An Outline of the Origins of Money

By Heinrich Schurtz

Translated and annotated, with an introduction by Enrique Martino and Mario Schmidt

“On this subject, I only knew the excellent little book by the late Schurtz”—Marcel Mauss, 1914, Les origines de la notion de monnaie.

Heinrich Schurtz’s 1898 book has been a touchstone for economic historians, anthropologists, and philosophers interested in the nature and origins of money in various societies, including Georg Simmel, Max Weber, Marcel Mauss, and Karl Polanyi. In his brief book, Schurtz experimented with concepts about money, going beyond traditional economic paradigms. Drawing on an extensive range of archaeological and ethnographic sources, he reframed a theory of money to include its materiality, symbolic nature, relationship to forms of property, and its dual origin in “outside money” and “inside money.” While it is not well known today, it was important to the theorization of money in the first half of the 20th century and its innovative synthesis offers galvanizing questions and insights into how value relations are formed and how currency systems are interrelated.



Heinrich Schurtz (1863–1903) was a German ethnologist who was trained and taught at the University of Leipzig. He is the author of Altersklassen und Männerbünde, Urgeschichte der Kultur, and Das Afrikanische Gewerbe.

Enrique Martino has a PhD from the Humboldt University of Berlin and is a Juan de la Cierva Postdoctoral Fellow at the department of Historia, Teorías y Geografía Políticas of the Complutense University of Madrid. He is the author of Touts: Recruiting Indentured Labor in the Gulf of Guinea, and “Irrationality and Speculation in Finance”.

Mario Schmidt was a senior research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology (Halle/Saale) and is currently employed at the Busara Center for Behavioral Economics in Nairobi. He is the author of Wampum und Biber: Fetischgeld im kolonialen Nordamerika, and co-edited the volumes Marcel Mauss: Schriften zum Geld, as well as Money Counts: Revisiting Economic Calculation.

© HAU Books 2024
6″ x 9″, 230 pp.

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