Money, Money, Money – Down the Drachma..

Banknote Art and the Ladies

A comment from the Valleys about a stay at Hanover House (www.hanoverhouse.org) ‘Great fun! Food lovely! Exceptional!’ 

Europe is in the grip of an economic crisis where inflation and economic recession are rife. The Euro currency is on the verge of collapse with the Franco-German economic powerhouse perhaps plotting behind closed doors to take the Euro-Zone down a new road, with a possible fiscally 3-tier Europe. In the first tier the economically sound, well- industrialised nations forging ahead in a reduced grouping. Then the economically-strapped 2nd tier nations, now including Italy (brought low by its years of corruption and indolence), and perhaps the peripheral nations who may be pushed or eased out of the Euro such as Greece (never economically sound), Ireland (who went a bit Over The Top during their economic boom/bubble) and Portugal. Then comes the non-Euro countries such as UK and Norway who keep their independence. The Norwegians are not typical however as their small population and access to North Sea oil have made them extremely wealthy on a per capita basis. The UK is not quite so economically stable but industry seems to be staggering along (new shipbuilding contracts and now Tata are expanding Land Rover production in the Midlands) and keeping the pound sterling has enabled us to deflate as necessary to stay competitive. We are however, inextricably linked to Europe and so no Schadenfreud should apply at the Euro-Zone’s economic woes. What hits them will rebound on to us.

On a slightly different tack, although currency exchange was always a bit of a bore and since we came off the gold standard, the whole subject of diverse currencies has been of interest to me. A keen numismatist from a boy when I collected copper halfpenny coins by date and later shillings (5ps, when like Wagon Wheel chocolate biscuits and Cadbury’s Milk Chocolate bars they were twice the size) I was always fascinated by foreign coins and the beautiful art of banknotes. Each nation expressed its national characteristics in its coin and banknote designs, significantly reduced now unfortunately by the uniform and limited size of the Euro coins and the standard design of the modernistic Dutch style (colour and modernistic design).  Banknote design and colours were fantastic and often flamboyant, and often nations were characterised by female pictures, Britannia on our coins and notes, Liberty on the French, Athena on the Greek and other historical or mythical figures on the other nations. Much of that regrettably is gone.  Sizeable silver coins jingling in the pocket made them feel as though they were really worth something, now the insignificant coins we have have limited artistic value in themselves.

Historically, in the days when currency ran short for various reasons, people clipped the edges off silver coins which were progressively debased during periods of recession or political instability and when sometimes public coinage virtually disappeared – occurrences in both the Roman and British empires. In the 18th Century in England a great age of local token coinages rose, to counteract the shortages, many of the tokens becoming real currency. In Cheltenham, I have a few Cheltenham copper pennies and a shilling, issued at the turn of the 19th century and a sample of two of earlier tokens. That was also the era of private banks, again Cheltenham had its own, issuing its own legal tender notes.

Of course electronic banking may well eliminate physical currency altogether one day and it will be a major artistic and numismatic loss – particularly when one looks back on the glories of Greece and the beautiful tetradrachms of Alexander the Great…  Sometimes it really feels as though Greece is the fount of beautiful coinage and the destroyer of the latest currency union….

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