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That's because most nations use fiat currency, meaning money that's valuable because everyone agrees it's valuable.
In the past, coins were made of gold and thus backed by the currency. So if it Britain circa 1400, and you try to purchase some salt pork with a gold coin, the guy selling the pork won't care whether the coin has a picture of Robert the Bruce or Richard the Lionheart. He'll only care that the coin is actually made of gold (as opposed to being made of cheat minerals with a thin layer of gold).