Notes on a scandal

7th November 2008 at 00:00
Jean McLeish finds out more about another Scottish `bank war'

It's no wonder Scotland's only museum devoted to the history of money and banking is proving increasingly popular with schools. It's free, it's fun, it's educational . and teachers get a bag of real bank notes to take away with them at the end of the visit.

It should be pointed out, however, that the notes have been withdrawn from circulation and shredded into millions of pieces.

Opened less than three years ago, the Museum on the Mound is based in the former Bank of Scotland head office on the Mound in Edinburgh and was set up following the merger, in 2001, of Bank of Scotland and the Halifax. Its permanent exhibition is drawn from the unique historic Bank of Scotland archives which date back to 1695 when the bank - Scotland's first - came into being.

Despite recent and ongoing upheavals in the banking industry, staff at the museum will continue to offer a service to schools and, in fact, are in the middle of piloting a classroom resource pack - produced in partnership with Learning and Teaching Scotland - for classes that cannot manage a visit to the site.

As far as possible, the pack of teachers' notes, CD-Rom and worksheets will replicate an actual trip to the museum. Developed with the help of four classroom teachers and linked to the financial education strand of A Curriculum for Excellence, it is divided into four main lessons under the headings: What is Money?; Heads and Tails (looking at coins); Making Notes (looking at bank notes); and Kists and Keys (keeping money safe).

Visits to the museum, aimed at P5-7s, last around three hours and take in a tour of the permanent exhibition as well as workshop activities where pupils are allowed to handle many of the things that ordinary visitors only get to see behind glass - such as a sheet of uncut Pounds 20 notes. (They even get to strike and take home with them a replica of a 13th-century Scottish silver penny.)

The exhibition covers the development of banking and money, enlivened with real-life stories and fascinating objects and images. And, as if to prove that history does repeat itself, an introductory panel informs visitors that: "Throughout its history, the Bank (of Scotland) has weathered financial crises and fierce competition. It has also experienced dramatic expansion and numerous mergers."

We learn that the opening of the Royal Bank of Scotland in 1727 sparked a bitter "bank war" but, by 1810, 38 different Scottish banks had been set up.

Robert Burns, who was never very good with money, was moved to write a poem on the back of a one-guinea bank note (shown in facsimile) when in the middle of financial despair, complaining that: "For lake o' thee I've lost my lass; For lake of thee I scrimp my glass."

One of the most fascinating displays shows that there's a lot more to cash than coin and paper. Wampum beads made by Native Americans from clam shells became legal tender in 1643 after the arrival of Europeans. Cowrie shells were still used as money in parts of Africa until 1930. Another form was made from the feathers of a honey-eating bird.

"Making a Mint" covers the theme of forgery and includes the story of James Steele, an 80-year-old Edinburgh man who "decided to work from home to make some extra cash - literally!" The coins he produced in 1964 were so good the operation only came to light when neighbours complained to the police about the noise coming from his forging machines.

T: 0131 243 5464.

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