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Old 04-11-2019, 05:29 PM
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Why is paper money rectangular?


While I haven't done an exhaustive search of all forms of paper money used on the planet, it seems to me that, in almost all countries that use paper money, the bills are rectangular. Why? Why not square or round?
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Old 04-11-2019, 05:45 PM
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Round would waste excess paper when cut from sheets. Square would be inconvenient to handle and store in wallets or pockets, and it would be a nightmare for automated bill readers.
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Old 04-11-2019, 05:49 PM
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Tradition.

I really think it is that simple. Certainly, rectangular bills predate automated bill readers. By centuries.
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Old 04-11-2019, 06:11 PM
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Round would waste excess paper when cut from sheets. Square would be inconvenient to handle and store in wallets or pockets, and it would be a nightmare for automated bill readers.
As for ease of handling, consider that if you pick up a rectangular piece of paper you have a 50/50 chance to hold it upside-down. With a square it’s a 75% chance. It seems like a minor thing but not if you’re handling money all day every day.

Last edited by Atamasama; 04-11-2019 at 06:11 PM.
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Old 04-11-2019, 06:22 PM
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As for ease of handling, consider that if you pick up a rectangular piece of paper you have a 50/50 chance to hold it upside-down. With a square it’s a 75% chance. It seems like a minor thing but not if you’re handling money all day every day.
I agree with this. I was going to say something similar. Having the bill being rectangular means it has an "up" side, making it easier to see how much you have, if you have a pile of bills and want to look only at the number on corner.

Last edited by snowthx; 04-11-2019 at 06:24 PM.
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Old 04-11-2019, 06:28 PM
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Why cant we make symmetrical money that is always "up" no matter how you grab it?
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Old 04-11-2019, 06:41 PM
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Why cant we make symmetrical money that is always "up" no matter how you grab it?
Each degree of symmetry added reduces the complexity of the bill, making it easier to counterfeit.
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Old 04-11-2019, 06:48 PM
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Each degree of symmetry added reduces the complexity of the bill, making it easier to counterfeit.
Bah! Foiled again by them danged counterfeittererers!
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Last edited by snfaulkner; 04-11-2019 at 06:51 PM. Reason: Counterfeiters borked my spelling.
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Old 04-11-2019, 06:49 PM
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It may be because I'm a drooling simpleton with the attention span of a demented gnat, but would you mind explaining everything in words of one syllable. 140 chars max.

Last edited by snfaulkner; 04-11-2019 at 06:50 PM.
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Old 04-11-2019, 06:52 PM
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Bah! Foiled again by them danged counterfeittererers!
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Old 04-11-2019, 07:39 PM
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Documents are generally rectangular. Why should banknotes be an exception?
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Old 04-11-2019, 09:15 PM
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Documents are generally rectangular. Why should banknotes be an exception?
Why are banknotes usually in a landscape orientation? There are remarkably few that are in a vertical orientation.
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Old 04-11-2019, 10:02 PM
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Why are banknotes usually in a landscape orientation? There are remarkably few that are in a vertical orientation.
At a guess, because they're an evolution of promissory notes, cheques and similar instruments. What you have here is a short form ("I promise to pay the bearer . . .") with a few blanks in it that need to be filled in by hand, and that needs a signature and usually a date. So you want a smallish piece of paper (just big enough for the necessary text, small enough to be convenient to carry around and handle), and it's landscape orientation so that the necessary insertions by hand can each be on one line, which is easy to fill in and less prone to subsequent alteration with the insertion of extra words or numbers.
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Old 04-11-2019, 11:00 PM
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It just is.

If it was square, you would be asking why it isn't rectangular.

Folks from outside the US wonder why the hell our money is all the same size. They actually have a point. Not a great big one, but a point.

