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[length, by comparison with the parts of the human body, as the palm, the hand, the span, the foot, the cubit, the ell, the
pace, and the fathom (f). But as these are of different dimensions in men of different proportions, our antient historians inform us, that a new standard of longitudinal measure was ascertained by King Henry the First, who commanded that the ulna, or antient ell (which answers to the modern yard) should be made of the exact length of his own arm (9). And, by the statute called Compositio ulnarum et perticarum, five yards and a half make a perch ; and the yard is subdivided into three feet, and each foot into twelve inches, which inches will be each of the length of three grains of barley. Superficial measures are, of course, derived by squaring those of length ; and measures of capacity by cubing them.
The standard of weights was originally taken from corns of wheat, whence the lowest denomination of weights we have is still called the grain ; thirty-two of which are directed, by the statute called Compositio mensurarum, to compose a pennyweight, whereof twenty make an ounce, twelve ounces a pound, and so upwards.
The first standards having been thus originally fixed by the Crown, their subsequent regulation has been, in general, entrusted to parliament. Thus, under Richard the First, in his great council holden at Westminster (A.D. 1197), it was ordained, that there should be only one weight and one measure throughout the kingdom (1) ; and that the custody of the assize, or standard of weights and measures, should be committed to certain persons in every city and borough. It is from this that the antient office of the king's aulnager seems to have been derived, whose duty it [was, for a certain fee, to measure all cloths made for sale, till the office was abolished by the 11 & 12 Will. III. (1699), c. 20. These original standards were called pondera regis (c), and mensure domini regis (i), and were directed by a variety of subsequent statutes to be kept in the exchequer, and all weights and measures were to be made conformable thereto. But, as Sir Edward Coke observes, though this had been often by authority of parliament enacted, yet it could never be effected, so forcible is custom with the multitude (k).1 In our own times, however, new parliamentary enactments have from time to time been devised on the subject, and other weights and measures have been substituted for those which antiently obtained ; and by the Weights and Measures Act, 1878 (1), a fresh effort was recently made to promote the desirable objects of-simplicity and uniformity in this important matter, the Act repealing almost the whole of the enactments previously in force on the subject (m).
(f) A cubit (cubitus) is the distance from the elbow to the extremity of the middle finger, i.e., the fourth part of a well-proportioned man. A fathom (derived from a Saxen word) is the space to
which a man can extend with both
(Johnson's Dict.) (9) Will.
Malmsb. in Vita Hen. I. ; Spelm. Hen. I. apud Wilk
299. (h) See also Magna Carta (1297),
After providing generally that the same weights and measures shall be used throughout the United Kingdom (n), the Act of 1878 enacts, that the standards of measure and weight described in the schedules thereto shall continue to be the imperial standards for determining the length of a yard, and the weight of a pound (o). It then proceeds to lay down certain careful regulations by which these standards shall be made subservient to the object of correctly ascertaining the length of the yard, which is to be the only unit or standard measure of extension from which all others shall be ascertained ; and the weight of the pound, which is to be the only unit or standard measure of weight from which all other weights, and all measures having reference to weight, shall be ascertained. And with regard to the unit or standard measure of capacity, from which all other measures, as well for liquids as for dry goods, are to be ascertained, the Act provides, that it shall be the gallon containing ten imperial standard pounds weight of distilled water in such manner as described in the Act (p). Moreover, every contract having reference to weight or measure is to be deemed to be made according to the imperial weights or measures ascertained by the Act, and if otherwise made is to be void (9) ; and the use of local or customary measures, and of the heaped measure, in common use previously to to the Act, is expressly prohibited, and the seller made liable to a penalty. But these provisions do not extend to render unlawful the use of the metric system to be presently mentioned (). The Act further contains a regulation, that all articles sold by weight shall be sold by avoirdupois weight, except gold, silver, platinum, diamonds, or other precious stones, which may be sold by troy weight (s), and drugs, which, when sold by retail, may be sold by apothecaries weight (3) ; and further, that it shall be penal for any person to sell by any denomination of weight or measure, other than one of the imperial weights or measures, or some multiple or part thereof (t). But it being considered expedient, for the promotion and extension of our internal as well as our foreign trade, and for the advancement of science, to legalize, without making compulsory, the use of the metric system of weights and measures, the Act contains a provision on this subject, and sets forth a table containing the equivalents of imperial weights and measures expressed in terms of the metric system. And the Act declares, that such table may be lawfully used for computing and expressing in weights and measures, weights and measures of the metric system (u); and the Weights and Measures (Metric System) Act, 1897, s. 2, contains other provisions in the same direction. The power given by s. 2 of the Act of 1897, to make a metric standard, has been exercised by Order in Council of the 19th May, 1898 (v). In conclusion, we may observe, that the custody of the standards and the general carrying out of the whole system is now entrusted to the Board of Trade, and not, as at one time, to the exchequer and the treasury (x).
