24 Unusual Forms of Currency

Long before centralized currency, people used all sorts of things to make transactions. Here are 24 of the most unique types of currency.

Salt

Salt was used as currency in East Africa during the Middle Ages and is one of the oldest forms of currency in history. In fact, the word “salary” comes from the Latin “salarium,” which means “money used to buy salt.”

Parmigiano Cheese

In Italy, Parmesan cheese has been used as collateral for bank loans since the Middle Ages. The cheese is valuable and takes years to age, making it a good form of collateral for financiers. During a post-World War II recession in Italy, this form of collateral helped finance cheesemakers.

Manchukuo Yuan Coins

Japanese Imperial forces used Manchukuo Yuan coins during their occupation of Manchuria. Due to a shortage of metal and natural resources, the coins were made from cardboard.

Dolphin Teeth

In the Solomon Islands, dolphin teeth were and still are used as a form of currency. Their value increases when modern currencies decline. Dolphin teeth are particularly important when purchasing a bride, with the going rate being roughly 1,000 teeth per bride (equivalent to 10 dolphins).

Rings and Jewelry

In the waning years of the Egyptian Empire, rings and jewelry became part of an informal bartering system, replacing the formal coin usage previously present within the region.

Cocoa Beans

Cocoa beans were used as a form of barter material by the Maya in Central America for food and clothing. When Spain colonized the area in the 1500s, cocoa beans were introduced to the world and exported globally. Due to the low yield of the cocoa plant, the beans became a rare commodity with a high price tag. In 1555, an official exchange rate was placed on cocoa beans, with one Spanish real of white cotton cloths being worth 140 cocoa beans.

The Hungarian Pengő

Due to Hungary’s severe economic difficulties and consequent inflation, the world experienced the largest denomination of currency ever with the Hungarian 100 quintillion Pengő note in 1946.

However, this note was only worth around 20 American cents.

Potato Mashers

Bafia Potato Mashers were used as an unusual form of currency in the most important trades in Bafia culture.

During Ancient Bafia culture, one could purchase a wife for thirty potato mashers.

Tulips

In the 1600s, the world experienced its first major financial bubble during Tulipmania in Holland.

Between 1624 and 1637, the price and value of tulips rose to absurd levels, with many instances of tulips being used as currency in transactions for houses, land, and farms – even being left as inheritance.

The Tugrik Record-a-Coin

In 2007, a strange Mongolian 500 Tugrik coin was released, featuring former President John F. Kennedy on one side and a button that, when pressed, played a recording of JFK’s famous 1963 speech supporting West Berlin, saying “Ich bin ein Berliner.”

Knives

Large bronze blades served as an early form of currency throughout China.

Approximately 2,500 years ago, a Chinese prince allowed his troops to use their knives as payment for goods when money was scarce.

As the troops bartered with local villagers, this trend caught on and became the accepted form of currency, primarily during the Zhou Dynasty between 600 and 200 BC. Currency knives often had loops on their handles for easy carrying on belts and straps.

Lobi Snakes

The Lobi were an ancient people who lived in Ghana and primarily worked in farming fields.

As snakes frequently inhabit fields, the Lobi created iron snakes that were worn or placed on altars to ward off snakes.

These Lobi Snakes were so important to Lobi culture that they were frequently used in bartering and trading.

German Wooden Notes

After World War I, Germany’s economy was devastated by the Treaty of Versailles and the resulting inflation.

As a result, some towns created their own bank notes out of wood, referred to as “notgeld” or “emergency money.”

Katanga Crosses

Originating in the mining region of Katanga, now in the Democratic Republic of Congo, these x-shaped copper crosses were the primary form of currency in the region for a long time and were the most well-known form of Ancient African currency.

The Katanga Crosses, made of copper, were highly valued and weighed between 1 and 2.5 pounds. They were often used in trade or as a form of barter, symbolizing wealth. These crosses were worth approximately 22 pounds of flour. Zaire’s Cut-Out Bills were a result of the new government wanting to save on printing costs by cutting the face of the former dictator out of the current currency. Squirrel pelts were used as currency in Russia during the Middle Ages, with even the claws and snouts being used for small change. This helped Russia’s economy and also inadvertently helped stem the spread of the Black Plague. Nowadays, Finland still recognizes squirrel pelts as a form of currency. Palau Holy Water Coins were issued in 2007 and contained a little vile of holy water from Lourdes, France, embedded in them. Rai Stones, gargantuan circular stones with a signature hole in the middle, were used as currency on the Micronesian island of Yep. Each stone held its own individual value, and the difficulties experienced in making one added to its overall value. Whale teeth were used as currency in the Fijian Islands until the 20th Century, with larger teeth being more valuable. The Fijian seven-dollar note is an oddly specific denomination for a piece of currency.

The release of a commemorative coin marked the victory of the nation’s Rugby 7s team at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Kissi Pennies

Blacksmiths in various parts of Western Africa created Kissi Pennies as a form of currency. These are long strips of iron in a T-shape, with an “ear” at one end and a “foot” at the other. They were only used as currency and required a blessing from a witch doctor if broken. Due to their low value, they were often bundled together in groups of 20. In their prime, one or two Kissi Pennies could buy a bag of fruit. However, they were phased out when inflation caused their value to diminish compared to items such as cattle or brides.

Tea Bricks

Tea bricks were a form of currency in China, Mongolia, Serbia, Tibet, Turkmenistan, and Russia from the 9th to the 20th century. These were mainly produced in Sichuan, China, and were favored in Mongolia for their nutritional value. The Chinese Emperor had a monopoly on the tea brick currency.

The World’s Smallest Coin

The Quarter Silver “tara” of Vijayanagar is the world’s smallest currency, measuring only four millimeters in diameter.

The One Million Canadian Dollar coin, made of 99.99% gold bullion and weighing 220 pounds (100 kg), is the world’s largest legal tender. Its value is twice its face value and fluctuates with the global value of gold. This coin also set the record for being the world’s first million-dollar coin.

These are just a few examples of the various currencies used around the world throughout history. Which one was your favorite?

FAQ

1. What are some of the weirdest coins in the world?

There are many weird coins in the world, but some of the most unusual ones include the Canadian “Lucky Loonie” coin, which has a loon bird on one side and a hockey player on the other; the Palau “Jellyfish” coin, which contains a small piece of jellyfish embedded in the center; and the Cook Islands “Silver Dollar” coin, which is actually made of pure silver and shaped like a dollar bill.

2. What is the rarest type of currency in the world?

The rarest type of currency in the world is the 1890 Grand Watermelon bill, which got its name from the watermelon-like appearance of the zeroes on the back of the bill. Only two are known to exist, and they sell for millions of dollars at auction.

3. What is the oldest currency still in use today?

The oldest currency still in use today is the British pound, which can be traced back to Anglo-Saxon times in the 8th century. The modern form of the pound, however, was introduced in 1694.

4. What is the largest denomination bill ever printed?

The largest denomination bill ever printed was the 100,000 dollar bill, which featured a portrait of Woodrow Wilson and was used only for transactions between Federal Reserve Banks. They were never released to the public and were discontinued in 1934.

5. What is the most popular currency in the world?

The most popular currency in the world is the US dollar, which is used as a reserve currency in many countries and is accepted for transactions worldwide. The euro and the Japanese yen are also popular currencies.

6. What is the most valuable coin in the world?

The most valuable coin in the world is the 1794 Flowing Hair Dollar, which sold for over $10 million at auction. Only 140 of these coins were ever minted, and only 15 are known to exist today.

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