Q: What does a country do if there is a shortage of paper to print currency?
A: No problem. They print currency on a material they have in abundance.
When the rulers of Khiva of the Khorezm Province in Uzbekistan faced paper shortage at the beginning of the 19th century, they turned to a material they had in abundance —Silk, which was used to print currency of large denominations
I came across the Silk Money of Khorezm at one of the many museums at the Ichon Kala or the walled city of Khiva. When I first saw them in the dimly lit room through the glass covering, I thought they were remnants of textile scraps and after a cursory look moved on to other, more interesting, exhibits in the room. My guide, Inessa, was having none of it and steered me right back to the showcase and asked me what I thought they could be.
I just shrugged and mumbled ‘something important for sure’ and peered at them again. This time I could see that the material was silk, though I could still not figure out what it was. When Inessa told me what those silk ‘scraps’ were and its importance, I was surprised as I hadn’t known of the concept of silk money.
Apparently, the Chinese were the first to print silk money and they had brought this idea to Khorezm via the silk route. And when the need arose, the rulers of Khiva adopted this practice by printing currency with specially-made wooden blocks on locally woven silk cloth.
As I listened to the history of the Silk Money, I literally saw the ‘scraps’ of silk transform into the invaluable thing it is today.
Have you seen currency printed on or minted in something other paper or metal, respectively? Do share it here in the comments section.
Note: You can read more about the silk money of Khorezm here.
The Museum Treasure Series is all about artifacts found in museums with an interesting history and story attached to them. You can read more from this series here.