Gold–Silver–Copper Standard

A popular convention for fictional works stuck in Medieval Stasis or otherwise "primitive" settings is to have money handled by the exchange of precious metals. In most of these cases, there will be different denominations of coins differentiated entirely by what metal they're made out of. Usually this takes the form of the Olympic metals — gold as the highest, silver second, and bronze last (though in coinage, copper is used instead of bronze more often than not). Sometimes more valuable metals are added above gold — commonly platinum.

When using the Gold–Silver–Copper Standard, expect the coins to use a decimal system — a coin will be worth ten times the denomination below it and one tenth the denomination above it, so that 1 gold = 10 silver = 100 copper (though occasionally units of 100 are used instead of 10). This is generally an Acceptable Break from Reality, as very few people would be interested in doing realistic calculations of "exchange rates" between coins, especially writers.

The trope title is a reference to the gold standard, when paper money is set to be worth a fixed amount of gold, but the trope is otherwise unrelated to the concept. See the analysis page for more information on the real-world implications of the trope.

When the money is called something other than [metal] piece or [metal] coin, it's also a Fictional Currency. Tasty Gold is related, for checking the purity of the gold coins. Often a Global Currency, though that's understandable, as the value in the coins comes from the precious metal itself. For settings that skip copper and silver to jump straight to gold, see Cheap Gold Coins.

Examples:

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    Anime 
  • Spice and Wolf has far too many currency systems to even remember, and while their values are based on gold and silver content, the trust that the traders give to the coin is more important. A tiny shift in precious metal content can lead to huge shift in value; very much like it used to be in real life, in fact.

