History of Money


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USPaper Money

An introduction

Money is anything that people will accept as payment in exchange for goods or services. The earliest forms of money were used to create a system of value so that people could compare items they wanted to exchange.  This system of value was used for more than just buying or selling things - it became a marker of status, a characteristic that money still has today.  


Electrumstater LydiaEventually, someone came up with the idea of using precious metals (gold and silver or their alloys) as money.  Beginning in Mesopotamia and Egypt around 4500 years ago, gold and silver began to be traded in the form of metal bars or bits of wire. The next big step occurred when little round lumps of electrum (a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver) began to be issued to a standard set of weights and marked by the issuer.  These became the first coins.

Since that time, coins have changed their appearance, but their purpose as a relatively sophisticated monetary instrument has not changed.  

Paper currency was the next major step in the evolution of money. Appearing sometime during the 8th century in China, paper money has become the most common form of currency in use today. The possible exception to this is the latest innovation in currency: electronic money.  

Find out more about all of these types of money along with emergency money, tokens and other currency as you explore the exhibit.