18 Astounding Facts You Didn’t Know About Money

How many of these 18 fun facts did you know about money and its history?

1. Before the use of paper currency, man used various items as a medium of exchange including cowrie shells, leather, cattle, amber, rice, salt, thimbles and decorative axes known as zappozats.

2. The first and oldest form of money used by man is cattle.  There were several significant problems with using cattle as a medium of exchange, however.  Among the biggest was that it made being rich an expensive proposition.  If a seller accepted them as payment, he had to go to some expense to get them home and then once home, the cattle had to fed and cared for.

3. Can I get change with that?  Another problem with cattle was that their value was too high to facilitate exchanges of small value.  For example, one couldn’t reasonably pay for a loaf of bread with a single animal.

4. And you thought the IRS was tough:  It is believed the origin the term “paying through the nose” alludes to a Danish poll tax imposed in Ireland during the 9th century, whereby delinquent taxpayers were punished by having their noses slit.

5. Because European governments were concerned about losing their gold and silver currency in the heavily wooded forests of the New World, they didn’t send coins. To fill this void, wampum was adopted as a form of currency by New World colonists.  Wampum had all of the necessary currency trademarks: it had value, was easily divisible and was scarce due to the labor required to make it.

6. Ironically, although wampum was used for many purposes by the American Indians, money wasn’t one of them.

7. The first crude monetary coins were minted in China around 1000 B.C. using non-precious metals.  Modern coinage originated approximately 500 years later in what is present-day Turkey.  These coins were made of precious metals with more inherent value like copper, silver and gold and then stamped with the images of emperors or Gods to mark their authenticity.

8.  The world’s oldest currency still in use today is the British pound sterling.  Prior to the introduction of the Euro, however, that title belonged to the Greek drachma.

9. The first paper banknotes appeared in China in 806 A.D. In the early 15th century, the number of paper notes in circulation had grown rapidly and their value rapidly depreciated.   In an effort to rein in economic expansion and end hyperinflation, the new Ming Dynasty banned the use of paper money in 1455. Paper money in China then disappeared for several hundred years.

10.  In 1661 Sweden was the first country in Europe to issue paper money.  The Bank of England started printing “running cash notes” in 1694.  In the United States, the first paper currency issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury didn’t show up until 1861.

11. The average lifetime of US paper currency depends on its denomination.  For example, the $100 bill typically stays in circulation for a healthy 7.5 years while your average fifty-dollar bill lasts a little over four years.  Surprisingly, at only 16 months, it is the five-dollar bill that has the shortest lifespan; that’s five months shorter than the average one-dollar bill.

12.  The US Treasury provides a free public service for folks whose money has been severely damaged or mutilated.  A group of specially trained currency examiners at the Office of Currency Standards at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing are specifically charged with picking through mutilated moolah to identify redeemable currency.  The Treasury handles approximately 30,000 claims and redeems over $30 million annually.

13.  Contrary to popular belief, in some cases it is possible to be reimbursed if less than 50% of the bill is identifiable.

14. Details, details, details:  If you look really closely at the reverse side of a $100 bill you’ll see three individuals, two men and a woman, walking in front of Independence Hall.  If you’re really good, you might also notice that the hands of the clock in the steeple are set at approximately 4:10.

15.  According to the US Treasury, and contrary to popular belief, the automobile pictured on the back of older $10 notes was NOT a Model “T” Ford.   The newer $10 bills no longer show the cars.

16. According to the US Treasury, there is no definitive reason why green was originally chosen as the color for American money.  However, the Treasury does say that at the time of the last major paper currency overhaul in 1929, they chose to continue to use green as the primary color because: 1) pigment of that color was still readily available in large quantities at that time; 2) the color was relatively high in its resistance to chemical and physical changes; and 3) green was psychologically identified with the strong and stable credit of the Government.

17. Euro banknotes, on the other hand, come in a multitude of distinctly different colors: the 5-euro note is grey; the 10 is red; the 20 is blue; the 50 is orange; the 100 is green; the 200 is yellow; and the 500 is purple.  Unlike US bills which are of uniform dimension, each Euro banknote also has a distinct size, which is helpful if you are blind.

18.  Follow the money:  Did you ever wonder where that paper money in your pocket has been, or where it will go next?  Where’s George will actually track the world travels of your American money for you.   Here is a sample tracking report.  For those who live elsewhere, there are also similar sites for other currencies such as Where’s Willie (for Canadian dollars) and EuroBillTracker.  :-)

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