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Old 04-12-2019, 01:45 AM
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Why are banknotes usually in a landscape orientation? There are remarkably few that are in a vertical orientation.
I wouldn't say "remarkably few." Switzerland has them, and I've seen them in Colombia and Canada. That's just what I've seen--I would bet there are others.
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Old 04-12-2019, 02:23 AM
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Why are banknotes usually in a landscape orientation? There are remarkably few that are in a vertical orientation.
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Originally Posted by UDS View Post
At a guess, because they're an evolution of promissory notes, cheques and similar instruments. What you have here is a short form ("I promise to pay the bearer . . .") with a few blanks in it that need to be filled in by hand, and that needs a signature and usually a date. So you want a smallish piece of paper (just big enough for the necessary text, small enough to be convenient to carry around and handle), and it's landscape orientation so that the necessary insertions by hand can each be on one line, which is easy to fill in and less prone to subsequent alteration with the insertion of extra words or numbers.
Yeah, here's one of the earliest European banknotes. Interestingly enough, it's a lot more square than a modern dollar bill or euro note. But that kind of fits the nature of the document--they needed room for all those signatures. As late as the 1950s, there were still British banknotes that looked like this--more rectangular than that 17th century Swedish note, but still more square than an American bill, or a modern British one; the shape would seem to follow from the fact that it was still more like a little "note"--a little "I.O.U." from the Bank of England on fancy watermarked paper--thus making it more natural as a moderate rectangle in landscape.

And some of the very earliest examples of paper currency, from China, were in portrait orientation. But in that case, Chinese writing traditionally was often done vertically rather than horizontally, so the orientation matches up with the writing system in use.
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Old 04-12-2019, 08:36 AM
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Completely trivial fact: The US bills used to be larger. How large? Exactly the size of the IBM cards. The early Hollerith machines adapted dollar bill counters to sort the cards used, IIRC, in 1890 census. The company eventually became IBM.
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Old 04-12-2019, 10:40 AM
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It's also more ergonomic--easier to handle with human hands. Also playing cards. I can't think of anything commonly handled in bundles or stacks that is square, except Post-It Notes but those are handled one at a time, not shuffled or counted.
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Old 04-12-2019, 10:59 AM
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It's also more ergonomic--easier to handle with human hands. Also playing cards. I can't think of anything commonly handled in bundles or stacks that is square, except Post-It Notes but those are handled one at a time, not shuffled or counted.
Most of my Post-It Notes at work are rectangular and landscape. They are easier to write notes on.
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Old 04-12-2019, 11:57 AM
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BTW, many early banknotes did have more squarish aspect ratios, such as these:

17th century Swedish banknote : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:S...tyf-Zedels.jpg
Continental Currency: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:B...front_1779.jpg

Sometimes, they were also portrait mode, rather than landscape.

As noted above, I would suspect we are just seeing an evolution reflecting a size / aspect ratio that people find convenient to handle.
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Old 04-12-2019, 12:05 PM
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Completely trivial fact: The US bills used to be larger. How large? Exactly the size of the IBM cards. The early Hollerith machines adapted dollar bill counters to sort the cards used, IIRC, in 1890 census. The company eventually became IBM.
Yeah, they shrank the bills to their present size in 1929. Comedians of the time had a field day with jokes about shrinking money. Weirdly, the shrunken bills were issued just a few months before the 1929 stock market crash.
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Old 04-12-2019, 12:07 PM
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Apologies, I didn't notice the earlier post.
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Old 04-12-2019, 12:40 PM
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BTW, many early banknotes did have more squarish aspect ratios, such as these:

17th century Swedish banknote : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:S...tyf-Zedels.jpg
Continental Currency: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:B...front_1779.jpg

Sometimes, they were also portrait mode, rather than landscape.

As noted above, I would suspect we are just seeing an evolution reflecting a size / aspect ratio that people find convenient to handle.
The disadvantage of portrait is that the printed word is horizontal. I would think that landscape is standard in documents for that reason.
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Old 04-12-2019, 12:47 PM
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From Quora:

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Almost all paper is rectangular in nature due to the necessity to cut it out of sheets with minimal waste. Triangular money would be possible, but it is easier to cut rectangles than triangles. Triangles have pointy corners which would rapidly get folded and torn. Circular money would have a lot of waste and be difficult to orient/sort/pack consistently. Note that this is true of most paper and sheet goods (metal, fabric etc.) and not just something particular to bank notes.
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Old 04-12-2019, 02:24 PM
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It's not all that bad of a question. Compare to postage stamps* which have come in a variety of shapes.

