Weird Currency

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Thanks to modern minting technology, most places have familiar currencies such as printed bills, coins, or even digitally stored currency such as credit cards. However, what happens when something goes wrong or that technology never developed?

Weird currency is when currency takes a form other than digital or minted currency. This item has a recognized social value and is exchanged for goods or services, much like regular currency is, it just comes in an unusual form.

This is not a barter system. In a barter system people trade for items for personal use. They sell for weird money and use that to buy what they use. Everyone is still willing to sell what they have for money, in barter there is no one good everyone will trade for.

Can be an inversion of Worthless Yellow Rocks; that is when something that is usually valuable is considered trash by another culture/race/species, whereas this is when trash is held as holding value in the form of currency.

Supertrope to Practical Currency and Energy Economy. Not to be confused with Funny Money.

Examples of Weird Currency include:

Comic Books

  • In the Carl Barks story "Tralla La", Scrooge McDuck and his nephews travel to a Utopia that operates on the barter system. But when Scrooge accidentally introduces bottle caps into the economy, the people fixate upon the novelty and start using it as currency, to the point of neglecting productive work. It Gets Worse when Scrooge tries to fix the problem by bringing in a billion bottle caps so that there are enough to go around.
  • The eponymous race in Orc Stain uses petrified slices of orc gronch as money.

Fan Works

  • In A Thing of Vikings, a How to Train Your Dragon fanfic that places the events of the first HTTYD movie in a realistic historical context, shed dragon scales become a de facto currency first for Berk and then for Europe as a whole.

Film

  • In the Elvis Presley film Jailhouse Rock his prison mentor is the richest man in prison, having hundreds of cartons of cigarettes in his cell.

Literature

  • In The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, a particularly stupid people tries to set up an economy with leaves as currency. It doesn't go well.
    • Other Hitch Hikers Guide to The Galaxy chapters have poems and elderly relatives as currency.
    • Another Hitchhiker's example is the Flavian pobble bead, which is apparently one of the three major Galactic currencies, despite only being exchangeable for other Flavian pobble beads.
    • Another currency is made up of extremely large triangles. Nine of them will get you a more reasonably-sized dollar equivalent, but no one has been able to keep hold of nine of them at once and the banks don't deal in petty change.
  • The Discworld's Ankh-Morpork went through a brief period of using stamps as currency between the transition from gold-plated coins to paper money.

Live Action Television

  • In the TV series Love And War waitress Nadine is an aging socialite whose husband is in prison from the Savings & Loan scandal of the early Nineties. At one point she mentions she's going to visit him and bring 2 cartons of cigarettes in order to buy him his way out of his latest Noodle Incident.
  • Demons in Buffy the Vampire Slayer use kittens as currency.
  • In The Golden Girls, Sophia tells a story about her first job in Sicily. The story came up because her first paycheck, a brightly painted rock, was found under Dorothy's bed.
    • Another episode lampshaded this trope. When the girls were dieting, they find a box of cookies on the kitchen shelf. Blanche starts to open them, and Rose asks her if she's going to eat them. Dorothy then says, "No, Rose, we're going to go to some dumb country and try to use them as money."

Newspaper Comics

  • They use clams in BC (even though within the strip they're Talking Animals, which should cause some Carnivore Confusion, but usually doesn't).
  • Parodied in Calvin and Hobbes, when Calvin tells space aliens he'll give them the Earth for 50 different kinds of alien tree leaves (he put off a school assignment, and wanted the alien tree leaves so that he could finish it in time) and the aliens thought it meant "these primitive fools" (Earthlings) "use leaves as currency."

Radio

  • The Goon Show often uses weird substitutes for money, such as 3,000 pounds in bent NAAFI spoons, gramophone records of clinking coins, photographs of five-pound notes, or even piles of bricks (to be paid into any building society[1]). Rule of Funny, obviously.

Tabletop Games

  • The Warhammer 40,000 orks use their teeth as currency. Teef can be procured by natural shedding - or, unsurprisingly, brawling. They also slowly decay, thus cannot be accumulated for very long.
  • Forgotten Realms mostly use coins, trade bars (of precious metals or some semiprecious stones) and gems, but there are oddities:
    • Gond Bells made in Lantan; also used by others in the North, especially worshippers of Gond. It's a small brass bell holding a loose ornamental stone (which can clatter). Half price outside the church of Gond.
    • Shaar rings — nomads of the Shaar use polished slices of ivory, pierced and hung on strings.
    • In Serôs (Sea of Fallen Stars) pearls are used as money, rated by rarity and also adjusted for size; common variations are White-Yellow-Green-Blue with values increasing 10× each step; the most valuable type is "olmar" — large, diamond-shaped, olive toned pearls of the great clams (7×3 inches, fetches 2000 gold or more on the shore).
    • Elves (at least in Cormanthyr) used yulthaari - "coins" (actually IOU notes / contract proposals) shaped as 5 inches long platinum tubes, with smooth outside surface and inside covered in tactile script. These were commonly used in auctions or among the nobility. This design ensures that it's impossible to read anything from the outside even with eagle's eyes, thus allows to avoid both boastful use of wealth (which would be crass) and embarrassment (if you lose the bid). A third party will only see that one elf passed a yulthaari to the other, who stuck a finger in it and accepted or rejected - how much was offered and even for which goods the first was bidding is up to the rumours.

Video Games

  • In Kingdom of Loathing, the currency is meat, which justifies its use of Money Spider.
  • Fallout uses bottle caps. They started out as literal caps off of bottles, but eventually evolved into normal money.
    • Bottlecap use is backed by the Water Merchants, the controllers of the most valuable commodity in the game world.
  • Many Virtual Pet sites with a currency bought for real-life money have one of these.
  • Parasite Eve has trading cards used to buy upgrades.
  • Brutal Legend has Fire Tributes, which are signs of the approval of the Gods of Metal and appear as 2D hands holding lighters whenever you do something awesome like jumping over a canyon in your hot rod or beating a mission.
  • Metro 2033 uses pristine pre-war bullets (as opposed to the homemade and less effective ones normally used for combat) as currency.
  • Transformice uses cheese as currency.
  • Devil May Cry uses crystallized demon blood.
  • The prehistoric area of Secret of Evermore uses claws.
  • Echo Bazaar uses echoes. This may or may not be a metaphor.
  • In Shin Megami Tensei, demons use Macca, which is a double subversion - they look like coins, but they're actually some form of candied Pure Energy the demons can eat.
  • As anyone will tell you, the economy of Team Fortress 2 is basically made of hats.
  • Someone on the EA team had the crazy idea to use Bertie Bott's Every-Flavored Beans as money in the Harry Potter video games. For some reason, these were hidden all over Hogwarts and you could trade them with Fred and George for Wizard Cards and other stuff.

Western Animation

Real Life

  • Parts of Africa, Australia, Asia and North America used cowrie shells as currency.
  • As in BC and the Flintstones, many extremely early civilizations used seashells as currency. This is probably the most historically accurate part of both series.
  • Some extremely early records of civilization have divulged that some of the earliest Babylonian-area currency were clay figures of livestock, representing the values of their respective models.
  • Yap (an island in the South Pacific) used carved wheel-like stones from another island as high-value "coin", called "Rai". Because individual stones could be over two meters across,they attracted much curiosity and some misinterpretations (summarized here). For everyday uses, they had more convenient goods - pearl shells, pearl shell bead necklaces, ceremonial pestles and woven mats.


  1. UK equivalent of Savings & Loan banks. They all mutated into real banks sometime in the 80s or 90s.