The World’s Strangest Currencies
For centuries, humans from all around the world have tried to use different things as money. Some forms, which most people are familiar with today, have been effective catalysts for trade over thousands of years. Other currencies, from squirrel pelts to parmesan cheese, have had their time or place in human history, but were ultimately unsuccessful or made obsolete.
The path to finding the best money has been long and riddled with trial and error. Here are just some of the world’s strangest currencies that we discovered in our research.
The importance of salt to ancient civilizations cannot be understated. The first written record on salt appears in 2700 BCE in China.
Salt was highly valued for food preservation, but its production was very limited. As a result, in many places of the world, salt was used as currency.
- As early as the 6th century, Moorish merchants in sub-Saharan Africa routinely traded salt and gold at the same value per ounce.
- In what is now modern-day Ethiopia, slabs of rock salt were used as coins. Each coin was 10 inches long and two inches thick.
- Salt was also used as pay soldiers in Ancient Rome. This became known as “solarium argentum”, from which we now derive the word “salary”
- A soldier’s salary was cut if he was “not worth his salt”, a phrase that still exists today.
Bricks of tea leaves were used for currency in many places in Asia. However, it was the nomads in Mongolia and Siberia that actually preferred tea bricks to metallic coins.
Tea leaves, either whole or ground, would be dried and compressed into bricks using flour, manure, or blood. The bricks could be used as a means of exchange, or they could be eaten, used to make tea, or brewed for medicine.
In Italy, the hard, dry cheese made from skim milk is not just for pasta. It was also used as a currency.
As early as the year 1200, wheels of parmesan were used as a medium of exchange for other goods.
Even as recent as 2009, the New York Times reported some banks in the region using parmesan wheels as collateral for farmers’ loans. Each compact wheel holds the equivalent of 550 liters of milk.
In the Solomon Islands, one of the world’s strangest currencies was born: the rai stone. These limestone discs with the hole in the center were up to 12 feet in diameter and weighed up to eight tons.
It was not unusual for buyers and sellers of this currency to have their boats capsize due to their sheer weight.
Animal skins have a surprisingly important history as currency in different parts of the world.
In Russia and Finland, squirrel pelts were a key medium of exchange during medieval times. Even today, the Finnish word “raha”, which now refers to money, originally meant the “fur of squirrel”.
In North America, the European settlers and First Nations tribes found skins to be one commodity they both agreed had value.
In 1748, Beaver pelts became the “standard of trade” in the north. One pelt could buy two pounds of sugar.
Lastly, the use of buck skins in trade gave rise to “buck” as a slang word for currency, which we still use to describe dollars today.
Merging the ideas of weapons and currency is not new. Many cultures have used arrowheads as currency throughout the world.
However, Chinese “knife money” is certainly an original idea: around 600 BCE, at the time of the Zhou dynasty, these knives were inscribed with numbers or single words such as “sheep” or “fish” to determine their value.
These were used for hundreds of years, and eventually it was declared by the emperor that only circular coins with square holes could be used for Chinese currency.
What Gives a Currency Staying Power?
Currencies come and go.
Some of the world’s strangest currencies, like rai stones, did not have the staying power or value to be used universally. They would eventually fade away into the history books.
Other currencies around the world would experience hyperinflation and ultimately became worthless.
What gives a currency staying power? What makes a currency “money”?
The Money Project acknowledges that the very concept of money itself is in flux – and it seeks to answer these questions.
About the Money Project
The Money Project aims to use intuitive visualizations to explore ideas around the very concept of money itself. Founded in 2015 by Visual Capitalist and Texas Precious Metals, the Money Project will look at the evolving nature of money, and will try to answer the difficult questions that prevent us from truly understanding the role that money plays in finance, investments, and accumulating wealth.
Mapped: Which Countries Have the Highest Inflation?
Many countries around the world are facing double or triple-digit inflation. See which countries have the highest inflation rates on this map.
Mapped: Which Countries Have the Highest Inflation Rate?
Inflation is surging nearly everywhere in 2022.
Geopolitical tensions are triggering high energy costs, while supply-side disruptions are also distorting consumer prices. The end result is that almost half of countries worldwide are seeing double-digit inflation rates or higher.
With new macroeconomic forces shaping the global economy, the above infographic shows countries with the highest inflation rates, using data from Trading Economics.
