The History of Paper Money – Origins of Exchange – Extra History – #1

The History of Paper Money – Origins of Exchange – Extra History – #1

How did humanity come to accept rectangular pieces of pulped trees as something to spend eight to ten hours a day working for? It’s a pretty insane story. This change from hard currency like gold or silver is a really huge deal. Without it, we couldn’t possibly have the massive industrial and post-industrial economies we know today. This change revolutionized how we do business and forever altered how governments were financed. Learning about this massive sea change in how we as a species thought about money can help us reflect on our current historical shift from seeing paper as money, to seeing bits, seeing digital ones and zeros as money. But before we can get the exciting story of people trying to convince other people that paper was worth something, to understand why this is such a huge deal, we have to discuss a bit about how we thought about money before paper. If we go way back to the beginning of society, we find trade. Before early humans even really settled down, there’s evidence that, when we met, we exchanged things we had made or things we’d found. But as soon as humans started to cultivate the earth and form societies, we started to specialize and that meant that we not only loved to trade, we had to. Now, often when we think of trade we think of long distance trade. We think of caravans loaded with exotic goods. But for our story, we have to talk about local trade. Because here’s where we run into the problem of Coincidence of Wants. Or rather, we run into it everywhere. But if we fail to solve this problem at the local level, society breaks down and we can’t have the specialised trades we need to run anything beyond the smallest gathering of people. So what is a Coincidence of Wants? It’s the basis on which trade can exist. Let’s say that I make shirts, and you grow food. Well, if you want a shirt and I want food, awesome, we can trade. But if I don’t want
your stupid food, or if you’re all full up on shirts, well, we can’t trade, can we? And that
starts becoming a real problem for society if i want food but you don’t
want my shirts. Maybe I can find somebody with some third good that you do want.
But that means that a lot of time is consumed by trading. And if I can’t find
some other good you want to trade for, well, there’s gonna be trouble. And this
problem runs even deeper than we sometimes think about when you consider the lack of
refrigeration and transportation. Imagine I’m a fisherman and you’re a farmer, and
let’s say that we want to trade. Well there’s this problem; your harvest
only comes in once a year. I can’t trade you for a harvest you don’t have yet, and
all of those extra fish I caught today are going to be pretty rotten by the
time your harvest comes in. And while this may seem like a very specific
example, trade for food was probably the most prevalent trade of the ancient world.
So we need to find a third good that we both want that we can trade for. But
wouldn’t it be convenient if there was some universal third good which
everybody wanted and would trade for? So we didn’t have to do some long chain of bartering every time we wanted something. Enter, money. All money is is a third good
that doesn’t spoil and that we all agree has value, thus becoming a unit of
exchange; An intermediary good, by which all other goods can be traded. And while we often think of coins made
of precious metals for this purpose, the truth is, so long as it’s durable enough
and hard enough to procure, anything can serve as money. Tangent time: Turns out
we have used a lot of weird stuff as money over our history. For example,
cattle have often served as money. I mean, they’re fairly durable, they last for
years, they’re practical, and they’re reasonably
scarce. When Europeans arrived in the Americas, alcohol often served as
currency. You could literally drink your paycheck. Cigarettes have often become
money of prisons and POW camps. Back in ancient China, money in the shape of tools and then knives became some of the first examples of precious metal money.
And, my personal favorite, on the island of Yap, gigantic limestone donuts serve
as money. They are so huge that once they are brought to the island, no one even moves them. They just remember who owns which ones. In fact, all of these stones had to be quarried off-island,
because there’s no naturally-occurring limestone on Yap. And once when a crew was coming back
from a quarrying expedition, a storm hit and sent their stone to the bottom of the
ocean. But the crew survived and told everybody what had happened, and the
Islanders decided that “Eh, it still counted.” So to this day, somebody owns
that giant piece of stone money at the bottom of the sea. And even though it’s
not really in use today, for hundreds of years that stone was used to buy and
sell things, even though no one had ever seen it, giving Yap, in some ways, one of the most forward-thinking monetary systems before the modern era. But if we
want to talk about the king of them all, the form of money that has been used the
longest and over the widest expanse of the globe, we have to talk about one
thing. No, not gold. Although in fairness, that’s
what I would have guessed too. Nope, it’s the cowry shell. It’s durable, impossible
to counterfeit, and without modern harvesting techniques it’s not so easy
to acquire that inflation will run rampant. Anyway, tangent over, back on
target. We have lots of different possible types
of pre-modern money, including the gold and silver coins that we so often think
of when we think of money of the past. But all of these different types of
money have one thing in common: they are what we call commodity money, because
their value is in the commodity themselves. Even cowries were seen as
rare and beautiful, and can be used for jewelry and the like, and so were thought
of as having intrinsic value. The same way we feel gold has an intrinsic value
for its scarcity and its uses. Now, that makes a lot of sense for a
currency. It feels secure and reasonable. You can trust to the worth of that gold
coin in your hand. I mean, after all, if you’re used to
trading one thing for another, why would you ever trade something
valuable like a horse for something worthless like a pile of paper? But for
gold or for cowries, well that’s another story. But when your economy
grows, this system starts showing some of its limits. For one thing, commodity money is heavy. If you’re doing massive deals, it gets
really hard to transport. And it’s risky to transport across lawless lands.
Commodity money is also often subject to debasing, where somebody. usually the
person who should be responsible for making sure the currency maintains its
value, waters down the whiskey, or takes a gold coin, melts it down, and reforges it
with a bit less gold in it, and passes it off as worth the same amount. But more
than anything, when you get to gigantic economies, the very scarcity that makes
commodity money seem to have value becomes your enemy. Like, let’s take gold
and silver. What happens when your economy grows to the point where you
just can’t get enough of it? We actually saw the effects of this in
our episode on the Opium Wars, where so much English silver was ending up in
China in exchange for tea, it was actually causing inflation, and
hampering basic economic transactions at home. And this really comes into effect
when we get to more modern government finance, and the financing of war. What happens to a nation when it has to
make a sudden drastic uptick in its spending, but can’t get enough specie to
cover its cost? Even from those who are willing to lend? As I am sure we will see
in future Extra History episodes, it plays havoc with an economy, and even the ability to prosecute a war. And the reverse of this is true as well. Currencies based on scarcity are often
subject to changes in the scarcity of the commodity on which they’re based, which can be trouble when somebody finds a lot more of your currency commodity. When
Spain started to important massive amounts of silver and gold from the
Americas, all the precious metal-based currency in Europe started to suffer
from inflation. After all, all those gold coins weren’t worth nearly as much since
somebody had just dumped a huge new pile of gold on European shores. And as a
government, or even a financial sector, when someone digging up a new pile of
minerals means that you can’t control your own fiscal policy, then that’s bad
news. But those disadvantages are only easy to see if you’re a head of state or
working on the largest-scale transactions. If you’re just some average
person in the street, when some well-to-do says that they want to take
your grain in exchange for this nice slip of… is that paper? Well, you would be forgiven for thinking
that you smell a rat. Join us next time as we finally delve into the origins of
paper money, and start to address this problem of people fearing to give up
their outdated gold.


