Austrian crown). * 1881: Argentina at 1 peso to 1.4516 g gold. * 1885: Egypt. * 1897: Russia at 31 roubles to 24.0 g gold. * 1897: Japan at 1 yen devalued to 0.75 g gold. * 1898: India (see Indian rupee). * 1900: United States de jure (see Gold Standard Act). * 1903: The Philippines Gold Exchange/US dollar. * 1906: The Straits Settlements Gold Exchange/pound sterling. * 1908: Siam Gold Exchange/pound sterling.