One man's treasure is another's trash.
Someone's extracted all the latinum
! There's nothing here but worthless gold! Odo:
And it's all yours
. Quark: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
The characters of a story run across something very valuable. But, due to ignorance, stupidity or Values Dissonance
in its most literal application, they discard it as worthless junk. The audience groans in disbelief as earthly wealth beyond their wildest dreams is left lying on the floor (if not thoughtlessly trampled upon).
Finding gold is the most common example of this trope: Though it has industrial applications as a highly corrosion-resistant electrical conductor and potential as a cheaper alternative to platinum catalysts, almost all of gold's value is due to its rarity (the pretty shine doesn't hurt either). And, in a disaster situation, gold would quickly prove to be worthless after all. This can lead to an ironic Death by Materialism
situation for someone who's "smart" enough to figure out what those funny yellow rocks really are and won't abandon them when they really should be running for the door. Compare All That Glitters
A common Karmic Twist Ending
is for Earthly characters to encounter a world or dimension where something like gold is so plentiful that it has little value, or where something common on earth, like aluminium or copper, takes the place of gold or platinum as the ultimately rare precious metal. (Ironically, aluminium actually was more valuable than gold once; see the Real Life
section below.) Of course, given what science knows about the formation of elements, it is highly unlikely that there are any solid-gold planets
out there, no matter how amazing
it would be. On the other hand, there is
a giant space-diamond. Probably a whole lot of them.
There is Truth in Television
for the reasoning behind this trope. There is a law of economics where materials decrease in value as they become more abundant. (Refer to the above paragraph.)
Also common is the devaluation of diamonds Twenty Minutes into the Future
after the invention of successful synthesis technology
. Diamonds are not made of an intrinsically valuable or rare element, but common carbon, so advanced people from the future or space-faring aliens are likely to consider them somewhat common and utilitarian. For that matter, they aren't that
rare now (about as common as rubies, which have a much lower market price); their perceived value is mostly
market manipulation sucker-rearing
the distribution companies.
Using this with petroleum may constitute a research flub, if a writer assumes its only conceivable function is to fuel modern machines, ignoring its previous uses for waterproofing, oil lamps, etc. and other modern uses like chemical synthesis, including most polymers.
May be part of a Green Aesop
on how foolishly humanity rushes for unnecessary luxuries and how money cannot be eaten.
Not to be confused with Green Rocks
(though they can overlap). See also All That Glitters
and Common Place Rare
. Kids Prefer Boxes
is the G-rated version. Sometimes the species in question has a reason to not care about the shiny yellow rocks
... A counterpart is Only Electric Sheep Are Cheap
; both can exist in the same work. When video game money is useless because there's nothing to buy with it, that's Money for Nothing
Compare Grail in the Garbage
, Simple Yet Opulent
(in that some things are only opulent to some).
Contrast Gold Fever
(where people go nuts over amounts of gold or some other valuable), Gold Makes Everything Shiny
, Mundane Object Amazement
Not to be confused with pyrite, also known as "fool's gold".
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- In Elfen Lied, Nana burns thousands of yen on the beach for warmth on a cold night due to never having experienced the world outside the laboratory where she was used as a test subject.
- She then has nightmares of being crucified while naked at the hands of vengeful money-people, thanks to Mayu.
- Taken in all directions in the manga and anime One Piece. Hidden in the Skypeian island of Upperyard is an entire city of gold. The natives of Skypeia, where otherwise people live on clouds and there is no natural soil, find the dirt of the originally blue-sea island itself far more valuable than any gold. The arc's Big Bad, God Eneru, does have a use for the gold. However, it's of no monetary value to him, either. He instead uses its conductive properties to enhance his own lightning-based powers. Finally, our heroes, the Straw Hat Pirates, do value the gold for its monetary worth, and make plans to steal what Eneru didn't make off with. The Skypeians actually intend to let the Straw Hats have all the gold they want in gratitude of the Big Bad's defeat, but the Straw Hats (believing they were stealing the gold) misinterpret this as their being caught and run away with only what they were carrying, when they could have gotten far more just by waiting. Notably, this is the only time they've ever actually stolen something (as a crew, anyway, Nami's another story) before or after this point.
