Copernicus and the Money Question

  • Pawel Czartoryski


On 3 November 1516 Copernicus was chosen by his Chapter to administer its holdings in the southern part of the diocese of Varmia. Eight days later, on 11 November, he entered upon his office in Olsztyn. There his duties brought him into close contact with the peasants. One of their most vexatious problems was the debasement of the coinage. Paper money had not yet been introduced. Ordinary business transactions were conducted with coins made of an alloy of silver and copper. Without fanfare, the percentage of silver to copper was being steadily reduced by the authorities. The resulting economic dislocation was carefully considered by Copernicus in a study which is the earliest entirely empirical discussion of the monetary question. It is equally remarkable for its secular spirit, since it is absolutely devoid of theological arguments and biblical quotations. It was completed on 15 August 1517, when Copernicus described it as his Meditata (private reflections). He wrote it in Latin, presumably with the intention of circulating it among his colleagues and friends. For the sake of convenience we shall call it “M.”


Pure Gold Pure Silver Royal Decree Gold Coin Paper Money 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bentkowski, Feliks, “Rozprawa Mikolaja Kopernika o urzadzeniu monety napisana 1526 roku,” Pamiitnik Warszawski, 1816 (May–August), 5:381–423; Latin text of E on even-numbered pages 386–422; Polish translation on odd-numbered pages 387–423Google Scholar
  2. Bieda, Ken (Kazimierz), “Copernicus as an Economist,” Economic Record, 1973, 49: 89–103CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Birkenmajer, Ludwik Antoni, Stromata Copernicana (Cracow, 1924 )Google Scholar
  4. Bujak, Franciszek, Traktat Kopernika o monecie (Lvov/Warsaw, 1924 )Google Scholar
  5. Corpus iuris polonici, ed. Oswald Balzer, IV (Cracow, 1910)Google Scholar
  6. Dmochowski, Jan, “Nicolas Copernic économiste,” Revue d’économie politique, 1925, 39: 101–126Google Scholar
  7. Dunajewski, Henryk, Mikolaj Kopernik, Studia nad myślq spoleczno-ekonomicznq i dzialalnosciq gospodarcza ( Nicholas Copernicus, Studies of his Socioeconomic Thought and Administrative Activity; Warsaw, 1957 )Google Scholar
  8. Faber, Karl, “Ein Beitrag zur Lebens-Geschichte des Nicolaus Kopernikus,” Beiträge zur Kunde Preussens, 1819, 2: 263–267Google Scholar
  9. Hegeland, Hugo, The Quantity Theory of Money (Göteborg, 1951; reprint, New York, 1969 )Google Scholar
  10. Hirschberg, Aleksander, “O życiu i pismach Justa Ludwika Decyusza” (The Life and Writings of J. L. Decius), Przewodnik naukowy i literacki, 1874, 2Google Scholar
  11. Jamiolkowska, Danuta, “Memoriale Łukasza Watzenrodego — analiza paleograficzna,” KMW, 1972, pp. 633–648Google Scholar
  12. Johnson, Charles, The De moneta of Nicholas Oresme and English Mint Documents (London, 1956 )Google Scholar
  13. Kaussler, Ernst, “Jost Ludwig Decius gegen Copernicus,” Pfälzer Heimat, 1974, 25: 84–87Google Scholar
  14. Le Branchu, Jean-Yves, Ecrits notables sur la monnaie (XVIe siècle) de Copernic à Davanzati, 2 vols. (Paris, 1934 )Google Scholar
  15. Lengnich, Gottfried, Geschichte der preussischen Lände königlich polnischen Antheils, seit dem Jahr 1526 biss auf den Todt Koniges Sigismund I, 9 vols. (Danzig, 1722–1755)Google Scholar
  16. Macleod, Henry Dunning, Theory of Credit, 2nd ed. (New York/London, 1893–1897)Google Scholar
  17. Meissner, Herbert, “Die ökonomischen Forschungen des Nicolaus Copernicus,” Wirtschaftswissenschaft, 1973, 21: 229–234Google Scholar
  18. Monroe, Arthur Eli, Monetary Theory before Adam Smith (Cambridge, Ma, 1923; reprint, New York, 1966 )CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Moore, George Albert, Copernicus, Treatise on Coining Money (Chevy Chase, Md: Country Dollar Press [1965])Google Scholar
  20. Nomi, Federigo, L’Oro assistito (Perugia, 1972); part 3, pp. 205–243: Copernicus’ Latin text and translation into Italian by Nomi; corrected version in Opere di Nicola Copernico, ed. Francesco Barone (Turin, 1979), unavailable for this editionGoogle Scholar
  21. Oko, Jan, “Pawel Deusterwalt nieznany humanista XV wieku,” Ateneum Wiletiskie, 1930, 7: 786–798Google Scholar
  22. R—H Reiss, Timothy J. and Hinderliter, Roger H., “Money and Value in the Sixteenth Century: The Monete Cudende Ratio of Nicholas Copernicus,” Journal of the History of Ideas, 1979, 40: 293–313CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Schmauch, Hans, “Nikolaus Coppernicus und die preussische Münzreform,” Staatliche Akademie, Personal- und Vorlesungsverzeichnis, 3. Trimester 1940 (Braunsberg, 1940), pp. 3–40; the MS on which Schmauch based his publication of M has since disappeared; for later MSS of M, see Filomata, 1972, p. 13; 1975, pp. 197–199Google Scholar
  24. Schütz, Caspar, Historia rerum prussicarum (Zerbst, 1592 )Google Scholar
  25. Schwinkowski, Walter, Das Geldwesen in Preussen unter Herzog Albrecht 1525–69 (Berlin, 1909 )Google Scholar
  26. Semrau, Arthur, “Jost Ludwig Dietz und die Münzreform unter Sigismund I,” MCV, 1906, 14: 33–48Google Scholar
  27. Sommerfeld, Erich, ‘Copernicus über das Geld’, Wirtschaftswissenschaft, 1975, 23: 868–877Google Scholar
  28. Sommerfeld, Erich, Die Geldlehre des Nicolaus Copernicus (Vaduz, 1978 )Google Scholar
  29. Szelggowski, Adam, Pienigdz i przewrót cen XVI i XVII wieku w Polsce (Money and the Price Revolution in the 16th and 17th Centuries in Poland; Lvov, 1902 )Google Scholar
  30. Taylor, Jack, “Copernicus on the Evils of Inflation,” Journal of the History of Ideas, 1955, 16: 540–547CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Vossberg, Friedrich August, Geschichte der preussischen Münzen und Siegel von frühester Zeit bis zum Ende der Herrschaft des Deutschen Ordens (Berlin, 1843 )Google Scholar
  32. Waschinski, Emil, Die Münz- und Währungspolitik des Deutschen Ordens in Preussen (Göttingen, 1952; Göttinger Arbeitskreis, No. 60)Google Scholar
  33. Waschinski, “Nikolaus Kopernikus als Währungs- und Wirtschaftspolitiker 1519–1528,” ZGAE, 1958, 88: 389–427Google Scholar
  34. Wolowski, Louis, Traictie de la première imvention des monnoies de Nicole Oresme et Traité de la monnoie de Copernic (Paris, 1864)Google Scholar
  35. Żurawicki, Seweryn, “Copernicus on Money,” Journal of European Economic History, 1974, 3: 126–128Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Edward Rosen 1985

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pawel Czartoryski

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations