Money Talks: Stories of People and Cash

Exploring the various ways money is used and thought of by different people – how it impacts our lives, what we do with it, and how it can affect our lives.

By Leeds Museums & Galleries

Sponsored by Leeds Building Society. Based on an exhibition at Leeds City Museum.

Various exhibits (2022) by Nick SingletonLeeds Museums & Galleries

What is Money?

Money can be physical or digital, and it has taken many forms at different times across the world. Money is an important part of the human story, but it is a relatively recent development. Some societies exist without it.

Cloth money (1890/1920)Leeds Museums & Galleries

Cloth is widely used in Africa as a ceremonial gift but also as currency. Raffia cloth or hand-woven grass cloth was a useful means to make everyday payments by people in Central Africa from at least the 1600s.

Photography by David Lindsay. 

Gold mohur (1591) by Uncertan mintLeeds Museums & Galleries

Gold is too soft to be used for tools or weapons, but it is relatively rare and desired for its brilliance and resistance to corrosion. It has been used as money, as well as for adornment and as a symbol of power across the world. 

Photography by Ed Hall.

Leeds Union Bank banknote Leeds Union Bank banknote (1825)Leeds Museums & Galleries

In the late 1700s and 1800s, cities like Leeds had many private banks operating at the same time. They printed notes with blank spaces so they could be numbered, signed and dated by hand.

Photography by Norman Taylor.

Medallion portrait of Queen Elizabeth II (1954) by Mary GillickLeeds Museums & Galleries

Coins can be works of art in themselves. In 1952 the sculptor Mary Gillick’s portrait of Queen Elizabeth II was chosen to feature on British and Commonwealth coinage, and it remained in circulation until 1971.

© Leeds Museums and Galleries (Henry Moore Institute Archive). Photography by Nick Singleton

Coin clippers (1696)Leeds Museums & Galleries

In the 1600s and 1700s, counterfeiting was widespread in England. These clippers were discovered in the workshop of Arthur Mangey, a successful Leeds gold and silversmith, who was hanged for coin clipping in 1696.

Photography by Norman Taylor.

Various board games related to money (2022) by Nick SingletonLeeds Museums & Galleries


Games involving money are played for fun, but they can also reflect wider economic beliefs and attitudes. Board games date back thousands of years, but until the early 1900s games involving money were often viewed as immoral, especially for children.

Totopoly board game (1960/1969) by John Waddington LtdLeeds Museums & Galleries

This racing game was designed by Walter Lee and Roy Vincent Palmer, two neighbours in Leeds, and first produced in 1938. It presents an upper middle-class view of horse racing, involving training horses as well as racing them. 

Barbie toy cash register (2014) by Intek Toys LtdLeeds Museums & Galleries

Playing with toy tills, banknotes and coins allows children to role-play as consumers. The product choices on this pink ‘Have fun with Barbie’ till include make-up, high heeled shoes and flowers. It comes with two credit cards with no spending limit.

Exhibits in cases and wall displays (2022) by Nick SingletonLeeds Museums & Galleries


Over the last 200 years the way we access and spend money has continued to change. The rise of cash points, debit cards and contactless technology has meant money is more accessible and easier to move around. 

Cash register (1900/1920) by National Cash Register CompanyLeeds Museums & Galleries

Cash registers were first used in the late 1800s to record sales and to safely store cash while being displayed at the front of a shop. Many were ornately decorated. There are fewer cash registers operated by sales assistants today, as UK shoppers increasingly use self-checkouts.

Chocolate decimal coins (1971) by Cadbury's LtdLeeds Museums & Galleries

On 15 February 1971, known as ‘Decimal Day’, a new system of 100 pence to the pound was introduced in the UK. Every person in the country had to use coins which looked different and represented new values. Chocolate decimal coins were given out to school children.

Leeds Queer Film Festival donation box (2005)Leeds Museums & Galleries

There are many types of spending, including donating to charitable causes.  This donation box is made out of a teabag tin, and was used to raise money at the first Leeds Queer Film Festival in 2005. 

Photograph of the Old Yorkshire Bank and Scarborough Hotel (1870/1890) by Wormald of LeedsLeeds Museums & Galleries


People often save money in banks and building societies, trusting that it will be safe and accessible in the future. There are many types of financial organisations, from Islamic banks to community loan schemes. Over a million people in the UK are unable to open a bank account.

Cridling Stubbs coin hoard (AD 346)Leeds Museums & Galleries

Some of the oldest examples of keeping money safe are coin hoards, and hundreds of ancient hoards have been discovered in Yorkshire. There are many reasons why someone might bury or hide coins; one reason is to have a secret, safe place for the family wealth.  

Piggy banks (1800s and 2012)Leeds Museums & Galleries

Money boxes are a popular way to store and save money in the home. They are often given as gifts to children to help them learn the principles of saving and managing money.

Culture section of 'Money Talks' exhibition. Photography by Nick Singleton. (2022) by Nick SingletonLeeds Museums & Galleries


We are surrounded by images of money in culture, art and the media.
Apart from financial transactions, physical money has great power in terms of the messages it can convey, and in the many ways that people use it.

Lakshmi figure (1998)Leeds Museums & Galleries

There are traditions and beliefs associated with money across the world, and some practices date back thousands of years. This figure from India of Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, would be used as part of a family shrine in the home or in a business to ensure prosperity.

Gold angel of Henry VIII (1509/1526) by London MintLeeds Museums & Galleries

In Britain a coin like this could be used as a ‘touch piece’ and worn as an amulet. During a ‘touching’ ceremony the king or queen would bless the coin with their God-given power and touch it on the head of someone suffering from scrofula, (tuberculosis), in order to cure them.

Dress from Afghanistan Dress from Afghanistan (1930/1980)Leeds Museums & Galleries

Incorporating coins into clothing is common in parts of Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East. As well as being highly decorative ornaments, coins can make the association between personal wealth and good luck and protection.

Credits: Story

Sponsored by Leeds Building Society. Based on a current exhibition at Leeds City Museum.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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