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All the Money in the World
By Douglas Mudd
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Douglas Mudd
All right reserved.
The History of Money
Coinage has attracted a major part of mankind attention since its invention in Asia Minor in the seventh century BC. It has had many uses over the ages beyond its original development for purposes of long-distance trade and military power. Among the most important and least studied is the use of money as a means of communication through art. A nation money is often the first impression a visitor gets of the nature of a country. As such, the designs and legends placed on money have always been considered important by the authorities responsible for their issue. These authorities have often risen beyond the demands of simple utility and required that their currency be beautiful as well as useful. The focus of this book is on the art of paper money as it appears today in circulating currency, but in order to make sense of why paper money looks the way it does, it is necessary to look at the origins and history of money.
Approaching such a vast topic can be daunting--this book is a general survey of the subject emphasizing the beauty and variety of art as it has appeared on money, with an emphasis on more recent developments in paper money over the last 200 years. I will start with an outline of the origins of the three major traditions of currency, which began independently in Asia Minor, India, and China over 2500 years ago. Over thelast two millennia these traditions have merged into modern conceptions of how money should be used and what it should look like. The bulk of the book is divided into sections by region, with each region incorporating the recent paper money of several countries chosen for the beauty of their money and their relative importance to the history of art on money. By approaching the subject in this way, I hope to instill in the reader a sense of the regional similarities of money, and perhaps get a sense of the artistic development and diversity of modern money over time as a result of cultural exchange and technological development.
The origins of money
Whatever medium people use for the exchange of goods or services is considered to be a form of money. Money can also be a means of storing or accumulating wealth--in some cultures "money" has a purely ceremonial or prestige purpose, in which the value of the object rests not in what it can buy, but what it represents. Many cultures have gotten along without money altogether. Other cultures have used diverse materials such as rocks, shells, feathers, and teeth. More commonly, domesticated animals and metal ingots of various shapes and sizes have been used as money. This book is concerned with money from the time that people began to embellish the design of their money; this embellishment began with the use of metallic forms of currency, especially coins. Money, in the form of replicas of tools or ingots marked with information identifying the issuing authority in order to guarantee its value (originally by weight and bullion content), or as small metal disks, was simultaneously invented in Asia within three separate cultural areas during the first millennium BC. These areas were in Asia Minor, India, and China.
The Greek tradition
The use of precious metals as money began with the ancient civilizations of the Near East. As early as 2000 BC in both Mesopotamia and Egypt, the practice emerged of carefully weighing pieces of gold and silver to determine their value in paying tribute to local rulers, placing offerings at sacred temples, and performing business transactions. The early history of money in the Mediterranean world begins with the Greek coinage tradition, invented in Asia Minor in the early seventh century BC. Small lumps of electrum (a naturally occurring alloy of silver and gold) were stamped front and back to officially identify them as being of a certain weight and fineness, thus making them more convenient in trade. In the hands of the ancient Greeks, coins soon evolved into the first "world currency" for foreign exchange. The enduring prototype for most modern coins--the flat, round, two-sided silver staters issued by the Greek city-states, and later by the extensive kingdoms established by Alexander the Great and his successors--became the standard medium for trade throughout the Mediterranean world, the Near East, and Western Europe.
In shaping our assumptions about what constitutes money and how it can be used, the Greek coinage tradition has had the greatest influence on the form and appearance of modern currency. The first coins were irregular lumps of electrum produced in a number of carefully weighed denominations with simple designs. The designs were transferred to the coins by placing the lump (or "blank") on an anvil-mounted die engraved with the desired design, and hammering a metal punch into the blank (the process of "striking" a coin). The development of this process was heavily influenced by Middle Eastern seals, which had been used for millennia to "seal" documents, to identify important individuals, and as royal symbols of approval. Making seals required carving designs in reverse into a small cylinder or a semi-precious stone, which would then be pressed into clay or wax to make an impression. The earliest coin engravers drew on the seal engraving traditions in creating their dies and on metallurgical knowledge for the striking process. Coins are still produced using the same basic method for coin production, with the addition of modern technology and mechanical power to speed up the process.
The issuance of coinage has been a prerogative of the state almost from its invention--the kings of Lydia, including King Croesus, were the first to use their royal badges on coinage, thus guaranteeing their value. When the Greeks adopted the idea of money from the Lydians, the issuance of money became inextricably identified with political independence--coinage had become the "calling card" of independent nations. As such, the artistic quality of the coinage in . . .
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