Funny Money: Strange currencies of the world.

Since the beginning of trade, communities have experimented with exchange mediums. These may seem strange now, but they made sense to someone at the time and place they were in use.

Rai stones.

(image credit: Eric Guinther)
Rai stones were once used as currency on the island of Yap in Micronesia. The large stones, resembling millstones were quarried on nearby Palau, as there is no limestone on Yap. The value of the circular stones with a hole in the middle depends on the size and weight of the stone plus the difficulty in transporting them. Value was also affected by the history of a particular stone, such as how many people died transporting it! They were placed in public places, and although ownership of a stone may change, the location rarely did. The stone pictured is about eight feet in diameter.

Recycled coins.

Recycled money? It’s been done. Until the mid-19th century, several nations in the Caribbean had no currency or mint of their own. So when they exchanged foreign money, they counterstamped it and made it their own. The stamping would render the money unusable in the its country of origin, but legal tender on St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua, St. Lucia, Montserrat, Grenada, Barbuda, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The island of Dominica used a heart-shaped cutout to recycle the pictured coin.

The British guinea.

The guinea was once part of the British monetary system. You know of pounds, shillings, and pence, but the gold guinea coin was a variable amount tied to the price of gold. The original gold guinea coin was worth a pound (20 shillings), but as the price of gold rose, its worth creeped up. Over a couple of hundred years, the amount of gold in the coin was adjusted several times. During the Great Recoinage of 1816, the guinea coin was retired in favor of the pound note. But the amount of 21 shillings (£1+1s) was still referred to as a guinea. In Victorian times, this disparity was used for class distinction.
A guinea was £1-1s-0d (which is £1.05) and could be written as '1g' or '1gn' or, in the plural, '3gs' or '3gns'. It was considered a more gentlemanly amount than £1. You paid tradesmen, such as a carpenter, in pounds but gentlemen, such as an artist, in guineas. It was a tradition in the legal profession that a barrister was paid in guineas but kept only the pounds, giving his clerk the shillings (they were all men then).

While we’re on the subject of British currency, the farthing was a coin worth a qurter of a penny. They stopped minting it in 1956.

Canadian Tire money.

Canadian Tire money is a promotional coupon program issued by Canadian Tire which started in 1958. Tire money is given out as bonuses when purchases are made and can be redeemed at face value at any Canadian Tire store or gas station, including the amount for taxes. Some merchants besides Canadian Tire accept tire money, because after all, they buy gasoline, too.

Katanga crosses.

Katanga crosses were used as currency in the copper mining region of what used to be Zaire, in Africa. They are made of copper and range from about a half-pound to 2.5 popunds. They are also associated with ritual, as they were buried with the dead. The crosses predate Christianity in the area, but missionaries adapted the symbolism of the cross for their own purposes. Katanga was an independent nation for a brief period, from 1960-1963, during which time they issued new national coins, francs, with a picture of the Katanga cross on them!

Siamese gambling tokens.

Siamese porcelain tokens (pees) began as tokens used in a casinio game called Fantan around 1820. These were much easier to use than the bars of silver that was legal tender in Siam at the time. The coins became so popular that they were used in trade throughout the kingdom until they were banned in 1875. Pees could be exchanged for silver coins, so unscrupulous businessmen ordered porcelain tokens from China at a discount. To counter, the casinos changed designs on the tokens often, and there may now be as many as eight thousands different designs. Despite the ban, pees were used as underground money well into the twentieth century, and can be found in antique shops and from coin dealers worldwide.

Kissi Money, the coin with a soul.

Kissi Money was used in the west African region that is now the nations of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. These twisted iron bars had a “T” shape at one end and a hoe-like spatula shape at the other. The length varied from 9 to 15 inches, depending on the value.
If an iron rod would accidentally break, it could no longer circulate and its value could only be restored in a special ceremony performed by the Zoe, the traditional witchdoctor – often the blacksmith – who, for a fee, would rejoin the broken pieces and reincarnate the escaped soul. Therefore, it was said that Kissi money was ‘money with a soul’.

Kissi money was gradually replaced by western currencies in the 20th century, and is now used only for ritual ceremonies, sacrifices, and to decorate graves.

Manchukuo fiber coins.

Manchukuo was a puppet state in Manchuria created by the Japanese occupation in 1932 until the end of World War II. The Manchukuo yuan was a currency unit instituted by the Japanese for use in the occupied area. There were 100 fen in one yuan. In 1944 and 1945, the supply of metal was low due to the war, and 1 fen and 5 fen coins were made of “red or brown fiber”, resembling cardboard!

Space Quid.

The newest currency is strange because of it intended purpose. Scientists from the National Space Centre and the University of Leicester have designed the QUID, short for Quasi Universal Intergalactic Denomination. This money is designed to be used in space, where traveling distances can be too far for electronic transfers. Quid coins have rounded edges, so they won’t damage anything if they float in zero gravity.

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Merchants get charged a percentage of the sale when a credit card is used. This usually gets incorporated into the goods or services. When you pay with cash at a Canadian Tire store you're getting back that money. You won't get it if you pay by credit card.
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