Review of Cowries to Crypto: The History of Money, Currency and Wealth by Jame DiBiasio

Cowries to Crypto: The History of Money, Currency and Wealth


Words: Jame DiBiasio

Illustrations: Harry Harrison

Published by OANDA

Available on Amazon from September 2020


Money, it’s a commodity that is intrinsic to our existence: whether we have it or don’t, or we’re striving for more, its presence is something we all feel and we need it to survive. The fascinating Cowries to Crypto: The History of Money, Currency and Wealth by award-winning financial journalist Jame DiBiasio will have you looking at the money in your pocket in a very different way. This light-hearted but thoroughly researched walk through time takes you on a trail from the development of cowry shells in China as a way to pay for barley to the rise of e-money technology. Illustrated by Harry Harrison, this is a must-have for anyone interested in money, social history, trivia and the hidden world of finance.


Each of the 12 chapters peels back the traditional take on history to offer a new interpretation of events showing how money has helped to shape our past. DiBiasio’s approachable writing style transforms a potentially complicated subject into one that is both entertaining and enlightening, as well as presenting an enticing and eye-opening story of a hidden piece of history. He leads us through the influences of how world currencies have played a part in the development of religion, politics and wars, including the introduction of the gold standard. While Harrison’s illustrations provide the perfect accompaniment.


From my own historical research, I knew about the Knights’ Templar being early bankers, however, this was my one fact about the history of finance, so I was fascinated to discover the origins of the word money. It is derived from the Roman cult of the goddess, Juno Moneta. Her name, Moneta, was derived from the Latin monere (to warn) and she was the patroness of the city of Rome. However, her role soon changed as she became the guardian of the city funds, it is from her name, we have the words money and mint.


At the end of most chapters, there is a panel of trivia including everything from the most expensive collectable coins available to sci-fi money to the works of art on the bank notes. The two which most intrigued me were not only the descriptions of the way many banknotes have become works of art but also how in Japan, the artist Genpei Akasegawa copied the JPY1,000 note in order to use it as an artistic representation. His notes were printed on one-side, therefore, were clearly worthless. The Japanese authorities were less than impressed and eventually, Akasegawa, was charged with creating imitation banknotes in violation of the 1894 law controlling The Imitation of Currency and Securities. He was found guilty and given a three-month suspended sentence.


DiBiasio’s meticulous research makes this a book that is not only fun to dip in and out of in order to find fascinating facts but also a page-turning read on a commodity that is so common but about which most of us know very little.


5/5 stars