Experts Play with the Forms of Money

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To understand the process by which physical coins became accepted tender in the 19th century, one should start with the wisdom of Yogi Berra and Niels Bohr.

Yogi Berra usually gets credit for the saying, “It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” But this insight was first expressed in a modern vernacular by the physicist Niels Bohr. In the same interview where he commented on the probabilities for successful estimation, Bohr was also asked how he had become such an expert about the difficult subject of quantum physics. The answer, Bohr said, was simple: An “expert is someone who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.”

For the mechanics, bank clerks and tradesmen who founded Philadelphia’s Olympic Base Ball Club in 1835, the business of predicting the future was as difficult as always. As the pioneers in a new sport, they were still inventing the rules; as Americans who lived in a world of acquiring and spending, the Olympians considered themselves to be well on their way to being experts about money.