You are here: Home | Exhibitions | Money and Beauty. Bankers, Botticelli and the Bonfire of the Vanities | Exhibition walkthrough
|Before governments underwrote the value of their currencies, whether in paper or metal, money had to have an intrinsic worth; it had to be silver or gold. Only then would a tradesman exchange his wares for it. This created the need for a wide range of coins to deal with the smallest and largest purchases. In the early 13th century the Florentines, like many other western Europeans, were still using the silver denaro introduced by Charlemagne four hundred years before, but the coin was worth so little it had to be supplemented with more valuable coins from Lucca and Siena. The situation was confusing and the time ripe for someone to produce a more practical currency for larger transactions.
In 1237 Florence opened its own mint and launched the silver florin worth 12 denari (or one soldo), then in 1252 the gold florin, worth 20 soldi (or one lira). This was a serious coin in pure, 24 carat gold weighing 3.53 gm, gold that on today’s market would cost €110 or $150.
The city’s ambitions were quickly rewarded. By the end of the century the florin was in use all over Europe, not only as a coin, but also as a currency of account. The achievement brought Florence great prestige and proved an important asset to the city’s merchants and bankers.