At the Opening of an American Numismatic Society Exhibition, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, New York
January 16, 2002
The History of Money
"The other day I told a spendthrift friend that I had to deliver a short address on the history of money. He responded, "I understand the history of money. When I get some, it's soon history." Fortunately, not all market participants are as spendthrift as my friend. Savers have been in sufficient abundance since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution to enable investment to further material well-being. Money, as a store of value, was an early facilitator of savings and one of the great inventions of mankind. Saving and investment is very difficult in a barter economy.
The history of money is the history of civilization or, more exactly, of some important civilizing values. Its form at any particular period of history reflects the degree of confidence, or the degree of trust, that market participants have in the institutions that govern every market system, whether centrally planned or free.
To accept money in exchange for goods and services requires a trust that the money will be accepted by another purveyor of goods and services. In earlier generations that trust adhered to the intrinsic value of gold, silver, or any other commodity that had general acceptability. Historians, digging deep into the earliest evidence of human practice, link such commodities' broad acceptability to peoples' desire for ostentatious gold and silver ornaments..."