A Dozen Wacky World Currencies

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1. Cows

The oldest form of money known to man—starting in 9,000 B.C.—was cattle. From Ireland to Africa, cows were the preferred currency. In fact, parts of Africa used cow currency as recently as the mid–20th century.

2. Cowrie Shells

Culled from the shell of a mollusk, cowrie shells were used as money in China during the Shang dynasty (as well as societies in India and Africa at other points in history) due to one big advantage: They were impossible to forge.

3. Rai Stone

How do you feel about pocketing a piece of limestone? That’s what inhabitants on the Micronesian island of Yap used in 1,000 A.D. Called the Rai Stone, it’s a large circular limestone with a hole in the center whose value is based on its size and weight. Back in the day, stones worth a lot were so big and heavy that they couldn’t be transported on canoes. But once Europeans arrived in large ships capable of moving the giant Rai, its value began depreciating.

Photo Credit: Investopedia

4. Spices

The ubiquity of using spices for currency touches practically every corner of the globe. In 550 B.C., the inhabitants of East Africa and the Sahara Desert used salt for money. Peppercorns were a valuable form of currency during the Middle Ages, thanks to their long-lasting flavor. And, in 14th-century Germany, the going rate for seven oxen was a pound of nutmeg!

5. Leather

In 118 B.C., leather banknotes were issued in China that were fashioned from pieces of white deerskin decorated with colorful borders.

6. Cocoa Beans

The Aztec Empire ranked cocoa beans as their principal form of currency—above gold dust!—in the 1500s. They even restricted the cultivation of the delicious bean in order to maintain its value. Remote Indian tribes in Mexico and Central America continued to use cocoa beans as currency well into the twentieth century.

7. Gold Standard

To prevent inflation, England officially implemented the Gold Standard in 1819, designating the precious metal as the standard value for monetary measurement—and the United States, Australia, Canada and Germany followed suit. However, the Great Depression helped bring an end to the gold standard, and treasury notes replaced gold sovereigns, ultimately leading to the abandonment of the gold standard across the globe.

8. Kissi

Still in use – for cermonial purposes – in modern-day Sierra Leone and Guinea, Kissi money, which first made its appearance in parts of Africa in the 1880s, takes the form of twisted iron barbs with a spatula at one end and a T at the other. Native blacksmiths minted Kissi using iron smelted from rich ore, and since iron trading was used as a standard value in Africa, it proved to be useful as currency. For several decades, it circulated alongside standard paper currencies from America, Britain and France.

Photo Credit: Liberia: Past and Present

9. Tugrik

Ever wonder what it would be like to hear your money talk? Well, now you can: Mongolia’s 2007 500 Tugrik coin has former U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s face on one side—and a button on the other that plays a short clip from his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech. Why President Kennedy? According to CNBC, it’s due to Mongolia’s appreciation for the former president’s decision to launch the Peace Corps.

Photo Credit: NumisCollect

10. Parmesan

The stuff that makes Caesar salad taste so delectable (except for me. — R) was also used for financial transactions in Italy during various points in history to help struggling cheesemakers. Since 1953, parmesan has been accepted as collateral for loans at the regional bank Credito Emiliano. As recently as the 2008 recession, the bank offered parmesan producers loans for up to 24 months—the amount of time it takes for the cheese to age.

11. Bitcoin

This entirely electronic cash system was first introduced in 2009. The gist: Bitcoins are transferred using either a computer or a smartphone, eliminating the need for a financial institution. They can be bought and sold for standard currencies, and they’re especially appealing for international transactions, since they don’t require a central bank. To generate them, computers use a complicated mathematical process called “mining,” and the most that can ever be mined is about 21 million. But Bitcoins come with a caveat: Since the currency isn’t widely used and depends completely on technology that can malfunction, it often has a highly fluctuating value.

Photo Credit: Fox News

12.Airtime Money

Nations in Africa have recently been using prepaid mobile airtime minutes as currency that can be transferred via phones, traded for cash by those who want to rent out phones—and even bartered for other goods and services. Airtime money is particularly useful for settling small debts because many telecom firms transfer minutes with no fee. But there are some concerns with its growing popularity: Since network operators are essentially issuing their own currency, and setting their own exchange rates, it could cause problems for central banks.

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