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Copernicus to Canon Felix Reich - translation

Frombork, 8 April [1526]

To Felix Reich

Reverend Sir, dearest friend:

The ability to shed light on subjects which by their very nature are enveloped in a thick fog is not unimportant. Yet it may also happen that somebody who has a correct understanding may not be able to explain what he knows. Something of this sort, I am afraid, sometimes happens to me too. The analysis of Prussian money, moreover, is of this [foggy] nature on account of the variety of the mixture, not to say confusion, of that money. Hence I am not at all surprised if what I wrote is not comprehended instantly by everybody. I shall therefore try to clarify what your Reverence complains was not understood.

We find, I say, that 1/2 pound of silver cost 2 marks, 8 skoters, when 3 parts of pure silver were mixed with a 4th part of copper, and 112 shillings were made from 1/2 pound of that alloy. Such coinage therefore possessed the qualities required of sound money in intrinsic value and face value, as is certified by a scrutiny of what follows.

For, as I say, in the 112 shillings weighing 1/2 pound, according to the prescribed proportion of the alloy, pure silver constituted 3/4. It follows that of this total [of 112 shillings] l/3 (amounting to 37 shillings plus l/3 shilling or 2 pence) will contain the pure silver constituting l of the aforementioned quarters, or 1/4 of 1/2 pound. Therefore, if you add 37 l/3 shillings to 112 shillings, the total will be 149 1/3 shillings, weighing 2/3 pound (for bes means 2/3 of any total, just as dodrans means 3/4), or the total weighs 1/2 pound plus 1/6 pound, which is equal to 2/3.

Here, however, I matched 2/3 with 32 skoters, as our whole pound contains 48 skoters. I should not have said "8 ounces". For, the pound, used especially by pharmacists, which is divided into ounces, is different, being lighter by 1/4. Therefore, the aforesaid total of 149 l/3 shillings fills out the 1/2 pound of pure silver. For since the total weighs 2/3 pound, if you subtract 1/4 of it, as is required by the proportion of the alloyed copper, amounting to 1/6 pound, the remainder is 1/2 pound. We therefore have as the intrinsic value of this currency 1/2 pound of pure silver distributed over 149 shillings. But the price is 140 shillings, namely, 2 marks, 8 skoters, as was said. Hence approximately 9 shillings are due to the market value or face value, and in generaI about l/15 of the intrinsic value. In this way, I believe, the matter is cleared up.

If any other difficulty emerges, I offer my services to the best of my ability, provided that something beneficial can be accomplished. I am afraid, however, that unless something different from the previous provisions is adopted, matters will go [from bad] to worse. For they will not stop minting money in this way. Why should those men stop who anticipate profit, but no loss, from whatever occurs?

From Canon Achatius' report, I have learned that the tax (contributio) is being discussed. I therefore realize that nothing will be done at this time about the currency. For it is wrong to burden the subjects with a double loss. We will accordingly pay the tax. The money, on the other band, will remain untouched. Rather, it will not remain untouched, but we will make it even worse and give the king, our master, a lot of money, that is, chaff. But where will the grain be?

I do not know whether it would not have been more seemly, more magnificent, and more regal, I will even say more useful, to drop the tax and improve the coinage now, and if that did not provide enough, to proceed to the tax afterwards. For if I am not mistaken, this procedure would have brought greater benefit and profit by increasing the public income. In other words, it would have yielded a permanent advantage, whereas the other is only yearly. But whatever the situation may be, I admit that I can be mistaken, being only one man with one mind, unaware of or uninformed about what others regard as more useful.

I wish your Reverence the best of health and happiness. Convey to his Reverend Lordship, our superior, my respect and readiness to serve.

Frombork, 8th day after Easter Sunday [28 April]

N. Coppernic

Translation by Edward Rosen
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Mikołaj Kopernik
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