Medieval gardens, £9.99
Length: 210.000 mm
Width: 112.000 mm
Gift of W.L.S. Barrett
Coins and Medals
Equitable Labour Exchange note worth 10 hours work
Great Britain, AD 1833
Robert Owen's social experiment in money
This unusual note was issued as part of a scheme set up by Robert Owen (1771-1858), the socialist reformer and philanthropist. Today he is best known for his mills at New Lanark, which were a landmark in socially responsible industry, but he also tried to establish a system of cooperative exchange based on labour value.
He opened two 'Equitable Labour Exchanges' in London and Birmingham. Workers exchanged their goods for special notes, which were valued according to the time needed to produce items: these notes could then be used to buy other goods, which were valued in the same way. An hour's work was worth sixpence. This note from the Birmingham branch is worth ten hours; Robert Owen's name can be seen to the lower right. The experiment failed because the exchanges became overstocked with goods which did not sell.
G.D.H. Cole, The life of Robert Owen, 3rd edition (Frank Cass, 1965)
J. Williams (ed.), Money: a history (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)
J. Cribb, Money: from cowrie shells to c (London, The British Museum Press, 1986)