BBC A History of the World blog part 2: show me the money…

This guest post is written by Kate Maynard, Principal Museums Officer for East Lothian Museums Service

Sarah from East Lothian Museums has already posted about the object she chose for the BBC AHOW site, and I have chosen something altogether different (although no less attractive in its own way). I decided to put up an East Lothian Banknote, from 1821.

Why, you ask? (or at least I hope you do) The note is interesting, has a great story attached to it, and it is quite aesthetically pleasing too! Did you know that the first Scottish Banknote was issued in 1696? In those days these things were much larger than they are today, although no less ornate. This one is 12cm by 18cm – imagine a few of those crammed into your purse along with all that plastic, all those receipts, all that loose change (or is that just me)?! What interests me about this object is that whilst for us paper money is so commonplace as to be mundane it actually hasn’t been around that long in historical terms. Paper money started largely in response to the lack of precious metals to make coins out of, and forgery was a problem just as it is now. Banks used watermarks, embossing, detailed engraving, colour printing and the signature of Chief Cashiers to deter imitations.

The fact that banks operated on such a local level (although they weren’t terribly successful from what I can find out) is also very interesting, as is the information that the chief cashier, one William Borthwick, caused the bank to fail in 1822 when he absconded with the banks deposits. This caused a great scandal at the time and the tale resonates in the present day with the current global banking crisis. As more and more people begin to ‘think local’ it is interesting to re-examine stories like this one. For more about this object why not visit www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld or www.scran.ac.uk?

(MGS – see also the oldest surviving Scottish banknote on AHOW here)

What would you like to see us (museums in general) put on to this site? Do you have things in your own collection or just kicking about the house that people might be interested in? The key thing for me is that whatever you choose needs a story. Just like a good film or book the narrative has to be engaging beyond the cover, which is the lure to get you to look in the first place! And remember what you might think won’t interest anyone outside your family will almost certainly resonate with someone, somewhere, sometime.

I could use a personal example here. I found a little pocket-sized Bible the other day (I am ashamed to say in my sock drawer) that my Grandmother gave me, along with a coin purse and a pair of needlework scissors. They all belonged to her mother, who I am named for. My Great-Grandmother Kate carried the little Bible down the aisle with her when she married (and I can’t remember the year, oops) and carried it with her throughout her life. Ordinary? Yes. Boring? No. This little story (which I could elaborate on but not here) has religion, belief, tradition, habit, convention and a wedding. What more do we need!

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