Monday, March 30, 2009

Money Facts

I've been studying a lot about paper money and coin...for the new book. Here are a few facts:

*Mermaids were the choice of motif for Phoenician coins (among other subjects).

*Silver coins in 16th century Europe were minted in Joachimsthal, a region of Bohemia. These were known as Joachimsthaler...later shortened to thaler, or dollar.

*The dollar sign -- $ -- is though to have originated from the symbol of Philip V of spain -- a ribbon winding around the two Pillars of Hercules, Gibraltar and Ceuta.

*Paper money was not officially printed by the United States until the 1860s...up to this point, banks across the country printed notes that could be redeemed at their branches. Many counterfeiters took advantage of the confusion, and made banknotes of their own. Finally, in 1862, a series of paper $10 bills was printed, with the face of Alexander Hamilton -- America's first Secretary of the Treasury, and one of the first to advocate a national banking system. These notes, as well as the second series of "greenbacks," (named for the ink on their back sides), are America's first official issued bills.

*Putting the face of a famous person on a paper bill was considered a mark of respect -- and the best-respected got the higher denominations. Abraham Lincoln's face never reached more than a $10 -- thanks in part, it is said, to Salmon Chase, his Secretary of the Treasury, who did not have a high opinion of his boss. Chase was the first to issue paper U.S. Treasury bills. (See above)

And finally --

*The first paper money in America was issued by the Massachusetts Colony in 1690 -- only a few years before the Bank of England was founded and began printing its own promissory notes.

This business of money is fascinating. I had no idea that our monetary system really didn't start before the 1860s! Until then, it was a catch-as-catch-can process; bills could be paid by all sorts of notes, sometimes including other countries' currency. Certain bills, like property taxes, were often required, as a result, to be paid in specie (gold and silver)...because that currency was less apt to be counterfeit.

Which makes me wonder...checks (or bankdrafts) are as old as the printed money in America, from what I can tell. Who issued the first credit cards?

Off to find out...