    Literature 
  • Harry Potter uses gold, silver, and bronze coins as money in the wizarding world; they're called galleons, sickles, and knuts, respectively. Their relative values are not decimalized, but rather have 17 sickles to the galleon and 29 knuts to the sickle, presumably to make their system similar to the pre-decimalized British currency (or perhaps as another way of making the wizarding world whimsical/whacky). Canon is silent upon whether they're made of these metals or merely equivalent colours.
  • Gor has gold and silver Tarns, and silver and copper Tarsks. A still smaller unit of exchange is the "Tarsk-Bit". Gold double-tarns are mentioned at least once - in Assassin of Gor, the hero offers to up the stakes in a street Kaissa game to a tarn of gold and of double weight if the blind chessmaster, who is losing deliberately, can find a win; and this represents more than a year's winnings for a Player.
  • Dragonlance plays it straight at first, but subverts the standard after the Cataclysm by having iron become the coin of choice.
  • The currency in the Tortall Universe novels by Tamora Pierce is based on gold, silver, and copper pieces, with "nobles" being the big coin and "bits" being smaller for all three metals.
  • The currency of Emelean in the Circle of Magic universe also uses gold, silver, and copper coins. The small coin is known as 'crescents', or 'creses' for short. Astrels were the next highest, and were only minted in silver and gold. The largest value coin was a gold maja, described as resembling a medallion more than a coin, and equaled half a year's income for a poor country. The other countries that the protagonists visit have different names for their currency, but they all use the same standard.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire uses golden dragons, silver stags and copper stars,note  the first two named after the Animal Motifs used by the previous and current dynasty, respectively.
    • Their exchange values are notably not decimal increments and might actually reflect realistic rates as shown here.
  • The Saga of Recluce uses this straight, including the decimal values, and even naming them simply "golds", "silvers" and "coppers".
  • The Wheel of Time uses this system throughout the continent on which the books are set. There are three denominations for each material, pennies, marks and crowns, which differ by size. Though the decimal conversion system is followed in some regions, it's not universal, as different countries have different weights of coin, and, of course, a gold mark is worth a lot more than a silver crown.
  • The Riftwar Cycle: Midkemian currency has the denominations sovereign, royal and common. The only difference between the coins is the metal used to make them (sovereigns are gold, royals silver and commons copper). Gems of various types exist as an unofficial currency, and are used alongside coins for making large purchases.
  • The Knight and Rogue Series has gold, silver, and brass, with names like roundels and fracts.
  • The Farsala Trilogy, another series by Hilari Bell, uses the same metals, but gives them different names.
  • Applies to the Garrett, P.I. series, although the usual 10-to-1 exchange rate is subverted because events in the ongoing Cantard war keep changing the value of silver.
  • The protagonists in Atlas Shrugged adopt a gold standard in Galt's Gulch.
  • At least one of the nations in The Kingkiller Chronicle holds to this standard; alas, Rothfuss has (probably on purpose) been rather unspecific with his Fictional Currencies. This was apparently because he thought no one wanted to know all the details. Fortunately, when he learned otherwise, he got someone to make a widget to convert between the different currencies. It looks like most countries have a gold-silver-copper-iron standard, but with different conversion rates and different names for the coins. (Link to the conversion table at the bottom of the page.)
  • A.L. Phillips's The Quest of the Unaligned has the peculiar example of the city-state of Tonzimmiel, which though extremely "modern" and technologically advanced still retains this form of currency. This may be explained by the fact that Tonzimmiel was originally founded by outcasts from the surrounding medievalesque country of Caederan, and has presumably continued to use Caederan's currency system to accommodate easier trade relations. In addition, the fairly large community of dual-citizens that has grown up over the past century probably strongly supports this system.
  • A Tale Of Two Castles, a novel by Gail Carson Levine, has this as their currency (added with tins). Five tins are apparently enough for two set meals (like the one you have in fast food places). Ironically, in Real Life tin was, and still is, much more rare and expensive than copper — the disruption of trade routes bringing tin to the Mediterranean from deposits in England and Spain was what ruined the Bronze Age civilizations. So, unless the "tins" in the novel refer to the tin-plated iron coins, they realistically should be worth more than the copper pieces.
  • Deverry:
    • The kingdom of Deverry uses the gold/silver/copper method, with how much of one it takes to equal the one above it hazy at best. A copper or three is often given as a tip or a small fee. Two gold coins could buy a good-sized farm - including the livestock.
    • Bardek makes its coins out of the same metals, but appears to have a more complex system of currency exchange. Specifically mentioned is a high-value and rare gold coin (The zotar) that can buy a dozen pigs, half of them fertile sows. In context, that is a lot of money. Then there's the zial, which is worth 100 zotars on paper and even more in practice due to their extreme rarity.
  • In Beauty: A Retelling of Beauty and the Beast, Beauty doesn't mention what the actual standard is in her country, but it apparently operates on a system of four rather than three. When her father returns from the Beast's castle and unpacks all the remarkable gifts the Beast sent home with him, the saddlebag has additional weight because at the bottom, "piled wrist-deep, were coins - gold, silver, copper, brass."