- In Princess Mononoke, there's a scene where a merchant throws a hissy fit when Ashitaka pays for his bag of rice with a small, yellow rock...At least until a passing monk notices and points out that it's a solid gold nugget, and that it's probably worth three times what she gave him.
- While it's not gold, when Hayate is told to spend a few (3) days away from the mansion because Nagi's embarrassed, he's given one million yen (~$11,000 US, £8,000). Which he promptly loses. It gets returned to the mansion and Maria counts it, stating that it's almost exactly what he was given for living expenses. Nagi passes by the table and asks what all the chump change is.
- The characters, especially Maria and Nagi, have continually shown disdain for the value of money. Such that it's a huge leap in Nagi's show of maturity when she's willing to give it up.
- Episode 4 of Space Symphony Maetel has Captain Harlock land on a planet where gold is worthless yellow rocks, but cotton is very valuable. They trade a pile of underwear for the rights to use their dock and some yellow rocks.
- In the Anime of the Game for Dante's Inferno, Lucifer promises Dante's father endless gold and 1,000 years free of torment if he will simply kill his own son. Outraged, Dante asks him where he expects to spend it in Hell. His father attacks him anyway.
- In one episode of Mon Colle Knights, Prince Eccentro, esteemed, rich snob of a "Monster Item" hunter, went digging through piles of gold, jewels and treasure, lamenting that he couldn't find anything valuable. He does eventually find something that makes his doggy digging pals quote excited. It's a cookbook...
- In the Yu-Gi-Oh! manga, Maximillion Pegasus is touring Egypt when he sees some villagers about to execute a thief. Horrified, Pegasus tries to save the man by offering to pay for what he stole. Shadi shoos him away and says that he and the villagers do not care about money at all, but the thief deserves to die for Grave Robbing and stealing sacred artifacts.
- Inverted in Spice and Wolf, which has iron pyrite (also known as fool's gold) suddenly becoming incredibly valuable in one town, mostly due to some economic manipulation among the merchants.
- In Astérix and the Black Gold, "rock oil" (petra oleum) is only valuable because Getafix uses it in its potion.
- Brazilian comic book writer Mauricio de Sousa uses "worthless petroleum" twice: in stories of the caveman Pitheco and when hillbilly Chuck Billy (Chico Bento) is searching for water ("Damn dirty black water!").
- In one strip of Dilbert, the following conversation takes place:
Dilbert: Isn't it odd? Despite how advanced we are, we still rely on rocks for currency.
Dogbert: What's even dumber is that it's a rock that's hard to find.
- There's also a comic where Dogbert goes into a jewelry store and points out how utterly arbitrary the diamond market is, and convinces the seller to give him a sack of diamonds just to keep the secret from getting out.
- In Pre Crisis Superman comics, gold was supposed to have been plentiful on Krypton, and worth about as much as any other fairly common industrial metal. In a flashback in "World of Krypton," the (pre-Heel) General Zod is astounded to see Jor-El building a rocket out of gold, one of the heaviest metals known. Jor-El counters "It's one of the cheapest, General—and the weight factor is irrelevant since we're dealing with anti-gravity rather than conventional thrust engines! And by using a cheap metal like gold, I've managed to cut costs by two-thirds!"
- Of course, Fridge Logic then kicks in when you remember that gold is not just heavy, but soft...
- In an Elseworlds Superman comic book (wherein Superman is British), Superman attempts to pay off all of Britain's national debt by creating bags full of diamond gems from coal by squeezing it very hard. Of course, since, as is pointed out later by the villain of the story, diamond's value is based on its rarity, diamonds are now worthless and Superman's act was pointless, even counterproductive, because they now don't have all the coal he made into diamonds. We then get a panel where a poor family attempts to fuel their potbelly stove with diamonds.
- To add insult to injury, they proceed to tax Superman for the diamonds that he did create, at the value they were during the time he created them (before they became worthless). It pretty much bankrupted him.
- In What If? #43, Conan the Barbarian was transported to present day New York City. He inadvertently mugged a New Yorker, who tossed all his money at Conan and ran. Conan ignored the hundreds of dollars in bills and kept the 85¢ in change. He had never seen paper money before and had no idea what it was, but would've known what coins where and assumed them to be more valuable.
