Currency trading and exchange first occurred in ancient times. Money-changers (people helping others to change money and also taking a commission or charging a fee) were living in the Holy Land in the times of the Talmudic writings (Biblical times). These people (sometimes called "kollybist´s") used city stalls, and at feast times the Temple's Court of the Gentiles instead. Money-changers were also the silversmiths and/or goldsmiths of more recent ancient times.During the 4th century AD, the Byzantine government kept a monopoly on the exchange of currency.Papyri PCZ I 59021 (c.259/8 BC), shows the occurrences of exchange of coinage in Ancient Egypt.Currency and exchange were important elements of trade in the ancient world, enabling people to buy and sell items like food, pottery and raw materials. If a Greek coin held more gold than an Egyptian coin due to its size or content, then a merchant could barter fewer Greek gold coins for more Egyptian ones, or for more material goods. This is why, at some point in their history, most world currencies in circulation today had a value fixed to a specific quantity of a recognized standard like silver and gold.
During the 15th century, the Medici family were required to open banks at foreign locations in order to exchange currencies to act on behalf of textile merchants. To facilitate trade, the bank created the nostro (from Italian, this translates to "ours") account book which contained two columned entries showing amounts of foreign and local currencies; information pertaining to the keeping of an account with a foreign bank. During the 17th (or 18th) century, Amsterdam maintained an active Forex market. In 1704, foreign exchange took place between agents acting in the interests of the Kingdom of England and the County of Holland.
Medieval and later
Alex. Brown & Sons traded foreign currencies around 1850 and was a leading currency trader in the USA. In 1880, J.M. do Espírito Santo de Silva (Banco Espírito Santo) applied for and was given permission to engage in a foreign exchange trading business.The year 1880 is considered by at least one source to be the beginning of modern foreign exchange: the gold standard began in that year.Prior to the First World War, there was a much more limited control of international trade. Motivated by the onset of war, countries abandoned the gold standard monetary system.
From 1899 to 1913, holdings of countries' foreign exchange increased at an annual rate of 10.8%, while holdings of gold increased at an annual rate of 6.3% between 1903 and 1913.At the end of 1913, nearly half of the world's foreign exchange was conducted using the pound sterling. The number of foreign banks operating within the boundaries of London increased from 3 in 1860, to 71 in 1913. In 1902, there were just two London foreign exchange brokers. At the start of the 20th century, trades in currencies was most active in Paris, New York City and Berlin; Britain remained largely uninvolved until 1914. Between 1919 and 1922, the number of foreign exchange brokers in London increased to 17; and in 1924, there were 40 firms operating for the purposes of exchange.During the 1920s, the Kleinwort family were known as the leaders of the foreign exchange market, while Japheth, Montagu & Co. and Seligman still warrant recognition as significant FX traders. The trade in London began to resemble its modern manifestation. By 1928, Forex trade was integral to the financial functioning of the city. Continental exchange controls, plus other factors in Europe and Latin America, hampered any attempt at wholesale prosperity from trade for those of 1930s London.