Ancient Forms of Money

Before coins and paper notes many objects were tested out for the use of money. Some because of their rarity and others because they had a common use other than just as a piece of currency. From squirrel pelts to salt, here is a list of five ancient forms of money!


Plate of squirrel fur backs

Squirrel Pelts
During the Middle Ages, Russians had taken a liking to trading squirrel pelts, often using the claws and snouts for pocket change. This odd form of currency may have accidentally benefited the Russians in a non-economic way as well. During medieval times, Europe was ravaged by the infamous Black Plague, but Russia wasn’t hit nearly as hard. Since the plague was most often carried by rodents, killing a bunch of rodents and using their pelts as currency likely reduced the number of plague carriers. Interestingly, modern day Finland actually recognizes squirrel pelts as a currency, and values them at 3 cents each.


Tursiops_truncatus_01Dolphin Teeth
For hundreds of years on the Solomon Islands, dolphin teeth have been used as currency. The islands have a long history of hunting dolphins and the age-old practice came to a halt around the middle of the nineteenth century. However, as a result of the devaluation of the country’s dollar, some parts of the island have reverted back to the traditional use of dolphins teeth.



Naturally formed salt crystals

Salt’s ability to preserve food made it a precious and highly valued commodity during the Roman Empire and throughout the Middle Ages. It was used as a method of trade and currency and historically, people would lick the salt block to make sure it was real and break pieces off to make change. Interestingly, the word salary stems from the Latin term ‘salarium’, which refers to salt money.




A brick of Hubei mǐ zhūan chá (米磚茶),

Tea Bricks
Tea Bricks are blocks of whole or finely ground black tea, green tea, or post-fermented tea leaves that have been packed in molds and pressed into block form. This was the most commonly produced and used form of tea in ancient China prior to the Ming Dynasty. Due to the high value of tea in many parts of Asia, tea bricks were used as a form of currency throughout China, Tibet, Mongolia, and Central Asia. Tea bricks were in fact the preferred form of currency over metallic coins for the nomads of Mongolia and Siberia. The tea could not only be used as money and eaten as food in times of hunger but also brewed as allegedly beneficial medicine for treating coughs and colds. Until World War II, tea bricks were still used as a form of edible currency in Siberia.


Shell money usually consisted either of whole sea shells or pieces of them, which were often worked into beads or were otherwise artificially shaped. The use of shells in trade began as direct commodity exchange, the shells having value as body ornamentation. The distinction between beads as commodities and beads as money has been the subject of debate among economic anthropologists.

Some form of shell money appears to have been found on almost every continent: America, Asia, Africa and Australia. The shell most widely used worldwide as currency was the shell of Cypraea moneta, the money cowry. This species is most abundant in the Indian Ocean, and was collected in the Maldive Islands, in Sri Lanka, along the Malabar coast, in Borneo and on other East Indian islands, and in various parts of the African coast from Ras Hafun to Mozambique. Cowry shell money was important at one time or another in the trade networks of Africa, South Asia, and East Asia.


United States High Denomination Bills

Large denominations of United States currency greater than $100 were circulated by the United States Treasury until 1969. Since then, U.S. dollar banknotes have only been issued in only seven denominations: $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100. But in the 1920’s the United States Treasury issued bills ranging from $1,000 to $100,000 denominations.



Salmon P. Chase

Featured on some of these bills were William McKinley ($500), Grover Cleveland ($1,000), James Madison ($5,000), and Salmon P. Chase ($10,000). Salmon P. Chase might not be as familiar as those of the presidents featured on the other big bills, but once upon a time Chase was huge  in American politics. Chase, a mid-19th century politician, served as Chief Justice of the United States, spent stints as Ohio’s governor and senator, and was Lincoln’s first Secretary of the Treasury.