  1. Cody C says:

    today’s paper money is actually made of cotton

  2. Creative Destruction Gaming says:

    Why let a few rectangles of paper get in the way of a good crusade?

  3. MrMercSoldier says:

    7:30 monetary policy, not fiscal

  4. Master Yoda says:

    Actually dollars are made of cotton fibers.

  5. James Endicott says:

    I've never felt a need to question much in this series before but this origin of money as a durable 3rd party good in a barter system is crazy.

    Historians aren't the source of that idea, economists were. They didn't even try to pick a single society or culture to base the idea on but instead imagined what primitive people would do. It's absurd that you'd even call it a "controversial" idea. It's about as valid as intelligent design.

    I'd have preferred you just ascribed currency to ancient alien theory.

  6. Poisonous Paul says:

    "money talks"

  7. Brady Menting says:

    money is just pokemon with more steps

  8. Wi-Fi TV says:

    It's funny how many things can be money. In ancient Celtic societies they used bronze rings that they'd keep on a string or wear

  9. NS Keano says:

    5th time watching this series

  10. Minh Gusta says:

    Better than any economics class

  11. ivana gluvakov says:

    Fish will get spoiled? In reality id doesn;t work that way. Before people knew how to do stuff, they were not as specialized as today. even with the fish example-fishermen can hunt fish all year round and their families can grow food at the same time. People were tricked by some other people.People can always trade services and share with one another, when there is no service needed.