    Live Action TV 
  • Briefly mentioned in Firefly but expanded upon by the RPG. The lower-tech outer planets favor precious metal coinage (silver, gold, and platinum) over Alliance credits, which are primarily electronic currency and therefore both easier to trace and reliant on your banking tech not going on the fritz. Mal and company mention getting paid in platinum at least twice in the series.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons is the Trope Codifier in modern media; coins from most valuable to least are platinum, gold, silver, and copper at a ratio of 10:1. Previous editions had outliers (electrum, a gold/silver alloy, at half a gold each) and at least one non-decimal exchange rate (5 gold to 1 platinum, 20 silver to 1 gold in 1st Edition, 5 copper to 1 silver in pre-1st-Edition Basic D&D), but these have been done away with over the years.
    • In 1st Edition AD&D, the gold piece was more than the basic unit of currency. It was also the basic unit of weight. All coins, including gold pieces, weighed 1/10 of a pound each, and all weights — the weight of a suit of armor, the carrying capacity of a character with 17 Strength, the strength of a telekinesis spell, etc. — were given in units of gold pieces. (2nd Edition reduced the weight of coins to 1/50 of a pound each, and listed weights and weight-limits in plain old pounds.)
    • In some of the novels associated with the Eberron setting gold coins are called "Galifars", silvers "sovereigns", coppers "crowns", and platinum pieces are dragons. (While the alliteration made these names easier to remember, they were at odds with the names of actual historical coinage on medieval Earth, where a sovereign was a gold coin and a crown was made of silver.)
  • Similarly RuneQuest, but prices are usually given in silver Lunars, with copper Clacks being the common street currency and gold Wheels usually having to be changed for silver before they can be spent (though Sun-worshipers use gold on principle). In the Deluxe Edition, there was no official coinage system in the core rules; all prices were given in pennies.
  • Rolemaster has a long line of metal coinage, all with decimal exchange rates. 10 iron pieces are worth 1 tin piece, 10 tin pieces = 1 copper piece, 10 copper pieces = 1 bronze piece, 10 bronze pieces = 1 silver piece, 10 silver pieces = 1 gold piece, and 1000 gold pieces = 1 mithril piece. One has to wonder why they didn't just melt down the copper and tin pieces, mix them together, and sell them as bronze pieces; there's a rant about tin pieces and bronze pieces here.
  • A science fiction game example would be Star Ace. All money is "hard currency", coins made of different precious metals.
  • The Old World, at least, of the Warhammer Fantasy setting runs on this. The RPG explicitly puts the Empire on this standard, although with an exchange rate fairly obviously based on pre-decimalisation British currency — 12 copper/brass pfennigs to the schilling, 20 silver schillings to the gold crown. For book-keeping purposes, any coin of a particular metal is nominally considered of equal worth to any other coin of the same type, regardless of origin, but at least one supplement went in to exchange rates between coins of other nations (Dwarven coins are particularly prized for their weight and purity, elven coins are technically worth less but pass for more because they're basically metal filigree, and no-one particularly trusts coins from the Borderlands and some Tilean city-states because the region is too unstable, and the currency is likely debased as a result, etc.), as well as between coins from different provinces in the Empire.
    • Bretonnia, while nominally on the same standard has some oddities as a result of sumptuary laws — silver is reserved for the nobility, with the result that merchants tend to have far more gold. Oh, and the primary unit of exchange between peasants is either the egg or the turnip.
  • While the Exalted themselves may cart around magical Jade metal (or more commonly, script for said metal) as currency, the smallest unit is still far more valuable than most items while being magically important. Gold and silver and script for gold and silver are thus the currency of choice for the Guild and many others in the setting.
  • In Megatraveller the outworlds tend to mint metal coins after the fall of the Third Imperium. Coppers are worth 0.2 credits, silver 10 Cr, and gold 300 Cr.
  • In Ironclaw the standard coinage in Calabria is the silver denar, there are also gold aureals worth 24 denarii and bronze orichalks worth 1/12 of a denar. Plus some rarer coins that are now illegal such as the quincunx used occasionally in House Doloreaux, and House Bisclavret's silver-plated copper fibulae.
  • In Dominion, 3 of the 7 cards that are used in every game are standard treasure cards, which come in different denominations. No prizes for guessing what they're called.

