At This Museum, Money Talks
Let us think about money as an abstract concept. One place that encourages this concept is the Bank of Canada’s . Currency Museum in Ottawa The Currency Museum is the only place you can see a 2-ton chunk of rock that was used as money on the island of Yap. This alone should help us understand money as an abstract, because you know they didn’t drag the boulder from store to store. We used to think there were many things that made humans human. That is, we use tools, we laugh, we have language. But so, it seems, do various other animals. Pretty much the only fundamental we have that these other species do not have is money. Money is one of those convenient theories, like standardized time, that provides a skeleton for modern society. It is 50 much a part of our daily lives that we take it for granted (presuming we have money). But, if you think about it, why should I give you a perfectly good cheeseburger in exchange for a small piece of paper? The museum begins with a bit of history. At first, we humans lived in small family units, and we just shared. As societies grew bigger, we bartered. Then we used basic goods (tea bricks in Mongolia, salt blocks in the Madura Islands, cocoa beans in South America). Livestock was often the “gold” standard. In both Latin and Anglo-Saxon, the word for cattle and money is the same, But it became too unwieldy to lug around cows every time you wanted to buy a canoe, so representative objects were introduced. Eventually, the objects became purely abstract: elephant hair bracelets (central Africa), glass trade beads (Africa), stone disks (Togo). But, usually, the objects were made out of metal. This gave them intrinsic value, durability, portability and perhaps also divisibility. This ‘separation between -value and specified made.all sorts changes. possible, ~including specialized craftsmen. It was. such a good idea that, by the seventh century B.C., the government (in this case Lydia, which is in
western Asia Minor) got involved by creating coins. Lydia mined huge quantities of gold, and you may have heard of one of the kings of Lydia, referred to in the phrase “as rich as Croesus.” By the third century B.C., the Romans had perfected a coin-based monetary system and used it to expand their empire. Their silver dominated Europe for about 500 years. The coins were also used for propaganda. Usually the emperor had an image of his head put on one side, and a pro-empire message on the other. Julius Caesar minted coins to finance his conquest of Gaul that featured a fine depiction of Caesar’s elephant trampling Gaul’s dragon ….