When a character is given suspicious payment, they will often bite into it to check if it's genuine.
This may seem odd, but was actually a common way to check the quality of gold: but not for the reasons people often assume. Gold is a soft metal, and thus conventional wisdom says that the deeper the imprint your teeth make (without revealing a different metal beneath the gold), the purer it is. However, this test would not be foolproof: Gold coins can have a core of lead (for the weight) which is
soft enough to leave bite marks in. In fact, historically, gold was typically alloyed with other, harder metals to make it harder, while still maintaining the standard gold weight. Thus, the bite test was actually a means of detecting a lead forgery (teeth marks) versus a real minted gold alloy coin (no marks).
This tradition has mostly vanished in real life, due to most people not actually dealing with gold, but it is still seen occasionally in fiction. It's also quite common to see characters using this method to check other things
to see if they're genuine. This method does work with pearls, wherein the goal is to feel the rough mother of pearl against the enamel of your teeth, as opposed to the smoother feel of fake pearls. If this is done with silver coins, though, it's a clear sign that somebody goofed; silver is quite hard, so the only sure way to check if there's some other metal beneath the surface is to drill a hole in it. There is no evidence that counterfeit coins were ever made out of wood, which could be distinguished by biting them; the old adage "Don't take any wooden nickels" referred to the practice of promoting a new store by handing out wooden tokens good for "five cents in trade". If the store goes out of business, the token is worthless.
As an interesting side-note, gold is very non-reactive and therefore biologically inert, meaning it's actually safe to eat and will pass through the digestive system without being absorbed. Some particularly fancy foods (often desserts) are adorned with gold leaf decorations which are meant to be eaten, and certain brands of alcohol contain tiny flakes of gold. In actual fact, this is the ultimate form of garnish. Because gold is non-reactive with anything in the human body, it does not actually have a flavor.
Related is Hear Me The Money
, when they check the currency by listening to it
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- A common method of testing coins in the Berserk universe. Guts does this with a coin of his pay after killing Bazuso.
- Buu does this to a coin in Dragon Ball, but it's not to see if it's gold, but to see if it's candy.
- Spice and Wolf has an instance that falls somewhere between this and Hear Me The Money. Holo is able judge the purity of silver coins just by clinking them together, leading to the plot point that a city is minting coins that have a lower silver content and are thus worth less.
- Hellboy II: The Golden Army has a goblin blacksmith who bites on a piece of metal. It's not gold, but he bites it anyway.
- In Bloodsport, one of the Kumite staff in charge of wiping blood off the fighting platform notices a gold tooth lying there after one of the fights. He quickly grabs it, bites it and, after being satisfied that it's gold, pockets it with a big smile.
- One of the characters in Leprechaun accidentally swallows one of the eponymous leprechaun's coins while doing this (he's not that bright). The best part is the Leprechaun's plan to get it out: slash the guy's gut open using the buckle on his hat.
- In Sharktopus, a girl with a metal detector finds an old coin buried on a beach. The shark-octopus hybrid then drags her off and eats her. An old man who was watching the whole thing then nonchalantly takes the coin, and bites it to see if it's real. For bonus points, he's played by Roger Corman.
- In the 2010 Ridley Scott Robin Hood (2010), the Sheriff of Nottingham demands a ram from Lady Marion as a tax. Robin instead gives him a gold piece for his insolence to Lady Marion. The sheriff bites the coin after Robin and Marion depart.
- Used in A Song of Ice and Fire quite regularly. In one book, a young girl does this because she's seen other people do it, but confesses that she doesn't know how gold is 'supposed to taste'.
- And in another, a character is given a gold coin in a shady back alley as payment for a theft, bites into it, and promptly collapses onto the cobblestones, as the coin was apparently poisoned.
- In A Dance with Dragons, Arya thinks of the very same trick for her first assassination for the Faceless Men, but takes it a step further. During what seems like a botched pickpocketing attempt, she slips a poisoned coin into the purse of an insurance man's customer, leaving the insurer to die of an apparent heart attack a while after he bites the gold. Not only is it impossible to trace the death back to Arya, it doesn't even look like an assassination.
- In the Tom Holt novel Snow White and the Seven Samurai, this is used to test coins. It's then revealed that the characters are in a fairyland-style world, and that the currency is chocolate money.
- Variation: In the Robert A. Heinlein novel Job: A Comedy of Justice, Alex and Marga are mysteriously shunted from one alternate world to another at random, which makes it impossible to build up a cash reserve as every America's money is different; Alex always has to go to work as a dishwasher. In one world they still use gold and silver coins. When Alex spends a gold dollar, the merchant takes out a bottle of acid and puts a drop on the coin to make sure it won't corrode — the "acid test." Silver coins are bounced on the counter to make sure they ring the right way — the "ring of truth."
- This is also why many old mechanical cash registers had marble shelves above the cash drawer. Gave an easy place to test the sound of the coins.
- Sort of Subverted in Discworld novel Lords and Ladies, Ridcully loses $8,000 at "Cripple Mr. Onion" to Casanunda, a self proclaimed "outrageous liar" who "cannot play it very well." As he pays up, Casanundra stops him without even biting into it:
Casanunda: You don't happen to have 'outrageous liar' on your visiting card, by any chance?
Casanunda: It's just that I can recognize chocolate money when I see it.
- Tasty gold indeed!
- In Guards! Guards! the dragon is offered the newly forged crown, and licks it. They're very chemically sensitive apparently. Vimes considers the chances of the crown actually being made out of gold, then compares the situation to finding out that sugar was actually salt after having put three spoonfuls in your coffee. The dragon then overkills the priest who gave it the crown (shooting a flame so hot that nothing is left but smoke); suffice to say, the dragon wasn't amused.
- The protagonist of children's novel The Chocolate Touch has seen people do this, so he bites his best friend's new coin. Unfortunately, anything he touches with his mouth turns to chocolate, so his friend now has a worthless chocolate coin.
- In Assassins of Gor Tarl offers a blind chessplayer a doubleweight gold coin if he won the game. The chessplayer felt, bit, and tasted the gold to make sure it was real.
- Mentioned in the Cartoon History of the Universe in the leadup to Archimedes' famous discovery: the king needed a way to determine whether his crowns were counterfeit without having to rely on this trope.
Live Action TV
- A common micro-magic illusion based on this trope involves the magician biting a coin and taking a chunk out of it. The magician usually leaves behind tooth marks as well. The illusion can involve a spectator's coin, which is returned unharmed.
- Possibly the only common example in the Real Life modern world is how Olympic athletes will often get photos taken with them "biting" their (plated silver) gold medals (as the USA Gymnastics team at the 2012 London Olympics can be seen doinghere◊).
- Rafael Nadal, former number one tennis player, typically bites the trophy for his championship photos.
- Parodied in Exalted, where the primary currency in heaven is ambrosia, a golden substance that tastes like the most wonderful food ever, wrapped in a thin golden foil. Yes, Heaven pays people in chocolate coins. New employees are often warned not to eat their operational budget.
- It's also functional currency. In Heaven, one of those coins can be turned into anything from a feast finer than any mortal has ever seen, to the finest clothing imaginable, weapons of the finest craftmanship, or pretty much anything, really.
- In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations, one of the characters bites Phoenix's attorney badge to see if it is real or not. She then admits that she has no idea whether a real badge would have a bite mark or not.
- In the Infocom game Sorcerer, you acquire a collection of Zorkmids. If you choose to BITE ZORKMID, the game replies "Yep, it's real."