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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Items Used As Money



By Charles French

( Article orginally published November 1960 )

Numismatics can cover a wide variety of items. The term does not necessarily refer only to coins and paper money. It refers to items that were used as a medium of exchange.

Many items were so used. In the early days of civilization the first steps away from barter were the acceptance of some easily movable item as a medium of exchange.

A wide variety of items have been used as money. In some parts of the world salt, shells (included here is the Indian Wampum), stone money, chocolate disc money, cocoa beans, cloth, leather, feather money, furs and skins, glass, grass and grain, bones and hair, beads, nails and jade, burlap, parchment, seeds and teahave all been used as money. Not to forget our recent "cigarette" money of World War II and Korea.

Now we come to odd shapes found in primitive money. In China there were "key" money, knife money, amulet money, boat and bullet money. In other parts of the world, there were ring money, plate money, bar money, cross, spear and ax money, tree, feather and fish--hook money, bridge, spear and pack saddle money.

These primitive forms of money were made to represent items of demand at the time. The ancient Romans used to transport huge castbronze or copper plates, shaped like a hide. It is understood each ~of these was valued at one steer. A truly crude medium of exchange that would be acceptable to the ignorant savages with whom they would be dealing!

Sierra Leone, salt money. Salt was pounded in a bamboo basket 3" x 14", sealed at the ends with mud. These were used as "bride money" and given to the father of the bride-ten to the father, and he in turn donated one to the bridal feast. This was payment for a wife.

Bone money. The Chinese used arrow-heads of bone as money. American Indians used uone aiscs. The Sioux used human finger bones, teeth, and beads as Wampum. Nose and ear bones, and shell ornaments of South Sea Islanders were also used as money.

In Alaska, the Hudson Bay Co. bought one martin skin from natives for so many pearly shell buttons with copper or brass shanks that were accepted as standard payments. Smaller buttons of similar type were used to purchase walrus tusks, furs, etc.

During the inflation period in Germany after World War I money was made out of burlap, silk, linen, veneer wood, cardboard, porcelain and leather, plus a wide variety of unusual metallic alloys.

Siamese bullet money in silver was struck in many denominations from November, 1960 1/64 tical on up to 10 tical. The 8 and 10 tical are very rare. There were also 20, 40, 60 and 80 tical pieces struck as presentation coins for the death of the king's mother.

Burma had a most unusual coin, a heavy silver ring for wear on the arm. It contained heavy spikes for hand to hand combat and was used as a weapon and shield.

Chinese tree money, for many centuries the common and popular Chinese cash was cast, not struck. The zifoney was cast in molds made in the form of a tree, with rows of coins on either side, the metal "flash" in the center. Owners would then break off a coin as they needed it.

The Tauma Islands Solomon group had money made of hair mixed with clay and pleated. Australian natives made coins of Triodia gum and human hair.

Rum, gin and whiskey were very importantly used as money in our early days when trading with the Indians. One railroad is said to have paid its workers with whiskey after the Civil War.

The Philippine Islands used crude brass rings, with knobs at the edge, to purchase food. One ring was worth three chickens.

During the Gold Rush days of the West, gold dust was used as money. the usual charge was a "pinch" for a drink, etc. Bartenders with large fat fingers were in demand! After this, crude bars of gold were made out of the dust, and passed as money. These are very rare.

The ancient Celts used gold necklaces, arm-bands, rings, anklets and earrings as money and ornaments. All are very rare. As to the funeral money of China, it was the custom of the Chinese for centuries to bury coins with their dead. This is why so many ancient, Chinese coins are available today. Now the custom is carried on but imitations of papier macrfe and tin-foil pasted on cardboard are used.

While the bamboo tally-sticks of China were associated with counting racks, they were also used as money and had denominations of from 1 cash to 1000 cash. They ranged in size from 1" to 6" and were inscribed by the issuer and with the denomination. These were popular in banking houses and might be given credit as being the first, or forerunner of "paper currency" used throughout the world today.

Such unusual coinages are natural. For they represent the natural evolvement from trade and barter down to a medium of exchange acceptable to those using them.

The very early Chinese knife and key coins first had a ring at one end to hang around the neck or belt. Then the design became more ornate, with wording around the hole.

After that the next development was the elimination of the "knife" part, leaving just the ring with the hole in the center. These were the earliest "one cash" coins so well known today with the square hole in center and legend around it on both sideS.



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