Double-Digit Inflation in 2022
As the table below shows, countless countries are navigating record-high levels of inflation. Some are even facing triple-digit inflation rates. Globally, Zimbabwe, Lebanon, and Venezuela have the highest rates in the world.
|Country||Inflation Rate, Year-Over-Year||Date|
|🇿🇼 Zimbabwe||269.0%||Oct 2022|
|🇱🇧 Lebanon||162.0%||Sep 2022|
|🇻🇪 Venezuela||156.0%||Oct 2022|
|🇸🇾 Syria||139.0%||Aug 2022|
|🇸🇩 Sudan||103.0%||Oct 2022|
|🇦🇷 Argentina||88.0%||Oct 2022|
|🇹🇷 Turkey||85.5%||Oct 2022|
|🇱🇰 Sri Lanka||66.0%||Oct 2022|
|🇮🇷 Iran||52.2%||Aug 2022|
|🇸🇷 Suriname||41.4%||Sep 2022|
|🇬🇭 Ghana||40.4%||Oct 2022|
|🇨🇺 Cuba||37.2%||Sep 2022|
|🇱🇦 Laos||36.8%||Oct 2022|
|🇲🇩 Moldova||34.6%||Oct 2022|
|🇪🇹 Ethiopia||31.7%||Oct 2022|
|🇷🇼 Rwanda||31.0%||Oct 2022|
|🇭🇹 Haiti||30.5%||Jul 2022|
|🇸🇱 Sierra Leone||29.1%||Sep 2022|
|🇵🇰 Pakistan||26.6%||Oct 2022|
|🇺🇦 Ukraine||26.6%||Oct 2022|
|🇲🇼 Malawi||25.9%||Sep 2022|
|🇱🇹 Lithuania||23.6%||Oct 2022|
|🇪🇪 Estonia||22.5%||Oct 2022|
|🇧🇮 Burundi||22.1%||Oct 2022|
|🇸🇹 Sao Tome and Principe||21.9%||Sep 2022|
|🇱🇻 Latvia||21.8%||Oct 2022|
|🇭🇺 Hungary||21.1%||Oct 2022|
|🇳🇬 Nigeria||21.1%||Oct 2022|
|🇲🇰 Macedonia||19.8%||Oct 2022|
|🇲🇲 Myanmar||19.4%||Jun 2022|
|🇰🇿 Kazakhstan||18.8%||Oct 2022|
|🇵🇱 Poland||17.9%||Oct 2022|
|🇧🇬 Bulgaria||17.6%||Oct 2022|
|🇹🇲 Turkmenistan||17.5%||Dec 2021|
|🇧🇦 Bosnia and Herzegovina||17.3%||Sep 2022|
|🇲🇪 Montenegro||16.8%||Oct 2022|
|🇦🇴 Angola||16.7%||Oct 2022|
|🇧🇫 Burkina Faso||16.5%||Sep 2022|
|🇪🇬 Egypt||16.2%||Oct 2022|
|🇰🇲 Comoros||15.9%||Sep 2022|
|🇰🇬 Kyrgyzstan||15.4%||Oct 2022|
|🇷🇴 Romania||15.3%||Oct 2022|
|🇧🇾 Belarus||15.2%||Oct 2022|
|🇨🇿 Czech Republic||15.1%||Oct 2022|
|🇷🇸 Serbia||15.0%||Oct 2022|
|🇸🇰 Slovakia||14.9%||Oct 2022|
|🇲🇳 Mongolia||14.5%||Oct 2022|
|🇳🇱 Netherlands||14.3%||Oct 2022|
|🇦🇿 Azerbaijan||13.7%||Oct 2022|
|🇦🇫 Afghanistan||13.6%||Sep 2022|
|🇬🇲 Gambia||13.3%||Sep 2022|
|🇭🇷 Croatia||13.2%||Oct 2022|
|🇧🇼 Botswana||13.1%||Oct 2022|
|🇸🇳 Senegal||13.0%||Oct 2022|
|🇨🇱 Chile||12.8%||Oct 2022|
|🇽🇰 Kosovo||12.7%||Oct 2022|
|🇷🇺 Russia||12.6%||Oct 2022|
|🇬🇳 Guinea||12.4%||Jul 2022|
|🇧🇪 Belgium||12.3%||Oct 2022|
|🇨🇴 Colombia||12.2%||Oct 2022|
|🇺🇿 Uzbekistan||12.2%||Oct 2022|