When the federal government started issuing greenback notes in 1861, Chase, as Secretary of the Treasury, was in charge of designing and popularizing the new currency. Although putting his face in everyone’s pocketbooks never propelled Chase to the presidency, when the Treasury started issuing the new $10,000 bills in 1928 they put Chase’s portrait on the obverse to honor the man who helped introduce modern banknotes. Even if you don’t have a $10,000 bill Chase’s name might still be in your wallet. Chase National Bank, the forerunner to Chase Manhattan Bank, was named in his honor.

It may be hard to imagine when such a large denomination of bills would come in handy especially in our modern day when we mainly handle cash electronically. Matthew Wittmann, an assistant curator at the American Numismatic Society, explains this by stating that, back then, it was only worth a fraction of that value. “[the] $1,000 note seems incredible, but what it reflects is actually how little paper dollars were valued,” Wittmann said. “It might only have been worth $20 in ‘real’ hard money at the time.”



A $1,000 Gold Certificate, Series 1928, Depicting Grover Cleveland

Lee Ohanian, an economics professor at the University of California, also explains that the larger bills were mostly used to rapidly purchase supplies like ammunition during the war.  In the decades after the war, large denomination currencies were mostly used in real estate deals or inter-bank transfers. “They facilitated really, really large financial transactions that primarily were being carried out between banks or other financial intermediaries,” Ohanian said. Before sophisticated wire transfer systems were fully developed, it was simply easier and safer just to fork over a $5,000 bill to settle up with a fellow bank. Once transfer technology became safer and more secure, there really wasn’t much need for the big bills anymore.


Although the high bill denominations are still technically legal tender in the United States, they were last printed on December 27, 1945, and officially discontinued on July 14, 1969, by the Federal Reserve System, due to ‘lack of use’. The $5,000 and $10,000 had effectively disappeared well before then.

The Federal Reserve began taking high-denomination currency out of circulation (destroying large bills received by banks) in 1969. As of May 30, 2009, only 336 $10,000 bills were known to exist; 342 remaining $5,000 bills; and 165,372 remaining $1,000 bills. Due to their rarity, collectors often pay considerably more than the face value of the bills to acquire them. Some are in museums in other parts of the world.


A $5,000 Gold Certificate, Series 1928,  Depicting James Madison

There was often concerns about counterfeiting and the use of cash in unlawful activities such as the illegal drug trade and money laundering, it is unlikely that the U.S. government will reissue large denomination currency in the near future, despite the amount of inflation that has occurred since 1969 (a $100 bill is now worth less, in real terms, than a $20 bill was worth in 1969). According to the U.S. Department of Treasury website, “The present denominations of our currency in production are $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100. The purpose of the United States currency system is to serve the needs of the public and these denominations meet that goal. Neither the Department of the Treasury nor the Federal Reserve System has any plans to change the denominations in use today.”


The Obverse of the 2009 Zimbabwe $100 trillion banknote

The chance of bringing back large bills is only likely if there are big problems within the economy. The circulation of large denominations of currency is almost always due to inflation or depreciation. Countries like  Zimbabwe have issued million-, billion- and trillion-dollar notes. One $100 trillion note from the southern African country is worth 40 U.S. cents. Or take a step back to Germany in the early ’20s, known then as the Weimar Republic, when hyperinflation hit the country. That’s when 4.2 trillion marks were equivalent to a dollar.

Experts also say they think modern technology renders large bills unnecessary. Credit cards, checks, any form of electronic transfer — these all pretty much fulfill large transactional needs more efficiently than a tangible note could. “If you didn’t have your credit card, you didn’t have your debit card, or there’s a massive meltdown of the world in telecommunication systems and computers … then you can imagine high-denomination bills would be very useful,” Ohanian said. “Assuming the other person wants to accept it.”

Glasshouse Money and Company Scrip



Today, money is issued by the federal government, and companies pay their employees by check or cash. But it wasn’t always like that. Until fairly recently, many companies issued their own notes to pay employees, known as “company scrip.” Glasshouse money is a good example.



Vintage glass company advertisement

Vintage glass company advertisement. Corning Museum of Glass collections, used under fair use.

