On The Influence Of Durability On Price

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.