Museum of London takes stock of alternative currency in London

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Museum of London takes stock of alternative currency in London
Equitable Labour Exchange note from Robert Owen's Labour Exchange at Gray's Inn Road, London. © Museum of London.

LONDON.- Dosh. Dough. Readies… money has shaped communities all over the world for thousands of years. But could there be other ways to do business in the future?

The Museum of London is opening its latest display: (Un)common Currency which explores the use of alternative currencies in London since the 17th century.

Through these unconventional currencies, Londoners have built communities based on trust, furthered political causes and helped develop a thriving local economy. Some currencies radically dispense with a ‘face value’ and instead value people’s time by the hour.

Vyki Sparkes, curator at the Museum of London, said: “From copper trade tokens from the 17th century to time credits and the Brixton pound, it’s fascinating to see examples of how Londoners have created alternative currencies to try to deal with the political, social and personal challenges of their times. Through this display we want to provoke visitors to consider the relevance and future of alternative London currencies.”

Examples on display include:

• 17th century trade tokens. These tiny copper tokens were developed when change became in short supply. Whilst the wealthy used credit, everybody else needed a way to do business so traders created their own tokens. Each token includes names, initials and symbols of people and their businesses.

• One penny coin from 1910. This penny has been defaced with the demand ‘Votes for Women’ stamped on King Edward VII’s head. Suffragettes chose to deface low value coins so their political message would circulate widely.

• Tally sticks. These sticks recorded debt, with each notch representing one, ten or a thousand pounds depending on its depth. Each stick was broken into two halves – for the lender, and the borrower. In 1826 Parliament abolished the tally system, but when they burnt the tally sticks the fire accidentally destroyed both Houses of Parliament.

• Brixton Pound. These notes were designed to encourage local spending and its vibrant series of notes celebrates the area’s people and places. The B£5 note features professional basketball player Luol Deng who fled war-torn Sudan and went on to represent the UK in the London 2012 Olympics.

The display forms part of City Now City Future, the museum’s year-long programme exploring urban life in London and around the world. The City is Ours, the museum’s major, free exhibition, is also open and uncovers the joys and frustrations of city living.

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