Until the federal government began producing paper currency in 1861, bank notes were issued by local and state banks. Glasshouses, amongst others, often issued their own bills which could be redeemed at the company store for goods or cash. According to the Corning Museum of Glass, “The Manufacturers and Farmers Bank of Wheeling, Virginia opened in 1851, and also issued bills that illustrated glassblowing. During this time there were several glasshouses in town, including the Union Glass Works; Barnes, Hobbs and Company; and Sweeney and Company. The owners of one or more of these factories may have been directors of the bank or stockholders. The Philadelphia and Wheeling notes were issued on the funds of the bank, not the funds of the glass companies.”



Scrip served many purposes, including making payment more stable for companies in rural locations that might not have the cash flow of larger or more urban industries. It also served to tie employees to the company; scrip lost value when exchanged for cash, and goods in the company store (often the only store for miles around) were marked up. This system ensured that workers would not be able to save enough to move or look for other work; it was not unusual for multiple generations of a single family to work for the same company.




Olga Coal Company scrip token from 1945. Used under fair use.

Though the printing of bills ceased after the government began issuing federal currency, companies continued using tokens and vouchers well into the 20th century. This scrip token from the Olga Coal Company in Coalwood, WV (familiar to anyone who’s seen the movie October Sky) is dated 1945. As late as 2008, the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that the Mexican subsidiary branch of Wal-Mart must cease paying workers in Wal-Mart vouchers.



[Featured image credit Corning Museum of Glass. Used under fair use.]

When Ben Franklin Hacked Nature to Fight Counterfeiters



The American colonies had a serious problem. Most did not have large reserves of precious metal with which to make legal tender coins, but not enough coins were coming in from England. To offset this, many of the colonies began printing their own paper money. Unsurprisingly, this lead to new problems: not every note was worth the same between colonies, and some colonies printed so much that they could never hope to redeem all of it. Worst of all, paper money was easy to replicate; a sentence of death on counterfeiting wasn’t much of a deterrent.



Enter Founding Father and quintessential American genius Benjamin Franklin. Before the fight for independence, while Franklin was still a Philadelphia printer, he was charged printing money for Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and others. It was also hoped that the brilliant printer would find a way to make currency more secure. His solutions were equal parts psychology and technology.



Franklin’s first technique was as simple as it was brilliant: he simply misspelled Pennsylvania on the colony’s bills. A forger, he argued, would think the real bill was a fake with a misspelling, and use the real spelling on his new fake bills.



Counter2021_R1_smBut it was his second anti-counterfeiting technique that really changed things. Franklin realized that no man-made engraving would be as difficult to reproduce as the natural “engraving” of the veins on a simple leaf. Better yet, a print from a leaf would be unique to that leaf, and not replicable by any other. Using different leaves for different denominations of notes, Franklin softened a leaf by covering it with a damp cloth, and then pressed it into plaster. When the plaster cured, the delicate imprint of the leaf remained. Copper was poured into the impression to make a plate for printing.



Until very recently, this process was only a guess, as no extant records of the process were known. However, three 18th-century metal blocks found in a vault at the Delaware County Institute of Science in Pennsylvania (now in the care of the Library Company of Philadelphia) turned out to be plates from this printing process (though likely from a successor, not Franklin himself). Such items rarely survived more than a few years, as metal dies were usually melted down and recast into other objects once they became too worn for printing. One of the blocks was one of the leaf plates; the other two were decorative.



leaf1According to, “Using some very high resolution digital photography, and matching the blocks to currency in the collections of Winterthur and the American Antiquarian Society, as well as that from DCIS, Linker and Green determined that all the blocks were—in fact—cast, making possible some of their more intricate devices, such as variable surface height so that some low-relief areas print as gray—rather than the firm black of the higher relief elements and the white of recessed areas—and cross-hatching scored into the lead after casting.” This process resulted in a print that was virtually impossible to replicate by engraving or any other counterfeiting technology of the time. The blocks from the DCIS feature three sage leaves, which appeared on Franklin’s shilling bills for Delaware in the 1760’s; the slogan on these bills was, appropriately enough, “To Counterfeit is DEATH.”