- One Thimble Theater arc had Popeye and friends go on a treasure hunt. After braving many dangers, including an encounter with Bluto's crew, they end up in the land of Dooma. There, gold is so common that its used as building material. The local ruler allows Popeye's pack to take an unneeded pile with them, which is more than enough to solve a country's financial crisis.
- In Transformers: Hearts of Steel, this exchange occurs when the Insecticons pull off a Train Job:
of pressed inert plant matter with pictures of humans on them? (Read:
Bombshell: What could these be worth to anyone?
- In the opening to the Lucky Luke adventure "In the Shadow of the Derricks", the locals are severely upset about the overabundance of "worthless" oil deposits in the area, since it makes farming difficult and water undrinkable. Until it's revealed how much it's really worth...
- Ruée sur l'Oklahoma has similar problems, with the added complication that the area is a desert and water actually is harder to get than oil at the time. Oil only becomes valuable enough after the land has been sold back to the Indians.
- Toyed with in Crystar Crystal Warrior. As the name implies, the planet Crystallium is up to its armpits in enormous gems and crystals. They're literally as common as rocks, and about as valuable. Buildings are made out of them. Then in one issue, the cast winds up magically transported to the home of Doctor Strange, on Earth, and they're awestruck at the incalculable wealth on display: wooden furniture everywhere and entire shelves full of paper books.
- Element Lad's introduction in Legion of Super-Heroes features a Tromian mother chiding her child for turning a lamppost into gold, saying "Gold is soft and useless compared to other metals. Only use your powers for useful things."
- Trolls in ElfQuest set great store by gold and jewels, possibly since it takes so much effort to mine and refine them. In the trolls' patriarchal society the more mineral wealth a guy has, the better his choice of bride. By contrast, the elves of Sorrow's End consider gold jewelry mere decoration, since it has no practical value.
- Similarly, in a later issue, the Wolfriders experience a tribal crisis when they realize that, without trolls to trade with, the only metal they have access to is gold. One of their own has to learn mining and smithing from scratch so they can have "Bright Metal" (presumably steel), the only metal they have any use for. In the same issue, a group of trolls who've lost the knowledge of metalwork value the wolfrider smith's worked sword more than a whole pile of raw gold and gems.
- In The Smurfs comic book story "The Finance Smurf", Miner comes across a pile of "worthless yellow rocks" in his mine that he doesn't know what to do with. The title character Smurf decides to use them for minting coins as part of the Smurf Village monetary system. Later on, when the Smurfs abandon that system and return to their old communal ways, it gets used for making musical instruments.
- Even Scrooge McDuck can't avoid this one. In one story, he rockets through space to claim a moon made entirely of gold (24 karats all the way through). There, he meets an alien who claims to be the moon's owner. Scrooge tries to haggle, and learns that the alien will trade the deed of ownership for the moon in exchange for a handful of dirt. After being floored by this unnaturally good bargain, Scrooge does so; the alien feeds the dirt into a machine that soon creates a rapidly-growing planet, with weather patterns and capable of supporting life. With that, the alien flies away on his new world, happy to have something other than gold to work with. In the end, Scrooge is left wondering who got the better end of the deal.
- Another story has him and Donald lost in the Australian desert. Running low on rations, the two try to live off the land until they can find civilization. However, thanks to Scrooge's talent at finding riches, instead of food and water they keep digging up and stumbling upon priceless minerals and such, and nearly die of thirst and hunger until Huey, Dewey, and Louie can find them.
- In an Italian story, Scrooge's emerald mines are raided by the trained condors of an isolated Inca tribe only interested in quartz gemstones.
- Another story has Magica de Spell convince Scrooge and his family that they've been transported to an alternate, fantasy iron-age universe where gold is worthless due to being soft and unfit for weaponry, unlike iron, which is used as currency. It's a bid to convince Scrooge to sign a contract to sell her all the gold in his possession in exchange for an equivalent volume of iron.
- Calamity James (a comic strip in The Beano) frequently features vast amounts of wealth as background gags but James never notices them because he was Born Unlucky.
