Making Money: Coin, Currency, and the Coming of Capitalism by Christine Desan

Amazing. Desan pulls back the myths about money’s origins, demonstrating in the process how boom and bust cycles are built into our financial system.

Feels weird to call a financial history a page-turner, but this one was compelling reading.

Three of the many things I learned:

  • In medieval England, you had to pay (!) for money. Merchants would bring silver bullion to the mint, and the government would convert it to coins, keeping some of the coins generated for themselves as a fee.
  • Bank of England notes were used as currency for over a hundred years before they were legal tender (first issued late 17th century, made legal currency only in 1833).
  • Metal coins are often used for money, not because of the metal’s intrinsic value, but because of how well it fulfills money’s needs: the tokens used for money need to be non-perishable, portable, and hard to fake.