Cover image for Sterling, a history of a currency
Sterling, a history of a currency
Mayhew, N. J.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Wiley, [2000]

Physical Description:
xiv, 290 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Format :


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HG935 .M39 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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"Like an underground stream which rarely comes to the surface butwhich nevertheless irrigates the countryside through which itflows, sterling runs through British history, from the Conquest upto the present day."

With this passage, Nicholas Mayhew begins his fascinating lookat one of the world?s most storied, influential currencies. Sterling: The History of a Currency is both an absorbingaccount of the global impact of currency throughout the secondmillennium and an entertaining primer in financial history andtheory.

Mayhew traces the path of sterling from its genesis around 1080,during the rule of William the Conqueror, through latter-daystruggles to hold its own amidst the global retreat from preciousmetals standards and the still-developing Euro. Tales of laborersand merchants interweave with those of knights and kings to revealthe social fabric of European society in 1500. Passages from AdamSmith?s 1776 classic The Wealth of Nations outline early butfundamental principles of banking. The dramatic increase in theearly nineteenth-century supply of sterling, accompanied by itsequally dramatic fall in value, is explored, and the evolution ofmoney from silver and gold through paper, plastic, and electronicimpulses is contrasted with social movements that have changed ourneed for, and relationship with, money.

"Sterling, like the English landscape, has evolved over thecenturies, reflecting and sometimes leading to changes in thenation?s history, and also generating a sense of unchangingstability of fundamental importance to the national psyche."

The history of sterling is nothing less than the history ofEngland and the world. Sterling tells that story with allthe vividness and drama which its topic so richly deserves.

This profound book also travels far into the heart of mankind?sphysical and emotional relationship to currency. Whether you are astudent of finance, history, psychology,or sociology, Sterling will leave you with a new appreciation for thecentral role a currency plays in the development of a nation?andthe almost human qualities that currency often assumes as it ages,sometimes gracefully and sometimes fitfully, over the years andcenturies.

Through the prism of one of the world?s venerated currencies . .. A fascinating portrait of world history

War . . . peace . . . prosperity . . . famine . . . throughouteach of these historical phenomena, the common denominator ismankind?and money. Sterling: The History of a Currency traces the incredible history of England and the world over thepast centuries through the ebb and flow of its chief currency, thepound sterling.

From the eleventh-century Domesday Book, with its surprisinglyaccurate accounting of the population and wealth of England, to thefinal days of the twentieth century, Sterling describes howEngland and its omnipresent standard of currency first ruled theglobe, then struggled to find a place in an expanding, increasinglycomplex environment. Detailed photographs strikingly illustrate thelineage of English money over the past century while historicalreferences, quotes, facts, and tales vividly portray thecenturies-long partnership of England and sterling in the formationof a culture.

More than a simple recitation of economic facts and figures, Sterling represents a vibrant, lifelike portrait of thepeople and events that make up one of history?s great nations?andthe currency that was instrumental in its formation. As workers andfarmers toiled to acquire it, merchants and landowners struggled toamass it, and kings and financiers conspired to control it,sterling wrote its own tale. It is a tale of money, power, and lifeitself, and one that bears scrutiny as we begin our newcentury.

Author Notes

Nicholas Mayhew is a curator in the Heberden Coin Room at the Ashmolean Museum and a Fellow of St. Cross College, Oxford.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. vii
Introductionp. ix
1 English Money from the Domesday Book to Henry VIIIp. 1
2 Inflation: 1515 to 1650p. 39
3 Goldsmiths, Locke, and the Birth of the Bankp. 77
4 The Age of Daniel Defoe and Adam Smithp. 103
5 From Pitt to Peel: 1797 to 1847p. 132
6 The Golden Age of Sterling: 1851 to 1914p. 169
7 From Sarajevo to Bretton Woods: 1914 to 1944p. 198
8 Sterling Since the Warp. 231
Appendix The Price Indexp. 257
Glossaryp. 261
Further Readingp. 273
Indexp. 279