|🇨🇬 Congo||12.2%||Oct 2022|
|🇳🇮 Nicaragua||12.2%||Oct 2022|
|🇰🇾 Cayman Islands||12.1%||Jun 2022|
|🇲🇺 Mauritius||11.9%||Oct 2022|
|🇲🇿 Mozambique||11.8%||Oct 2022|
|🇮🇹 Italy||11.8%||Oct 2022|
|🇲🇱 Mali||11.3%||Sep 2022|
|🇲🇷 Mauritania||11.3%||Sep 2022|
|🇬🇧 United Kingdom||11.1%||Oct 2022|
|🇦🇹 Austria||11.0%||Oct 2022|
|🇸🇪 Sweden||10.9%||Oct 2022|
|🇺🇬 Uganda||10.7%||Oct 2022|
|🇬🇪 Georgia||10.6%||Oct 2022|
|🇩🇪 Germany||10.4%||Oct 2022|
|🇭🇳 Honduras||10.2%||Oct 2022|
|🇩🇰 Denmark||10.1%||Oct 2022|
|🇵🇹 Portugal||10.1%||Oct 2022|
|🇯🇲 Jamaica||9.9%||Oct 2022|
|🇸🇮 Slovenia||9.9%||Oct 2022|
|🇬🇹 Guatemala||9.7%||Oct 2022|
|🇿🇲 Zambia||9.7%||Oct 2022|
|🇰🇪 Kenya||9.6%||Oct 2022|
|🇦🇲 Armenia||9.5%||Oct 2022|
|🇮🇸 Iceland||9.4%||Oct 2022|
|🇲🇬 Madagascar||9.3%||Aug 2022|
|🇮🇪 Ireland||9.2%||Oct 2022|
|🇱🇸 Lesotho||9.2%||Sep 2022|
|🇹🇳 Tunisia||9.2%||Oct 2022|
|🇬🇷 Greece||9.1%||Oct 2022|
|🇺🇾 Uruguay||9.1%||Oct 2022|
|🇨🇷 Costa Rica||9.0%||Oct 2022|
|🇧🇩 Bangladesh||8.9%||Oct 2022|
|🇨🇾 Cyprus||8.8%||Oct 2022|
|🇫🇴 Faroe Islands||8.8%||Sep 2022|
|🇩🇿 Algeria||8.7%||Sep 2022|
|🇳🇵 Nepal||8.6%||Sep 2022|
|🇸🇧 Solomon Islands||8.5%||Aug 2022|
|🇲🇽 Mexico||8.4%||Oct 2022|
|🇬🇼 Guinea Bissau||8.4%||Sep 2022|
|🇦🇱 Albania||8.3%||Oct 2022|
|🇧🇧 Barbados||8.3%||Aug 2022|
|🇫🇮 Finland||8.3%||Oct 2022|
|🇲🇦 Morocco||8.3%||Sep 2022|
|🇵🇪 Peru||8.3%||Oct 2022|
|🇩🇴 Dominican Republic||8.2%||Oct 2022|
|🇨🇻 Cape Verde||8.2%||Oct 2022|
|🇵🇾 Paraguay||8.1%||Oct 2022|
|🇹🇱 East Timor||7.9%||Sep 2022|
|🇹🇬 Togo||7.9%||Sep 2022|
|🇵🇭 Philippines||7.7%||Oct 2022|
|🇺🇸 U.S.||7.7%||Oct 2022|
|🇨🇲 Cameroon||7.6%||Sep 2022|
|🇳🇴 Norway||7.5%||Oct 2022|
|🇸🇬 Singapore||7.5%||Sep 2022|
|🇿🇦 South Africa||7.5%||Sep 2022|
|🇸🇻 El Salvador||7.5%||Oct 2022|
|🇲🇹 Malta||7.4%||Oct 2022|
|🇦🇺 Australia||7.3%||Sep 2022|
|🇪🇸 Spain||7.3%||Oct 2022|
|🇹🇩 Chad||7.2%||Sep 2022|
|🇳🇿 New Zealand||7.2%||Sep 2022|
|🇧🇿 Belize||7.1%||Sep 2022|
|🇳🇦 Namibia||7.1%||Oct 2022|
|🇦🇼 Aruba||7.0%||Sep 2022|
|🇨🇦 Canada||6.9%||Oct 2022|
|🇱🇺 Luxembourg||6.9%||Oct 2022|
|🇸🇴 Somalia||6.9%||Oct 2022|
|🇮🇳 India||6.8%||Oct 2022|
|🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates||6.8%||Jun 2022|
|🇬🇾 Guyana||6.5%||Sep 2022|
|🇱🇷 Liberia||6.5%||Jul 2022|
|🇧🇷 Brazil||6.5%||Oct 2022|
