6 surprising facts about money that will leave your head spinning

Why does money smell? What’s the most counterfeited currency? We take a look at some surprising facts about the money in our pockets.

The content of this article was relevant at the time of publishing. Circumstances change continuously and caution should therefore be exercised when relying upon any content contained within this article.

A person holding onto a fan of twenty pound notes

Image source: Getty Images.

Here’s a well-known fact about money: we all need it. We earn it, we spend it, we save it. Money has been an intrinsic part of our lives for thousands of years – sometimes with very funny and unexpected consequences.


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Here are some surprising facts about money that will have you looking at your banknotes in a completely new light.

1. There’s a reason your money smells

No, you’re not crazy. It’s a fact that money has a distinctive aroma. But where exactly does it come from? Simply put, the smell of money is the result of a combination of volatile organic chemicals present in the special paper and the ink used to print money.

The smell is distinctive enough that dogs can be trained to recognise it to catch people travelling with too much cash.

2. Sterling is the most counterfeited currency

According to the Great American Coin Company, the British pound is counterfeited more often than the dollar and a lot more frequently than the Euro.

This isn’t a new phenomenon either. Apparently, people have been forging British banknotes for a very long time. During the Second World War, the Nazis even had a plan to drop counterfeit British notes over England in an effort to destabilise the economy, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

3. It is legal to burn money … but only sometimes

If you’ve heard that burning money is illegal, that fact is only partially right. If you burn money completely – as in, all the way into ashes – then you’re fine. However, it is illegal in the UK to deface money, and that includes partially burning banknotes. This is because partially destroyed banknotes can end up back in circulation even though they’re no longer legal.


4. The Chinese invented paper money

Coins have been around for a long time, but paper money is a relatively new thing.

It was used first in 7th century China among merchants only. By the 11th century, it was being widely used because a copper shortage made it difficult to produce enough coins. In fact, even Marco Polo was accepting the equivalent to very early paper money in the 1300s. 

Paper currency didn’t appear in Europe until 500 years later. Sweden was the first country to use it in 1661. 

5. You can play a vinyl record with the new £5 note

How’s that for a fascinating fact about money? The new £5 note is made of polymer, a thin plastic material that lasts much longer than regular paper money.

Because of its composition, the edges of the banknote are sharp enough that it can replace a stylus needle. 

6. It’s possible to get £1 million banknotes

Technically speaking, you would have to be a bank to have access to them, but £1 million notes are available. In fact, for financial institutions with a big enough net worth, it’s even possible to get £100 million notes.

Neither note is actually in general circulation, but they are regularly deposited in the bank of England by commercial banks in Scotland and Northern Ireland to back up everyday notes.

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