Proposal preview

Small change in a global context: “fractional currencies” or “minor coins”?

Aims of the session
This session aims at enriching the approaches to the small change problem by contrasting “fractional currencies” and “minor coins”. While the former are embedded into the legal unit of account or the metal value principles of commodity money, the latter may be the result either of a different conception of money (for example China copper coins), of separated monetary circuits (Ancient Greece, rural Europe) or of a bottom-up make-do attitude (Argentina’s redes de Trueque), putting to use the means of exchange at hand in case of scarcity.
We call for a renewed study of small change is largely open to non-European as well as European participants so as to build a stronger comparative approach. A key question would be whether discriminating between fractional currencies and minor coins or notes is relevant. The former, as their name implies, are in continuity with the monetary system and must function more or less along the same rules. Minor coins and notes, on the other hand, come in two forms: they can be indeed very small tokens of purchasing power, shielded from the larger model by their sheer smallness, or means of payment of a completely different nature, such as bills, scripts and notes, whatever their denomination, but not easily exchanged for the “legal” or “ordinary” currency. Besides, small change is not only “fractional”, i.e. a “big change” reduction in size and weight. This “top-down” perspective also fails to take into account the “bottom up” dynamics of small change issuance and use, that may explain the acceptance of non-backed means of payment through trust or local “clubs” social rules.


  • Patrice Baubeau, Université Paris Ouest Nanterre,, France
  • Katerina Bregianni, Academy of Athens,, Greece

Session members

  • Rita Martins de Sousa, ISEG - Lisbon School of Economics & Management Universidade de Lisboa,
  • Jürgen Nautz, University of Vienna,
  • Michael North, Historical Institute, University of Greifswald,
  • Rila Mukherjee, School of Social Sciences University of Hyderabad,
  • Ekaterina Svirina, Financial University,
  • Georgina Gomez, International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Erasmus University, Rotterdam,

Proposed discussant(s)

  • Akinobu Kuroda, Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia, University of Tokyo,
  • Claudia Jefferies, School of Arts and Social Sciences, City University of London,