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Ammunition as Money?

"Massachusetts also designated musket balls legal tender at four per penny [in the 1600s]."

So reports Robert G. Natelson, Paper Money and the Original Understanding of the Coinage Clause, 31 Harv. J. L. & Pub. Pol'y 1017, 1037 (2008), quoting 1 Jerry W. Markham, A Financial History of the United States 46 (2002).

Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
Gives new meaning to the term "spent cartridge".
9.17.2008 7:28pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
Until just-prior to the First World War, and for a few years after, my grandfather, and other inhabitants of the rural area in North Carolina he lived in, used barrels of salted herring, and preserved hams as currency.

The boom times in the '20's brought hard currency into the area, which had been de-flated.

He and his family lived well in either case.
9.17.2008 7:28pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
and- recently read "The Forgotten Man" by Amity Shlaes, she describes several areas during the depression that issued their own script when there was a shortage of real money. One area was Yellow Springs, Ohio, home of erstwhile Antioch College.
9.17.2008 7:33pm
Sarcastro (www):
"Freedom Balls."
9.17.2008 7:41pm
Oren:
This is probably an underhanded liberal plot to grant authority under the commerce clause (to be passed in 170 years) to regulate firearms.
9.17.2008 7:48pm
gallileo:
So if I owe someone a penny and shoot him four times, my debt is paid in full?

I like it. Should resolve the mortgage crisis quickly.
9.17.2008 8:03pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
If the finance crisis gets worse we might go back to that.
9.17.2008 8:19pm
Richard Nieporent (mail):
Getting your two cents worth takes on a whole other meaning.
9.17.2008 8:57pm
Fub:
A. Zarkov wrote at 9.17.2008 7:19pm:
If the finance crisis gets worse we might go back to that.
Borrowers vastly outnumber lenders. Compound that with the 4:1 exchange rate, and it gives a whole new meaning to liquidating a debt.

I, for one, am uncertain how to welcome our new Plumbium permeated pools of protoplasmic pulp overlords.
9.17.2008 9:09pm
Bill Twist:
When I was a strapping young teenage lad, back in the early 1980's, I used to stack wood a couple times a year for a guy down the road. I got paid in bricks of .22 Long Rifle ammunition.

That was as good as cash to me.

Now, if you want to pay me, I'm accepting .535" lead balls, rifle sized flints, and GOEX FF black powder for payment.
9.17.2008 9:30pm
Bill Twist:
I forgot to mention, I prefer the black English flints.
9.17.2008 9:32pm
Billll:
At the current price of lead, a .73 caliber musket ball is currently worth $.1634.

Inflation or highly placed Wall St. Lead speculators?
9.17.2008 9:43pm
TMac (mail):
Was there a standard set for the musket balls? If not, a good business man could buy four 80 caliber balls for a penny and recast them as 50 calibers for resale.
9.17.2008 9:52pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
In the mid 17th century, "musket" meant a specific class of firearm, not all muzzle-loaders. One of those BIG jobs where you have a rest to steady your aim, given its weight. I forget its bore, but somewhere around .80.
9.17.2008 10:09pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
If we went back to this, Scott Lemieux would have to change the name of his website. "Lawyers, Guns and Money" would be redundant.
9.17.2008 10:17pm
jccamp (mail):
I think the excitable Ms. O'Neal made this point in her lawsuit - see the VK post HERE - in that she demanded $300,000 or alternatively, the right to machine gun the defendant in her complaint. I'm not sure of the exact dollar to cartridge ratio she sought.

thanks to wfjag.
9.17.2008 10:57pm
David Muellenhoff (mail):
Gun owners have been bemoaning the skyrocketing price of ammunition for a few years now, but Prof. Volokh's discovery makes it clear that ammo has simply regained its historic status as a storehouse of value -- like gold -- so what we're experiencing is the dollar plummeting relative to ammunition. "Ammo bug" sites and newsletters should proliferate in the near future on this news.

Heck, I've got some boxes of the old Winchester Black Talon sitting in the garage -- maybe I'll use 'em to pay off my car.
9.18.2008 2:45am
rosignol (mail):
Ammo is arguably a *better* storehouse of value than gold in a total meltdown situation- you can use ammo as a trade good, as well as defending yourself and hunting game. And if it's generally known that you have a large quantity of the stuff, those disinclined to trade peacefully are likely to stay well away- unlike what happens if it's generally known that you have a large quantity of gold on hand.

Now, who'll trade me some of that useless yellow metal for some shiny copper-jacketed lead? ;-)
9.18.2008 7:14am
Duncan Frissell (mail):
Then, of course, the taxman would look to get his share and even the libertarians on the blog would not mind vouschafing him.
9.18.2008 12:28pm
James Gibson (mail):
All the professor found is that four musket balls represent a specific mass of lead. To be specific, the bullet for a brown bess musket weighed 1/29th of two pounds (British records). That makes each bullet 1.1 oz, thus four would be just shy of 4.5 oz. That means that the State had put a value of about 3.5 cents to the lb on lead.

Of course I may have the weapon wrong. the French Charleville musket had a smaller bullet, 1/18th of a pound (source, the USA 1792 militia act section one). That would make four bullets just over 3.5 oz of lead and the value of lead become 4.5 cents to the pound

One has to remember that in early America, outside of the major cities, everything was a barter economy. Further, coinage was so rare people broke up Spanish dollars into quarter segments to make change (hence the term "pieces of eight"). So why not exchange lead bullets of a specific weight as if they were coins. As long as the person receiving was willing to accept them in exchange its all commerce.
9.18.2008 12:58pm
zippypinhead:
Neat! As a first step to monetizing ammunition in the modern era, perhaps we should be able to trade .223 futures on the Chicago MERC under CFTC regulation? Given what's happened to the price of brass lately coupled with production shortages of military caliber ammo thanks to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I'd recommend going long on one's positions in this commodity.

Although I am a bit perplexed how I'm going to slide one of the .30-06 rounds I've been hoarding (market value of over $1.00/round currently) into the coin slot on a soda machine. Hmmm...
9.18.2008 1:10pm
Bill Twist:
zippypinhead

Although I am a bit perplexed how I'm going to slide one of the .30-06 rounds I've been hoarding (market value of over $1.00/round currently) into the coin slot on a soda machine. Hmmm...


Ask Colonel "Bat" Guano.

/But don't try any of your preversions.
9.18.2008 1:51pm
Fub:
zippypinhead wrote at 9.18.2008 12:10pm:
Although I am a bit perplexed how I'm going to slide one of the .30-06 rounds I've been hoarding (market value of over $1.00/round currently) into the coin slot on a soda machine. Hmmm...
You're gonna have to answer to the Coca-Cola company.
9.18.2008 2:11pm
Dissenter:
Not unexpected. IIRC, Adam Smith in Wealth of Nations says that all forms of money are forms of metal.
9.18.2008 9:25pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
Yes, my book Armed America mentions this, using a primary source. In 1635, Massachusetts Bay prohibited brass farthings (a coin worth one-fourth of a penny) and ordered musket bullets to "to pass for farthings." [Winthrop's Journal, 1:148] It would appear that musket bullets were readily available—and they would certainly have been valuable in a frontier society. A farthing was worth perhaps six minutes of a daily laborer's wages. The equivalent of six minutes of minimum wage labor today would be $0.52. (Lead has become cheaper relative to wages in the intervening three centuries.)
9.20.2008 2:30am
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Not unexpected. IIRC, Adam Smith in Wealth of Nations says that all forms of money are forms of metal.
Uh, no. Wampum.
9.20.2008 3:12am