We develop a model of commodity money and use it to analyze the following two questions motivated by issues in monetary history: What are the conditions under which Gresham’s Law holds? And, what are the mechanics of a debasement (lowering the metallic content of coins)? The model contains light and heavy coins, imperfect information, and prices determined via bilateral bargaining. There are equilibria with neither, both, or only one type of coin in circulation. When both circulate, coins may trade by weight or by tale. We discuss the extent to which Gresham’s Law holds in the various cases. Following a debasement, the quantity of reminting depends on the incentives offered by the sovereign. Equilibria exist with positive seigniorage and a mixture of old and new coins in circulation.
Commodity money standards in medieval and early modern Europe were characterized by recurring complaints of small change shortages and by numerous debasements of the coinage. To confront these facts, we build a random matching monetary model with two indivisible coins with different intrinsic values. The model shows that small change shortages can exist in the sense that changes in the size of the small coin affect ex ante welfare. Further, the optimal ratio of coin sizes is shown to depend upon the trading opportunities in a country and a country’s wealth. Thus, coinage debasements can be interpreted as optimal responses to changes in fundamentals. Further, the model shows that replacing full-bodied small coins with tokens is not necessarily welfare-improving.
We describe a simple environment in which assets of varying qualities may be used for transactions and consumption. The quality of an asset is known to the seller but not the buyer. We show that this feature can generate a negative relationship between the transactions velocities of assets and their rates of return. We also discuss several versions of Gresham's Law which hold in this environment.