Clipping was a form of grassroots coinage debasement that flourished in the Middle Ages and the early modern period. Clipping occurred when private citizens removed (or clipped) small bits of precious metal from the circumference of coins and then passed the clipped coins on at face value. It required a certain amount of judgment to know how much metal could be removed without rendering a coin unacceptable in payment for goods and debts. Moneychangers, merchants, and other private individuals engaged in clipping accumulated valuable stores of gold and silver bullion. The law dealt harshly with clippers and counterfeiters, both of whom often met their fate at the gallows. The adoption of milled-edge coinage in the seventh and eighth centuries was intended to make clipping more easily detected, and therefore more difficult.
A variation of grassroots debasement, equal in effect to clipping, was known as sweating. Sweating was performed by putting gold or silver coins in a leather bag and shaking the bag violently, removing gold and silver from the coins in a process that more closely resembled the natural wear and tear that coins sustained from jingling in pockets and purses over several years of circulation. It was an accelerated process of natural wear and tear and captured small but valuable amounts of gold and silver.
The activities of clippers and sweaters, coupled with natural wear and tear, would eventually lead to the complete breakdown of a coinage system. If a freshly minted coin contained 20 grains of silver, but the typical coin circulating at face value averaged only 18 grains, then the 20-grain coins in circulation would be culled out and melted down for bullion or shipped to foreign countries, where they would be sold at a premium. Under these conditions, governments would stop striking new coins until all the clipped coins were called in under a program of recoinage, perhaps minting new coins at a lower weight than the original coins.
The growth of paper money, bank deposits, milled-edge coins, and token coinage rendered the methods of the clipper obsolete, and clipping ceased to be an issue faced by monetary authorities.