16038683682_4e439139e0_mEven with Franklin’s ingenious new anti-counterfeiting technology, public faith in paper money continued to decline, especially during the War for Independence, when money printed by the new American government was practically worthless. The new Congress resolved in early 1776, “that if any person shall hereafter be so lost to all virtue and regard for his country, as to refuse to receive said bills in payment,” or obstruct or discourage the currency or circulation thereof, . . . such person shall be deemed, published, and treated as an enemy of his country, and precluded from all trade or intercourse with the inhabitants of these colonies.” The British even produced large quantities of excellent forgeries of American paper money, furthering the distrust of currency. It wasn’t until the Secret Service took over the persecution of counterfeiting in 1865 that public trust in currency began to reach acceptable levels.



Counterfeiting has been a concern for as long as human civilizations have used money of any sort. But it is rare to see an anti-counterfeiting measure as ingenious as Franklin’s.

New Anti-Counterfeiting Technology: Dogs


Dogs have been trained to help humans for thousands of years; some experts believe dogs were domesticated nearly 15,000 years ago, possibly even earlier. Dogs have helped humans protect crops and cattle, pull loads, and more. Now, dogs are even being trained to help combat counterfeiting.



Drug detection dog in training

Drug- and bomb-sniffing dogs are common stories, but many people don’t know that a special troupe of dogs have been trained to locate counterfeit currency. Columbia is a major source of counterfeit American currency; a report issued by the Secret Service, the Treasury Department, and the Federal Reserve Board announced that Columbia produces approximately 15% of the counterfeit currency in circulation. According to NewsMax, “since 1998, the Secret Service and Colombian authorities have seized more than $150 million in counterfeit currency.”


While Columbia produces a vast amount of the circulating counterfeits, forgers in North Korea and Eastern European nations are also getting in on the game. These operations are almost always part of organized crime syndicates, and taking them down is a delicate operation, involving intense cooperation between the Secret Service and the government of the country involved. Counterfeiting helps fund not only organized crime, but even terrorism, and is important to keep in check for reasons beyond the obvious financial and economic impacts.


Officials struggled for years to find an effective way to stop the flow of fake cash, before training dogs to take on the project.



Anti-counterfeiting measures on the old $20 bill

The first counterfeit-sniffing dog, Mike, went into the field in 1997, and other dogs since then have had great success finding and busting counterfeiters. The Secret Service has expanded the canine anti-counterfeiting program, and begun tackling counterfeiting of US currency all over the world. In 2003, US and Columbian officials seized nearly $20 million in fake bills; the counterfeiters were preparing to spread the fake money into South America and Europe, as well as the United States.


Counterfeit sniffing dogs have proved invaluable in sniffing out counterfeiting operations, hidden stashes of fake bills, and more. As more dogs are trained and put into the field, officials expect to see even more impressive results.

The Face on the Bill


Have you ever wondered why the United States has that law prohibiting the use of a living person’s face on currency or stamps? Well, mostly it happened because of one man who just couldn’t resist the sight of his own face.
us-encased_postage-0-01.jpgIn 1866, the United States was in the middle of a coin shortage. Several things had been tried to alleviate the shortfall, but none were particularly successful. At one point, postage stamps had been used as money. The Treasury also began issuing fractional currency to prevent citizens from hoarding silver coins. And this is where things got interesting.





