Strangest Things Used as Currency Around the World
Investing in cryptocurrency is the latest trend in economics, but there have been many forms of legal tender since ancient times. In fact, some strange payment instruments are still in use today and accepted by the legal system.
From worthless trillion-dollar Zimbabwe currency to unmovable stones in Micronesia with their value given through oral tradition, these are the strangest things used as currency around the world.
25. Disney Dollars
Where used: U.S. Disney theme parks and facilities
Bottom line: Disney Dollars were redeemable currency at Disney-owned businesses and looked similar in size and design to U.S. currency, except instead of Washington, Lincoln, and Jackson, the bills had images of Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, and the rest of the gang.
While the company discontinued their production in 2016, they are still redeemable at the Disney resorts, on Disney cruise ships, and at certain parts of Castaway Cay, Disney's private Caribbean island.
24. Ithaca Hours
Where used: Ithaca, New York
Bottom line: One of the first ever local currencies of its kind, the Ithaca Hour made its debut in 1991 to encourage people to patronize local businesses. This time-based currency system equaled one hour of work or $10.
At one time, there were more than $100,000 Ithaca Hours in circulation. As electronic payment status became the norm, the need for Ithaca Hours started to decrease in the early 2000s.
A company named Ithacash took over the currency, creating an online marketplace where patrons could transact in Ithaca Hours or U.S. dollars. However, the website hasn't been operational since about 2017.
Where used: Berkshires region, Massachusetts
Bottom line: BerkShares are purchased for about 95 cents by Berkshires residents and are used when patronizing area merchants.
They can also be used to make change, pay salaries or support charities. Currently, over 400 locally owned businesses accept them, as do four banks in the area.
22. Antarctican Dollar
Where used: Antarctica
Bottom line: The Antarctican dollar, also known as an Emp, was named in honor of the continent's emperor penguins.
While it's not considered legal tender, visitors take them home and keep them as collectibles.
Not that there's too many places to shop, but there is a Wells Fargo ATM at McMurdo Station, should you need a latte.
Where used: Washington, D.C., and Maryland
Bottom line: Needy families in the Washington, D.C., and Maryland area use these community food tokens, created in 2016. Monthly donors fund the coins, which are then given out to those in need.
Over 60 food vendors in the area accept the currency, and recipients can use them to purchase food from any of those retailers.
Where used: Basque region of France
Bottom line: Created in 2013, the Euskoa is just one of the local currencies in the Basque region. Its lowest bill is a eusko, which equals about €1 ($1.11) in value when patronizing local businesses.
If the price of an object isn't rounded up or down, the buyer has to pay the difference in euro cents.
19. S&H Green Stamps
Where used: United States
Bottom line: S&H Green Stamps were trading stamps that were used in the U.S. until the 1980s. They were distributed by the Sperry & Hutchinson company beginning in 1896.
They later came with a rewards catalog. Customers would receive them from retail outlets, stick them in a book, and if they collected enough or filled the book, they could be redeemed for whatever product was in the catalog.
At the beginning of the digital age, they made the transition to gift cards called Greenpoints, but the idea never caught on, and the company announced they were no longer valid in 2020.
Where used: Veracruz, Mexico
Bottom line: Túmin is a local currency in Espinal, Veracruz, Mexico. To use it, a person or business has to have some product or service up for exchange.
When they join the organization that creates the legal tender, they receive 500 Túmin and a directory of members that they can do business with.
A Túmin is worth about one peso ($0.048).
17. The Zimbabwe Dollar
Where used: Zimbabwe
Bottom line: Zimbabwe used to have a bill that equaled one trillion Zimbabwean dollars ($2.6 billion), as well as bills equalling ten trillion and 100 trillion dollars.
Hyperinflation hit the country by 230,000,000 percent in 2009, and that's when the country’s reserve bank declared the U.S. dollar would be its currency.
Its own bills became worthless. However, they do fetch a pretty penny on eBay today.
16. Tenino Wooden Currency
Where used: Washington
Bottom line: These cute wooden dollars are the latest addition to the tradition of local currency.
The city of Tenino, Washington, created the bills to help needy residents get through the pandemic. Those who can demonstrate an economic hardship can receive up to $300 of the bills each month for purchasing necessities and services from licensed or certified providers in the area.
They cannot be redeemed for cash or used to buy alcohol, tobacco or marijuana.
15. Canadian Tire Money
Where used: Any Canadian Tire location
Bottom line: Canadian Tire money can be used at the retail chain Canadian Tire, but it is not considered private currency.
Its bills look similar to Canadian currency and were created by the British American Banknote Company and Canadian Bank Note Company.
Despite it not being actual currency, businesses outside of Canadian Tire do accept the bills, since their owners shop at Canadian Tire. One Canadian Tire buck equals a Canadian dollar ($0.78).
The company has since shifted to Triangle Rewards, a card-based program in 2018, but the bills are still printed and used.
14. Butte Bucks
Where used: Crested Butte, Colorado
Bottom line: Butte Bucks are generally rolled out during the holiday season in Crested Butte to encourage residents to shop local.
The coins are worth $10. They can be purchased for $8 for use from Thanksgiving to mid-December. Businesses must cash them in at the at the Crested Butte Visitor Center by New Years Eve.