- An issue of Xenozoic Tales has one of the Terhune clan stealing a briefcase from a sealed pre-cataclysm vault, certain that anything the ancients had guarded so heavily must be valuable. He's killed in his attempts to protect his new acquisition from the local law enforcement, leaving his girlfriend to console herself with a box full of worthless paper money.
- The Bogies in Fungus the Bogeyman regard gold as a base metal and use it to make spittoons.
- In one French tale, a man helps the Small Folk gather their crops and livestock (which they are allowed to do during a single night in the year), and later, to spread out their gold on the ground so it will see daylight and won't get spoilt. A large amount doesn't (luckily, the man isn't blamed for this), and the Small Folk throw it out, considering it mere trash or poison. Since the "spoiling" is merely the gold turning red, the guy becomes very rich.
- In the Ben10 fanfiction Hero High: Earth Style, Ren has a solid gold picture frame. She laments the fact that she was surprised how valuable the material was on earth, as it was quite common on her planet.
- In Petty's take on the Nuzlocke Pokémon Challenge, Barb the Nidoran/rina/queen collects pieces of paper that she finds, which trainer Locke ignores. After Locke has a meltdown, Barb offers to share her "paper collection" to cheer her up, and Locke discovers that it contains the SS Anne ticket and the Bike Voucher, which are priceless in the games and to Locke, but just paper to Barb, who happily lets Locke have them.
- In one chapter of Ellen Brand's Personality Conflicts series, Ignatz Hills, proprietor of the "Old As The Hills" antique store, sells a glass statue, priced at thirty dollars, to a customer on Christmas Eve. The stranger, who wears a trench coat and fedora (and is actually Ecliptor, buying a present for Astronoma), pays with a "perfect clear emerald, the size of a fingernail, without flaws". When Hill protests that perfect emeralds are incredibly rare (and far more valuable than the statue he just sold), Ecliptor replies that "Where I come from, they're as common as grains of sand."
- Greed. Sure, you got the gold. Too bad you're in the middle of a desert without any water.
- Stepsister From Planet Weird. The girl and her dad arrive on Earth, and being aliens, she believes diamonds to be useless, but dad claims they're quite valuable on Earth.
- From The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Klaatu goes around with a pocketful of cut diamonds which function as small change on his planet; he tries to buy things with them on Earth, attracting the attention of the authorities.
- Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa: when the waterhole dries up, the animals start digging for water, but all they can find is worthless gold and jewels. Subverted by the end; while the African animals don't care about the pile of treasure (and even if they did, you can't drink gold), the penguins certainly do.
- From Men in Black, the Arquillian prince known as Rosenberg is a diamond merchant, but most of his species apparently thinks diamonds are only good for amusing children (or possibly candy). It was mostly to emphasize how valuable the galaxy was.
- Same with Edgar the Cockroach, who, after opening the container he thought contained the galaxy, just dumped the diamonds all over the floor of the truck.
- The numerous Captain Nemo knockoffs in the 60s and 70s, but curiously not the 1954 Disney film whose coattails they were obviously riding.
- At the end of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, the Mexican bandits - having killed Fred C. Dobbs and taken the gold that he had lusted for throughout the film - mistake the stuff for worthless sand and dump it on the ground, where it's subsequently scattered in a windstorm.
- In WALL•E, the titular robot finds a diamond ring in a box, then throws it away and keeps the box.
- Further spoofed in an Oscar montage where he finds an Oscar statue and a video tape; he tosses the gold statue and watches the tape.
- Which, of course, is made even funnier since he did win the BAF award in 2009.
- In the opening sequence to Operation Condor, Jackie Chan sneaks into a small cave where diamonds line the walls and litter the floor and begins stuffing them in his bags. When found by a couple of the local tribesmen, they just shrug and wave him on, but when he tries to refill his canteen from the nearby stream...
- Occurs again near the end. Those Two Bad Guys who have been bothering Jackie and his companions throughout the movie finally catch up with them after being stranded in the desert. Jackie tells them that the stockpile of gold that everyone in the movie has been seeking is lost and offers them the few bars that are left. They are so thirsty that they don't care about the gold anymore and they just want water.