|🇧🇸 Bahamas||6.3%||Aug 2022|
|🇨🇮 Ivory Coast||6.3%||Sep 2022|
|🇹🇹 Trinidad and Tobago||6.3%||Aug 2022|
|🇫🇷 France||6.2%||Oct 2022|
|🇩🇯 Djibouti||6.1%||Sep 2022|
|🇵🇷 Puerto Rico||6.1%||Sep 2022|
|🇧🇹 Bhutan||6.1%||Sep 2022|
|🇧🇹 Qatar||6.0%||Sep 2022|
|🇹🇭 Thailand||6.0%||Oct 2022|
|🇸🇿 Swaziland||5.8%||Aug 2022|
|🇮🇩 Indonesia||5.7%||Oct 2022|
|🇰🇷 South Korea||5.7%||Oct 2022|
|🇹🇯 Tajikistan||5.7%||Sep 2022|
|🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea||5.5%||Jun 2022|
|🇰🇭 Cambodia||5.4%||Jul 2022|
|🇮🇶 Iraq||5.3%||Sep 2022|
|🇯🇴 Jordan||5.2%||Oct 2022|
|🇫🇯 Fiji||5.1%||Sep 2022|
|🇮🇱 Israel||5.1%||Oct 2022|
|🇳🇨 New Caledonia||5.0%||Sep 2022|
|🇹🇿 Tanzania||4.9%||Oct 2022|
|🇧🇲 Bermuda||4.5%||Jul 2022|
|🇪🇷 Eritrea||4.5%||Dec 2021|
|🇲🇾 Malaysia||4.5%||Sep 2022|
|🇭🇰 Hong Kong||4.4%||Sep 2022|
|🇵🇸 Palestine||4.4%||Oct 2022|
|🇧🇳 Brunei||4.3%||Sep 2022|
|🇱🇾 Libya||4.3%||Sep 2022|
|🇻🇳 Vietnam||4.3%||Oct 2022|
|🇪🇨 Ecuador||4.0%||Oct 2022|
|🇧🇭 Bahrain||4.0%||Sep 2022|
|🇯🇵 Japan||3.7%||Oct 2022|
|🇰🇼 Kuwait||3.2%||Sep 2022|
|🇳🇪 Niger||3.2%||Sep 2022|
|🇲🇻 Maldives||3.1%||Sep 2022|
|🇬🇦 Gabon||3.0%||Jul 2022|
|🇱🇮 Liechtenstein||3.0%||Oct 2022|
|🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||3.0%||Oct 2022|
|🇨🇭 Switzerland||3.0%||Oct 2022|
|🇸🇨 Seychelles||2.9%||Oct 2022|
|🇬🇶 Equatorial Guinea||2.9%||Dec 2021|
|🇧🇴 Bolivia||2.9%||Oct 2022|
|🇹🇼 Taiwan||2.7%||Oct 2022|
|🇨🇫 Central African Republic||2.7%||Dec 2021|
|🇻🇺 Vanuatu||2.7%||Mar 2022|
|🇴🇲 Oman||2.4%||Sep 2022|
|🇧🇯 Benin||2.1%||Oct 2022|
|🇨🇳 China||2.1%||Oct 2022|
|🇵🇦 Panama||1.9%||Sep 2022|
|🇲🇴 Macau||1.1%||Sep 2022|
|🇸🇸 South Sudan||-2.5%||Aug 2022|
*Inflation rates based on the latest available data.
As price pressures mount, 33 central banks tracked by the Bank of International Settlements (out of a total of 38) have raised interest rates this year. These coordinated rate hikes are the largest in two decades, representing an end to an era of rock-bottom interest rates.
Going into 2023, central banks could continue this shift towards hawkish policies as inflation remains aggressively high.
The Role of Energy Prices
Driven by the war in Ukraine, energy inflation is pushing up the cost of living around the world.
