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Gold as Currency

Gold coinage has historically been a cornerstone of economies across the world. 
Coin, 230–250. India or Pakistan. Copper alloy, silver and gold. Asian Art Museum, Acquisition made possible in part by the Society for Asian Art, F1999.38.92. Photograph © Asian Art Museum.
Its unique qualities make it well suited to use in currency. Since it is very dense (a cube of 14 inches per side would weigh a ton), gold has a high value-to-weight ratio, making it efficient to transport and exchange. This same density makes gold heavy in comparison to other metals, and thus difficult to counterfeit. As a result, gold coinage has played a very important role in economic, political and religious history in many places around the world.  

Unlike texts written on paper or palm leaf, gold coinage does not decay in the typically wet, humid climate of South Asia. Accordingly, scholars have often turned to coins to reconstruct the political and religious history of India. Indeed, coins not only provide clues as to the date they were minted, but they also, in some cases, bear images of identifiable rulers. Based on this information, it becomes possible to date the history of royal families and trace patterns of dynastic succession. In Hidden Gold, you can see the progression of South Asian coinage, from a coin of King Kanishka II (225–245) to a 1903 coin of autonomous Nepal.

Nepalese gold Tola
Nepalese gold Tola, 1903. Nepal. Copper alloy, silver and gold. Asian Art Museum, Acquisiton made possible in part by the Society for Asian Art, F1999.38.30. Photograph © Asian Art Museum.