The beginnings of money

Hoard of metal pieces

Money did not start with coinage. Thousands of years before the striking of the first coins there were comprehensive systems of financial exchange in place.

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The beginnings of coinage

Coin with a lion design

For over 2,000 years cities and empires traded without using coins and there is no definitive theory as to why they were first produced.

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Communicating through coins

Coin with a figure on a horse

Most written records from the ancient world have been lost or destroyed. As coins are mass produced and durable, they survive where other evidence may not.

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Signs of authority

Series of coins

The ability of money to circulate among large numbers of people and over vast geographical areas means it is often used by issuing powers to promote themselves, their values and aims.

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Money in daily life

Pendant made from a coin

Money has many uses in daily life and not solely in an economic context. It can be used as personal adornment, act as testament to a society’s cultural development or be a single, personal communication of religious belief.

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Money, religion and power

Coin with figure design

Religious imagery and text is often used on coinage to denote power and divine authority. The versatility of money is perfect for the dissemination of religious ideas and declarations.

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Money, religion and ritual

Coin with a hole through the middle

The link between money and ritual is a common thread connecting the world. In numerous cultures and periods there has existed strong relationships between displays of wealth and religious devotion, even after death.

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Money, merchants and the world

Copper token

Trade routes crossing the globe ensure that not only money travels continents and empires but also goods, ideas and languages.

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Tradition and innovation

Bronze medal of Matthew Boulton

Coins and paper money need to be instantly recognisable to make them easy to use. The images on these small works of art can spread images of a country widely.

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Currency in the modern world


As the British Empire expanded so did the possibilities of trade and commerce. Financial speculation both at home and abroad, whilst often lucrative, could lead to financial crisis.

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Money and society

Love token

Money captures our imaginations. In film and television, it is often glamorised, driving our aspirations. But it is also used as a way to comment on the world’s wrongs.

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Spending, saving and borrowing

Citi Mastercard 'chip and pin' specimen credit card ©Citibank

New technologies are transforming the way we spend, save and borrow money. We cannot always predict the social and cultural consequences that might arise from these technological changes.

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