OLD MAKES A woman penny-white," said the Dutch, in the days when fairies were plentiful and often in their thoughts. What did the proverb mean? Who ever saw a white penny?
Well, that was long ago, when pennies were white, because they were then made of silver. Each one was worth a denary, which was a coin worth about a shilling, or a quarter of a dollar.
As the Dutch had pounds, shillings and pence, before the English had them, we see what d in the signs £ s. d. means, that is, a denary, or a white penny, made of silver.
In the old days, before the Dutch had houses with glass windows or clothes of cloth or linen, or hats or shoes, cows and horses, or butter and cheese, they knew nothing of money and they cared less. Almost everything, even the land, was owned in common by all. Their wants were few. Whenever they needed anything from other countries they swapped or bartered. In this way they traded salt for furs, or fish for iron. But when they met with, or had to fight, another tribe that was stronger or richer, or knew more than they did, they required other things, which the forests and waters could not furnish. So, by and by, pedlars and merchants came up from the south. They brought new and strange articles, such as mirrors, jewelry, clothes, and pretty things, which the girls and women wanted and had begged their daddies and husbands to get for them. For the men, they brought iron tools and better weapons, improved traps, to catch wild beasts, and wagons, with wheels that had spokes. When regular trade began, it became necessary to have money of some kind.
Then coins of gold, silver, and copper were seen in the towns and villages, and even in the woods and on the heaths of Holland. Yet there was a good deal that was strange and mysterious about these round, shining bits of metal, called money.
"Money. What is money?" asked many a proud warrior disdainfully.
Then the wise men explained to the fighting men, that money was named after Juno Moneta, a goddess in Rome. She told men that no one would ever want for money who was honest and just. Then, by and by, the mint was in her temple and money was coined there. Then, later, in Holland, the word meant money, but many people, who wanted to get rich quickly, worshipped her. In time, however, the word "gold" meant money in general.
When a great ruler, named Charlemagne, conquered or made treaties with our ancestors, he allowed them to have mints and to coin money. Then, again, it seemed wonderful how the pedlars and the goldsmiths and the men called Lombards--strange long-bearded men from the south, who came among the Dutch--grew rich faster than the work people. They seemed to amass gold simply by handling money.
When a man who knew what a silver penny would do, made a present of one to his wife, her face lighted up with joy. So in time, the word "penny white," meant the smiling face of a happy woman. Yet it was also noticed that the more people had, the more they wanted. The girls and boys quickly found that money would buy what the pedlars brought. In the towns, shops sprang up, in which were many curious things, which tempted people to buy.
Some tried to spend their money and keep it too--to eat their cake and have it also--but they soon found that they could not do this. There were still many foolish, as well as wise people, in the land, even during the new time of money. A few saved their coins and were happy in giving some to the poor and needy. Many fathers had what was called a "sparpot," or home savings bank, and taught their children the right use of money. It began to be the custom for people to have family names, so that a girl was not merely the daughter of so-and-so, nor a boy the son of a certain father. In the selection of names, those which had the word "penny" in them proved to be very popular. To keep a coin in the little home bank, without spending it, long enough for it to gather mould, which it did easily in the damp climate of Holland, that is, to darken and get a crust on it, was considered a great virtue in the owner. This showed that the owner had a strong mind and power of self-control. So the name "Schimmelpennig," or "mouldy penny," became honorable, because such people were wise and often kind and good. They did not waste their money, but made good use of it.
On the other hand, were some mean and stingy folks, who liked to hear the coins jingle. Instead of wisely spending their cash, or trading with it, they hoarded their coins; that is, they hid them away in a stocking, or a purse, or in a jar, or a cracked cooking pot, that couldn't be used. Often they put it away somewhere in the chimney, behind a loose brick. Then, at night, when no one was looking, these miserly folks counted, rubbed, jingled, and gloated over the shining coins and never helped anybody. So there grew up three sorts of people, called the thrifty, the spendthrifts, and the misers. These last were the meanest and most disliked of all. Others, again, hid their money away, so as to have some, when sick, or old, and they talked about it. No one found fault with these, though some laughed and said "a penny in the savings jar makes more noise than when it is full of gold." Even when folks got married they were exhorted by the minister to save money, "so as to have something to give to the poor."
Now when the fairies, that work down underground, heard that the Dutch had learned the use of money, and had even built a mint to stamp the metal, they held a feast to talk over what they should do to help or harm. In any event, they wanted to have some fun with the mortals above ground.
That has always been the way with kabouters. They are in for fun, first, last, and always. So, with punches and hammers, they made counterfeit money. Then, in league with the elves, they began also to delude misers and make them believe that much money makes men happy.
A long time after the mint had been built, two kabouters met to talk over their adventures.
"It is wonderful what fools these creatures called men are," said the first one. "There's old Vrek. He has been hoarding coins for the last fifty years. Now, he has a pile of gold in guilders and stivers, but there's hardly anything of his old self left. His soul is as small as a shrimp. I whispered to him not to let out his money in trade, but to keep it shut up. His strong box is full to bursting, but what went into the chest has oozed out of the man. He died, last night, and hardly anybody considers him worth burying. Some one on the street to-day asked what Vrek had left behind. The answer was 'Nothing--he took it all with him, for he had so little to take.'"
"That's jolly," said the older kabouter, who was a wicked looking fellow. "I'll get some fun out of this. To shrivel up souls will be my business henceforth. There's nothing like this newfangled business of getting money, that will do it so surely."
So this ugly old imp went "snooping" around, as the Dutch say, about people who sneak and dodge in and out of places, to which they ought not to go, and in houses where they should not be found. This imp's purpose was to make men crazy on the subject of making money, when they tried, as many of them did, to get rich quickly in mean ways. Sorry to tell, the imp found a good many promising specimens to work upon, at his business of making some wise men foolish. He taught them to take out of their souls what they hoarded away. To such fellows, when they became misers, he gave the name of "Schim," which means a shadow. It was believed by some people that such shrivelled up wretches had no bowels.
Soon after this, a great meeting of kabouters was held, in the dark realms below ground. Each one told what he had been doing on the earth. After the little imps had reported, the chief kabouter, when his turn came, cried out:
"I shall tell of three brothers, and what each one did with the first silver penny he earned."
"Go on," they all cried.
"I've caught one schim young. He married a wife only last year, but he won't give her one gulden a year to dress on. He skimps the table, pares the cheese till the rind is as thin as paper, and makes her live on skim milk and barley. Besides this, he won't help the poor with a stiver. I saw him put away a bright and shining silver penny, fresh from the mint. He hid coin and pocketbook in the bricks of a chimney. So I climbed down from the roof, seized both and ran away. I smeared the purse with wax and hid it in the thick rib of a boat, by the wharf. There the penny will gather mould enough. Ha! Ha! Ha!"