Weird Currency

Thanks to modern minting technology, most places have familiar currencies such as printed bills, coins, or even digitally stored currency such as credit cards. However, what happens when something goes wrong or that technology never developed?

Weird currency is when currency takes a form other than digital or minted currency. This item has a recognized social value and is exchanged for goods or services, much like regular currency is, it just comes in an unusual form.

This is not a barter system. In a barter system people trade for items for personal use. They sell for weird money and use that to buy what they use. Everyone is still willing to sell what they have for money, in barter there is no one good everyone will trade for.

Can be an inversion of Worthless Yellow Rocks; that is when something that is usually valuable is considered trash by another culture/race/species, whereas this is when trash is held as holding value in the form of currency.

Supertrope to Practical Currency and Energy Economy. Not to be confused with Ridiculous Exchange Rates.


Comic Books
  • In the Carl Barks story "Tralla La", Scrooge McDuck and his nephews travel to a utopia that operates on the barter system. But when Scrooge accidentally introduces bottle caps into the economy, the people fixate upon the novelty and start using it as currency, to the point of neglecting productive work. It gets worse when Scrooge tries to fix the problem by bringing in a billion bottle caps so that there are enough to go around.
  • The eponymous race in Orc Stain uses petrified slices of orc gronch as money.

  • In the Elvis Presley film Jailhouse Rock his prison mentor is the richest man in prison, having hundreds of cartons of cigarettes in his cell.
  • In In Time, all the world's currency is replaced with people's remaining lifespans.

  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
    • In The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, a particularly stupid people tries to set up an economy with leaves as currency. It doesn't go well.
    • Other chapters have poems and elderly relatives as currency.
    • Another Hitchhiker's example is the Flavian pobble bead, which is apparently one of the three major Galactic currencies, despite only being exchangeable for other Flavian pobble beads.
    • Another currency is made up of planet-sized rubber triangles. Nine of them will get you a more reasonably-sized dollar equivalent, but no one has been able to keep hold of nine of them at once and the banks don't deal in petty change.
  • The Discworld's Ankh-Morpork went through a brief period of using stamps as currency between the transition from gold-plated coins to paper money. In addition, the Thieves' Guild Diary guide to slang terms for money such as "a monkey = AM$500" includes "an oyster = an oyster".
  • The protagonist of Mogworld mentions that his home villiage uses turnips as money.
  • M.C.A. Hogarth's Jokka use seashells as money, because they live in a landlocked wasteland separated from the nearest ocean by an impassable mountain range. Towards the end of The Worth of a Shell the protagonists find a tunnel through the mountains and discover a beach covered with shells, their initial thought is that they're rich but then they realize that if they took all those shells back with them the economy would be ruined.
    • In Pearl in the Void the Stone Moon Empire switches to square metal coins, though they spread shell around in unconquered towns that they got from the beach

Live-Action Television
  • In the TV series Love And War waitress Nadine is an aging socialite whose husband is in prison from the Savings & Loan scandal of the late '80s-early '90s. At one point she mentions she's going to visit him and bring 2 cartons of cigarettes in order to buy him his way out of his latest Noodle Incident.
  • Demons in Buffy the Vampire Slayer use kittens as currency.
  • In The Golden Girls, Sophia tells a story about her first job in Sicily. The story came up because her first paycheck, a brightly painted rock, was found under Dorothy's bed.
    • Another episode lampshaded this trope. When the girls were dieting, they find a box of cookies on the kitchen shelf. Blanche starts to open them, and Rose asks her if she's going to eat them. Dorothy then says, "No, Rose, we're going to go to some dumb country and try to use them as money."
  • The Doctor Who story "The Rings of Akhaten" uses "objects with some personal value attached to them" as currency. The more personal value an object has, the more it's worth currency-wise.

Newspaper Comics
  • They use clams in B.C. (even though within the strip they're Talking Animals, which should cause some Carnivore Confusion, but usually doesn't).
  • Parodied in Calvin and Hobbes, when Calvin tells space aliens he'll give them the Earth for 50 different kinds of alien tree leaves (he put off a school assignment, and wanted the alien tree leaves so that he could finish it in time) and the aliens thought it meant "these primitive fools" (Earthlings) "use leaves as currency."

  • In Shaq Attaq, the player can collect Game Balls, then trade them in at various times for extra points, additional features, or to start game modes.

  • The Goon Show often uses weird substitutes for money, such as 3,000 pounds in bent NAAFI spoons, gramophone records of clinking coins, photographs of five-pound notes, or even piles of bricks (to be paid into any building societynote ). Rule of Funny, obviously.

