Origins of Money and of Banking
The history of printed money is as old, in some ways older, than minted money. Before coins were invented in about 660BCE, when trade was basically barter, and goods and products were traded back and forth between tradesmen, artisans, citizens and officials, excess goods were stored at home, or in community warehouses or other public facilities. This necessitated the development of methods to keep track of who had what stored where - leading to the development of writing itself.
The earliest clay-tablet storage records so far discovered were small, usually square, relatively thin, bits of clay with a few symbols representing various products and their quantity pressed into the clay and given as receipts to the people depositing their produce in common warehouses. Since these products were fungible; i.e. exactly alike, its probable that from the first day, people owning such receipts began to trade them for goods or other receipts for different stored products owned by other people. These exchanges would have been much more convenient than trying to carry large quantities of products home, to a shop, or from one storage location to another. Thus, with little conscious recognition, and no doubt crude by modern standards, hand-printed (albeit on clay) money was born. Only later, when tradesmen realized some highly-regarded metals, especially gold and silver, could be traded for just about any product would coins have been invented.
Although "paper money" is a term used to describe most government and institutional printed money, the term is a misnomer. It would be far more accurate to refer to banknotes as "printed money", because can also be found made of clay, wood, pounded bark, cloth, leather, parchment, metal foils, and in recent years, plastic with paper-like characteristics. Printed or written money as we know it is nothing more than a receipt for goods, services or labour, which can be traded for other goods, services or labour in lieu of coins or specie.
The first mention of the use of paper as money is found in historic Chinese texts. Emperor Chen Tsung (998-1022) awarded rights to issue universal bills of exchange to 16 merchants during his rein. When, however, several of these merchants failed to redeem notes on presentation, the credibility of the money was undermined and the public refused to accept it. In 1023, the Emperor rescinded the merchants’ issue rights and established a Bureau of Exchange within the government charged with issuing circulating paper notes. These are now considered the first true government-issued banknotes. Printing plates made of brass from this period have been found by archaeologists and have been used to print recreated examples of these early banknotes. No original-issue notes of this series are known to have survived.
In 1296, Marco Polo, describing his travels in China, made a fleeting reference to paper used as money in the Chinese Empire. Europeans found the idea so preposterous and unbelievable, the very credibility of his accounts of having traveled and lived in China were questioned.
The oldest existing original banknote found to date was a fragment discovered in a cave. This banknote was issued by the Chinese Emperor Hiao Tsung sometime between 1165 and 1174. On its face, this surviving, rather sophisticated example depicted the amount or number of coins it represented, and is clearly descended from earlier issues, none of which have survived.
The first true banknotes from Europe were issued in Sweden in 1661. Much debate accompanied the issue, with some officials and merchants predicting paper money would herald the downfall of the country’s monetary system. To overcome such objections, the monetary authorities issued the banknotes with no fewer than 16 certifying endorsements from prominent and trustworthy officials - all signed individually by hand! Backed by the government’s guarantee to redeem the banknotes in specie, they were an immediate success, replacing the necessity to carry large, heavy, easily stolen quantities of gold or silver.
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