Humans have been using currency in some form for thousands of years. In fact, the earliest forms of currencies were livestock and a certain kind of shell called the cowrie. We’ve come a long way since those days but it wasn’t until 1000 BCE that humans began crafting currency out of metal in China.

Studying the way our ancestors bought and sold items is a fantastic way to learn about daily life thousands of years ago and we can see that, after China, coins made from silver were next discovered in what is now modern day Turkey. The practice of minting coins from metals then moved to the Greek, Roman, and Macedonian societies.

When we move to paper money again China was the innovator, first producing it in about 800 CE. However, it was the British who first began basing money on the value of gold in the 1800s, and this is when currency became more stable across the globe.
However, ancient coins are a collector’s dream and seeing these coins is a great way to learn about the history of cultures and the impact money had on their society. Collecting coins with your family can be a great way to spend time with your family while teaching them about world history. You may even incite a passion for world-wide travel and learning for your children.

China

As stated earlier, the Chinese were the first to use metal to create coins and collections of these coins are quite rare and can typically only be viewed in museums. However, due to China’s lengthy and often tumultuous history some of the most interesting coins are from the era of the Qing Dynasty, which fell in 1911. Following that time China went through decades of strife, Mao Zedong came to power, and ushered in Communism and the Cultural Revolution.
Many collectors look for coins from this era and they are a fascinating glimpse into a part of China’s history that was largely shielded from the rest of the world.

Greece

Some of the most interesting of the early minted coins came from Greece. The Greeks began striking coins from metal around 680 BCE and the earliest models were very irregular in shape and size. However, and they improving their minting process the coins became more regular in size and often included elaborate decoration of animals and, later, images of the gods.
Again, these are the types of coins that you’ll likely only see in museums or private collections but since the Greek Empire had so much influence in its time these coins are fascinating examples of their impact on the world.

South Africa

The early colonization of parts of Africa means that countries like South Africa are a treasure trove of coins of all types. For instance, Egyptian and Roman coins dating back over 2,000 years have been found in parts of South Africa. Due to the fact that so many different European countries established colonies in South Africa many different currencies have been used over time, including the British pound, the French franc, and the Indian rupee.
South Africa established its own currency rather late in history. In 1961 it abandoned the British pound and established the rand. However, in 1967 South Africa began to mint gold coins called Krugerrands, named after Paul Kruger. By 1980 this led to the fact that 90 percent of the gold coins in the world were South African, and some countries forbade their import in protest of apartheid. South Africa will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the coin by minting 2017 silver Krugerrands.

Italy

It would be unfair to discuss ancient coins without mentioning those of the Roman Empire. While Italy’s borders do not reflect those of the ancient Roman empire, the coins used during that time are significant in that they contained more precious metals that other coins of the period and were often more valuable than the denomination they represented.
However, as history progressed many different countries laid claim to parts of Italy and thus introduced their own currency systems and some Italian states and regions considered themselves independent. Italy was unified in 1861 and the lira became the official currency. However, when Italy joined the European Union the currency changed to the euro in 2002.

Collecting and learning about ancient coins is one of the best ways to get an insight into the collective history of human culture. We’ve all used something as some sort of trade since civilization began and this makes currency one of the things all cultures have in common. Take some time and do some research and see what you can learn about history through money.

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