Tabletop Games
  • In Deadlands: Hell on Earth uses bullets as the most commonly accepted currency, though technically HoE runs on a barter system (if players carry "cash", it's explicitly considered to be small items of no practical value to the character). It's just that bullet production is low or non-existent, and demand consistently high, meaning bullets are always valuable. There are conventional currencies as well, such as Junkyard widgets, which are backed by scavenged pre-war artifacts.
  • The Warhammer 40,000 orks use their teeth as currency. As orks continually grow and replace their 'teef' throughout their lives, even the lowliest boy has a steady income. They also decay over time, preventing hoarding. The Bad Moons clan grow their teeth at a faster rate than other orks and are consequently known for their wealth. Ork bosses tend to be wealthy based on how many boys they have around to smash the teeth out of at any one time.
    • Of course, every once in a while, some ork figures out how to stop teeth from degrading, but this doesn't cause Ork society to destabilize due to massive inflation because it's hard to imagine something more unstable that Ork society already is.

Video Games
  • In Kingdom of Loathing, the currency is meat, which justifies its use of Money Spider.
  • Fallout uses bottle caps, most prominently Nuka-Cola caps (though folks in the Mojave Wasteland accept Sunset Sarsaparilla caps), which can even be taken off of sealed bottles of soda when you drink them; effectively, anyone who buys a bottle of Nuka-Cola gets a 1 cap discount. Actually quite clever when you think about it: not only are they harder to counterfeit than any coin or banknote that could be made in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, they're backed by the most valuable commodity in the region: Clean drinking water. Fallout 2 made a temporary switch to gold coins minted by the NCR, but after the Brotherhood of Steel destroyed their gold reserves everyone switched back to caps and new NCR dollars are often worth less than half their face value in caps.
    • Fallout: New Vegas not only has a bottle cap counterfeiting shack in the middle of the Mojave Wastelands, but the head of the Crimson Caravan company sends you on a quest to the Sunset Sarsaparilla plant to shut down a bottle cap machine. There's been an influx of newly-minted bottlecaps, which means someone has the technology to make them. Making new caps is a common practice, since old ones get worn out and even used for explosive devices, but having too many new ones enter the economy is bad for inflation.
    • In Fallout Tactics, which is of questionable canonicity, locals around Chicago use the ring pulls off of soda cans instead. This can be problematic, as Brotherhood of Steel vendors only accept Brotherhood scrips and wasters only accept ring pulls. Both have identical value for gameplay reasons, but players need to be careful about who they sell items to, lest they find themselves needing to trade with someone who finds all of your money worthless.
  • Many virtual pet sites with a currency bought for real-life money have one of these.
  • Parasite Eve has trading cards used to buy upgrades.
  • Brutal Legend has Fire Tributes, which are signs of the approval of the Gods of Metal and appear as 2D hands holding lighters whenever you do something awesome like jumping over a canyon in your hot rod or beating a mission.
  • Metro 2033 uses pristine pre-war 5.45x39mm cartridges (as opposed to the homemade and less effective ones normally used for combat) as currency. The ammo can still be fired and does extra damage than common 5.45mm cartridges, but you're literally destroying your cash.
  • Transformice uses cheese as currency.
  • Devil May Cry uses crystallized demon blood.
  • Prehistoria in Secret of Evermore uses talons as currency; oddly enough, these can be exchanged for one of the more conventional currencies (gems, coins or credits) in the other areas of the game.
  • Fallen London uses echoes. This may or may not be a metaphor.
    • While echoes are the currency of the Bazaar, several other forms of currency are in use among the citizenry, and at least a few of the common ones (never mind the uncommon ones) would probably qualify. For instance, glim, which falls periodically from the roof of the Neath and may be either a type of gemstone or shards of phosphorescent insect chitin. Also jade, since Neath-jade is made out of either the blood of the newly dead or fossilized souls depending on who you ask.
  • In Shin Megami Tensei, demons use Macca, which is a double subversion - they look like coins, but they're actually some form of candied Pure Energy the demons can eat. Averted in Persona 3 and Persona 4, which use Japanese yen instead, and Digital Devil Saga 2, which uses dollars.
  • As anyone will tell you, the economy of Team Fortress 2 is basically made of hats.
    • Hats are the main commodity, but the three basic units of currency are (from smallest to largest) piles of scrap metal, keys, and Apple earbuds.
  • Someone on the EA team had the crazy idea to use Bertie Bott's Every-Flavored Beans as money in the Harry Potter video games. For some reason, these were hidden all over Hogwarts and you could trade them with Fred and George for Wizard Cards and other stuff.
  • In Anachronox, the standard currency in use all across the galaxy, by countless alien cultures, is... the Canadian dollar.
  • In Path of Exile, you buy gear by using consumable items, such as town portal scrolls. You can also sell gear for such items.
  • Prior to the introduction of their ability of Apples and Cocoa Beans to be grown, Cookies and Apples were used as currency on many Minecraft servers because their extreme rarity outweighed their usefulness as food items. Slimeballs, which were renewable but still difficult to obtain, were also sometimes used as currency simply because they had no other use until the introduction of Sticky Pistons.
  • FTL: Faster Than Light uses scrap metal. The same scrap metal can be used to upgrade your systems and your reactor.
  • Spacestation #59-C in Linus Spacehead's Cosmic Crusade is a Global Currency Exception where Linus's gold Lino dollars are worthless because the service station requires something called Spacebucks. It turns out "10 Spacebucks" is a small creature running around a room, and it must be caught in a box before it can be used.
  • In Icarus Needs, if you want a piece of rope, you better be prepared to ride a hot air balloon to the top of a tree and collect five apples.


