The Eighth Commandment

Basket of Figs, April, 2004

Bud Powell




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Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water: Isaiah 1:22

Have you checked a pound of coffee lately?  It isn’t a pound, you know.  Or did you know?  I keep old coffee cans on the mess I call my workbench in the garage.  Assorted screws, nails, fasteners, etc., are placed into the old cans so that I can pretend that I am orderly.  I am reformed, and so I feel guilty about the disorder, so I keep trying.  But I am enough Irish that disorder doesn’t really vex me.  But back to the coffee cans.

I have a great many cans marked 13 oz., presumably because they once held 13 oz. of coffee.  I have several that are 23 oz. and a few 26 oz. and 39 oz.  If I remember correctly, you once could get a pound of coffee [16 oz.] or two pounds of coffee in a can [32 oz.], and maybe there were three pound cans [48 oz.].  When did the pound can become 13 ounces or the two pound can 26 oz or 23 oz.?

It happened gradually, of course.  The coffee companies spent a great deal of money advertising that their beans were “mountain grown,” or “picked by hand” or some such thing.  They never said, “Oh, by the way, our can that looks like a pound can is really only 15 oz., or 14 oz., or 13 oz.  I don’t ever remember seeing that advertisement.

It happened in church, too.  The new preacher appeared to be like the old.  He had the same degree, was labeled the same.  You really had to look at the fine print to know that he was much lighter than the old kind.  Didn’t preach the old truth, and didn’t call men to faith.  He didn’t really believe the Bible, but was very good in knowing why your Bible wasn’t any good.  He seemed to know a great deal, but didn’t pray much or know much about what the Bible says about God.  But he was a jolly good fellow.

In Judah the silver was mixed with dross, rather like our sandwich coins today.  The wine was mixed with water, so that it seemed that you were getting the same amount for the price you paid.  It is crooked to make people think they are getting the same stuff when they are not.  The law forbade Israel to have “divers” weights. 

Since writing this article I checked the current coffee cans in our kitchen.  Four cans all the same size.  A Safeway French Roast, 11.5 oz.  Safeway Special Roast, 13 oz.  Folgers Special Roast 11.5 oz.  Yuban 100% Colombian Decaf, 12 oz. 

In the old days they were called coin clippers, for dishonest men would shave off a bit of the edge of a gold or silver coin.  So, gold and silver coins were fluted on the edge.  They still are, for we like to pretend that we haven’t debased our coinage.   Rehoboam made brass shields to replace the gold ones that Solomon made that were taken away by the king of Egypt.  Men do like a show to pretend all is well.  Shame, shame!


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