How Old Is Finance?

Several years ago, William Goetzmann and K. Geert Rouwenhorst, the director and deputy directory of Yale SOM’s International Center for Finance, began collecting antique financial documents to serve as wall decorations for the center. As they read over the documents, they were struck by the links between the financial instruments of centuries past and those of today.

What began as a hobby turned into a scholarly endeavor to trace the history of financial innovation through historical documents, and to find early examples of such financial instruments as deeds, paper money, interest-bearing loans, stocks, and bonds.

The documents they found date from as long ago as the second millennium BCE, when loans were recorded on clay tablets in cuneiform in ancient Mesopotamia, and from countries around the world. They are the subject of a joint project with Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, an online “virtual museum,” and a 2005 book, The Origins of Value.

Visit the ICF site and view the Origins of Value Virtual Museum.