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impeded by the want of mercury; but this project (del repuesto) shared the fate of so many others which have never been executed. Before 1770, when the working of mines wäs får from being so considerable as at présent, New Spain received no other mercury but that of Almaden and Huancavelica. The Germañ mercury furnished by the Austrian government, of which the greatest part is from Idria, was only introduced into Mexico after the falling in of the subterraneous works of Huancavelica, at a time when the mine of Almaden was inundated in the greatest part of its works*, and yielded only a very inconsiderable produce. But in 1800 and 1802, this last mine was again in such a flourishing state, that it could alone liave furnished more than 20,000 quintals of mercury per annum, and there were sufficient grounds to conceive the hope of not having any necessity of recurring to German mercury, for súpplýing Mexico and Peru. There have been years, when ten or twelve thousand quintals of this last mercury, have been imported at Vera Cruz. Upon the whole, from 1762 to 1781, the amalgamation works of New Spain, destroyed the enormous sum of 191,405 quin
* For these mines, and those of Almadenejos, see the interesting researches of M. Coquebert de Montbret, a the Journal des Mines, No. 17. p. 396.
tals*, of which the value in America amounted to more than 60 millions of livres tournoist.
When the price of mercury has progressively lowered, the working of the mines has gone on increasing. In 1590, under the Viceroy Don Luis de Velasco II., à quintal of mercury was sold in Mexico for 187 piastres. But in the 18th century, the value of this metal had diminished to such a degree, that in 1750, the court distributed it to the miners at 82 piastrés. Between 1767 and 1776, its price was 62 piastres the quintal. In 1777, under the administration of the Minister Galvez, a royal decree fixed the price of the mercury of Almaden at 41 piastres, two reals, and that of Germany at 63 piastres. At Guanaxuato, these two sorts of mercury are increased by the exa pensive carriage on the backs of mules, from 2 to 24 piastres per quintal. The king gains on the mercury of Idria, on account of the difference of the weight used in Germany and in Mexico, 23 per cent; so that a wise polis tician ought to engage the mother country to sell it at å cheaper rate. According to an old custom, the miners of certain districts of mines, for example, those of Guanaxuato and Zacatecas, are allowed to purchase two thirds of
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 prosperi y 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 in a condition 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 isprofito able 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 Guanaxuato 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 up 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 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 Total con-
mercury. mercury. *1762— 1766 1 82 Piastres 35750 quintals 1767-1771 62 1772-1777 62
153000 1778-1782 41
* 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 beaver furs 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 yet a very small quantity could be procured at this price. 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 wrought over the whole globe, estimates the mercury annually drawn from the mines of
* $240,800 Sterling. Trans.