Time-Based Currency by Robert Owen | DECODED #4

by bigr10published on June 30, 2020

hi my name’s Ben also and I am the money

gallery curator at the British Museum

now the object you’re looking at here

you can be forgiven for thinking at

first glance it’s a banknote there

appears some form of issuing authority

there’s symbolism of one kind or another

there are words used like bearer value

exchange and there are three signatures

of seemingly important people scrawled

on the right-hand side and a serial

number of 2202 most strikingly on the

back there is what I can only describe

as some kind of trippy pattern similar

to a magic eye poster from the 1990s as

an idea of size this printed note is a

little smaller than a half a piece of a4

paper and was indeed intended and used

as a form of currency now what separates

this most darkly from the traditional

banknotes issued in the UK in the 19th

century is not the presence of a number

and there’s quite evidently the number

one here but it’s what that number

represents this note does not represent

pounds the currency of the United

Kingdom instead it represents time it

represents one hour of labor and time in

this case is most certainly money now

the note was issued in 1832 by the

equitable labor exchange a name you can

see at the top of the note this

particular exchange was in Gray’s Inn

Road which is actually not far from

where I am today in the British Museum

now it’s the signatures they’re

important at this point the signature of

the man behind the endeavour can be seen

on the right hand side it’s kind of a

tight angular script and it’s the name

of Robert Owen he’s the person whose

idea this money was he was born in 1771

in new town in Wales and he became

important because he owned and managed

for a while a mill in Lanark where he

tried to improve the quality of life for

his workers he tried to reduce the

working day by an hour from 11 and

three-quarter hours to 10 and 3/4 hours

very good of him he created the

Institute for the formation of character

in 1816 which is actually a school for

the education of the children who worked

at the mill the aim of the note was

quite straightforward goods were

produced by artisans and workers and

they exchanged the note corresponding to

the time it took them to produce the

items so these notes were an attempt by

Owen to ensure the worker received the

proper award for their produce

he felt that the traditional money that

was in use in the UK at the time had

made man ignorant individually selfish

blindly urged him forward to create but

deprived him of the wisdom to enjoy and

his new system would therefore let

prosperity loose on the country now if

we look at the imagery this is of course

relates to the central tenets of what I

was trying to achieve you can see a

beehive on the Left this idea of workers

contributing together to the success of

the hive to the success of the community

as a whole and everyone benefiting from

that work you have scales on the right

hand side which represents justice there

are words such as industry and integrity

and blazoned on the notes to give you a

sense of the fundamental politics

although in himself and whilst it says

the note is worth one hour there is

actually a value given underneath so the

value of an hour is equal to six pence

now these notes could be used in the

local area they would be honored by

local tradesmen several theaters and a

toll gate on Waterloo Bridge also

accepted the money so they were a local

currency of sorts first week deposits

when the National equitable labor

exchange was introduced was ten thousand

pounds and within 17 weeks deposits

totaling over four hundred forty

thousand workouts were produced but

therein lies the problem with the note

itself there is an inherent problem and

that is it’s possible to take longer to

make an inferior product so if you’re

not particularly skilled you could get

more recompense for someone who is

particularly skilled and does a job

quicker and also the exchanges were who

are taking in the Goods became

overstocked overstock with goods that

they just simply couldn’t sell equitable

labor exchanges only lasted a couple of

years and the note is interesting not

because of its failure but because it

shows us gives us an insight into a

political doctrine whilst ultimately not

successful it’s a fantastically

interesting example of how one person

can try and completely change society

and fundamental to that change is the

control and the reappraisal of money a

through line through history which is

absolutely fundamental to human society

and has been for thousands of years

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