Spencer M. Clark

Spencer M. Clark, the Superintendent of the National Currency Bureau (now the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, was not a popular man. In 1864, he came under investigation from the House of Representatives when Representative James R. Brooks denounced the Treasury as “a house for orgies and bacchanals.” Charges of harassment, hiring women for their appearance, and attempting to pay female employees for “trysts” were all laid against Clark, though the subsequent investigating body decided the claims were part of a “conspiracy” and were dropped. Congress, however, was not eager for more scandal from Clark.
frontWhen the third run of a five-cent note was approved, Congress asked that it feature the portrait of William Clark, the famed explorer. But apparently, the official documentation that was sent to the Treasury only mentioned that “Clark” should appear on the note. Spencer Clark saw his opportunity and ran with it, giving the order that his own face appear on the note. (There is another version of the story, in which Clark put the portrait of the treasurer of the United States on the 50-cent note, without bothering to ask him first. Fortunately, the Treasurer was pleased, and asked whose portrait was to be on the 5-cent note. The story goes that Clark said, “How would the likeness of Clark do?” The Treasurer, thinking the Clark in question was Freeman Clarke, Comptroller of the Currency, agreed.)
Congress was not amused.




Russell Thayer

Russell Thayer, a congressman from Pennsylvania, amended an appropriations bill to include the line, “hereafter no portrait or likeness of any living person shall be engraved or placed upon any of the bonds, securities, notes, or postal currency of the United States.” When speaking before Congress to advocate for amendment, Thayer said: “I hold in my hand a five-cent note of this fractional currency of the United States. If you ask me, whose image and superscription is this? I am obliged to answer, not that of George Washington, which used to adorn it, but the likeness of the person who superintends the printing of these notes … I would like any man to tell me why his face should be on the money of the United States…It is derogatory to the dignity and the self-respect of the nation. I trust the House will support me in the cry which I raise of Off With Their Heads!”
back.jpgClark kept his head, fortunately, but very nearly lost his job, only keeping it because of the personal intervention of the Treasury Secretary. Congress passed the Thayer Amendment on April 7, 1866, and followed it up with a law in May of the same year prohibiting bills for fractional currency less than 10 cents, which finally resulted in the cessation of printing for Clark’s notes.

Coin and Currency Sites to Visit on Your Vacation


It’s summer, and many people are heading out on vacation. But there’s no reason not to celebrate your hobby on the road! Here’s a list of coin- and currency-related attractions and exhibits in all 50 states (and DC, of course!)
Alabama: The El Cazador Museum, which preserves the artifacts of the 1784 shipwreck, including its shipment of “pieces of eight.”


Alaska: The Alaska Mint, a private mint and also the northernmost mint in the US, as well as the starting point for the Iditarod race.



The Good Enough Mine

Arizona: The Good Enough Mine, which provided some of the metal for the New Orleans Mint.


Arkansas: Due to a corruption-fighting measure in Arkansas legislation, you can go into the Treasury vault and examine the tax money. You can even take a selfie while holding the money!


California: The classic choice is Sutter’s Mill, where the Gold Rush began. If you’re looking for something a little more off the beaten path, check out the Penny Bar in the McKittrick hotel, which is completely covered in pennies.


Colorado: Of course there is the Denver Mint, but don’t forget the American Numismatics Association Money Museum in Colorado Springs.


Connecticut: The Mitchelson Coin Collection at the Museum of Connecticut History has one of the premier collections of American coins in the world, including a 1907 ultra high relief Saint-Gaudens $20 gold double eagle
District of Columbia: The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is a must-see, with its exhibit of coins, currency, and medals.



Coin Beach

Delaware: Find coins from old wrecks on Delaware’s Coin Beach!


Florida: No visit to Florida is complete without a visit to the king of shipwreck salvage, Mel Fisher’s Treasures.


Georgia: The Mint at Dahlonega hasn’t been in use since the 1860’s, but the Dahlonega Gold Museum and Mint (housed in the old county courthouse, since the original Mint building burned down) are definitely worth a visit.


Hawaii: The statue of King Kamehameha I depicted on the Hawaii State Quarter is striking, and something you’ll want to see for yourself.


Idaho: Collectors of all types will enjoy the Idaho Falls Collectors’ Corner Museum.


Illinois: The Money Museum at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago is a solid choice for kids and adults alike. 



