The history of physical assets stretches all the way back to the dawn of civilization. Well before the creation of the stock market, and even before the advent of currencies, physical assets were used to store wealth.
The oldest of physical assets were in fact livestock, a tradition that has carried on in many parts of the world to this day. Like many of the most popular alternative assets such as timepieces and whisky, livestock can appreciate in value over time as the animal grows. They can be easily traded and are universally recognised among human societies for their value.
As time went on, and society became more complex, other goods began to be traded. At the centre of any ancient town would have been the market place, where merchants would barter and exchange assets. It was at this point that commodities like livestock would be traded for other more luxury goods. Thus items such as jewellery, beautiful shells, precious metals, spices and textiles began to be how people stored their wealth.
In time currencies were formed, at their heart they were simply tokens that represented the idea of wealth, rather than the physical item itself. The Latin word for money, “pecunia” is derived from the word “pecus” meaning cattle. However, changing dynasties, societal collapses and natural disasters could easily devalue a currency. This would mean that the majority would still store a large amount of their wealth as physical assets. A coin’s value depended on which monarch’s face sat upon it, while an amphora of wine is almost universal.
Even now during the most recent period of human history, where unprecedented technological growth has allowed for the trading of intangible assets such as stocks and bonds. In many ways this growth has created even greater instability, since the turn of the century there has been a recession almost once a decade. For physical assets, nothing has changed, they represent a port in the storm. They are luxuries that maintain their value because of their innate physicality, not due to shared cultural perceptions.