From rocks to gems to animals to paper to plastic and now to digital, the design of currency has taken many forms throughout its long history. While barter and trade of items is as old as the days of the caveman, the development of paper currency with printed design is credited to the Chinese from about 618 AD. These notes were called: fei-chien or “flying money.”
The development of the paper currency offered benefits such as: ease of storage, ease of communication and ease of exchange. As you could imagine, rocks, jewels and like items had weight and storage issues to consider. Not to mention, if you were paid in chickens, the amount of resources needed to keep your wealth living!
The US dollar came into circulation in the early 1860’s when the US Treasury issued bank notes to help finance the Civil War. The back of the bill was printed green because green was associated with stability and growth. Thus the term “Greenbacks” became a term to describe the currency used. In the 1930s the look of the bills we know today was established. the scrolling, fine line work and detailed illustrations were all efforts to prevent counterfeiting, which was becoming an issue.
Fast forward to today and we now have Cryptocurrencies – Digital money! While digital currencies date back decades, Bitcoin, launched in 2009, is recognized as the first privately issues cryptocurrency. Today, they estimate there are about 7,000 different cryptocurrencies. The design of this type of currency is less visual and more conceptual. The tangible is gone and online accounts and bits and bytes of data now start to define how we could trade and conduct commerce.
It will be interesting to see where this form of handing currency will take us, and how it will be designed. For now I am happy with the “Greenbacks” I earn and spend and find beauty in the design of the world’s notes!