    Video Games 
  • EverQuest has platinum coins above the other three. Each denomination trades up at a 10:1 ratio. The coins don't automatically get converted up; you have to do that at a bank. In EverQuest II, the exchange ratio was increased from 10:1 to 100:1.
  • Dark Age Of Camelot has mythril, platinum, then the other three. Copper trades up to silver and silver to gold at 100:1, gold to platinum and platinum to mythril at 1000:1.
  • World of Warcraft uses gold, silver, and copper coins at a ratio of 1:100. These rarely appear by name, however; instead, pictures of yellow, gray, and brown coins appear next to the amounts, so a price of 16 gold 47 silver 33 copper would appear as "16 {picture of gold coin} 47 {picture of silver coin} 33 {picture of copper coin}". Exchanges between the various denominations happens automatically; if your character is carrying 90 copper coins and then picks up 20 more copper coins, his inventory will show 1 silver 10 copper (not 110 copper).
    • Copper tends to be worthless in inter-player currency exchanges, while Silver tends to be treated the same way pennies (or similar currency) would be in real life.
  • Lord of the Rings Online also uses gold, silver, and copper coins, almost exactly like World of Warcraft, except 1 gold coin is equal to 1,000 silver coins. Silver to copper is still 1:100. Players also have alternate currency received from skirmishes called marks, medallions, seals, etc., which can only be traded to skirmish vendors.
  • Dragon Age: Origins uses the 100:1 ratio of gold-to-silver and silver-to-copper. Gold coins are referred to as sovereigns, while copper coins are known as bits, and it is mentioned repeatedly that sovereigns are a Big Deal; most common folk in Ferelden go through their entire lives never seeing one. (In fact, you can loot a grand total of about 150 sovereigns in the entirety of the game's epic campaign.) This standard carries over to Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening (where it costs 80 sovereigns just to complete a side quest to upgrade your keep's walls; luckily, money is much easier to come by now that you're a lord) and Dragon Age II (where 50 sovereigns is enough to sponsor a massive expedition to the Deep Roads and much of Act I is spent acquiring this sum), but not to Dragon Age: Inquisition, which uses Cheap Gold Coins instead.
  • In Spellforce, the 100:1 ratio applies, but the game doesn't automatically exchange lower denominations for higher when appropriate. This can lead to the player ostensibly carrying around tens of thousands of copper pieces.
  • Many MUDs would have this as a default setting. The ratios would be juggled slightly: say, 20 silver to 1 gold, 5 gold to 1 platinum.
  • The Drakensang games use this ratio, but name the coins for historical currencies: the ducat, taler, and farthing. (This can be jarring for players who recognize the ducat, thaler, and farthing, and are expecting them to convert to each other at their historical rates.)
  • Terraria uses copper, silver, gold, and platinum coins. 100 coins of a lower denomination are equal to one higher-denomination coin. In fact, for ease of storage, 100 coins of a lower denomination can be crafted into a higher-denomination coin and when collecting coins, they automatically turn into the higher-denomination and the opposite occurs when buying from an NPC. How you craft a lot of copper into a little silver (or silver into gold, etc) is best not thought about too much.
  • Each town in The Game Of The Ages has just one coinage, but the first has copper, the second silver and the third gold.
  • The Quest for Glory series generally uses a two-coin money system with a decimal exchange rate between the denominations. The games also keep track of the total weight of the player's coins on hand.
    • The first game used Silver and Gold coins, with 10 silvers equal to one gold.
    • The second game used gold Dinars and copper Centimes, with 100 centimes equal to one dinar.
    • The third game used gold Royals and copper Commons, (100 Commons to one Royal).
    • The fourth game used gold Crowns and copper Kopeks (100 per Crown).
  • Final Fantasy XIII-2 has an interesting case. One of the fragment items from the Bresha Ruins mentions that after the paradox wiped out all of the debit card information, the mercenaries there started using silver and gems. They'd already been using them on the Black Market anyway to avoid taxes, but once the paradox zapped the cards, even the government started using metals as currency.
  • Castle of the Winds uses these, along with platinum, with 10-piece increments in value between the metals.
  • Guild Wars 2 has gold, silver, and copper, set at a 100:1 ratio of gold to silver and silver to copper, similar to the World of Warcraft situation. There are also Gems (normally purchased for real-world money or exchanged at a market rate for silver or gold), Karma (tied to a character and earned for completing heroic deeds), Glory (earned for structured fights), and Influence (tied to a guild and either purchased for gold and silver or earned through completing missions).
  • Wurm Online uses a Gold > Silver > Copper > Iron system with 100:1 ratios across the board, but injects a bit of realism by setting prices such that gold and silver only enter the equation for really valuable in-game items; ten silver coins buy the right to found a settlement or a contract with an NPC to sell your manufactured goods for you, and gold coins are rare to the point of being a status symbol. The exchange rate with Real Life is one silver coin to one Euro, or about US$1.30 at time of writing.
    • Wurm is also a rare case of a Medieval European Fantasy setting where this standard is explicitly a fiat currency; the flavour text describes coins as being copper or silver-coloured, and despite the Player-Generated Economy being a major selling point, the quantity of precious metals dug out by a few lucky settlements who found a vein of it on their land has no effect on prices in-game. This is probably for the best.
  • Fallout 2 replaced the bottle cap currency of the original game with generic gold coins, which were later established as being NCR dollars. The New California Republic ended up getting shafted by this decision when the Brotherhood of Steel simply attacked their gold mines and gold supplies, leaving the money backed by nothing. The post-apocalyptic world quickly went back to using caps (which were backed by the water merchants of the Hub) while the NCR in Fallout: New Vegas switched to paper money, which is down to about half its face value in caps. Meanwhile, Caesar's Legion is still making the golden aureus and silver denarius as their own currency, with the aureus being valued at 100 caps. Just like in Imperial Rome, the aureus is divided into 25 denarii.
  • Despite Dungeons & Dragons probably having more to do with this trope's presence in modern fantasy gaming than actual history does, most if not all D&D video games in recent history avert this trope in favor of Cheap Gold Coins for the sake of simplicity. (Or Cheap Copper Coins in the case of Planescape: Torment.)
  • Eldevin has the 100:1 ratio, but uses bronze coins instead of copper.
  • Uncharted Waters: New Horizons plays with this: its currency comes in gold coins and "gold ingots", where coins are used for basic transactions like buying goods and ships, while ingots are mentioned only in banking and questing contexts. Every 10,000 gold pieces you earn are automatically converted to ingots (and back, if need be).
  • Pillars of Eternity plays with this trope, too: there are actually various types of golden, silver, and copper coins in the game, minted by different states and with different exchange values, and even an extremely rare coin made of adra. However, whenever you loot any of these, they are automatically converted to their corresponding value in (Dyrwoodan) copper pieces, which are used for pretty much all transactions in the game.

