The silver plate that adorned the dinner tables of European nobility was treated as monetary reserves and frequently played that role. To help pay for the Seven Years War (1756–1763) Frederick the Great of Prussia requisitioned the silver plate from the royal palaces. He sent it to the melting pots at the mint, and minted it into 600,000 thalers at a rate of 21 thalers per Cologne mark of fine silver, rather than the usual 14 thalers. King Louis XIV of France also sent the royal plate to the mint to pay his troops.
In 1536 Henry VIII sent 20,878 pounds sterling of plate to the mint to furnish money urgently needed to pay troops. Later, in the last of the French wars, Henry VIII disgorged another 10,020 pounds sterling of plate for coinage, again furnishing money to wage war. Henry also confiscated vast amounts of ecclesiastical plate and sent it to the mint.
Those further down the social scale used plate to pay benevolences, subsidies, and tithes levied against them, and the mint could convert a quantity of plate into a coinage equivalent. Nobles needing funds to finance political intrigue sent plate to the mint. Plate was the closest thing to a near-money owned by English households in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and at times the mint offered a premium to attract more silver plate to be coined. The government also legally mandated a higher standard of fineness for plate than for coinage, trying to prevent coinage from being melted down and fashioned into plate. That silver plate was associated with monetary affairs is revealed in a proclamation of the English king, Charles II, in 1661. It declared: “The nation had flourished for many hundred of years, famous for her constant silver standard and renowned for her plenteous stock of monies and magnificence of plate” (Einzig, 1966).
One common denominator in many types of money, whether it is human heads in Sumatra, or manillas in Africa, is that the money has ornamental value. Even coinage is sometimes converted into ornaments. The Argentine gauchos made leather belts a foot wide and studded with large silver coins from Peru. Although articles that serve the dual purpose of money and ornament are most common in primitive societies, silver plate in the stately homes of England was a vestige of ornamental money.
Challis, C. E. 1978. The Tudor Coinage.
Cripps, Wilfred Joseph. 1967. Old English Plate.
Einzig, Paul. 1966. Primitive Money.