Western Animation
  • They use clams on The Flintstones, which doubles as a Pun.
  • In Rango, the town of Dirt uses water as currency, as they are in the middle of a desert.
  • A season 1 episode of American Dragon Jake Long showed giants using fish as currency.
  • Widgets in the Matoran Universe.
  • Aaahh!!! Real Monsters had human toenails as the monster currency.
  • The characters in Crash Canyon use golf tees as currency. It's never explained why.
  • In Brandy & Mr. Whiskers, Brandy establishes an economy in the jungle based on the exchange of shiny rocks.
  • The penguins in Spike use fish as currency. They even have a high-tech bank to keep them in!
  • An episode of Mike, Lu & Og has the islanders use pigs and crabs as currency before Mike introduces them to paper money.

Real Life
  • Parts of Africa, Australia, Asia and North America used cowrie shells as currency.
  • As pictured above, Rai stones from Yap in Micronesia. Individual carved stones may be over two meters across. One of the stones is currently at the bottom of the ocean, but it's still legal tender. The island population used to be small enough such that everyone on the island knows who owns which Rai stone and when someone transferred the ownership of a rai to someone else (no movement of the rai is required). Essentially, the entire island operate on a strange version of electronic cashless commerce, except instead of using debit cards, they used their collective memory to keep track transactions.
  • Tea bricks were used as currency in some parts of ancient China.
  • As in B.C. and The Flintstones, many extremely early civilizations used seashells as currency. This is probably the most historically accurate part of both series.
    • Even fairly developed civilizations used seashells because they were absolutely impossible to forge. Their only problem was that the wealth tended to focus near the coastline.
  • Some extremely early records of civilization have divulged that some of the earliest Babylonian-area currency were clay figures of livestock, representing the values of their respective models.
  • In Colonial Virginia, tobacco leaves were official currency. Ministers' salaries were set in pounds of tobacco. The Parson's Cause happened when the government altered the exchange rate. (Note that Virginia's use of tobacco was simply one of the more consistent and reliable currency substitutes in colonial America; mercantilist British trade policy meant that the Colonies had a chronic shortage of hard currency, and relied on all kinds of things as alternative media of exchange.)
  • The ancient Aztecs used cocoa beans and lengths of woven cloth, alongside more familiar (to modern readers) hammered copper pieces. People even made counterfeit cocoa beans out of clay.
    • Incidentally, chocolate drinks (made out of cocoa, cornmeal, chili pepper, and cold water; the Aztecs had no milk and no sweeteners besides fruit juice, so they drank their chocolate as a bitter/savory stimulating drink in the vein of the Old World's unsweetened tea or coffee, but cold) started as their variant on Money to Burn.
  • In places with bad economies, cigarettes are a common form of ersatz currency. They're easy to carry, fungible (one cigarette is much like another), demand is consistently high, and deals can easily be made for one or a million of them.
  • Guerima, a remote village in Colombia, uses cocaine (well, coca) as currency.
  • During the Weimar Republic's hyperinflation crisis, various cities and other subdivisions of Germany issued their own "notgeld" (emergency money) coins which lacked official standing but would be accepted anyway within the area. Most were made of metal like ordinary coins, though sometimes with ludicrous denominations as high as 1 billion marks. There were also stranger ones, such as various porcelain coins and Rothenbach's coins made of coal. The latter are now quite rare, because after the notgeld era ended Germans often tossed them in the fireplace.
  • Porcelain gambling tokens from Chinese casinos were used as "small change" for decades in parts of Southeast Asia.