The central bank of the United States, the Federal Reserve, has put out “educational material” on Bitcoin for teachers and students (including a quiz!). The Bitcoin parts are odd enough, but this and a subsequent blog post will focus on the following statement: “traditionally, currency is produced by a nation’s government.“ Is that a fair representation of monetary traditions? At the very least it is quite incomplete. This two-part series will proceed back in time, showing some of the many examples non-governmental money, in order to fill in some of the gaps.
Privately issued IOUs and privately minted coins are covered here in part (i) of the series. These IOUs can more specifically be described as bearer promissory notes, and even more specifically, when issued by banks, bank notes.
The Bitcoin public blockchain implements a global settlement layer (“layer 1” in bitcoin parlance). The closest historical analog to the Bitcoin settlement layer is not to the bank notes, nor even to the coins (despite its name), it is to the monetary metal that for most of monetary history from ancient civilization to the 20th century ultimately underlay the IOUs. This “metal layer” of historical money systems will be covered in part (ii) of this series, as will some even more ancient forms of non-governmental money.