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The origins of cash

Categories : Cash enables an immediate transfer of value, Cash is trust
July 5, 2017
Published in : Cash, Currency, History
Ever wonder where cash as we know it today comes from?
Communication Team

The origins of cash date back to nearly 5,000 years ago. At that time, humans used to barter when trading. Thereafter, they started to use rare objects or metals as a mean of exchange, such as mother-of-pearl shells, amber, gold or native copper, easier to transport and to store than living animals, which were also used as a currency. In addition, the issuance and circulation of scarce materials could be controlled by the government.

Anthropologists offer various theories to explain why humans started using currency. Indeed, money represents a measure of value, a store of wealth and it facilitates exchanges between peoples and cultures thus enabling the creation of relationships between groups. It also allows for gift-giving and reciprocity and, finally, it is a symbol of power. Yet, experts believe that the first forms of currency emerged from gift exchanges and debt repayments.

The first coins appeared in Asia Minor in 600 B.C, in the form of stamped coins made of gold or silver. During the first millennium A.D, minted coins were recognized as currency worldwide, and especially in Europe, Asia and North Africa. Coins gave rise to global trade and connected peoples from all continents. Indeed, archaeologists recently found a 600-year old Chinese Yongle Tongbao coin at the ancient trade port of Manda, in Kenya. Coins were adopted especially for their portability and durability.

The first banknotes appeared around 1200 A.C. These were developed by the Chinese Song dynasty after the government faced a copper shortage. The authorities draw inspiration from the certificate of indebtedness and manufactured the first paper currency, originally made of mulberry bark. The techniques and printing methods have then evolved over time, especially since the start of industrialisation, with the aim of creating ever more resistant banknotes and more difficult to counterfeit. Today, banknotes are made of various substrates, including polymer, and contain 20 security features on average.

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