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On The Influence Of Durability On Price
197. Having now considered the circumstances that modify what...

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On The Influence Of Durability On Price

Category: On the domestic and political economy of manufactures

197. Having now considered the circumstances that modify what
may be called the momentary amount of price, we must next examine
a principle which seems to have an effect on its permanent
average. The durability of any commodity influences its cost in a
permanent manner. We have already stated that what may be called
the momentary price of any commodity depends upon the proportion
existing between the supply and demand, and also upon the cost of
verification. The average price, during a long period, will
depend upon the labour required for producing and bringing it to
market, as well as upon the average supply and demand; but it
will also be influenced by the durability of the article

Many things in common use are substantially consumed in
using: a phosphorus match, articles of food, and a cigar, are
examples of this description. Some things after use become
inapplicable to their former purposes, as paper which has been
printed upon: but it is yet available for the cheesemonger or the
trunk-maker. Some articles, as pens, are quickly worn out by use;
and some are still valuable after a long continued wear. There
are others, few perhaps in number, which never wear out; the
harder precious stones, when well cut and polished, are of this
later class: the fashion of the gold or silver mounting in which
they are set may vary with the taste of the age, and such
ornaments are constantly exposed for sale as second-hand, but the
gems themselves, when removed from their supports, are never so
considered. A brilliant which has successively graced the necks
of a hundred beauties, or glittered for a century upon patrician
brows, is weighed by the diamond merchant in the same scale with
another which has just escaped from the wheel of the lapidary,
and will be purchased or sold by him at the same price per carat.
The great mass of commodities is intermediate in its character
between these two extremes, and the periods of respective
duration are very various. It is evident that the average price
of those things which are consumed in the act of using them, can
never be less than that of the labour of bringing them to market.
They may for a short time be sold for less, but under such
circumstances their production must soon cease altogether. On the
other hand, if an article never wears out, its price may continue
permanently below the cost of the labour expended in producing
it; and the only consequence will be, that no further production
will take place: its price will continue to be regulated by the
relation of the supply to the demand; and should that at any
aftertime rise, for a considerable period, above the cost of
production, it will be again produced.

198. Articles become old from actual decay, or the wearing
out of their parts; from improved modes of constructing them; or
from changes in their form and fashion, required by the varying
taste of the age. In the two latter cases, their utility is but
little diminished; and, being less sought after by those who have
hitherto employed them, they are sold at a reduced price to a
class of society rather below that of their former possessors.
Many articles of furniture, such as well-made tables and chairs,
are thus found in the rooms of those who would have been quite
unable to have purchased them when new; and we find constantly,
even in the houses of the more opulent, large looking-glasses
which have passed successively through the hands of several
possessors, changing only the fashion of their frames; and in
some instances even this alteration is omitted, an additional
coat of gilding saving them from the character of being
second-hand. Thus a taste for luxuries is propagated downwards in
society', and, after a short period, the numbers who have
acquired new wants become sufficient to excite the ingenuity of
the manufacturer to reduce the cost of supplying them, whilst he
is himself benefited by the extended scale of demand.

199. There is a peculiarity in looking-glasses with reference
to the principle just mentioned. The most frequent occasion of
injury to them arises from accidental violence; and the
peculiarity is, that, unlike most other articles, when broken
they are still of some value. If a large mirror is accidentally
cracked, it is immediately cut into two or more smaller ones,
each of which may be perfect. If the degree of violence is so
great as to break it into many fragments, these smaller pieces
may be cut into squares for dressing-glasses; and if the
silvering is injured, it can either be resilvered or used as
plate-glass for glazing windows. The addition from our
manufactories to the stock of plate-glass in the country is
annually about two hundred and fifty thousand square feet. It
would be very difficult to estimate the quantity annually
destroyed or exported, but it is probably small; and the effect
of these continual additions is seen in the diminished price and
increased consumption of the article. Almost all the better order
of shop fronts are now glazed with it. If it were quite
indestructible, the price would continually diminish; and unless
an increased demand arose from new uses, or from a greater number
of customers, a single manufactory, unchecked by competition,
would ultimately be compelled to shut up, driven out of the
market by the permanance of its own productions.

200. The metals are in some degree permanent, although
several of them are employed in such forms that they are
ultimately lost.

Copper is a metal of which a great proportion returns to use:
a part of that employed in sheathing ships and covering houses is
lost from corrosion; but the rest is generally remelted. Some is
lost in small brass articles, and some is consumed in the
formation of salts, Roman vitriol (sulphate of copper), verdigris
(acetate of copper), and verditer.

Gold is wasted in gilding and in embroidering; but a portion
of this is recovered by burning the old articles. Some portion is
lost by the wear of gold, but, upon the whole, it possesses
considerable permanence.

Iron. A proportion of this metal is wasted by oxidation, in
small nails, in fine wire; by the wear of tools, and of the tire
of wheels, and by the formation of some dyes: but much, both of
cast- and of wrought-iron, returns to use.

Lead is wasted in great quantities. Some portion of that
which is used in pipes and in sheets for covering roofs returns
to the melting-pot; but large quantities are consumed in the form
of small shot, or sometimes in that of musket balls, litharge,
and red lead, for white and red paints, for glass-making, for
glazing pottery, and for sugar of lead (acetate of lead).

Silver is rather a permanent metal. Some portion is consumed
in the wear of coin, in that of silver plate, and a portion in
silvering and embroidering.

Tin. The chief waste of this metal arises from tinned iron;
some is lost in solder and in solutions for the dyers.

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