     Web Comics 
  • Tales of the Questor, though the Seven Villages use beads and rings instead of coins as they're in a rather metal-poor region.
  • Quentyn Quinn, Space Ranger, by the same author and in the same continuity IN SPACE! - has an examination of the trope as one of its story arcs; The transition from precious metals to fiat currency makes possible fractional-reserve banking, that is, printing more money than one has commodities to trade. From there, it's a simple step to printing money without having any commodities to trade - and trading the fake money to purchase real commodities. Eventually, those who print the money control all the commodities, and everyone else has a pile of worthless paper.
  • Escape from Terra and Quantum Vibe (both published by Big Head Press) feature examples of precious metals used as currency in sci-fi settings. Each setting has one(corrupt and totalitarian) polity that uses fiat currency, but the Libertarian protagonists regard the concept with derision.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • The Earth Kingdom uses gold, silver, and copper pieces.
    • The Fire Nation also has gold, silver, and copper pieces, though they are different from the ones used in the Earth Kingdom.
    • Averted by the Water Tribe (which uses identical blue coins of indeterminate material) and the United Republic of Nations, which uses both paper money and gold coins.

    Web Original 
  • The world-building site Santharia has a Gold–Silver–Copper Standard, but somewhat more complex than the standard Gold piece and including some other metals as well: The most valuable (and extremely rare) coin is a Mithrene, made of Mithril and used only in Royal transactions, the least valuable is the Copper San (leading to such expressions as "adding my two sans" in-world). The whole table can be found here


Alternative Title(s):

Gold Silver Bronze Standard, Gold Piece