Playing with money: currency and games at British Museum

Monopoly, Lego and Game of Thrones money featured in British Museum display

New exhibition Playing with Money: Currency and Games traces how toys and fantasy inform how we understand economics

Talking about money is still a taboo matter for many. It invites blushing cheeks, hushed tones and hesitation from those who dare broach the subject. However, with a wad of Monopoly money in their clutches, children – or indeed adults – rarely have such qualms, which begs the question of how we handle money and economics when using toys, games and fantasy worlds.

This is the focus of the British Museum’s newest display, Playing with Money: Currency and Games, which is, ironically, free to enter. Over 700 items have been brought in for the display, which features some of the earliest examples of board games that centre on the theme of money – such as Pit, a card game from the early 1900s designed to replicate the chaotic activity of a stock exchange. It showcases wartime-era relics, including Monopoly money thought to be printed during the war, as well as a German game called Jagd auf Kohlenklau (Hunt the Coal Thief) which sought to educate players on the impact of wasting economic resources.

Playing with money: currency and games at British Museum
© George R. R. Martin from Shire Post Mint. Photo: British Museum
Playing with money: currency and games at British Museum
Photo © Trustees of the British Museum
Playing with money: currency and games at British Museum
Photo © Trustees of the British Museum

It was during the 20th century that the perception of success evolved from moral and spiritual stature to financial and material wealth, which likely explains the emergence of toys and games relating to money at this time. There are more recent incarnations of fantasy money on display too, from miniature Lego banknotes to real-world versions of the fictional coins found in the Game of Thrones books.

“The way in which we play with money reflects how we understand money in everyday life, but games also often blur the boundary between fantasy and the real world,” explains Tom Hockenhull, Curator of Modern Money at the British Museum. “Many games have sophisticated models of how economies work and they’ve been used to communicate political messages, to educate, and to advertise for over a century.”

Playing with Money: Currency and Games runs at the British Museum until 29 September 2019. Admission is free

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