- Fantastic Mr. Fox, the titular fox and his wife have a conversation next to a mineral deposit that appears to be diamonds (or some other equally shiny gemstones). The foxes ignore this because, well, they're animals.
- In Avatar, the Unobtainium is a room-temperature superconductor, which makes it absurdly valuable to the humans. To the Na'vi it's "just" part of the ecosystem that they don't want ripped up and gutted.
- Zombieland has a scene where the main characters play Monopoly with actual money. Later in the scene, after recounting a sad story, Tallahassee blows his nose into some $100 bills.
- Justified in that the money actually is worthless, since the world now consists mostly of zombies, so there's not much to buy or anyone to buy it from.
- One of the plot threads in Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels involves the titular shotguns getting written off as useless and old by almost everyone who comes into their possession. At the end of the movie, they wind up in the hands of the four main characters, who also deem them completely worthless and order Tom to dispose of them. Shortly after Tom leaves, they're handed a book that reveals the true worth of the guns to be up to £300,000 before ending on one of the best Cliff Hanger endings out there.
- In the Soviet movie Kin-Dza-Dza, the aliens regard matches as a highly valuable form of currency, entitling their owner to special privileges like wearing yellow or purple pants and having commoners curtsey to them.
- On the other hand, the only use Earth money has is that you can use it to buy even MORE matches.
- In The Dark Knight, Alfred uses an example of this to illustrate to Bruce Wayne why The Joker won't back down. Specifically, Alfred tells a story about his time in an unspecified army, when they found a bandit who had been stealing precious stones. Alfred says they tried finding the bandit by looking for anyone who had bought the stolen stones but never found anyone. Later on Alfred found a child playing with one of the stolen stones: the bandit had been throwing them away and he had been stealing them For the Evulz.
- The scene foreshadowed by Alfred's story is The Joker setting fire to an absurdly large pile of cash, which also counts.
- Averted in Cowboys and Aliens where the main reason the aliens came to earth was to mine it out for Gold.
- Taken to horrifying conclusions in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. If you drink from one of the many beautiful chalices of life, created with gold, diamonds, and other precious metals, your age is sped up to the point of death. The only true chalice that will grant you immortality is made of wood or clay, because that's all a carpenter like Jesus would have used.
- During the song "Heigh-Ho!" from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the seven dwarfs apparently own a diamond mine, but when Doc sees a ruby among the harvested diamonds, he immediately gives it to Dopey, who then throws out the unwanted minerals.
- Played with in the original Dawn of the Dead. When Roger and Peter find a bank in the mall, they stare at a cashbox full of mixed bills, then stare and smile at another cashbox full of wrapped $100 bills. Roger says, "You never know..." before they both fill their pockets with cash. When the biker gang breaks into the mall, they loot the bank as well.
- In one of the Weissmuller Tarzan films, Boy brings up some shiny yellow rocks from the bottom of a lake. Jane dismisses it with an, "Oh, that's gold," before throwing it away over her shoulder.
- Subverted in that Jane knows the worth of gold, but the family has no need for it in the jungle. Later, after Boy is kidnapped and taken to America, Jane has Tarzan bring a coconut full of gold with them to New York to pay for clothes, a hotel room, etc.
- Texas Across The River (set in American frontier days) has a running joke about how finding oil on land makes it worthless. Can't raise cattle on ground poisoned with the stuff!
- Played Straight and inverted with the Modsva in The Night's Dawn Trilogy. The Modsva live in massive "disk cities" made out of old asteroids that survived their sun's expansion into a Red Supergiant. Since all the system's planets where destroyed, and every last bit of the original asteroids where mined out and used to build the disk cities, the only way the Modsva, lacking FTL travel, can gain new resources is to mine their sun for hydrogen and then use fussion to transform it into other elements. Since Iron is the heaviest element that can be created without a supernova, it's considered the most valuable, with one character proclaiming that an FTL drive would be worth more than "The sun's mass in iron". However, since carbon is much easier to create through fussion, and the Modsva have the industrial capacity to convert it into diamond, it's commonly used in a number of Modsva technologies, with Iron being limited to the upper class.
