Tobacco Money

           In the absence of metal coins or modern banknotes, commodities have been used as money. The commodities most suitable are those held in high demand by traders and merchants. In colonial America, examples of these included beads, beaver belts, and tobacco. The latter is particularly interesting not only because of its particularly broad acceptance as

Gold, Inflation, and Spanish Decline

           Any influx of new money, if poorly managed, can prove as ruinous as it seemed alluring. Misdirected riches can be frittered away and, by enabling years or decades of dissipation, growing indebtedness, or both, can leave its former holders in far worse position than where they began. Spain was able to capture large amounts of

Rum and Calabashes

           Far away from sources of foreign monies and lacking their own, early Australia was forced to improvise. Barter was especially impractical and attempts to create a local coinage were unsuccessful until the early 20th century. Banknotes provided the solution for some parts of the country but in remote areas far from any banks, makeshift systems

Rai Stones

           It was in fairly modern times that money transformed from being purely a physical thing, tangible coins or paper changing hands, to an ethereal substance. Today, when money is used, it largely moves only in a digital sense and before the digital era, it may have changed hands without physically moving but instead by the

Barter and Money in Post-War Germany

           When a currency is discredited, people usually turn to substitutes. These are often foreign currencies. Sometimes though the economy functions only by resorting to barter. This is hardly a solution since bartering is usually impractical. During the late 1940s in occupied Germany, people traded goods for products like cigarettes, coal, and potatoes which were in

Seashell Money in America

              Today, coins and banknotes are the most common physical manifestations of money, but money does not need to take these common forms. Anything could be money, or at least exhibit some of the qualities of money, even seemingly common items anyone could produce. Consider that cowrie shells were used as money in Africa and Asia

Recoinage Crisis of 1696

           In the late 17th century, a series of advances were made in finance. Though originating in England, this period of increasing sophistication became known as the ‘Financial Revolution’ even outside Britain. Long-term government borrowing, central banks, and stock exchanges were each either born or developed into more recognizable forms in this period. It was a

Italian Unification and the Corso Forzoso

           Fiscally troubled governments have often found monetary expedients to their financial difficulties. The result is often trouble. Deficits once financed by issuing bonds willingly bought are thereafter financed by printing money reluctantly accepted. The result is a despotic tax, levied arbitrarily on those unable to secure a ‘real’ income both sufficient and recurring for their

How the Bank of Amsterdam Changed Money

           When central banks were created in the 17th century, they didn’t everywhere change the nature of money. Indeed, the Bank of England was founded not with any particular monetary objective in mind, but rather with a fiscal one. In Holland by contrast, the Bank of Amsterdam was established with a monetary raison d’etre. Almost immediately

Philip IV, the Counterfeiter King

           Finance is usually distinguished from the ‘real economy’ to isolate those parts of an economic system that are most directly engaged in production or consumption. However, this shouldn’t suggest that a financial system cannot reveal anything new about the ‘real economy’ not already measured. The condition of a monetary system can be indicative of an

Experiments in Military Currency

           Technical advances brought about changes in military planning during the Second World War, but measuring the impact of new technologies and tactics was not the only preoccupation of the planners. Even monetary questions had to be confronted. During the war, armies had to be supplied with locally sourced materials wherever they were. This need, along

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