Coins have been a favored form of currency for millennia. The inherent value of metal was noted and taken advantage of almost from the beginning of civilization itself. The first coins appeared around 600 B.C. in the Lydian kingdom. Today, this would be around the country of Turkey. These coins were far from the first form of currency. Shells were used in China for hundreds of years. The Mesopotamians also had a banking system that relied on people depositing physical goods like food or livestock for trade or safekeeping.
Coins brought about a new facet to society – status based on monetary wealth. Because of the inherent scarcity of certain types of metals used to create coins, as well as rapidly implemented standards for coins, a new hierarchy was created. It brought a lot of order as well to a burgeoning, disorganized economy based on barter.
The spread of coins was rapid, with the Mediterranean area rapidly adopting the innovation. Initial issues occurred with a set standard. Most areas, especially the Greek city states like Sparta and Athens, had their own type of coin for their city. Different places would have their coins emblazoned with their cities heroes or important figures. The Celts engraved their money with runes and important kings. The Romans styled theirs after their rulers.
It is with the Romans that the terms ‘heads’ and ‘tails’ were first used. ‘Heads’ was used to describe the side of the coin that held the face of the current emperor of Rome. This practice continues in many countries today. Even America does this, though coins have a fixed person on them, rather than changing with each new election. ‘Tails’ comes from the simple fact that the tail end of something is at the opposite of the head. Nothing truly special caused the name ‘tails’ to become popular. Rather, it was the logical conclusion from calling the other side ‘heads’.
The term is so popular today, even countries that do not have coins with the head of a person of important on them, they still choose a side of a coin to call ‘heads’ and ‘tails’. The United States has a disaffected currency type of $1 coins. These coins have a multitude of U.S. Presidents on them and sit, unused in a warehouse in Washington D.C. They were part of a program begun by the U.S. mints in 2007, but the coins did not catch on. Now, any in circulation are normally snatched up by coin collectors for their rarity. They are typically not spent, only kept.
This is true for a lot of coins. People pay hundreds, or even thousands of dollars for a single rare coin. Coins from ancient civilizations are particularly valuable – especially if they are intact.