A very interesting book called Layered Money that I’m reading traces the evolution of money through time. In the very earliest days of commerce, there was no money – only the barter system. If I had potatoes from my farm, but desperately wanted cotton, then all I could do was to offer my potatoes and hope the cotton farmer wanted some. Of course potatoes were important (still are), but there could be a limit to how many potatoes a cotton farmer could eat.
So people devised ways to get around this. In the earliest days, money wasn’t coins or paper as we know it today. It was mostly seashells. Big and shiny meant richer and wealthier. But of course not everyone lived near a beach, and so that had to change. Iron pieces were then used too – for quite a while. And then unsurprisingly, silver and gold came along the way. People with a lot of gold and silver even today are considered rich.
Alongside that wealth, came human ego. Coins were introduced, and standardized in design and weight. And then coins were embossed with the faces of the kings and queens of the time. Currency notes too had the same features. Many rulers would kill and plunder simply to change the faces on them coins and notes. It was a matter of great personal pride. Coins from hundreds of years ago – of perhaps the greatest kings that ever lived in those times – are but worthless now. That face – completely unrecognizable and irrelevant to those born today.
And now we have digital currencies, like Bitcoins and Ether. Even these aren’t as individualistic as their creators would want them to be, because there are over 9500 cryptocurrencies. And anyone with coding knowledge, can create a new one. Time takes care of all egos.