Reading Museum Town Hall

Reading Museum

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Money and Medals

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Huntley & Palmers Paris International Universal Exhibition Grand Prix Medal, 1878

The Museum has a varied collection of money and medals, both local and worldwide, representing all periods from the prehistoric Iron Age to the present day. It includes coins, token coinage, paper money, military medals, commemorative medals, and other objects used for exchange.

Humans have found many different ways to trade and exchange objects of necessity and value. In Europe, the history of currencies often focuses on the introduction of paper and coin money. However, different types of object have been, and still are, used as currency around the world. Some of these objects have a wider social and historical significance than coins or banknotes.

In fourteenth-century Africa, heavy metal armlets called manillas were used for trade, and were even produced in Europe to exchange for palm oil and ivory. Although they were decorative objects, these metal bracelets also represented a person’s store of wealth and could be melted down if needed for trade. There are also examples of how people have looked to their environment to develop a currency. Cowrie shells have been widely used as a currency in many societies because they tend to be relatively uniform in shape and size, making it easy to assign them a standard value.

More local objects include the Roman coins from the excavations at the Roman town of Calleva, near Silchester, a hoard of gold coins hidden in Reading during the English Civil War, the prize medals won by a number of local firms and the military medals awarded to local people.

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