- Averted in Battlefield Earth, where gold is even rarer in the universe than it is on Earth.
- Water Elementals in J. Scott Savage's Far World series place value on an object because of its craftsmanship. An old boot holds equal value to an expensive necklace (or at least, they are judged against each other based on craftsmanship, and not the obvious value), where a lump of gold is just a shiny rock. While this much is understandable, they go on to confound the other characters as well as the reader when they show that they would rather throw a 'valuable' item back into the water than give it to someone without compensation, regardless of whether or not they were ever going to keep the objects.
- In The Second Jungle Book, the story "The King's Ankus" involves Mowgli coming upon a huge treasure guarded by a cobra. Unimpressed by the gems and gold in general, he takes only a jewelled ivory ankus (a goad for elephants). When he is told what it was made for, he throws it away, saying he doesn't want anything with Hathi's blood on it. Later, he and Bagheera track the man who found it and took it, and see it go through several changes of ownership and deaths. To prevent further deaths Mowgli gives it back to the cobra.
- The "valuable treasures as common as dirt" variation is Older Than Radio: In Voltaire's Candide (1759), the title character ends up in El Dorado, the mythical "land of gold". Rubies, emeralds and all other precious gems are to him as pebbles and sand.
- "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz" by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
- In the Discworld novels, in the Agatean Empire gold coins are used for small change, and gold is used for leading roofs and making pipes. Real money is made of paper, much to Rincewind's shock since, even if gold's as common as lead, paper can't be that valuable. One of the diaries (non-canon, technically) mentions that in fact they may be backed by lead.
- Played with in the later Making Money, which introduces banknotes to Ankh-Morpork. Moist von Lipwig, as the new Master of the Mint, says the Bank has a pile of "useless metal" in the vaults that needs cleared out and that, if viewed dispassionately, potatoes are worth more than gold.
Moist: [thinking] Food will get you through times of no gold much better than gold will get you through times of no food.
- The same book reveals the Agatean money is backed by silver.
- In The Fifth Elephant, Sam Vimes is sent to Uberwald as a diplomat to negotiate for a precious commodity from the dwarves: not gold, not silver, not coal, but lard,, which is mined in large quantities in Uberwald. Ankh-Morpork does extract some fat from animals, but with all the applications (cooking, candle-making, soap-making, industrial lubricants...) local production can't hope to meet the demand.
- At the end of Equal Rites, a colony of ants that developed a civilization due to exposure to magic at Unseen University steals a sugar lump from the breakfast table. The ants evidently consider sugar to be a treasure of royal calibre, as it's what they use to build a miniature pyramid in which to entomb a mummified queen.
- In The Twenty-One Balloons, a man discovers an island where diamonds are so common that they just lie around on the ground. He's sensible enough to realize what a catastrophic effect it would have if this became public, so he instead colonizes the island with a small number of other families. They collect a boat-load of diamonds each year to sell off in secret, allowing them to live in luxury on the island. But on the island itself, the rocks are so common that diamond cuff links are simply given away.
- Catastrophic for De Beers and Botswana, sad for people who had spent a fortune on engagement rings, good for the electronics industry, irrelevant for anyone else. These things only cause destabilization if a currency is based on them.
- Certainly catastrophic for the value of the explorer's tremendous discovery. If he keeps the discovery a secret, he protects the monetary value of his discovery with the least amount of trouble and personal risk — not to mention fends off governments, treasure seekers, and big changes in the diamond market. (As long as he keeps it quiet and takes sensible volcano protections — since the island is an active volcano — and keeps some diamonds off the island in case of trouble while evacuating, he is pretty well set to get maximum benefit from his discovery with minimum trouble and risk. If he announces his discovery in any way, he'd soon have a mountain of problems to go with his mountain of diamonds.)
- Played With in James Blish's Cities in Flight novels. The protagonists carefully save up germanium for use as currency. After they come back to "civilization" some time later, they are told that it's a "fine and useful metal, but you buy it, you don't buy things with it." Ironically, the sellers want a "valuable" metal like... gold. Essentially, the saved-up germanium is only worth a fraction of what the travellers had expected.