13. Quasi Universal Intergalactic Denomination (QUID)
Where used: Outer space
Bottom line: The Quasi Universal Intergalactic Denomination (QUID) was created in a viral marketing campaign for Travelex, a foreign exchange company located in the U.K.
Made from a polymer, QUID is money that is safe for use in space, meaning it has no sharp edges, like coins would, or magnetic strips, like a card would.
One QUID was worth about £6.25 in 2007. What are they worth today? You may have to travel to space to find out.
Where used: United States
Bottom line: Tide is an unintended form of legal tender. Due to its expense, it started becoming ad hoc street currency in New York City 2012.
The detergent's 150-ounce containers retail for about $20 and addicts began stealing them to buy drugs in New York City. Dealers resold them to corner stores, nail salons and other retail businesses for a profit.
11. Bottle Caps
Where used: Cameroon
Bottom line: Bottle caps becoming currency in Cameroon was an accident. In 2005, one of the country's breweries began printing prize offers on caps that included cell phones and luxury cars in their offerings.
A bottle cost about $1, which was the same as a taxi ride, and passengers would use the bottle caps to pay for the experience.
Taxi drivers also gave the caps to local police so they could bypass some traffic laws.
Where used: Bavaria, Germany
Bottom line: In 2003, a history teacher created the Chiemgauer to help stimulate the local economy and teach his students about it at the same time.
Its intent was to increase employment, support culture, and make a more resilient food supply in the area.
In 2006, the digital "eChiemgauer" was created.
The Chiemgauer is valued at €1 ($1.11) and still going strong.
9. Dolphin Teeth
Where used: Solomon Islands
Bottom line: Since the 1960s, Solomon Island residents have been using dolphin teeth as currency. In the Great Recession of 2008, their value was said to increase fivefold.
This has conservationists worried, with 1,600 dolphins killed in the area in 2013 alone and at least 15,000 killed since records of the practice began in the 1970s.
8. Time Dollars
Where used: Everywhere
Bottom line: Believe it or not, time-based currency dates back to the 19th century and is equivalent to one-person hour or another unit of time.
One time dollar typically equals one service credit. For example, one person works an hour for another. In turn, they can redeem an hour of service from another person.
Time banks are in 34 countries. The U.S. has 500 of these organizations alone.
7. Tea Bricks
Where used: China, Tibet, Mongolia, Central Asia and Siberia
Bottom line: The high value and multiple uses for tea can account for the use of tea bricks as currency throughout Asia. In fact, it was the preferred currency over metal in Mongolia and Siberia.
Tea could not only be used as money but brewed as medicine or even eaten.
This monetary system was still used in Siberia up until about World War II.
Where used: Papua New Guinea
Bottom line: Shell money has been used by native peoples all over the world as currency. They were used to create wampum on the East Coast of the U.S.
Most peoples and countries no longer have shells as a form of money, but Sri Lanka still does to this day. They use shells of the Cypraea moneta, or money cowry, which is one of the most abundant species in the Indian Ocean.
Where used: Ethiopia's Danakil Plains
Bottom line: Salt has been used as currency for thousands of years.
The phrase "not worth his salt" stems from the ancient Greek practice of trading it for slaves. Salt that was given to Roman soldiers was referred to as "salarium argentum," which is the origin of the word "salary." Salt was also a trading commodity for early explorers.
Today, it is still used as money by nomads in Ethiopia's Danakil Plains.
4. Salt Spring Dollars
Where used: Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, Canada
Bottom line: In 2001, the Sustainable Salt Spring Island Coalition created a new currency to boost local businesses. These bills are accepted by merchants across Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, and feature work by local artists.
In 2007, the Spring Island Monetary Foundation minted their first coins with the same purpose.
3. Kissi Pennies
Where used: Africa's west coast
Bottom line: Kissi pennies were iron currency created in Sierra Leone. They circulated throughout Africa's west coast and the central part of the continent.
They were used in the first half of the 20th century until they were replaced by colonial currencies. However, they were bartered through the 1980s in Liberia.
Kissi pennies were exchanged for coins and bills and used to make purchases. To buy larger objects, they were bundled in groups of twenty.
At their peak of use, a person could buy a cow for about 40 bundles.
2. Rai Stones
Where used: Yap Islands, Micronesia
Bottom line: This ancient currency system dates back hundreds of years, but you can't exactly use rai stones to pay for your meal. However, you might trade one in for a dowry.
These massive stone tokens are given their value with the oral history of their ownership. Without that, they are essentially worthless. Because most of them are so big, they stay where they are.
Despite this, modern-day Yapese people still value these large stones through their oral history, and they continue to hold ceremonial importance.
1. Parmigiano Reggiano
Where used: Italy's Emilia-Romagna region
Bottom line: Good parmesan cheese is hard to find, so much so that Credito Emiliano, a bank in Reggio Emilia, Italy, will take it as collateral.
Real Parmigiano Reggiano is made only in a few provinces in Italy. One wheel ranges in price from $900 to $2,500.
Farmers in Reggio Emilia come into the bank with their cheese wheels in exchange for loans that are up to 80 percent the wheels’ value. They get cash quickly, and the banks store the wheels in a nearby warehouse, where they age in a climate-controlled environment.