Since, however, the question is in the air, it may be as well to consider what is wrong with our present methods, and what sort of improvements are suggested by the reformers. At present, as every one knows, international payments are in normal times ultimately settled by shipments from one country to another of gold. Gold has achieved this position for reasons which have been described in all the currency text-books. Mankind proceeded from a state of barter to a condition in which one particular commodity was used as the chief means of payment simply because this process was found to be much more convenient. Under a system of barter an exchange could only be effected between two people who happened to be possessed each of them of the thing which the other one wanted, and also at the same time to want the thing which the other one possessed, and the extent of their mutual wants had to lit so exactly that they were able to carry out the desired exchange. It must obviously have been rare that things happened so fortunately that mutually advantageous exchanges were possible, and the text-books invariably call attention to the difficulties of the baker who wanted a hat, but was unable to supply his need because the hatter did not want bread but fish or some other commodity.
It thus happened that we find in primitive communities one particular commodity of general use being selected for the purpose of what is now called currency. It is very likely that this process arose quite unconsciously; the hatter who did not want bread may very likely have observed that the baker had something, such as a hit of leather, which was more durable than bread, and which the hatter could be quite certain that either he himself would want at some time, or that somebody else would want, and he would therefore always be able to exchange it for something that he wanted. All that is needed for currency in a primitive or any other kind of people is that it should be, in the first place, durable, in the second place in universal demand, and, in the third place, more or less portable. If it also possessed the quality of being easily able to be sub-divided without impairing its value, and was such that the various pieces into which it was sub-divided could be relied on not to vary in desirability, then it came near to perfection from the point of view of currency.
All these qualities were possessed in an eminent degree by the precious metals. It is an amusing commentary on the commonly assumed material outlook of the average man that the article which has won its way to supremacy as currency by its universal desirability, should be the precious metals which are practically useless except for purposes of ornamentation. For inlaying armour and so adorning the person of a semi-barbarous chief, for making into ornaments for his wives, and for the embellishment of the temples of his gods, the precious metals had eminent advantages, so eminent that the