(i) Plac. 35 Edw. 1, apud. Cowell, Interpr. tit. Pondus regis.
(0) Flet. 2, 12. (k) 2 Inst. 41.
(1) The Act has been amended by the Weights and Measures Act, 1889, which provides for all weighing instruments being verified and stamped by an inspector of weights and measures. See also the Weights and Measures Acts, 1892 and 1893.
(m) The repealed statutes include the Weights and Measures Act, 1824 (with the exception of sect. 25, which refers only to
liquors imported into the city of London); 6 Geo. 4 (1825), c. 12 ; 5 & 6 Will. 4 (1835), c. 63; 18 & 19 Vict. (1855), c. 72 ; 22 & 23 Vict. (1859), c. 56; 24 & 25 Vict. (1861), c. 75, 8. 6 ; 27 & 28 Vict. (1864), c. 117; and 29 & 30 Vict. (1866), c. 82.
(n) Weights and Measures Act, 1878, s. 3. By one of the previous statutes (5 & 6 Will. 4 (1835), c. 63), an attempt had been made in the same direction by abolishing the use of the “ Winchester bushel," as well as of all other “ local and
(0) The imperial standard yard inspection from time to time of is a solid square bar of bronze or the weights and measures which gun metal ; and the standard for
are in use, see ss. 37, 40–49. determining the weight of a pound (9) Sect. 19. By the Sale of is of platinum in the form of a Gas Act, 1859 (amended by the cylinder, with a groove or channel Sale of Gas Act, 1860, and the round it for the insertion of the Metropolis Gas Act, 1861), special points of the ivory fork by which it regulations are made as to the is to be lifted. (First Sched. pt. 1.) measures to be used in the sale of (p) Weights and Measures Act,
gas. 1878, s. 15. As to the verification (r) Weights and Measures of local standards, and the official (Metric System) Act, 1897, s. 1.
[Thirdly, Money being the medium of commerce, it is the king's prerogative, as the arbiter of domestic commerce, to give it authority and to make it current. Money is the sign of value ; and metals, being durable and capable of many subdivisions, are well calculated for this sign, a precious metal especially so, being the scarcest and most portable.] In all civilized countries, therefore, it is the
(8) Weights and Measures Act, 1878, s. 20.
(1) Ibid., s. 19.
(u) Sect. 18. The table in sched. 3 to the Act of 1878 is now replaced by that contained in the
schedule to the Order in Council of 19th May, 1898. (St. R. & 0., 1898, No. 411.)
(v) St. R. & 0., 1898, No. 410. (x) Sect. 33.
metals which are used for money (j'); and for this purpose they are first coined, or fabricated into certain pieces by public authority, which declares at what value, in relation to other known pieces or quantities of metal, they are to be taken ().
[With respect to coinage in general, there are three things to be considered, namely, the materials, the impression, and the denomination. With regard to the materials, it is laid down by Sir Edward Coke, that the money of England must either be of gold or silver(a). And, indeed, none other was ever issued by the royal authority till 1672, when copper farthings and halfpence were coined by King Charles the Second, and ordered by proclamation to be current in all payments under the value of sixpence, but not otherwise ;] and recently (1861), instead of pure copper, coins composed of bronze or other mixed metal have been authorised as current coin of the realm. Payment in silver or in copper (bronze) coin is only a legal tender up to a certain amount ; it being provided by the Coinage Act, 1870, s. 4, that gold coin shall be the only legal tender, except as regards sums not exceeding forty shillings, which may be tendered in silver coins, or not exceeding the sum of one shilling, which may be tendered in bronze coins. But a Bank of England note, payable to bearer on demand, is, of course, a legal tender, by force of the Bank of England Act, 1833, s. 6.
[As to the impression, the stamping of money is the unquestionable prerogative of the Crown ; for, though
(y) The circulating medium in this country consists, not only of coin, but of paper, that is, of notes of the Bank of England, and of a few other banks ; but as these notes
convertible at the pleasure of the holder into coin, the circulating medium is (in effect) exclusively metallic.
(7) By the Coinage Act, 1870, s. 11 (8), her Majesty may direct the establishment of a branch of
the Mint in
British possession, and determine the extent to which coins issued therefrom are to be current and a legal tender. See further as to mints in British possessions, Jenkyns, British Rule and Jurisdiction beyond the Seas, pp. 28–30; and, as to coinage in the Colonies, Chalmers, Colonial Currency (1893).
(a) 2 Inst. 577.