Abstract

The unrelenting economic inflation of A.D. 1515–1650 in Europe has been variously explained by the influx of silver from Mexico and the Viceroyalty of Peru (now Bolivia), the growth of the European population, and the decline of the silver market price. Silver, copper, and lead isotope analyses of A.D. 1550–1650 English coinage show a dominance of silver from Europe and Mexico, contrasting with a spectacularly small contribution from the Viceroyalty of Peru. This observation contrasts with the registration of metal production in the mines of the Spanish Americas. Hence the question: Where did Potosí silver go? This novel observation indicates that silver from Mexico was exported eastward, whereas Potosí silver flowed westward. However, aware of the Pacific route of the silver trade, scholars never agreed upon the volumes transported. Our work demonstrates that there was a Potosí-China route, and that it was largely disconnected from the Mexico-Europe routes.

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