Book Review -- Robert Leonard's "Curious Currency:"


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(Most of this review was also submitted to The E-Sylum maillist of the Numismatic Bibliomania Society.)

Friedrich A. Hayek called Milton Friedman's theory of "monetism" a Keynesian theory because, in Hayek's view, there are more forms of money than central bankers can tally. (See

on YouTube video.) This book proves that. To dismiss "primitive" money as irrelevant to the "modern" world is to miss the fact that many of these moneys -- coweries, manillas, spearheads -- were current in the 20th century. Others -- gold, silver, cows, wheat -- are major markets today. Still others -- coins, banknotes, credit cards -- are so familiar that we overlook their place in the matrix of money.

In each case, Leonard gives reliable information about the actual use of these objects from reliable sources. Leonard's conceptual organization of this complex subject is masterful. For the cover price of $12.95, this lavishly illustrated 150-page overview is replete with 481 citations. The index is truly helpful.

Political conservatives speak easily about precious metals as hard money. Leonard segregates bullion from coins, and government coins from private. He does so because in the opening chapter, he emphasises the view of Alan Greenspan, that trust is perhaps the key component of any monetary medium. In many times and places, people trusted traditional forms over modern, and still do.

Curious Currency: The Story of Money from the Stone Age to the Internet, by Robert D. Leonard, Jr., Whitman Publishing, 2010. Publisher's link here.

Edited by Michael E. Marotta
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