Forty Buttons

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A fictional essay on how money as a medium of exchange came to be.

Submitted: November 25, 2015

A A A | A A A

Submitted: November 25, 2015



Betty Rose was a citizen of the nation of us. It was a small nation – only 1000 folks in a small, isolated land. She made flags - planted the cotton, spun it into thread, wove it into cloth, picked berries for dyes, dyed the cloth, sewed the flags which citizens of us proudly flew as a symbol of their tiny country.  

Betty needed no outside or exterior funds. She made the flags by hand from her own industry. She exchanged them for things that other citizens created by and for themselves – food from a farmer, firewood from a logger, potions from a druggist.

Over the years a silver miner, Jim Digger had cast his silver into small buttons, which he exchanged for food stuffs from Ken Krogeur (a grocer), clothing from Betty Rose, and other things made by other citizens.  

Ken Krogeur, on the other hand, didn't have need for a new flag from Betty Rose every time she came into his store, so instead she gave silver buttons (which she had gotten from Jim Digger) to Krogeur for groceries. Krogeur, in turn, gave silver buttons to Rose for clothes she had sewn for his children. Often times, it was the same silver button that got passed back and forth. But it didn't have to be the exact same button, since all buttons were identical.

Of course, Krogeur could have directly traded his groceries for some clothes from Betty, but they seldom had the same needs at the same time. Silver buttons made things simpler.

A few decades later, Digger passed away. By that time, the mine had been tapped out, but not before Digger has produced 5000 silver buttons. The good citizens of us used those 5000 buttons as the standard currency, passing them from grocer to miller to tool maker to machinist to teacher and eventually back to the grocer, in a full non-stop circle.

Everybody was happy with the system, except for one thing. No more silver was being mined, hence no more buttons were being made and distributed. Which wouldn't be a problem, except that the nation of us had grown to 5000 people. Whereas before, on average each citizen of us had 5 buttons each to spend, they now had only 1 button each.

Clearly, in time, they would have to start cutting the buttons in half if succeeding generations were to have any thing to use to exchange for their daily needs.

As it turned out, the nation had gotten too big for 5000 citizens to gather and discuss such problems. To make discussions less wieldy, it had been decided that each town would send one elder to a meeting place in the centrally-located city of Rinsington. There the elders built a magnificent structure on a hill next to the Rotomic River where they could deliberate with dignity.

And so, the discussion began. It was obvious to all that the continued use of silver buttons had become unwieldy. Besides, one child had swallowed a button and the people of the us village were appalled that a child might take a button to the Krogeur store to buy candy, and end up eating the button instead.

Frank Benjamin, being a great orator, had been selected by the village of Fillytown to be the elder representing them at the meeting in Rinsington. It helped a great deal that Benjamin was also a printer - more to the point he published an almanac with which he burnished his image.

Benjamin saw both an opportunity and a solution to the problem of the shortage of buttons. He offered to print paper certificates, each to be issued in exchange for a silver button. On the certificates would be printed the phrase "Redeemable for One Silver Button – Guaranteed by the Land of Us".  No worries - an us citizen could rest assured that he could always exchange a paper certificate for a silver button if it seemed necessary.

That would solve a lot of problems. No kids would be tempted to eat a piece of paper (non-toxic, even if they did). A mother wouldn't have to carry a purse-full of buttons when she went to the Krogeur store.

The only problem that remained was that, even though the distinguished group of elders in Rensington trusted Frank Benjamin to do a good job of printing the silver certificates, they thought that he was a little too smooth to be given all of that silver. Anyway, why should he be given all of that silver when all he was going to do was print the certificates.

They decided that a highly-respected member of their council, Fred Reseurv, would be authorized to be the holder of the silver buttons and issuer of the certificates. Fred Reseurv owned Reseurv Mercantile,  a seed and grain dealer and he had often given seed to farmers, accepting a promise to pay for the seed with grain after the harvest (with a little interest, of course). He was just as happy to accept silver buttons instead of grain in repayment. He had accumulated a significant stock of buttons and was willing to lend them to any business, merchant or family that was temporarily in need of buttons. They were grateful and usually repaid the debt (with a modest interest).

Yes, Reseurv was a man to be trusted. He was given a mandate to establish Mercantiles throughout the land of us. These Mercantiles would be directed by locally trusted merchants who would collect and send silver buttons into Reseurv Mercantile in exchange for promissory notes, which would be given to any citizen who traded in silver buttons. These notes came to be simply called “Buttons”. People went to the store and gave the merchant “ßuttons". Prices were listed on tags as, for example, ß4 for a dress that cost 4 buttons.

For flexibility, it became common practice later to list prices in other than whole buttons. For example, a shirt might cost ß5.50, being the equivalent of 5½ buttons. One wouldn't actually cut a silver button in half (let alone hundredths), so the Reseurv issued copper buttons, each equivalent to 1/100th of a silver button.

The nation of us continued to prosper. It soon became apparent that the stock of 5000 silver buttons kept in the vaults of the now bustling Reseurv were not sufficient to the needs of the economy. But Jim Digger was dead, and so was his mine. 

The elders were no dummies. They saw that nobody bothered to ask to redeem their silver button certificates for actual silver buttons. So they said to Frank Benjamin, “Print up another 5000 Silver Button Certificates”. But this time, omit that silly “Redeemable” phrase. Benjamin was happy to oblige, so long as they would permit him to keep a few for himself for the trouble.

And so the Central Reseurv sent out the certificates to their branches, now called US Reseurv Branches. A bank could be established in any town and join the US Reseurv and borrow some ßutton certificates. They could then make loans denominated in ßuttons. Nobody noticed that there were not actually 10,000 silver buttons in some mysterious vault somewhere. ßutton Notes became, as the Reseurv called them (using their best elder-speak) a “medium of exchange”.

The land of us continued to grow and prosper. Indeed, the ßutton became accepted as a medium of exchange in other lands. If another land wanted to purchase a ship full of grain from the land of us, they were expected to pay in ß's. Of course, the other land had to have some ß's to begin with, so they sold whatever they had to trade, in exchange for some  ß's.

And thus the citizens of the land of us and the citizens of the world lived blissfully ever after.

 - - So far.

Copyright 2011 – Ronald E. Lambkin –

Sharable as long as I get a few ßutton Certificates

© Copyright 2018 rlambkin. All rights reserved.

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