It goes without saying here that we’ve got plenty of content covering bitcoin’s ins, outs, and everything in between. And when it comes to traditional, centralized currencies most people are used to, bitcoin is definitely out of the ordinary. But is that a negative? What about other strange currencies used throughout history and even the present day? Once you’re done reading this, bitcoin may not seem like the only oddball after all.
The history of one of Micronesia’s island states, Yap, includes the use of rai stones as currency. Rai stones are large circular limestone disks that vary in size, with the largest being around 12’ in diameter and 1.5’ thick. Extremely durable and resilient to counterfeiting, they gain their value from their size, weight, and history. We should also mention a stone of this size will weigh about 8,800 pounds. Not exactly a convenient fit for your wallet, right? Thankfully, transferring ownership of these massive coins is through a shared ledger of vocal exchange and doesn’t require moving them. Whew.
Nowadays we’ve got currencies that are widely accepted from region to region, which are also easily exchangeable. And bitcoin, which can be accepted by anyone with an internet connection, is becoming increasingly accessible globally. Before currencies with mass adoption, a common medium for exchange included valued commodities. And in some cases, the chosen medium was edible. Yes, you read that right.
Salt, an extremely valuable commodity used to preserve and season food, was one of them. Other currency-worthy edibles include black pepper, and tea bricks (bricks of tea leaves), which were used at different points in history in China, Russia, and Tibet, to name a few.
Strange currencies in edible forms are even used in some ways today. Italy’s banks have been using cheese as collateral for cash loans, a tradition that dates back to the Medici era. Bitcoin may not be tasty (unless you like the taste of ASIC mining chips), but does it still seem like the oddball?
Not-so tasty currencies
Maybe more of an acquired taste to their former edible counterparts, regions including areas of Finland, Russia, and North America, considered animal pelts to be a valued medium of exchange. The Finnish word for money, ‘raha’, is a direct reference to their use of squirrel pelts as currency. And no, the practice is no longer commonplace today, according to a Finnish user on Reddit.
Across the Atlantic, beaver skins became such an integral part of early North America’s 17th century economy that a coin called the Made Beaver (one coin represented one good condition beaver skin) was made for ease of trade between Europeans and Aboriginals.
Canada’s massive $1 million dollar gold coin
Ending with a grand finale, the Royal Canadian Mint describes the production of their $1 million dollar coin as “[i]incredible, but true.” The coin itself weighs 100kg, and is made of 99999 pure gold bullion. There were no intentions to reproduce it initially, but after the first one generated interest, five additional coins have been purchased. In an unfortunate turn of events, one of the gargantuan coins made headlines recently after it was stolen from a Berlin museum.
The history of currencies includes a fascinating, diverse, and indeed strange lineup. Which of these strange currencies is most peculiar to you?