What is money? By definition, it is something of value. But, over the last 10,000 years or so, the material form of money has taken has changed considerably – from cowrie shells to cattle to todays electronic currency.
The United States, and the world over, has an interesting love affair and history with money. Those paper bills in your pocket can be traced back to 7th century China, while the oldest coin dates back to the year 600 BC. With thousands of years of history, money offers some interesting facts from its colored, storied history.
Original US Paper Money
Paper money in the United States dates back to the Thirteen Colonies, when in 1690 the Massachusetts Bay Colony issued paper currency used to finance military expeditions. The Colonies attempted to create a unified currency in 1775, (one year before the Declaration of Independence was signed), but due to poor management and counterfeiting, the original unified American currency quickly died.
Each bank or colony created its own money, representing its value in silver or gold, in a patchwork financial system. The United States Dollar was officially adopted by congress in 1785. The Greenback dollars we know and love today became the official currency in 1861 around the time of the Civil War, and Treasury took over managing the currency in 1863.
Can You Believe the Mint is the Only Profitable Government Institution?
The United States Mint operates in Philadelphia and Denver creating the coins we use for everyday purchases. The Mint operates facilities in San Francisco and West Point for special commemorative coins and gold and silver issues.
In 2013, the Mints numismatic, a fancy word for coin collecting, program had $512 million in sales, of which $300 came from the internet. While most bureaucracies are simply money pits, the Mint generated $83 million in profits in that year.
Yes, The Federal Reserve Still Makes $2 Bills
Thomas Jefferson graces the $2 bill, which was printed initially from 1862-1966. The limited printing years made the $2 note a novelty collectors item that became popular for gifts and albums. Did you know the Federal Reserve began printing the $2 bill again in 1976, and still prints the seldom used bill to this day?
Because $2 bills are not very popular, the Federal Reserve does not create very many –The Fed estimates that there are about $1.5 billion to $2 billion in circulation. If you want to use $2 bills for your shopping, just head to your bank and ask for them. Most busy branches keep at least a couple of bundles of the somewhat novelty currency.
Did You Know Abraham Lincoln Was the First American on a Coin?
The first American President featured on a coin in the United States was President Abraham Lincoln. Prior to the Lincoln Head Pennys introduction in 1909, the penny featured an Indian head, nickels featured a buffalo and dimes featured the Roman God Mercury.
The Lincoln Head Penny was designed by Victor David Brenner, who put his initials VDB on the design. You can still find collectible 1909 VDB pennies at coin shops, antique markets and online stores like eBay and Amazon. The VDB initials were removed shortly after, making the VDB versions more sought after by collectors.
Zimbabwes $100 Trillion Bill
The United States Dollar, like the Euro, British Pound and Swiss Krona, are considered very stable currencies and are used for global trade. Some other currencies are much more volatile and difficult to control.
Zimbabwe had a particularly difficult time managing its currency, and it went through a period of extreme inflation. The Zimbabwe Dollar quickly became worth a small fraction of a cent. To help people avoid carrying stacks and stacks of currency to make small purchases, the Zimbabwe government began releasing much higher valued currency, reaching a pinnacle with the $100 trillion bill.
The $100 trillion bill was worth about 40 U.S. cents as of June, 2015. That makes 10 of the bills, or 1 quintillionaire Zimbabwe Dollars, worth $4 in the United States. If you want to be a Quintillionaire, just head to eBay. You can pick up ten of the $100 trillion bills for about $15 USD.
Illegal Rupee Denomination Notice
India has money struggles of its own, but they are more related to organized crime and a black market economy than inflation. Up until November 2016, the 500 and 1,000 rupee notes — worth around $8 and $15 respectively, made up about 80% of all currency in India. On the first Tuesday in November, the Prime Minister made a surprise announcement that ended the rein of the 500 and 1,000 rupee notes, making them illegal for use.
These bills were used for the bulk of Indian commerce, and its 1.3 billion residents were forced to go to the bank to trade in their now illegal cash for a replacement currency. The move is aimed at stemming billions of dollars in underground economic activity, and it expected to increase the adoption of electronic and card based payments in the worlds second most populous country.
The Word “Money” Comes from the Roman Goddess of Marriage and Women
The Romans created coins in a temple dedicated to the Goddess of Marriage and Women. The temple was called Juno Moneta. The word Moneta inspired the words money and mint that we still use thousands of years later. The Romans were also the first to stamp the image of a living person on a coin. The first Minted coin of this style featured the likeness of Julius Caesar on coins minted in the year 44 B.C.
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**All images via Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons.