14

On Page 41, book 1 of the Wealth of Nations Adam Smith writes:
(Second volume of The Glasgow Edition of the works and Correspondence of Adam Smith)

[...] Abraham weighs to Ephron the four hundred shekels of silver which he had agreed to pay for the field of Machpelah. They are said, however, to be the current money of the merchant, and yet are received by weight and not by tale, in the same manner as ingots of gold and bars of silver are at present. The revenues of the ancient Saxon kings of England are said to have been paid, not in money but in kind, that is, in victuals and provisions of all sorts. William the Conqueror introduced the custom of paying them in money. This money, however, was, for a long time, received at the exchequer, by weight and not by tale. [bold styling added by me]

I take it that the context is to appraise the value of the money being received, i.e. "by weight (of the precious metal) and not by tale".
So then what does it mean to appraise the value of some quantity of money by tale?

  • 1
    Archaic spelling of Tally – Ben Apr 22 '16 at 11:10
  • 1
    Tale/Tally/Tail would be perfectly understood by any of Adam Smith's readers whose education included the dirty jokes in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales... – Brian Drummond Apr 22 '16 at 20:28
  • Will see you later when you read Ricardo's. – Braiam Apr 23 '16 at 1:46
17

I think it refers to the archaic meaning of tale:

  • enumeration; count.

(Dictionary.com)

  • Money were accepted by weight (he probably refers to coins of gold and silver, not paper money ) in the same manner as ingots of gold and silver are at present.

The old meaning that refers to enumeration was probably the original one in Germanic:

Tale:

  • Old English talu "series, calculation," also "story,....."to recount, count." The secondary Modern English sense of "number, numerical reckoning" (c. 1200) probably was the primary one in Germanic;

  • The ground sense of the Modern English word in its main meaning, then, might have been "an account of things in their due order."

(Etymonline)

  • Ah yes, that's what I suspected. In that period [william the conquerer circa 1066] the units of currency (arbitrarily assigned by some public authority [e.g. shilling, dollar cent etc]) weren't firmly established so enumeration; count i.e. "3 shillings" makes sense. thanks – the_velour_fog Apr 22 '16 at 9:56
  • Perhaps "tale" = "tally"? – mHurley Apr 22 '16 at 13:32
  • 2
    @mHurley - "tally" has a similar meaning but a different origin. etymonline.com/index.php?term=tally – user66974 Apr 22 '16 at 13:35
  • Used in Swedish as tal, meaning number. – pipe Apr 22 '16 at 19:21
  • You do see the word "tare" on some scales, which usually just means to zero out the scale. – alexw Apr 23 '16 at 5:08
8

As indicated by @Josh61, "tale" means "count".

There were many different coins, each one having different designs, weights, inscriptions, and the purity of the metals (gold, silver, copper) varied greatly. The value of a coin primarily depended on its weight and composition.

Even if the weight and composition of each coin was standardized, Antique coins were subject to clipping and the most effective way to combat clipping was to have coins weighted rather than counted in transactions.

  • Yes thats an accurate description of the intrinsic value of a coin. But thats quite independent of the denomination ascribed to it by the state. e.g. the state simply "decides" coin of substance a and purity level x is "worth" 1 guilder or 3 shillings or 10 cents etc. for that reason josh61's answer makes sense to me. – the_velour_fog Apr 22 '16 at 10:34
  • @the_velour_fog - Until the Middle Ages, coins had no face value and the conversion rates were based on their metal composition. Fully agreeing on Josh answer, I provided a supporting explanation. – Graffito Apr 22 '16 at 10:49
  • Sure, and so once the face values were ascribed to stamped coins, e.g. shillings, pound, guinea etc - the denominations initially representing the metal composition and amount, but which were repeatedly inflated by state - it seems to me that "by tale" is referring to these face value denominations, rather that the intrinsic value of the precious metal. – the_velour_fog Apr 22 '16 at 11:02
  • @the_velour_fog it doesn't make any difference whether the value is set by the state, or based on the intrinsic value of the metal. If a forger "clips" 10% of the metal from ten coins and uses that metal to make one forged coin, he makes the same amount of profit measured in money, whichever way the coins are valued. – alephzero Apr 22 '16 at 18:58
0

I am wondering whether there is a spelling issue. There is a common Asian weight known as the "tael". Perhaps that is the intended meaning here.

Joel A. Adler

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