- In one of Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan novels, Miles relates how at the end of the "Time of Isolation", when the planet Barrayar was rediscovered, one of his ancestors thought he could make a fortune by trading for precious stones with the galactics. The jewels were synthetic, the market was soon flooded and Miles's ancestor lost a fortune instead.
- His mother Cordelia inverts it in an earlier book, wondering why the Barrayarans value gold so much when it's only vaguely useful in some electronic capacities.
- In Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, Ivan and others are trapped in a room with many rare treasures. After rescue, Ivan describes it as spending the night "contemplating the true nature of wealth."
- In Diana Wynne Jones's Hexwood, the offworlders are deliberately keeping Earth ignorant and backward so they can buy Earth flint very cheaply. They use it to make portals and no other mineral will do, and if the people of Earth found out how valuable it was they would raise the price dramatically.
- There is a story of a man finding an island where diamonds and other precious jewels were very common, but the food was very bland. He happened to have some onions with him, which he traded (as well as teaching planting and growing techniques) for a small fortune in diamonds. Hearing of this success, another man found the island, and traded garlic for the most valuable thing the natives had. He returned home, opened the chest, and found it full of onions.
- A similar story appears in the Arabian Nights - a poor man went to the Caliph (who had never eaten poor men's food before) with a cart of onions. The Caliph loved them, and rewarded the poor man by filling his cart with gold. Another poor man had the idea - "if the great Caliph was so impressed by onions, what will happen when I introduce him to garlic?" The Caliph loved garlic too, and ordered the poor man to be rewarded by filling his cart with the greatest treasure in his kingdom... onions.
- It is recorded, and as certain as anything else we know about Muhammad, that onions were his favorite food.
- In much of the Middle East, water and arable land are both precious commodities. Vegetables might really be worth more than gold in some places.
- David Eddings' The Redemption of Althalus does this one when the titular thief, in the middle of a stream of bad luck, breaks into a strong room (this in the world's Bronze age) and opens a chest reputedly jammed with cash. He finds it full of worthless scraps of paper and leaves. Only to be told in a tavern the next day of the owner's confusion at having come in the next morning to find someone had broken into his strong room, opened his safe, tossed all his Bronze age paper money in a pile on the floor and left.
- In another of Eddings' series, The Belgariad, the Marag people were wiped out by the Tolnedrans (a Race of Hats based on Imperial Rome and phenomenally greedy) ostensibly because of the Marag habit of ritualistic cannibalism, but largely because their streams were literally lined with gold. The Marags, having a barter economy and being phenomenally xenophobic, didn't care about the gold. In a Karmic Twist Ending of sorts, after the genocide, the Marags' gold-filled country becomes so overrun with vengeful ghosts that no one can set foot there without going insane.
- Belgarath also has a vast hoard of gold, which he mined himself, and which he almost never needs. Although he could create all the gold he wants, he doesn't do so, partly perhaps because it's less fun, but probably because doing so would gradually devalue the metal.
- Of course Belgarath also places a huge diamond under a step in his tower to see how long it would take to wear down to dust, then forgets he placed it there anyway.
- Also, Garion, his grandson, is given huge sums of money from his treasury each month and just throws it into a drawer in his bedroom. His wife, a Tolnedra (see above), is horrified. Of course this may be just because he is a king, but it still shows a very strong disregard for money in general.
- Not necessarily. He might very well have announced he put the money in his bedside drawer on purpose, to get a rise out of Ce'Nedra. It's not like lovers teasing each other are entirely unheard of in Eddings' works ;).
- He's well aware of the money's value, and it's as safe in his bedroom drawer as anywhere. It's just more than he needs.
- In the David Eddings series The Dreamers, the four gods hire armies with gold, except for Aracia. Queen Trenicia of the Isle of Akalla won't accept gold- she refers to it as 'yellow lead' and took gems as payment instead.
- Isaac Asimov's Robot City series, the robots of the titular city see gold as a very weak metal, and mostly useless. However, seeing as how it never corrupts, they ended up finding a use for it, eating utensils for the humans that visit.
- They seem to forget it's also a great conductor.
