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Spanish mercury, and only one third of German mercury. Other districts are forced to take more of the mercury of Idria, than that of Almaden. As the former is the dearest, there is a repugnance to taking it, and the miners affect to consider it as impure.
The impartial distribution of mercury (el repartimiento del azogue) is of the greatest consequence for the prosperity of the mines of New Spain. So long as this branch of commerce shall not be free, the distribution should be entrusted to the Tribunal de Mineria, which is alone able to judge of the number of quintals, indispensably necessary to the amalgamation works of the different districts. Unfortunately, however, the viceroys and those persons who are about them, are jealous of the right of administering themselves this branch of the royal revenue. They know very well that to distribute mercury, and especially that of Almaden, which is one third cheaper than that of Idria, is conceding a favour; and in the colonies as every where else, it is profitable to favour the richest and most powerful individuals. From this state of things, the poorest miners, those of Tasco, Temascaltepec, or Copala, cannot procure mercury, when the great works of Guanaxuáto and Real del Monte have it in abundance.
The general superintendency of the mines in Spain, is charged with the sale of the mercury
in the colonies of America. ' The minister Don Antonio Valdes, conceived the whimsical and audacious project of regulating himself from Madrid, the distribution of mercury among the different mines of Mexico. For this purpose, he ordered the viceroy in 1789, to draw
statistical tables of all the mines of New Spain, and to send to Europe specimens of the veins which were worked. The impossibility of executing the order of the Minister was felt in Mexico; not a single specimen was ever sent to Madrid; and the distribution of the mercury remained as formerly entrusted to the viceroy of of New Spain.
The following table * proves the influence of the price of mercury on its consumption. The diminution of this price, and the freedom of trade with all the ports of Spain, have all contributed to the progress of mining.
Price of a quintal Total consumption of mercury
* Influxo del precio del azogue sobre su consumo, por Don Antonio del Campo Marin. (M. S.)
It was known in Mexico in 1782, that China possesses mercury mines; and it was imagined that nearly 15,000 quintals might be annually drawn from Canton. The Viceroy Galvez sent there a cargo of otter skins by way of exchange for the mercury ; but this project however, wise in itself, was very badly executed. The Chinese mercury obtained from Canton and Manilla was impure and contained a great deal of lead ; and its price amounted to 80 piastres the quintal. And even at this price only a very small quantity could be procured. Since 1793, that important object has been totally lost sight of and yet it would be of importance again to attend to it, especially at a time when the Mexicans experience great difficulty in procuring mercury from the Continent of Europe.
From all the researches which I could make, the whole of Spanish America, namely, Mexico, Peru, Chili, and the Kingdom of Buenos Ayres, (for elsewhere the process of amalgamation is unknown) annually consume more than 25,000 quintals of mercury, of which the price in the Colonies amounts to more than 6,200,000 livres.* M. Heron de Villefosse, in an interesting table which contains the quantity of each metal extracted from the mines over the whole globe, estimates the mercury annually drawn from
* 240,8001. Sterling. Trans.
those of Europe, at 36,000 quintals. Hence, going on these data, we find that mercury is after cobalt the rarest of all metals, and that it is even twice as rare as tin.
What is the quantity of gold and silver actually produced by the mines of New Spain ? And what are the treasures which since the discovery of America, the commerce of Mexico has poured into Europe and Asia. The details which I procured during my stay in the Spanish Colonies, 'from the registers of the mints of Mexico, Lima, Santa Fe, and Popayan, have enabled me to give more exact information with regard to the produce of the mines, than any which' has hitherto been published. Part of the results of my researches have been already published in the works * of M. M. Bourgoing, Brongniart, Laborde, and Heron de Villefosse, to whom I was eager to make such commu. nication immediately after my return to Europe.
The quantity of silver annually extracted from the mines of New Spain, as we have already seen, does not depend so much on the abundance and intrinsic riches of the ores, as on the facility with which the miners procure
* Bourgoing, Tableau de l'Espagne moderne, 4o edit. t. ïi.
Brongniart, Traité de Minéralogie, t. ii. p. 351, Laborde, Itinéraire de l'Espagne," Ire ed". t. iv. p. 383 & 504. Heron de Villefosse, de la richesse minérale, t. i. p.
the 'mercury necessary for amalgamation. We are not therefore, to be surprized that the number of marcs of silver converted into piastres, at the mint of Mexico, varies very irregularly. When from the effect of a maritime war or some other accident, the mercury has failed for a year, and the following year it has arrived in abundance, in that case a very considerable produce of silver succeeds to a very limited fabrication of money.
In Saxony, where the small quantity of mer. cury which is wanted for the process of amalgamation, is procured with sufficient facility, the produce of the mines of Freiberg is so admirably equal, that from 1793 to 1799, it was never below 48,300, and never above 50,700 marcs of silver.
In that country, the great droughts, which prevent the going of the hydraulic wheels, and the water from being drawn off, have the same influence on the quantity of silver delivered into the mint, as the scarcity of mercury in America. ... From 1777 to 1803, the quantity of silver annually extracted from the Mexican ores, has almost constantly been above two millions of marcs of silver *, and from 1796 to 1799, it was 2,700,000 marcst; while from 1800 to
* 1,312,633 lb. troy. Trans.