The History of Money – Barter, Trade, Gifts, Coins, Bank Notes…

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old_coin  This is such a lovely subject, especially since many folks are always thinking about money. I hear it all the time on the beloved writing site called “HubPages,” as many people are in a constant battle with this whole writing online for extra greenbacks thingy or, in some cases, typing poppycock for pennies; ha!

  Well, after reading a little bit about the history of money, just be glad you are not out there bartering cows, sheep and chickens for wheat, fruit & vegetables and clothing, or out trying to trade your pretty bracelets and cute sea shells or beads for some half-stewed squash, green tomatoes or a small, dried-out serving of wild boar meat that stayed on the fire too long, for example.

Anyway, when a person reads various history books in conjunction with online references, many of the dates don’t match up. So when you see a date listed here beside a certain form of money, just feel free to add a +/- sign to the end of it, when contemplating the accuracy.

Going through the timeline, although I’ll leave out a few similar mediums, I’ll list several types of money used by civilizations along with their estimated dates that they originated – except for the method that was used during our prehistory, of course. Before we begin, one must first understand that “money” is any object of value that is generally accepted as payment for goods and services along with the repayment of debts and so on. …Way before paper money, bank notes and metallic coins ever arrived to the scene, the Homo sapiens have traded items of value in the exchange of gifts, livestock, tokens, etc.

Okay, lets go back to what most humans refer to as “prehistory.” Prehistoric people used common livestock such as cattle for their main money source, and probably looked at chickens and sheep sort of like we would small change. I mean, lets compare a chicken to 25 cents (a quarter) and a cow to twenty- or 50-dollar bills, for example. This would be classified as “barter,” which is to trade by exchange of goods.
Since we are going back to ancient times, one can only imagine what all they may have traded. I mean, I wouldn’t stop at just livestock and one may also say that the phrase “exchange of goods” is at least a semi-ambiguous statement, to say the least.

Moving right along into roughly 1200 B.C., some of these bi-peds used sea shells as money. Starting from the Maldives, the use of cowrie shells as a form of currency spread throughout the Pacific. This practice later reached Africa by the 19th century. This type of money was both used as whole pieces and as small pieces that was often found in the form of beads.

Some time around 1000-500 B.C., the Chinese used typical tools that were cast in metal and punched with holes, which made ’em easy to string together, as a form of money. Have you ever heard of “knife money?”

Somewhere around 640 B.C., the state of Lydia supposedly made “the first true coins” consisting of a gold & silver alloy that normally contains an image of a lion’s head. Whether or not Lydian coins were the first, doesn’t matter, but either way, coin currency came about long after barter and trade. Shortly after, Greek coins arose (around 465 B.C.). The Roman coinage system was reformed around 27 B.C.

I’ve heard several different dates within different dynasties of China on this next one, but we’ll say that around the years 800-820 (A.D.) the earliest bank notes were issued. I have also read that the Jin Dynasty issued the first “true” bank notes during the year 1189.

Henry II of England really stepped up to the monetary plate in 1158 and created some high-quality coins with a nifty little cross design that was based on a silver penny. Well, well, ain’t we slick…

Are any of y’all sick of hearing about money yet? No? Uh, okay… I am, so I’ll speed this thing up…

Moving way on up the timeline, during the 17th century, the use of checks spread rampantly in Europe. Hmm, I wonder what they did to people who “wrote bad checks” back then? Ha!

Blah, blah, blah… Oh, I’m still typing this blog post about money… Uh… The Bank of England issued its first bank notes in 1694. Woot-woot!

This next tidbit is something I learned today (shows how much US history I’ve studied in the past), which is that the United States Treasury issued the first dollar bills for national circulation, in the year 1862. You know, those green suckers people used to often call “greenbacks.”

Going by what I have read lately, Credit Cards first appeared in the United States of America during the year 1949. …It is funny though, as we begin the year 2013 (at the time I’m writing this), the US seems like one giant maxed-out credit card itself… Anyway, Debit Cards started to be used during the 1980s although I didn’t start using mine until about the year 2000, which is when I started trusting their electronic transfers more – since ya know, “everybody is doing it;” ha!

Oh, I almost forgot one interesting subject about money, which is not about trade/barter, coins, bank notes, paper cash, etc., but it is about gifts.
Normally I wouldn’t resort to such, but for the explanation of what is known as a “gift economy,” I’ll copy a quick excerpt from Wikipedia, here:

“In a gift economy, valuable goods and services are regularly given without any explicit agreement for immediate or future rewards. Ideally, simultaneous or recurring giving serves to circulate and redistribute valuables within the community. Some consider the gifts to be a form of reciprocal altruism. Another interpretation is that implicit “I owe you” debt and social status are awarded in return for the gifts. Consider for example, the sharing of food in some hunter-gatherer societies, where food-sharing is a safeguard against the failure of any individual’s daily foraging. This custom may reflect altruism, it may be a form of informal insurance, or may bring with it social status or other benefits.

When I read about a “gift economy,” I can’t help but think more about people working together as opposed to the commonly corrupt monetary systems we often see today. That is why I saved the form of money via gifts for last, as I think it sort of doesn’t belong in the same category as the others, if ya get my drift…
At any rate, if anybody starts hating their money after reading this post, they can always feel free to send me an expensive gift or a rather large monetary donation, you know, just for your sake, of course… LOL!

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Addition:  I originally wrote this on another website and there were a couple of comments in the comment field, so I’ll post them below:

I started the comment section with:  “As societies became more complex, a need arose for a uniform medium of exchange to acquire goods. Money was created to fulfill this role, and it evolved from cattle to precious metals, and finally, to coins and bank notes. Today, money is exchanged more abstractly, through credit cards or electronic transfers.” —Timelines of History

Yeah, the same concept that allows us to flourish and grow also allows for us to sell out, cheat, and become corrupt. Yep, I’ll take me some more of that “money stuff” any day… LOL!

Commenter said: “Roman soldiers were paid for work in salarium or salt. This explains origin or word salary and phrase “worth one’s salt.” Many societies used Porto money like cocoa, tobacco etc., and it would be interesting to know why cowrie shells were used as money.”

I said in reply: “It is commonly believed that Roman soldiers were at certain times paid with salt. (They say the soldiers who did their job well were “worth their salt.”) The word ‘salary’ derives from the Latin word salārium, possibly referring to money given to soldiers so they could buy salt.  If you are curious as to why or how cowrie shells were used as money, instead of me explaining this, it might be easier to start here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shell_money

Thanks for stopping by and good luck with the online revenue; ha!”

If anybody has any additional comments, feel free to add them below…

—End of Post

Additional Blog Link:  “The History of Electricity – From Magnetism to Nuclear Power…

One Response to “The History of Money – Barter, Trade, Gifts, Coins, Bank Notes…”

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