Paper currency has seen some major changes over the years and has certainly been the subject of some interesting design practices. It was Voltaire that said “paper money eventually returns to its intrinsic value – zero”, but what doesn’t change is the value it provides us from a cultural, historical and often humorous perspective.
You get a real insight into the culture of a nation by its bank notes; from the elaborate, sometime garish notes of the old Russian Empire to the Polish notes featuring Frederic Chopin. The earliest we know that paper money was used was around the 800 AD mark in China, although the Chinese actually abandoned paper money altogether again in the fifteenth century.
Today, the oldest bank note we are in possession of is the Chinese Kuan which is believed to be from around 1380.
Paper money in Europe started to emerge in the seventeenth century where goldsmiths would use certificates for customers to reclaim deposits and to serve as evidence of their ability to pay. These receipts began to be recognised as an alternative to handling coins or gold and served as a forebear to traditional bank notes.
In 1661, in Sweden the first hundred daler note was issued by the Bank of Sweden, which had been founded in 1656 to offer loans and mortgages to the populace.
The Bank of England has been issuing paper money since 1694 but only developed a legal monopoly in 1921. Scotland and Wales have their own bank notes with different political and cultural images of note. The Channel Islands issue their own bank notes and these cannot be used in the UK and the Isle of Man’s notes proudly display the islands famous motif: the three legged symbol.
Source: Britishnotes.co.uk | Website
There were some seriously obscure notes produced in the Americas during the time of the civil war; the Confederate twenty dollar bills from 1861 and 1864 are certainly worth a look for anyone interested in currency. You should also check out the notes issued by the Republic of Texas in the 1830’s; very interesting currency indeed.
Zimbabwe’s recent struggles are epitomised by the way that rapid inflation has impacted their currency; where else would you find a ten million dollar bank note?
After the First World War, Germany also experienced hyper-inflation with a one thousand mark note being produced; at the time this was the equivalent of 238 US dollars or around 50 British pounds. By 1922, 10000 mark bank notes were being issued and by 1923, 100000 and one million mark notes were being used routinely by Germans. They peaked during the October of 1923 at 100 trillion mark notes – absolutely phenomenal! This had a devastating effect on the German economy, a loaf of bread cost 80 million marks and two beers would set you back 100 billion at this point. Most Germans saw their accumulated wealth completely disappear.
There’s no doubt there has been some seriously “funny money” over the years and Zimbabwe’s struggles confirm that it’s not just a thing which is confined to the past. One thing is for sure, it’s a point of interest for currency collectors and enthusiasts everywhere.
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