5 of the Strangest Things Ever Used as Currency
Money itself is a funny concept: It isn't intrinsically valuable. It's just paper with some fancy designs printed on it. Even gold has little value beyond a nice sheen. What unites all currencies, however, and what makes it more than just paper is a unified, collective belief that it does, in fact, have value. If this is the only defining feature, there really are no limits to what can be traded and used as money. Naturally, we have pushed the limits on this concept, and we have ended up creating (or trying to create) extraordinarily bizarre forms of money. Here are five of the strangest:
Wampum is a type of bead made by Native American tribes of Eastern North America. Typically made of seashells, it was difficult to manufacture and thus scarce, so it was used as currency by colonists throughout the 17th century. Eventually, however, technology caught up with the system, and it became considerably easier to make the beads, leading to inflation and eventual abandonment of the wampum as a medium of trade
Have you ever heard the expression "you're not worth your salt!" Historically, salt has been a extremely valued and coveted commodity, and it has been used as a medium trade at various places and points in time. In fact, the word "salary" is derived from salt: "sal" is the latin word for salt, and "salarium argentum" was a phrase meaning "salt money" that referred to payment to soldiers to purchase salt. By most accounts, Roman soldiers were not actually paid in salt, but by the accounts of Roman author Pliny the Elder, they were originally
Yup. Cheese. In Italy, some banks accept Parmigiano-Reggiano (or parmesan cheese) as payment. This practice dates back hundreds of years and can help cheese makers secure loans by using their product as collateral. It may sound silly, but remember that one wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano can go for $2,500!
4. Giant rocks
The Micronesian island of Yap still uses giant round stones, or Rai stones as currency. Their value derives from the difficulty of movement and manufacturing, which, presumably, stems inflation. It may not be convenient, but it works. These days, Rai stones are used in mostly ceremonial or traditional ways.
5. Tea Bricks
Up until WWI, bricks made of pressed tea leaves were used in China, Russia, Mongolia, and Tibet. Because the bricks could be used as food, these were sometimes preferred over usual metallic currency. In fact, certain areas in Siberia traded tea bricks all the way up until WWII.