Triangular ones have been used here and there. If one corner is a right angle then two of them would fill a rectangle so a whole sheet could still be a rectangle. But that's not always the case.

The only odd shaped US ones I recall were oval George Washington ones, but those weren't individual stamps as they were embossed on envelopes. Other countries have done circle-ish ones, tho.

I think that paper wastage is more of an issue with the high quality paper used in currency. A stamp is basically use-once so having a sturdy paper isn't required. The long term use issue might be a key matter.

But in technical terms to print, cut, package, etc. such items, the technology is similar.

* And the difference between postage stamps and paper money isn't all that great as my friend Moist von Lipwig has pointed out.
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Old 04-12-2019, 10:33 PM
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Most of my Post-It Notes at work are rectangular and landscape. They are easier to write notes on.
Nitpick: rectangular, yes, but not landscape. Blank paper has no orientation; your Post-Its can be used the other direction.
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Old 04-13-2019, 06:25 AM
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Nitpick: rectangular, yes, but not landscape. Blank paper has no orientation; your Post-Its can be used the other direction.
You can write on them however you want, but the adhesive is along the long edge, suggesting landscape usage.
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Old 04-13-2019, 07:26 AM
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The only odd shaped US ones I recall were oval George Washington ones, but those weren't individual stamps as they were embossed on envelopes. Other countries have done circle-ish ones, tho.
The present US "global" or international stamps are circular.
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Old 04-13-2019, 07:51 AM
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The present US "global" or international stamps are circular.
Thanks for the info. I tried Googling for current US oval stamps and got nothing. But a Google image search for "US global stamps" returns lots of images.

It appears that these stamps are peel-off from a rectangular backing. Which is a bit harder than printing out round bills in a way.
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Old 04-13-2019, 09:04 AM
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I think the OP needs to investigate this in depth. Then tackle all the other rectangular items... we'll wait right here.

Seriously, there must be countless psychological reasons as well as strong practical ones for using rectangles. Round dollar bills would be awkward, but nothing compared to round office paper, toroid ping-pong tables, round piano benches, oval TV screens, spherical houses...
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Old 04-13-2019, 11:17 AM
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There's also the fact that there's only one way to be square, while there's an infinite number of ways of being rectangular. Note that even the "more square" examples posted above still aren't actually square.
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Old 04-13-2019, 11:33 AM
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No love of hexagonal bank notes? 8)

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Old 04-13-2019, 11:56 AM
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Maybe it was originally what best fit with the printing technology available. Books were (and still are) mostly rectangular and mostly portrait. It probably made sense to use existing equipment (which printed in portrait), print several bills oriented horizontally on a page and then cut them apart, resulting in rectangular landscape bills.
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Old 04-13-2019, 12:42 PM
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Round dollar bills would be awkward, but nothing compared to round office paper, toroid ping-pong tables, round piano benches, oval TV screens, spherical houses...
This one actually makes some sense, since camera lenses as well as the lens of the human eye are mostly circular.
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Old 04-13-2019, 12:58 PM
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Round would waste excess paper when cut from sheets. Square would be inconvenient to handle and store in wallets or pockets, and it would be a nightmare for automated bill readers.
At the risk of being whooshed, why can squares not be cut from sheets without waste?

In a world with square money, the sheets they are printed from, the wallets, the pockets, and the bill readers would all be designed to handle square currency.

My contribution is that because bills originally, and to some extent still are, were promissory notes which had a signature at the bottom and were usually issued by banks. A person wanted to examine them for content before accepting it before money became standardized. But you also wanted them to be small enough to handle. How do we make them easier to read and small? Landscape mode.
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Old 04-13-2019, 01:44 PM
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At the risk of being whooshed, why can squares not be cut from sheets without waste?

In a world with square money, the sheets they are printed from, the wallets, the pockets, and the bill readers would all be designed to handle square currency.

