In numismatics, it's cool to be Square

As new monetary technologies emerge, how are they changing the way individuals and small businesses make transactions? Collections Manager for the National Numismatic Collection, Hillery York, shares her experience with collecting a new monetary technology for the national collection.

When most people picture the National Numismatic Collection, they think about rare coins and banknotes. Over the years, however, our collection has expanded to include not only typical numismatic objects, but also emerging numismatic technologies. These new technologies play an important role in everyday life and have an impact on how often people interact with cash, or indeed, whether they use it at all.

Today you would be hard pressed to find an establishment that doesn't accept a credit or debit card. With so many people leaving their banknotes in the bank and relying on plastic credit cards, small businesses have been in need of a way to accept payments from a cashless public. A new small plastic device called a Square Reader, nicknamed Square, has offered a solution. It connects to a mobile device through an audio jack and processes credit transactions for debit and credit cards. With the use of a mobile application, businesses have the ability to process a purchase through their smartphone or tablet with a swipe of a credit card.

Square readers

Square technology was founded by entrepreneur Jack Dorsey and computer science engineer and economist, Jim McKelvey. The idea emerged because McKelvey, who is also a glass artist, was having difficulty accepting large payments for the sale of his artwork. When unable to process credit card payments from his clients, he and Dorsey began working on a portable and inexpensive method of processing debit and credit card sales. They founded Square in 2009 in the United States and its point of sale software is now available worldwide.

At a cafe in Portland, Oregon, customers can pay for coffee with Square reader. Coffee shop counter including chalkboard menus, baristas, mugs.

Square has had a particularly significant impact on small business owners who were once limited by their location and lack of a cash register. Now, they are able to carry a portable cash register in their pocket. In addition to processing transactions, Square technology has improved and enabled a system of digital record keeping for small businesses through a mobile application and the ability to email receipts directly into their customer’s email inbox. Annually, Square Readers process tens of billions of dollars in mobile payments.

Three early credit cards

Many other alternatives to cash, like Square, have become a part of the National Numismatic Collection, including promissory notes, checks, Diners' club booklets, Charga-Plates, and credit cards. Many of these objects, including Square, were given to the National Collection through the donations of many individuals who, along with the staff at the National Museum of American History, wanted to preserve the history of these objects. With a mission dedicated to chronicling the history of monetary transactions and preserving the material culture associated with them, I can't think of a better home for the Square.

Hillery York is a collections manager for the National Numismatic Collection. Look for the Square Reader in our upcoming exhibition, Value of Moneyopening in July 1, 2015.