National Geographic : 1927 Dec
THE GEOGRAPHY OF MONEY BY WILLIAM ATHERTON Du PuY T O-DAY in Wall Street or the Baghdad Bazaar - now as when Judas betrayed Jesus for silver and Marco Polo found Chinese making banknotes of mulberry bark-men dream and talk of money. They talk more about it than of any other one thing. Could we, by some magic, at this instant catch all words being uttered in every tongue everywhere, the most frequent would probably refer to money and price. "Money," it has been said, "is what the other man takes for the things you want." Man has used money, in some form, since the dawn of civilization. Fishhooks and slave girls, beads, hawks and hounds, all have served as a medium of exchange. Early Virginians bought wives with to bacco. Once, it is said, Mexican Indians used cacao beans, until aboriginal crooks began making clay counterfeits, baked andl varnished to look like the real. The study of money, as an instrument of trade through the ages, involves art, heraldry, and mythology; it leads to eco nomics and politics-and far into history. When kingdoms rose, often new moneys rose with them; and, when they fell, their moneys passed away. Nothing shakes a government like the depreciation of its money. The very progress of civilization itself may be largely measured by the pace at which the various moneys of the world have been standardized and accepted by international commerce. It was, to a large degree, the quest for gold and silver, and their use in coined money, which led to the exploration and settlement of Amer ica, Australia, and South Africa. Metal-disk money was born in Lydia, at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, about 2,600 years ago. It appears to-day in its most ambitious form as the Ameri can dollar. Cowrie, the lowly shell money of the antipodes, has through the ages been the most widely circulated rival of the metal disk; but its day of dominance has de parted. Only isolated communities still cling to it as money (see page 768). Yet cowrie can boast that more people have used it than have clinked the metal disks in all their varieties. It has served a greater number of human beings as a medium of exchange than any other money devised by man. COWRIE SHELLS WERE THE WORLD'S FIRST MONEY Shell money, beginning as ornament, has been popular with aboriginal peoples almost everywhere; but no other has gained the prestige of cowrie or persisted so long. It was born of a pretty little mollusk taken from the shallow spots of the Indian Ocean, and used by all the in habitants of that geographical area washed by its waters. These shells were white or straw-colored, about an inch long, glistening and clean. They constituted what was probably the first money in all the world, the medium of exchange for dense populations, and served many men for many generations. Cowrie's last ambitious stand was made on the West Coast of Africa, where it was in general use as money a generation ago. It is still current in isolated communities in Africa, India, and the South Seas, but has practically given way to the advance of the moneys of commercial nations. The cash of China, coins with holes in them, still dominate the marts of many men in a considerable corner of the Asi atic world. There exist inscribed cash pieces attributed to 1115-1079 B. C. and similar pieces, uninscribed, believed to be earlier. The tao, also of China, was one of the first metal coins in the world. The word means "knife" or "sharp-edged instru ment," hence the name was applied to the razor-shaped coins of old China. The earliest Chinese metal coins are be lieved to have been miniature spades, un inscribed and without perforation and with open shank for inserting a handle. Some authorities place them earlier than 200ooo B. C. Convenience for carrying is accepted as accounting for the introduction and long use of perforated coins by China and its neighbors. From earliest times a string has been the poor man's pocketbook (p. 759).