  12. Aden Goldstein says:


  13. mcgames says:

    Tardis spotted

  14. Carlos Caro says:

    This analysis ignores a common good that allowed a lot of local trade to take place with neither barter nor money; reputation. In the majority of human history and pre-history, coincidence of wants existed between my desire to be seen as a valuable member of society and to call in favors from you and your desire for my creations. Leaving your community was incredibly difficult to the point of dangerous. So if I am a fisherman and you're a farmer whose harvest will come in in a few months, I can happily let you have a few fish and be seen as a valuable member of our village, in exchange for which you will be motivated to share with me as well out of 1) gratitude, 2) to not be seen as a moocher. I gain social status and reputation and informal leverage for your largesse later. The odds of you stiffing me is relatively low; you will look like a mooch, you will find all your future dealings with other people in the village suffer, and you aren't likely to get more fish from me later when you need fish again. And, again, leaving the village is a bad option; it's dangerous out there before there were states.

  15. kota o says:

    I love watching these high it's just so interesting

  16. ED-GAMING says:

    History of paper money
    Paper money was invented
    People used papaer money
    Australia invented plastic money,
    Plastic money > Paper money
    hard to forge

  17. CasualGamerNerd 5 says:

    Money is a scam made up by paper companies to sell more paper

  18. Mr Mister says:

    What about salt

  19. Tyranteon says:

    I absolutely LOVE gold coins though!

  20. Randy Savage says:

    And ….they did. Hahahaha.

  21. Cristian Villanueva says:

    Is that were spongebob got mr krabs first dime?

  22. Illien Galene says:

    And we have glass Pearl's.
    They have been too!

  23. Name Here says:

    y'all should cover the agricultural revolution. That was a big flipping deal.

  24. Noah Johnson says:

    Sure you can buy my crops.
    Wait… what's that? Is that… paper? What the heck?

  25. Kill(ss)ing Asuka says:

    History isn’t real.

  26. cityraildude says:

    Banknotes aren't made from paper, they're made from plastic

  27. ThatSlowTypingGuy says:

    0:54 brb gotta get back in time.

  28. sfrgh dfghdfgh says:

    why was the prisoner smoking backwards?

  29. CS_FL says:

    You could purchase goods and even pay your tax in hundredweights of tobacco in colonial days.

  30. Anna-Maria och Johan Aulin says:

    At 3:35 the person thats smokes is having the cigarette in the wrong way

  31. Jolly Anonymous says:

    Lucky blocks!!!!!

  32. The Sharktocrab says:

    Is it just me or is the voice pitch shifted? It's annoying as all hell

  33. Bryce Bowen says:

    The only reason gold has value is because it is rare

  34. Kevin Pena says:

    GOD = Alpha Omega Delta, God gave us Language. Jesus enter Love and then Romantic Languages were Born.

  35. Guest says:

    It's really funny, here in Indonesia people pushing the agenda of going back using gold as payment methods.

  36. Jack Guyett says:

    why to spend 10 hours to receive this money:
    so you can GET EM

  37. gimmethegepgun says:

    I am seriously disappointed that there weren't bottle caps at 3:14.

  38. Basal Tripod9684 says:

    Honestly my favorite form of money was what the Aztecs used, alright, chocolate was a huge thing to the Aztecs. So huge, that they used cocoa seeds as currency. When the didn't feel like carrying huge amounts of seeds. They used axes, which were worth about 8,000 cocoa seeds each.

  39. PhasicDaneel says:

    Giant stone in the lake? Sunk cost!

  40. Mi Cu says:

    love that song at the end

  41. Daniel Horn says:

    I’ve gotten used to the new narrator, but I still miss this guy.

    EDIT: It’s funny… when I found this channel years ago I was kind of like, “I like the content, but I’m not sure I can handle the way this is narrated.”

    Came to love it and now I don’t like (though I can live with it; absolutely nothing against the new guy) the change. Human nature I guess.

  42. jeremy debraccio says:

    Woah man. Like. Currency dawg.

  43. Lukas Niels says:

    I hope that the person/people who invented money will get the worst form of suffering down in hell with something way worse than humanity has experienced

  44. ItsOnlyJoey says:

    I’ll take a t shirt
    You can have my chili cheese fries

  45. I take everything to literally says:

    Actualy if 70% people deisides that the global curency is usles then it is usles

  46. Zanesushi Plays says:

    Okay this is incredibly unrealistic and false. Because

    2:36 Who would give a goat for 20 cabbage? That’s a horrible deal!