Roman coins found in Indiana

Indiana: While digging for construction, workers found a collection of Roman coins that appeared to have once been kept in a leather bag. Some of the coins are on display in the Falls of the Ohio museum


Iowa: For currency aficionados, the Higgins Museum of National Bank Notes is definitely something to check out.


Kansas: The University of Kansas has an excellent collection of ancient coins.


Kentucky: Clay City, Kentucky, is home to one of the most unusual replica coin controversies. (You can also visit the Fort Knox visitor’s center while you’re in the state, but don’t expect to see much gold!)



New Orleans Mint

Louisiana: The New Orleans Mint is a classic choice but don’t pass up Louisiana Treasures: they have an excellent display of World’s Fair tokens.


Maine: The Maine Penny is an unusual artifact at the Maine State Museum. It’s a legitimate Viking coin, but found too far south for the Vikings to have brought it. What’s its story?


Maryland: Learn more about metal conservation and early colonial coinage at St. Mary’s City museum.


Massachusetts: The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, has a legendary coin room. (Recommended by collector Kevin Cahalane.)


Michigan: The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor has over 40,000 ancient coins.



Wells Fargo Museum

Minnesota: Wells Fargo is synonymous with business and commerce over a distance, so it’s no surprise they have a Minneapolis museum featuring gold nuggets and coins.  


Mississippi: The University of Mississippi museum features an extensive collection of ancient coins.


Missouri: The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City also has a Money Museum, perfect for all ages.



50,000 Silver Dollar Bar

Montana: If you’re looking for something a little more unusual, head off the beaten path in western Montana. The 50,000 Silver Dollar Bar in Haugan hosts one of the largest silver dollar collections in the world, displayed on the bar top and walls of the establishment.


Nebraska: Don’t miss the Byron Reed collection at Durham Museum in Omaha; it’s an impressive assortment of ancient and colonial coins, as well as exonumia, currency, and historical documents.


Nevada: Of course the Carson City Mint is the top choice for Nevada!



Saint-Gaudens Estate

New Hampshire: America’s smallest and least-visited national park is a hidden gem, especially for numismatists. The Saint-Gauden Estate hosts some of the sculptor’s best works.


New Jersey: Be sure to check out the Belskie Museum, which contains some of the work of Abram Belskie, sculptor and medalist.


New Mexico: If you can find the Santa Clara Museum of Natural History, you just might be able to talk them into telling you where the 7 Cities of Gold are…


New York: Much of our financial system was put into place by Alexander Hamilton (including the Mint!) You can see his old house, the Hamilton Grange, in New York City.


North Carolina: The old Mint in Charlotte has a museum with a complete set of all gold coins minted there.



Lefor Bank Vault

North Dakota: Sometimes all that’s left is where the coins were. You can see abandoned bank vaults in Lefor and Silva.


Ohio: Check out the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland Learning Center and Money Museum.


Oklahoma: The Midgley Museum of collectibles has something for everyone, coin collector or not!


Oregon: A single penny decided the name of Portland, Oregon, and the original Portland Penny is on display at the Oregon Historical Society Museum. (For the pop culture addict, you can also see a Goonies exhibit at the Oregon Film Museum. Sadly, pirate treasure is NOT included.)



US Mint in Philadelphia

Pennsylvania: What would a list of coin sites be without a mention of Philadelphia, the first and current Mint. American coin central!


Rhode Island: Coins aren’t just for collecting: have a blast at Spring Lake Penny Arcade, the oldest Penny Arcade Business in America. Not only is it still operating, but it still has the original pricing!


South Carolina: Something unusual for a niche currency collector: the US Army Finance Corps Museum.


South Dakota: One of the best producing mine in America, the Homestake mine. Not only has it produced vast amounts of ore, but it’s also been important to science!


Tennessee: Oak Ridge used to give visitors mildly irradiated dimes to show the changes radiation could make to silver. The site is now the American Museum of Science and Energy, and they definitely don’t give out radioactive coins anymore.


