Bill of exchange

Hamburg, Germany, AD 1724

A mode of financing trade in eighteenth-century Europe

Bills of exchange evolved with the growth of banking in Europe from the thirteenth century. Paper money like the banknotes we use today was not then part of everyday currency in the West, but bankers and merchants did use written records for settling payments, especially in trade.

In their simplest form, bills of exchange were written instructions by one person to an agent, authorizing payment to a named individual or firm at a specified future date. They were therefore a convenient way of providing credit or making payments over a distance. In this example, John Emerson in Hamburg has instructed Austin Goodwin, a merchant in Bristol, to pay £380 to Joachim Coldorph in three months' time. If Coldolph needed money sooner, he might choose to sell the bill to a fourth party at a discounted rate. That buyer would then present the bill for payment in Bristol at the appointed date.

Find in the collection online

More information


E. Green, Banking: an illustrated histor (London, Phaidon, 1989)

J. Williams (ed.), Money: a history (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)


Width: 237.000 mm
Height: 95.000 mm

Museum number

CM 1980-11-30-788


Langmead Collection


Find in the collection online

Search highlights

There are over 4,000 highlight objects to explore