Periodic Re-Coinage as a Monetary Tax: The Rise and Fall of the Bracteate Economy

33 Pages Posted: 23 Jul 2014 Last revised: 22 Jun 2020

See all articles by Roger Svensson

Roger Svensson

Research Institute of Industrial Economics (IFN)

Date Written: January 7, 2013


Re-coinage implies that old coins are declared invalid and exchanged for new ones at fixed exchange rates and dates. Empirical evidence shows that re-coinage could occur as often as twice a year within a currency area in the Middle Ages. The exchange fee at re-coinage worked as a monetary tax for trade and inhabitants. The main purpose here is to set up a simple theory about short-lived coins, which has not been done before. It turns out that re-coinage works particularly well in relatively undeveloped economies. Such economies had a small volume of coins in circulation, which facilitates both re-minting and monitoring of a short-lived coinage system. Re-coinage had both positive and negative overlapping consequences: 1) a stable coinage with respect to weight and fineness, and no long-term inflation; 2) short-term disturbances in the velocity of money, price-levels and the volume of transactions; 3) the coins' function as a store of value deteriorated; and 4) inhibitions on trade, business and the division of labor. Debasement was the alternative method for collecting a monetary tax. It was less restrictive and had lower administrative costs for the coin issuer than re-coinage. Besides low monetization, the strong position of ecclesiastical coin issuers, who disliked manipulations of weights and fineness, was likely a factor in why re-coinage was preferred to debasement. However, the costs for society as a whole could be higher for secret debasements than routine calendar driven re-coinage, due to the high uncertainty.

Keywords: re-coinage, short-lived coinage system, debasement, monetary tax, monetization, inflation, monetary system

JEL Classification: E31, E42, E52, N13

Suggested Citation

Svensson, Roger, Periodic Re-Coinage as a Monetary Tax: The Rise and Fall of the Bracteate Economy (January 7, 2013). Economic History Review, Vol. 69(4), pp. 1108-31, 2016, Available at SSRN:

Roger Svensson (Contact Author)

Research Institute of Industrial Economics (IFN) ( email )

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