Texas: The Money Museum and Rarities Room in Houston is by appointment only, but does host an impressive collection. You can also visit the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Fort Worth.


 Utah: Copper mining made a big impact on this state; there’s a whole museum dedicated to it in the town of Magna.



Site of Harmon’s Mint

Vermont: One of the earliest sites for post-colonial coin minting was East Rupert, where Reuben Harmon, Jr. minted coins for the new state.


Virginia: If colonial coins are your thing, visit the museum in Williamsburg. They have an excellent collection.


Washington: Blaine, Washington, right on the border with Canada, is home of the original wooden nickels.


West Virgina: Need a favor? The ghost that haunts this grave accepts coins in exchange for granting wishes.



Largest penny in the world

Wisconsin: It may not be the most detailed penny in the world, but it’s (probably) the largest!


Wyoming: The Carissa gold mine and mill is an excellent historic site well worth a visit.


(All photos used under fair use.)




The Money Museum



W1siZiIsInVwbG9hZHMvcGxhY2VfaW1hZ2VzL2E3MjY0NzYxYTI4NDY5ODJjN18zNzMxNzI3NDI0XzQ3NzBkY2Q2NGFfYi5qcGciXSxbInAiLCJ0aHVtYiIsIjk4MHg-Il0sWyJwIiwiY29udmVydCIsIi1xdWFsaXR5IDkxIC1hdXRvLW9yaWVudCJdXQ.jpgOne of the most unique museums in the United States is the “Money Museum.” Part of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, the Museum is visited by over 40,000 people annually. The Reserve Bank is still active, storing billions of dollars in currency for smaller banks. The museum features exhibits like a large glass cube containing one million $1 bills (which weigh approximately 2000 pounds), a briefcase with $1 million in currency for photo ops, and a “money pit” where $50,000 in coins have been placed in an unused elevator shaft.



W1siZiIsInVwbG9hZHMvcGxhY2VfaW1hZ2VzL2E3MjY0NzYxYTI4NDY5ODJjN18xMjY2NjIzNDI3NF80YzgyN2U4M2EzX2suanBnIl0sWyJwIiwidGh1bWIiLCI5ODB4PiJdLFsicCIsImNvbnZlcnQiLCItcXVhbGl0eSA5MSAtYXV0by1vcmllbnQiXV0.jpgIt’s not just Scrooge McDuck-style fun and games at the museum, though. Visitors to the museum learn about the printing of currency, how currency is transported and stored, and the life cycle of a printed bill. In fact, the facility shreds about $10 million in unusable bills daily, and visitors are given some of the shredded cash as a souvenir. (One young visitor stated that if the money had not been shredded, she would have used it to buy a horse.)


While school groups, college students, and senior citizens make up the bulk of the museum’s visitors, anyone is welcome to visit, and admission is free. Not able to get to Chicago? They’ve got a “Virtual Money Museum” here.

Friday Odds and Ends, September 9




If you’ve received a large bill lately, you may want to take a closer look at it: law enforcement officials are reporting that prop money, intended for use in movies, is being used as counterfeit cash.




This Australian created a Slip N Slide that’s as long as a football field.




It’s the 50th anniversary of Star Trek…but how would the world be different if it had never existed? 




This Russian river has suddenly tuned blood red: is it a sign of the apocalypse, or just leakage from a nearby mine?


The Coins and Currency of Brazil




The Portuguese real (plural: réis) was the first currency used by the settlers in Brazil, but the 1654 Dutch real was the first circulating money to actually bear that name during the Dutch occupation of northeastern Brazil.



In the mid 18th century, coins of many denominations circulated: 5, 10, 20, and 40 réis coins in copper, 75, 150, 300, and 600 réis coins in silver, and 1000, 2000, 4000, and 6400 réis coins in gold. In 1778, the silver coinage was reconsidered, and coins in 80, 160, 320, and 640 réis were introduced; over the next few years, gold coins worth 800, 1600, and 3200 réis were added to circulation. Copper and silver coins were counterstamped with Portuguese arms in 1809, increasing the value of some coins, and doubling others. In the early 19th century, 8-real Spanish coins were overstruck, creating coins for 960 réis.