My contribution is that because bills originally, and to some extent still are, were promissory notes which had a signature at the bottom and were usually issued by banks. A person wanted to examine them for content before accepting it before money became standardized. But you also wanted them to be small enough to handle. How do we make them easier to read and small? Landscape mode.
Bingo
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Old 04-13-2019, 04:58 PM
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...round piano benches...
"Round piano benches" are called "piano stools" and have been a viable option for pretty much as long as there have been pianos. So maybe not the best example.
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Old 04-13-2019, 06:12 PM
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If the bills were square, they would either be too small (think something half the size of the current dollar bill) or too big (think something twice the size of the current dollar bill.)
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Old 04-14-2019, 02:30 PM
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I'd like them to be ovate.
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Old 04-14-2019, 06:50 PM
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If the bills were square, they would either be too small (think something half the size of the current dollar bill) or too big (think something twice the size of the current dollar bill.)
Why would a bill 1/2 the size of the current U.S. bills be too small? Too small for what?
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Old 04-14-2019, 09:06 PM
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As long as we're getting silly -

If you were really concerned that you be able to tell which way was up by shape alone, you want no axes of symmetry. I might suggest a quadrilateral which is like the current bill shape, except with one of the short sides slanted, say making a 60 degree angle at the bottom of the bill, and a 120 degree angle at the top. You could still cut the shape out of a proper sized rectangular sheet with no wastage, provided the width was an even multiple of the long side, by matching them in upside-down right-side up pairs which form a long rectangle. That shape wouldn't have an narrow "tabs" or "points" on it which would become dog-eared and tear off easily.
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Old 04-15-2019, 07:22 AM
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If you go into any place that prints things - flyers, business cards, those glossy cardstock ads you get from real estate agents, whatever - it becomes really immediately apparent why most things, including money, are made in rectangles. It is not just the fact that paper comes in long rectangles, it's that literally all printing equipment is best suited to making big rectangular rolls of paper into smaller rectangles.
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Old 04-15-2019, 11:26 AM
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If you go into any place that prints things - flyers, business cards, those glossy cardstock ads you get from real estate agents, whatever - it becomes really immediately apparent why most things, including money, are made in rectangles. It is not just the fact that paper comes in long rectangles, it's that literally all printing equipment is best suited to making big rectangular rolls of paper into smaller rectangles.
Ahhhh! (screams!) But the reason why printing equipment is suited to make rectangles is an effect, not a cause! Sorry, but everyone seems to have gone completely mad in this thread with their cause/effect reversals.

This is like saying that God designed humans with five fingers so that our hands would fit gloves so well.
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Old 04-16-2019, 01:45 AM
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You want a rectangular note, so that when handing it from one person to another, you can "point" it at them.
Both people can grasp the note, then the first can release.

Try the same with a round or square banknote, and it either is so large it gets too floppy, or it is small enough that the hands get a bit intimate with each other.
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Old 04-16-2019, 06:24 AM
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If square money was the norm we'd all be talking about the disadvantages of rectangles.

Ya'll are putting the cart before the horse - paper money is rectangular due largely to tradition. That's it. It's like trying to assert the QWERTY keyboard is somehow optimized. Nope. It's not. It's tradition.
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Old 04-16-2019, 07:32 AM
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Broomstick, you think that you are offering an explanation but you are not.
Using your logic, everything is because everything has always been that way because of tradition.
Or, extending the analogy that UltraVires provided above, humans have five fingers because humans have always had five fingers.

Rectangular paper money came into existence at some point. How did that happen? It didn't float down from the sky, everyone started using it and it became a tradition that has continued to today. Some reasonable explanations have been offered in this thread. If you don't have an explanation, it's better to say "I don't know".

Last edited by Paxx; 04-16-2019 at 07:34 AM.
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Old 04-16-2019, 07:55 AM
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No, I'm not doing that.

Some of our consumer products are the result of a lot of research into what would appeal to people, or be comfortable, or is otherwise ideal. Or because the dimensions of the human body cause solutions to a problem to converge.

The shape and size of money is not. That's why shape/size/color/etc. varies all over the place world-wide. Shapes that can tessellate, which make for minimal waste, will be chosen for that purpose but triangles and squares would also work, but the disadvantages of triangles have already been addressed. That leaves rectangles and the subset of rectangles we call squares. The rest is largely a coin toss.
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