Online Encyclopedia

STERLING

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V25, Page 901 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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STERLING, a term used to denote money of standard weight or quality, especially applied to the English gold sovereign, and hence with the general meaning of recognized worth or authority, genuine, of approved excellence. The word has been generally derived from the name of " Easterlings " given to the North German merchants who came to England in the reign of Edward I. and formed a hansa or gild in London, modelled on the earlier one of the merchants of Cologne. Their coins were of uniform weight and excellence (cf. Matthew Paris, ann. 1247, moneta esterlingorum, propter sui materiem desiderabilem, &c.), and thus it is supposed gave the name of the moneyers to a coinage of recognized fineness. This theory is based on the statement of Walter de Pinchbeck, a monk of the time of Edward I., " sed moneta Angliae fertur dicta fuisse a nominibus opificum, ut Floreni a nominibus Florentiorum, ita Sterlingi a nominibus Esterlingorum nomina sua contraxerunt, qui hujusmodi monetam in Anglia primitus componebant " (quoted in Wedgwood, Dict. of Eng. Etym.). The word, however, occurs much earlier. The Roman de Rou (118o) has " Pour ses estellins recevoir, ' and " in Anglia unus Sterlingus per solvetur " occurs in an ordinance of Philip of France and Henry II. of England of 1184, both quoted in Du Cange (Gloss. s.v. Esterlingus). The " sterling " was a coin, the silver penny, 240 of which went to the " pound sterling " of silver of 5760 grains, 925 fine, and described in a statute of Edward I., quoted in Du Cange, as " Denarius Angliae qui vocatur Sterlingus." The word was borrowed by all European languages and applied to the English coin and to coins in general of a standard quality; thus we find not only 0. Fr. es/or/in or estellin but M. H. G. sterlinc or staerlinc, Ital. sterlino. &c. It would seem therefore that the term was applied to a coin of recognized quality before the North German merchants were established in London and that its origin should be found in a native English word. Two suggestions have been made; one that it represents an O. Eng. steorling, i.e. little star, from a device on an early coin, such as is found on some of William II., or O. Eng. staerling, starling, from the birds, which however may be doves, on the coins of Edward the Confessor. (See Du Cange, Gloss. s.v. Esterlingus; and Skeat, Etym. Diet. 1910, S.V. Sterling.)
End of Article: STERLING
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ANTOINETTE STERLING (d. 1904)

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