Gold's role as money

Gold has always played an important role in the international monetary system. Gold coins were first struck on the order of King Croesus of Lydia (an area that is now part of Turkey), around 550 BC. They circulated as currency in many countries before the introduction of paper money. Once paper money was introduced, currencies still maintained an explicit link to gold (the paper being exchangeable for gold on demand). 

gold standard - the croesus gold coinBy the late 19th Century, many of the world’s major currencies were fixed to gold at a set price per ounce, under the ‘Gold Standard’.

The Gold Standard persisted in different forms for about one hundred years. Read more about how it worked in practice, its advantages and disadvantages, and whether today’s major trading economies might ever return to a Gold Standard.

To aid further research by scholars, journalists and all those interested in gold’s monetary role, the World Gold Council commissioned a compilation of extracts from key historical documents from 1660 to 1999.

Citations are provided for every source so as to facilitate the reader's further research. These documents are therefore a valuable resource for researchers who seek even more in-depth knowledge of the history of gold.

Approximately 150 documents are divided into three sections that correspond roughly with the changing position of gold in the international economic system.

The Rise of the Gold Standard, 1660 - 1819The Heyday of the Gold Standard, 1820 - 1930 and After the Gold Standard, 1931 - 1999 :

Records 1660-1819

Covering the period from the mid-17th century through to the British Government's decision to allow the free exchange of gold, and presenting documents, primarily from the UK, that relate to the establishment of gold coinage as the centrepiece of the British financial system. The documents contained here address four themes: the legal position of gold coinage; popular views of gold; technologies of gold coinage; and early theoretical evaluations of the gold standard.

1660. May 21.

Resolution of the House of Commons to prohibit the exportation of money and bullion from England.

Records 1820-1930

Covering the period from the establishment of the UK gold standard in the early 19th century until the re-establishment of the gold standard after the First World War. Three themes are dealt with: the legal position of gold in the currency systems of the major western nations; political debates over the role of gold; and international agreements relating to gold. Continental European monetary arrangements are covered in this section, as are several major international agreements from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Records 1931-1999

Covering the period commencing with the breakdown of the post-WW1 gold standard in the 1930s and concluding with the Central Banks' Gold Agreement (Washington Agreement on Gold) of 1999. The documents follow four themes: the collapse of the gold standard; legislation, primarily from the US, relating to gold; the international gold market; and international agreements relating to gold. An account of some of the activities of the London gold market is included. The ultimate collapse of the Bretton Woods system is covered in great detail with numerous documents from various official sources.