Since October 2020, an index of global energy prices—made up of crude oil, natural gas, coal, and propane—has increased drastically.
Compared to the 2021 average, natural gas prices in Europe are up sixfold. Real European household electricity prices are up 78% and gas prices have climbed even more, at 144% compared to 20-year averages.
Amid global competition for liquefied natural gas supplies, price pressures are likely to stay high, even though they have fallen recently. Other harmful consequences of the energy shock include price volatility, economic strain, and energy shortages.
“The world is in the midst of the first truly global energy crisis, with impacts that will be felt for years to come”.
-Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA
Double-Digit Inflation: Will it Last?
If history is an example, taming rising prices could take at least a few years yet.
Take the sky-high inflation of the 1980s. Italy, which managed to combat inflation faster than most countries, brought down inflation from 22% in 1980 to 4% in 1986.
If global inflation rates, which hover around 9.8% in 2022, were to follow this course, it would take at least until 2025 for levels to reach the 2% target.
It’s worth noting that inflation was also highly volatile over this decade. Consider how inflation fell across much of the rich world by 1981 but shot up again in 1987 amid higher energy prices. Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell spoke to the volatility of inflation at their November meeting, indicating that high inflation has a chance of following a period of low inflation.
While the Federal Reserve projects U.S. inflation to fall closer to its 2% target by 2024, the road ahead could still get a lot bumpier between now and then.
Visualized: The Security Features of American Money
How can you tell a fake $100 bill from a real one? In this visual we break down the anatomy and security features of American money.
Visualized: The Security Features of of American Money
In 1739, Benjamin Franklin sought to tackle the issue of counterfeit money in America, using a printing press and leaves to create unique raised patterns on the colonial notes.
Almost 300 years later, Benjamin Franklin is the face of the U.S. $100 bill, and it is protected by a myriad of security features including secret images, special ink, hidden watermarks, and magnetic signatures, among others.
In this visual, we’ve broken down the $100 bill to showcase the anatomy of American currency.
The Makeup of American Money
There are 6 key features that identify real bills and protect the falsification of American money.
① Serial Numbers & EURion Constellation
The most basic form of security on an $100 bill is the serial number. Every bill has a unique number to record data on its production and keep track of how many individual bills are in circulation.
The EURion constellation is star-like grouping of yellow rings near the serial number. It is only detectable by imaging software.
② Color Changing Ink
This ink changes color at different angles thanks to small metallic flakes within the ink itself. The $100 bill, like all other paper bills in the U.S., has its value denoted in color changing ink on the bottom right-hand corner; unlike other bills, it also features a liberty bell image using the ink.
Microprinting allows for verifiable images that cannot be scanned by photocopiers or seen by the naked eye. The $100 bill has phrases like “USA 100” written invisibly in multiple places.
④ Intaglio Printing
Rather than regular ink pressed onto the paper, intaglio printing uses magnetic ink and every different bill value has a unique magnetic signature.
⑤ Security Threads & 3D Ribbons
The security thread is a clear, embedded, vertical thread running through the bill. It can only be seen under UV light, contains microprinted text specifying the bill’s value, and on each different bill value it glows a unique color.
Additionally, 3D ribbons are placed in the center of $100 bills with a pattern that slightly changes as it moves.
⑥ Paper, Fibers, & Watermarks
Because American money is made of cotton and linen, blue and red cloth fibers are woven into the material as another identifying feature. Finally, watermarks are found on most bills and can only be detected by light passing through the bill.
The Relevance of Cash
Here’s a look at the total number of each paper bill that is physically in circulation in the U.S.:
|Physical Bill||Billions of notes (2021)|
Interestingly, a number of $500-$10,000 dollar bills are in someone’s pockets. And while they are not issued anymore, the Fed still recognizes the originals of these bills that were legally put into circulation in the past.
Additionally, there is fake money passing hands in the U.S. economy. Being the most widely-accepted currency in the world, it’s no wonder many try to falsely replicate American money. According to the U.S. Department of Treasury, there are approximately $70 million in counterfeit bills currently circulating in the country.
Finally, a natural question arises: how many people still use cash anyways?
Well, a study from Pew Research Center found that it while it is a dwindling share of the population, around 58% of people still use cash for some to all of their weekly purchases, down from 70% in 2018 and 75% in 2015.
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