Mexican silver surge

Geology http://doi.org/jsg (2012)


The price of commodities such as wheat and hides soared in Europe between 1515 and 1650, as the continent went through a prolonged period of economic inflation. An isotopic analysis of coins from the time suggests that an influx of Mexican silver may have been to blame.

Anne-Marie Desaulty and Francis Albarede of the University of Lyon, France, examined the isotopic composition of lead, silver and copper in 15 English coins manufactured between 1317 and 1640 to determine the source of the ores used to make the coins. The isotopic composition of pre-Tudor coins, minted before the onset of inflation, matched that of silver ores in central Europe and England. In contrast, the isotopic signature of coins minted in the sixteenth and early seventeenth century — when inflation was in full swing — bore the hallmarks of both Mexican and European silver ores. However, silver from colonial Peru, also mined at the time, was present at only very low concentrations.

The findings suggest that while Mexican silver was shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe, fuelling inflation during Tudor times, Peruvian silver flowed west, to China.


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Armstrong, A. Mexican silver surge. Nature Geosci 5, 844 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1663

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