Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015



Panic hit the streets of Athens today, with nervous folks queuing at ATM's, desperate to grab whatever Euros are left. While we here at the DUNER BLOG are no experts on the complex world of International Finance, it's clear that Greek Banks will be defaulting soon. Expelled from the EU, Greece will likely return to their fabled currency, the Drachma. To celebrate, we thought we would review some of the world's Oldest Currencies.

Shekel.  As the Semitic root for Trade, the word Shekel appears in numerous ancient texts. The first mention in the Bible is in Exodus 30:24. By the time Christ was born, Shekels were the dominant currency of all Judea and Palestine. Then...for the next 2,000 years...Shekels disappeared. They were replaced by Roman Sesterces, Ottoman Para and other foreign coins. However, the Shekel made a triumphant return in 1949, when it was declared the official currency of newly created Israel.

Rupee.  Again, it's difficult to determine when coins called 'Rupees' first appeared in Southern Asia. It's from the Sanskrit word for 'Silver,' with the oldest coins dating back to 600 BC. Ancient and Medieval India were a checkerboard of city-states and kingdoms, unified by religion and rupees. When Britain arrived, the official exchange rate of 15 rupees to the pound was established. Today, ten nations from Indonesia to Pakistan call their money some form of the Sanskrit word.

Drachma.    Based in Hellenic word for "handful," Drachmas first appeared around the year 1100 BC. They gained notoriety during Athens' Golden Age, when Athena's celebrated Owl first graced these venerable coins. Historians have found 26 City-States that used the Drachma, from Syracuse in Sicily to Alexandria in Egypt. Like the Shekel, they vanished for a thousand years before reappearing in the 1900's.

Pound.  £ Europe's oldest surviving currency first began circulating in Britain in the Eighth Century. The Mercian King Offa officially introduced silver pennies called Pounds. However, it wasn't until 1694, when Parliament boldly created the Bank of England and established the Pound Sterling in landmark legislation for world finance. These days, Brits are celebrating the fact they refused to join the EuroZone. Londoners are busy planning holidays to Greece to take advantage of the weaker currency!

Peso.  Imperial Spain made billions mining silver in the plentiful New World Colonies. Prior to being shipped back to Europe, mints in Mexico and Peru were established. At first, they produced the famed "Real de Ocho" or "Pieces of Eight." They weighed 930 grams each! In 1686, Spain reduced them to a more manageable 27 grams. These were called little Pesos, or Pesetas.

Dollar.  $ The most common denomination in the Americas today has its roots in Europe. 'Thaler' coins were first minted in Bohemia in 1520. They flourished, with variants found across the Holy Roman Empire. Hence, when Dutch settlers arrived in New Amsterdam in 1609, they carried 'Daler' coins. When Alexander Hamilton established US currency in 1792, Dollars were pegged to the Spanish Peso, the established currency of the world, to insure lasting value.

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