The fabric of banknotes – textiles in and on paper money
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At various times in history and across the world, textiles have been used in payments and exchange, for example, in Tang Dynasty China when coins and textiles were the main forms of money, and in social and cultural conventions, such as dowries. Banknotes originate in the ‘flying money’ (feiqian) of the Tang Dynasty (618–907), which allowed for long distance payments by an official promise to pay, recorded on paper. The earliest surviving paper notes are those issued in China during the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368), which Marco Polo famously recorded as being made of the bast fibres of mulberry trees, the leaves of which were fed to silkworms (Figure 1). The association of textiles with money persists to this day, not least in the material used to make banknotes, as well as in the designs printed on banknotes.