1. The Lydian Empire Created the World’s First Coins
The Lydians were a wealthy civilization in Western Asia Minor. In the 7th Century BC, King Alyattes minted the world’s first coins. They were unique because of their standardized weights and denominations, and the fact that they bore a government seal.
2. China’s “Flying Cash” Was The First Example of Paper Money
The Chinese government began block printing paper certificates in the ninth century, as a stand-in for hard currency, allowing merchants to travel great distances without carrying bags full of coins. The paper certificates became their own form of currency and got the name “flying cash” because of their propensity to blow away.
3. Some Money Was Too Heavy to Lift
Everything from shells and bones, to salt and fish, have been used as money throughout history, but the strangest money of all could be found on the Micronesian island of Yap. There, giant stone disks with holes in the center were used as currency. Since they couldn’t be carried, buying something meant remembering that the disk had a new owner.
4. The British Pound Comes by Its Name Honestly
The British pound got its name because the original bills had the value of a pound of silver, by weight. Imagine if the metric system existed at the time - Brits would be carrying kilograms.
5. Germans Used Paper Bills as Wallpaper
After World War I, the German economy (then the Weimar Republic) was beset by terrible hyperinflation that all but destroyed the value of their currency, the Papiermark. With their paper money virtually worthless, Germans used their bills to decorate their walls.
6. Europe Refused to Adopt Paper Currency
By 1271, when Marco Polo was conducting his voyages to China, paper currency was common there. Polo was so impressed with the system that he wrote about it extensively - yet it took European countries another 400 years to adopt their own paper currencies.
7. Paper Currency in the United States Exists Because of War
Before the Revolutionary War, Americans used coins. But the government printed paper money to finance their war effort. These bills, called Continentals, were worthless after the war. The Civil War necessitated fast, easily-minted currency again. This time the currency’s value was backed by gold, and the paper bills stuck.
8. The United States Had a $100,000 Bill
Today, $100 bills are the largest denomination the U.S. Treasury prints, but for a brief period, between 1934 and 1945 the U.S. printed high denomination gold certificates mainly for bank use. The highest of which had a face value of $100,000.
About: Mr. Rory Brown is a Managing Partner of Nicklaus Brown & Co., the Chairman of Goods & Services, Nearshore Technology Company, and a member of the board of directors of Desano. He is passionate about delving into the history of money and how our modern currency has evolved into what it is today. In his spare time, he writes about the history of the Lydians - the first civilization to use gold and silver coinage.