The history of money can be traced back over 4,000 years. During this time,
currency has taken many different forms, including things we use as money today like coins or banknotes, to objects we might not consider to be money like shells, animals, or other natural resources.

The earliest coins were made from electrum, an alloy of gold and silver, in the Kingdom of Lydia, which is in modern day north western Turkey.

Bronze hollow handle spade money – image via the British Museum. From Jin state, China; Eastern Zhou dynasty, 5th century BC

Spade and knife money, like the one in the picture above, were the first objects in the East that could be called ‘coins’.

The Latin word for money, pecunia, is derived from pecus, the word for cattle. It was believed sheep and cattle were used as money in Rome. The dominance of the Roman Empire resulted in coins being spread over large distances, including here in Britain. This meant monetary systems could be set up and used by all. The Vikings then adopted these systems in the places they conquered. Paper money, such as bank notes, were first issued in China in late AD1100.

Pieces of eight.  Potosi, Bolivia, AD 1589-98. 
The eight reales coin, or ‘piece of eight’, was the most common silver coin of late 16th & 17th century Spain.  As trade became a global activity for the first time, it became the international currency.
Picture via the British Museum

Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, trade became more global and the
eight reales coin, or piece of eight, became the world’s first truly
international currency.

This weeks #MuseumFromHome at Ely Museum is all about coins. Join us on Facebook as we make some fun coin-themed crafts and then have a go at the activities below!

Firstly, we’ll learn all about Ely Tokens – something you might have seen on your visit to the museum!

In the 17th century, because the government wasn’t making enough small value coins, this meant the average person had difficulty getting change from their day to day purchases. This led to small businesses all over the country making their own coins to give as change to their customers. Ely businesses were no exception.

These coins are known as tokens. Each shop would have their own token design often featuring the name of the shop owner and something related to the shop. Learn about some Ely tokens and the people who made them. Then have a go at making your own.

Just like today the ancient Romans used coins to pay for things. Learn about the different coins they used and have a go at some maths questions to see if you could be a Roman merchant too!

Lastly we’ll learn about the different shapes coins can be, both here in England and across the world! Have a go at designing your own coins too – what shape will you choose?

Join us next week where our #MuseumFromHome post will be all about the Victorians

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