  47. Shaun Mabena says:

    Humans are extraordinary.

  48. MisterTutor2010 says:

    @4:25 The world's first underwater asset 🙂

  49. Qaisar Lance fx says:

    For several months I joined five trading chat rooms, bought 3 different trading courses and read a dozen books on trading. After wading through all the pot of gold promises, lifestyle hot car videos and promises of success in single equities and single time frames, I finally found a community and strategy with real value; Trading with Lukasz Wilhelm.

  50. MinifigureXtreme says:

    Isn’t there a spongebob joke about Mr Krab’s first dime being a giant limestone coin

  51. TheJagjr4450 says:

    given a choice infants choose coins… something with an actual value outside of it's numeration… copper nickel and even cuprozinc can be fashioned into something useful.

  52. Gravity Gravy says:

    history of money?

    it comes from trees, literaly and figuratively…

  53. Unknown says:

    Fiat money means vacuum cleaner is in the hands of corporates and politicians.

  54. the O.D.S.T spartan says:

    0:07 they didn't they accepted linen as a something to work for (u.s money is partly made of linin)

  55. Blurrpull says:

    Actually the money from the American dollar bill is cotten

  56. Jiri Jindra says:

    I want to say thank you! You really helped me with the outline of my uni assignment. I had to use some books too, but your video kick-started my work.
    Great video, keep up the great work!

  57. Lexel says:

    Something in the Video is not 100% correct, Yap's Stone-Money is sometimes still used for buying houses.

  58. Alex Lewisham says:

    Make $500 Today Referring Friends On Tap 2 Earn | @Potato5721

  59. Joseph says:

    but the chinese did the exact same thing in 800 AD

  60. Brent Brewer says:

    It's a BS argument that not procuring enough physical "specie" caused inflation and more importantly, what's up with arguing that lack of enough physical gold or silver is a major drawback to supporting a major war??? Now, THAT'S shortsighted and backwards thinking! Physical supply problems on relatively scarce (but adequately abundant) precious commodities like gold and silver are always and everywhere solved by PRICE. The price is fair and adequate, supply "appears". The fair price problem, which I am so certain you correctly describe in your 2nd video in this series (which I have not yet watched) has not been seen in the world for a very long time, as the paper money game is used by global central banks to manipulate and suppress the true value of precious commodities and thus disguise just how damaging and inflationary their paper money tactics and shenanigans truly are. The 2008 Financial Crisis was the epic example of such paper money folly and the power of their power and influence that enabled them to save themselves by threatening the entire world with financial collapse.

  61. Guillermo Molano says:

    “You could literally drink your paycheck” ?

  62. Don Carlin says:

    I've always explained that to friends and colleagues who long for the days of gold-based currency. There's simply not enough gold supply in the world, even when we dig mines 2 miles deep, to support current economic activity. This includes all the research and inventions, which means if we stayed on gold, we would be at least 100 years behind where we are now. Like it or not the fiat has allowed unprecedented economic growth and prosperity.

    I also tell those who insist our currency is "only worthless paper", I offer to take the "worthless paper" off their hands. Not surprisingly, every one so far has vehemently refused lol.

  63. N5ZZ0 says:

    Gold's valuable, fite me

  64. Kenneth Wiley says:

    you know there is a better system if society wants to grow and not just survive

  65. Kenneth Wiley says:

    the problem is that instead of having everybody starting raising livestock from domesticated animals that were inherited they develop some other product in another industry

  66. Kemetic Witchcraft says:

    The Yappese quarried the limestone from Palauans (my husbands people).

  67. Skvader 418 says:

    When i think of trade i think of minecraft villager trading

  68. Alex C. says:

    There is 1 point you are missing out as a game developer talking about money: How to make a funny game using rl fiat mechanics as ingame currencies. I mean: Without quitting monopoly after 3h of ingame time ?

  69. Ryansoldier72 says:

    Did you ever think some people get payed money to make money.

