Museum Treasure: Silk Money of Khorezm

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

Silk Money, Khorezm, Uzbekistan, Museum Exhibit
Silk Money or currency printed on silk

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.

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17 thoughts on “Museum Treasure: Silk Money of Khorezm

  1. Trust you Sudha to give us such wonderful information. But, I do recall reading a story in one of my English Literature text books in school about a little Chinese girl. The mother of the child was telling the child to take care of the piece of cloth she was playing with as it was valuable; they needed that cloth to pay for her treatment. Now, when I think about that story, I feel that piece of cloth could have been money.


    1. It could have been money or it could also have been a piece of embroidery / tapestry that would have been fetched enough money. Either way, it is a fascinating story. Would love to read it myself !


  2. I remember doing a series for Children’s World, where I used to compile interesting trivia about a particular thing. And there was this one on money. I am sharing some interesting forms of currency used by people in the past.

    1.Canadians used Playing Cards as money during the French colonial period. This could be called a form of paper currency. Introduced by the Canadian Governor in 1685 to overcome money shortage, each playing card was marked a certain value and signed by him. Playing card money was in circulation for over 79 years in Canada.

    2.Fishhooks called Larins, were widely used by traders on the Indian Ocean route in the seventeenth century.

    3.Cowrie shells were used as money in several countries of Africa, Asia and Australia till as recently as the 18th century. In India it was first used in Bengal in the 14th century.

    By the year 1100 BC the Chinese were using miniature tools like the spade, plough and hoe as money.

    Now how is that for information? Sorry it is such a long comment 😦


    1. This is such fantastic information, Zephyr. Thank you so much for sharing it. I knew only about the cowrie shells; the use of playing cards and fishhooks as money is news to me.

      And never worry of the length of comments here. I love looooong ones. 🙂


  3. Have you seen polymer currency notes? I first saw polymer notes in the 1990s in Australia, Malaysia moved to this for our twos and fives. Polymer notes are indestructible and nothing can be written or scribbled on it.


    1. No, I haven’t seen polymer notes ! These would be some kind of plastic notes, wouldn’t it? These kind of notes would be perfect for notes/currency with high usage and circulation.

      Looks like a trip to Malaysia is in order 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hahah, yeah, pls, come to Malaysia! 🙂 Yup, it would be some kind of plastic notes. Precisely the reason why some countries produce polymer notes – to prevent damage, fraud.


  4. That is something so unique, thank you for sharing this information. I can only imagine money in the form of paper notes or coins. The concept of silk money is a new fact that I learned today after reading this article. I would love to witness and know more about the silk money of ancient days.


    1. Welcome here, Sunita. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. Till I saw the silk money, I too couldn’t imagine money being printed in cloth. I love this element of surprise that travel always provides to the discerning traveller.


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