The Printing Press' Effect on Money

The whole time I spent reading Eisenstein's "Some Features of Print Culture," the same thought repeatedly ran through my head: "I don't think we realize just how much we take the printing press for granted." Our creative presentations last Tuesday definitely helped the entire class to better understand and appreciate modern technology, but Eisenstein takes things to a whole new level in her article.

The difference between the older repeatable image which was stamped on coins and the newer by-product of print is suggested by one of the more celebrated episodes in the rench Revolution. The individual features of emperors and kings were not suficiently detailed when stmaped on coins for their faces to be recognized when they traveled incognito. But a portrate engraved on paper money enabled an alert Frenchman to recognize and halt Louis XVI at Varennes.

--Eisenstein, pg 130 in Writing Material

It never even occurred to me before this assigned text that printing presses were also responsible for our modernized money system of paper bills. A dollar bill, regardless of its value, speaks a lot about our history and culture. It preserves a little bit more knowledge than we'd expect. Apart from reminding every day citizens of some of our more prominent presidents and patriotic leaders (Ben Franklin, for instance), the money also traces itself back to its origins. While this feature might not seem important to the average person, just how many of us have come across one of those dollar bills with the stamp across it saying "track this bill" or something along those lines?
More importantly, the printing press created a lot of problems for different societies over the years as well because of their ability to print additional bills at will. Counterfeit money is still an issue as well, but inflation might just be a bigger one, if you ask me. I may not remember much from my Economics and World History classes back in high school, but I do remember that the German (I think) government crumbled after WWI, because they couldn't afford to pay back their reparations. As a result, the powers that were decided to just print more bills, creating hyperinflation, which forced the already troubled Germany into bankruptcy. Instead of helping society, the new money decreased the value so drastically that no one could afford to live (this might be a bit of a stretch, but you get my point.)
I'm in no way saying that I don't think the printing press has created a better world for us, but I just thought a pleasant reminder that not all technology is always helpful would be nice. We always talk about how writing improves communcation--and the printing press does as well, but I definitely think it's important to see things from both sides of the coin (hehehe).


This is a really interesting association to make. I had heard this about Germany before too. Actually, I read somewhere that the German people would use the money as a fire starter because it was more expensive to buy wood than to use their paper money because it was basically worthless eventually. I also talked about ways that the technology of the printing press might not be very helpful, but about the spread of misinformation rather than inflation. It is really neat that you thought of money as a form of writing. I think this class is really making us think outside the box about the ways we use writing today.

Jessie, I like that you said, "writing improves communcation" instead of implying that writing is communication. That small detail really matters and really changes perspective. I don't think we have discussed the contrast between the two ideas. I think they can be tied together and also be used as separate points. Hmmm Interesting.

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This page contains a single entry by Jessie published on March 17, 2010 10:59 PM.

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