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The ‘Bimetallic Controversy’ and the golden age of monetary orthodoxy, 1880-1900

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For most of the nineteenth century, gold monometallism, like the repeal of the Corn Laws and Peel’s Bank Charter Act, commanded cross-party approval in Britain. In the deflationary decades of the 1880s and 1890s, however, the political consensus surrounding the gold standard was called into question by advocates of a bimetallic currency. The clash of ‘orthodox’ and ‘heterodox’ monetary ideas not only raged in Britain’s financial press and learned reviews, but also developed into a divisive policy issue for the General Election of 1895. This paper re-considers the political dynamic of the ‘Bimetallic Controversy’ by examining the strategies and arguments employed by the Gold Standard Defence Association, a pressure group established to preserve the monetary status quo. The lost story of the campaign to uphold the single standard reveals the combined strength of political pragmatism and the cultural associations of gold that sustained support for Britain’s currency regime in the decades before the First World War.

This talk is part of the Financial History Seminar series.

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