  70. Robert B. says:

    Neither Gold, nor any other metal is "Hard Currency". The term "Money" should not be confused with the word "wealth". Wealth is created by way of human labor, both physical and mental. All cultures produce wealth through human creativity. All money is, is a voucher for work performed in the process of producing wealth.  Products and services are provided, and trade with these are a natural process. Without the paper vouchers we call "money" we would be forced to use the Barter System.  How would global commerce function, dealing in huge quantities of wealth, if everybody involved had to wait for an agreement on the exchange rate of dead metals, such as silver & gold? The creation of a global currency in beginning of the 20th Century solved this issue. The economy is managed by accountants, called "bankers". In order to make progress possible, new ideas for new products and services get their backing by way of financing.  The inventor borrows the funding he needs to build the factory, and deliver the new product.  This creates jobs, and stimulates, and benefits the entire economy.  The loan is repaid with money backed by real wealth created through human ingenuity.   This how both wealth, and money come into existence. Private International Bankers control the printing paper money, because governments and politicians cannot be trusted with this task. There is nothing evil about paper money issued by private banks, who are the true managers of global commerce. No metal, nor any other mineral, nor innate substance, is "Sound Money", (but the metal dealers, and coin peddlers would love to have you believe otherwise).

  71. Retards_Play_Games says:

    Watched this video series 4 times now but youtube keep reccomending it to me so I guess I have to watch it again

  72. Salt is guud says:

    And they say money doesn't grow on trees.

  73. MasterL Player says:

    I don't mind ads nor do I mind buffers…

    But when the ads buffer I freak out…

  74. Party Tomorrow says:

    sure money was great in the past especially "trade" now we just need people to work on robots or A.I then we wont need money just us willingness to work and have satisfactory cards red means work more and green means take a vacation its like money but everything is free

  75. Party Tomorrow says:

    if you dont work you get put into a jail like factory where you would be examined and then put in a category where you would be forced to work just not punished but you get 3 strikes and if you completely ignore then might as well ban you from the country or make you pay a fee or jail

  76. Party Tomorrow says:

    the bans will be time limits not perma

  77. Party Tomorrow says:

    of course we would give out lists to show where we might need help in sectors

  78. Party Tomorrow says:

    whatever they need it will be an app or automatic button away from you advancing to your goals

  79. Party Tomorrow says:

    we wouldnt want people to work for a living or work their lives off but we want them to visit the world and mars

  80. Party Tomorrow says:

    and also whoever needs help will be helped

  81. Party Tomorrow says:

    first we need to be at peace

  82. Party Tomorrow says:

    in order to work faster for civilization

  83. Party Tomorrow says:

    work hard now so your kids could work less

  84. riley whillas says:

    this is good

  85. Andrew Cheng says:

    Pay yap with wheels

  86. John Dorsey says:

    Alex Summers.. Havok. Lol.

  87. Krimzon Lord says:

    I think Yap were using real estate as money.

  88. 3576alan says:

    6:05. They don't melt the gold down. That's a lot harder than you think. They just shave a little of the edge. That's why the sides of coins are ribbed. It's a throwback to a previous era. In fact, that's why they look like silver.

  89. Adam Lawson says:

    Smoking cigarettes backwards lol

  90. Nicolás Bello says:

    The only problem is barter was never a thing. Before money there was debt. I give you something, you owe me. In small societies it works. Yaap island proves the point. Have you read Debt, by David Graeber? Just a thought, great video!

  91. Maria Aspvik says:

    "Maybe I can find someone with a third good that you do want, but that means a lot of time is consumed by trading." – Isn't this what trademen did though? Like trading stuff for other's and taking a small amount of the good like a comission?

  92. Levi Brennan says:

    Spartans use iron lol

  93. mightymagnus says:

    The inflation of silver and gold in Spain was good news for the Swedish east india company. They filled up the ships with wood from Sweden which they traded for silver in Cadiz and then they went to Canton and bought valuable goods (e.g. tea, porcelain and silk) which they returned with huge profits.

  94. shara30000 says:

    fallout: BoTTleCAps ArE a FoRM oF mONeY tOO

  95. DJ Programer says:

    Around 10 times I have watched this

  96. Toastte says:

    Gotta love our ones and zeroes!

  97. Formula Gaming says:

    When cowry shell being currency around the globe???????

  98. MrHatoi says:

    So Mr. Krabs owned a coin from Yapp…

  99. Emmett Boutros says:

    Crazy Money Fact!: The Aztec Empire used to use cacao beans as currency!

  100. scotch bingy says:

    Gold is good..

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