587px-BRAZIL_1829_-20_REIS_a_-_Flickr_-_woody1778a.jpgWhen Brazil gained its independence in 1822, the real was retained; despite ever-growing inflation, the real was not subdivided into smaller denominations.During the decade of of 1823 and 1833, Brazilian copper coinage varied widely, including denominations of 10, 37½, 75, and 80 réis coins, amongst others. Copper coins were standardized by 1835; other reforms later in the century standardized gold and silver coins, and reduced the amount of precious metal in each. The currency fell in 1889 after the founding of the Republic, with further devaluations into the mid twentieth century. Cupro-nickel coins were introduced beginning in 1901, with aluminium-bronze coins coming in 1922, and other base metal coins in 1936. The cruzeiro replaced the real in 1942.



In 1942, the cruzeiro was adopted as the currency of Brazil. The term “cruzeiro” refers to the Southern Cross constellation, which is only visible in the Southern Hemisphere, and is a common emblem in Brazilian culture.



The initial cruzeiro was used between 1942 and 1967; according to Wikipedia, it “had the symbol Cr$ or ₢ (in Unicode U+20A2 ₢ CRUZEIRO SIGN (HTML ₢)). The ₢ sign was the only monetary symbol created specifically for Brazilian currencies: All the others used combinations of uppercase letters (in some cases, uppercase and lowercase) and the cifrão ($), including the current Brazilian real, which uses R$.” Cupro-nickel 10, 20, and 50 centavo coins were also introduced at this time, though the coins were quickly switched to aluminium-bronze and finally to aluminium. The centavos were withdrawn entirely in 1964, with other coins following suit by 1968.



s-l1600 (1)The second cruzeiro circulated from 1967 to 1986 after the country suffered economic collapse. Introduced as the “cruzeiro novo” or “new cruzeiro,” it used the symbol NCr before simply being known as the cruzeiro. In 1970, the symbol changed to Cr$; the original ₢ sign was eliminated due to lack of technical support: few typewriter keyboard carried the symbol. (In fact, the ₢ is still available for standard Brazilian keyboards; it can be produced with the key combination AltGr+C.) New coins appeared in 1967: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 centavo coins, with a 1 cruzeiro coin released in 1970. Several of the initial coins were struck in stainless steel; all of the coins were soon switched to steel.


A third cruzeiro was issued in 1990 after a series of currency changes, using the symbol Cr$. All cruzeiros could be divided into 100 centavos. This currency remained in use until 1993, when it was replaced by the cruzeiro real. The cruzeiro real, in turn, was only used for a few months between August 1, 1993, and June 30, 1994. It could be subdivided into 100 centavos, but this was only used for purposes of accounting. 1000 cruzeiros equaled 1 cruzeiro real.


Before the final switch to the current real was made, Brazil used the unidade real de valor, which was held at parity with the United States dollar. This allowed the people to get used to a stable currency before the introduction of the current real.



5_CENTAVOS_Brasil_1998.jpgCurrently, the Brazilian real is subdivided into 100 centavos, and was adopted as part of the widespread reform package of the Plano Real in 1994. The real was intended to have a generally fixed exchange rate of 1:1 to the US dollar. In 1999, the real underwent a sudden devaluation and fell to 2:1 against the dollar, reaching as low as nearly 4:1 in 2002. It began to recover, but suffered a setback in 2015 during a domestic economic crisis.


The first new coins were introduced in 1994, in denominations of 1, 5, 10, and 50 centavos, and 1 real, with the addition of a 25 centavo piece soon after. All coins were struck in stainless steel; the original 1 real coins with dates from 1994-1997 have been withdrawn from circulation, but all others are still in use.