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Strange things used as currency around the world

Photos logoPhotos 02-12-2016

From knives to shells, from salt to fish, take a look at some of the oddest objects that have been used as currency from around the world.


© De Agostini/A. Dagli Orti/Getty Images

The ancient Chinese state of Qi issued knives with their values inscribed on them as the official currency, from 600 to 210 BC. However, the knives being heavy, It was impossible to carry too many of them at a time. The practice was abolished during the reign of Emperor Qin Shi Huang (259-210 BC), who introduced round coins with holes as the official currency.


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Interestingly, the word "salary" is derived from the Latin word, "salarium," which means "salt money." During the rule of the Roman empire, soldiers, officers and other civil servants were paid with salt. A recent example of this can be traced to Ethiopia, where bars of salt, or salt bricks, was used as money until the 20th century.


© Heinz Tschanz-Hofmann/Getty Images

Similar to salt bricks, bars of tea (pictured) were widely used as a form of currency in China, Tibet, Mongolia and Central Asia during the 19th century. At times, tea was preferred over coins, as it also served as food when needed. Similar practices were prevalent in Siberia too, until World War II.

Katanga Cross

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Also known as a handa, the Katanga Cross was used as a form of currency in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 19th and 20th centuries. The name derives from Katanga, a rich copper mining region in the south-eastern part of Congo. One unit of the Katanga cross — a cast copper ingot in the shape of a cross — generally weighed around 2.2 lbs. (1 kg) and was worth six fouls or 22 lbs. (10 kg) of flour.


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One of the earliest currencies used in America, the wampum beads (traditional shell beads) were adopted by Europeans to trade with the native residents of New England and New York. Beginning from 1637, wampum was a legal form of currency in New England until 1661, while it was the official currency in New York till 1673.

Rai stones

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Also known as stone money, the gigantic circular limestone disks weigh around 8,800 lbs. (4 metric tons) and generally have a diameter of 12 feet (3.6 meter). Used commercially in the Micronesian island of Yap, the owners didn't bother about moving the heavy rai stones physically after a transaction was over and relied on an oral commitment to settle the question of ownership. Although the origin of stone money is not yet known, they still retain their significance as a cultural emblem, being used in marriages, inheritances, political deals, or even in exchange of food. 

Cowry shells 

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The Monetaria moneta, also known as the money cowry, the small sea snail species were extensively used as currency in various countries in Africa, Australia and Asia. In western Africa, shell money was in circulation until the mid-19th century, while in Australia, shells were used for carrying out trade until 1882. In China, the practice of using cowries as currency began as early as 16th century BC, while in Odisha, India, it was the official currency until 1805. The small shells being easy to carry and count, they were quite popular as a choice of currency.


© Chris Furlong/Getty Images

In the mid-1600s, during the early decades of English settlement in Newfoundland, cash form of money was almost non-existent. So, people began accepting dried cods in exchange of goods. In 1834, the Newfoundland Savings Bank was established, which enabled the government to authorize the printing of currency for the first time.

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