- Not that great. Gold's main value in electronics is its resistance to corrosion, as noted by the robots. This is why it's used quite often for plating contacts; no insulating oxide layer will form. However, copper is about 40% more conductive than gold, and silver is better still. That said, silver, copper, and gold are the top three, at least when only pure elements are considered.
- It's very necessary in a host of electronic devices. Small wires tarnish very easily, if made of silver or copper, which interrupts the voltage. As such, gold's resistance to oxidation is immensely useful. Most mobile phones will contain about 40 cents of gold for this reason. And a couple cents of platinum too.
- Given that Trantorians—inhabitants of the planet-city that's the capital of the Galactic Empire in the Foundation series—still get their news via dead-tree media, the robots probably all used vacuum tubes.
- Asimov's robots use a "positronic brain" which runs on positrons not electrons. How the hell that might work is never explained but given that, its not much of a hand wave to say that gold isn't a good conductor for positrons.
- The positronic brain is usually stated to be platinum-iridium alloy.
- The only reason the "brains" of robots in Asimov's story are "positronic" is because when he wrote the first story featuring such artificial intelligence, positrons had just been discovered several years prior, and he thought "positronic" sounded cooler.
- In Foundation, a Terminus trader is surprised that some planet wants gold as ransom for a captured person - for him it is "old fashioned", although he has no trouble understanding the possible uses of this fact (he can synthesize significant amounts of it). Later, he is trying to convince a nobleman of that world to buy technology. He sells him a device to transform iron into gold as part of a blackmail scheme of the supposedly pious nobleman. The man buys all of the trader's goods at a fair price (two shipfuls of tin) in order to keep video footage of him drooling over gold from being broadcast to the citizens. He later tells a friend how laughable it was because it's just not cost-effective to transmute metals. The Galactic Empire is shown to use iridium the way we use silver.
- At one point in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the Book muses at length about how most of the proposed solutions to Earth's unhappiness have involved the movement of small green pieces of paper. It considers this odd, as generally speaking, it isn't the small green pieces of paper who are unhappy. As brought up in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, all forms of currency are ultimately proven to be either pointless or useless.
- Played with in Aliens: The Other White Meat. A dimensional traveler named Blackbeard found a universe where gold was so common as to be lying around on the ground, but chewing gum was viewed as an incredibly rare treasure. Naturally, his response was to buy large quantities of gum, transport them to that world, and make himself the richest man in history.
- In The Phantom Tollbooth jewels are valued just like in the real world, except in Digitopolis. They only care about digging up numbers. Precious stones are tossed in the corner and are considered worse than dross. Of course our heroes realize their value, but are distracted by the arrival of lunch before they can even ask for some souvenirs.
- Then there's still the Fridge Logic to deal with of why the miners bothered to cut and polish the gems before throwing them out.
- They found them that way. Presumably the remains of a prior civilization, but who knows how a universe with non-symbolic alphanumerics works?
- On a similar note, the underground folk from The Silver Chair do value gemstones, but only fresh ones that are filled with delicious juice. The hard, dry, inedible ones that surface-dwellers hoard are stale and tasteless, hence without value.
- In The Hyperboloid of Engineer Garin, an early Soviet sci-fi novel from the 1920s, the titular Mad Scientist takes over the corrupt United States by offering everyone who asks an endless supply of cheap gold, thus bringing the entire monetary and financial system to its knees (while becoming popular with the masses). (Since at the time the value of currency was pegged to the value of gold, the devastating effects of a supply of cheap gold are quite believable). It is then up to the brave Communist heroes to foil his plot to Take Over the World. For those wondering, he got the gold by using his laser-like Death Ray to drill deep beneath the Earth's crust, where there is apparently an entire geological layer composed of gold mixed with mercury.
- In The Water Trader's Dream, a poem by Robert Priest, aliens trade gold and jewels for water on Earth, a scare and valuable commodity in the galaxy (!).
- In Wolf of the Plains, when Wen Chao attempts to recruit the Mongols as mercenaries to fight the Tartars, he offers Temujin (the future Genghis Khan) gold. Temujin turns him down and demands a more useful payment instead - swords, bows, and armour.
- In the second book, Lords of the Bow, 'Ma Tsin' tries to bribe Temuge into persuading Genghis Khan to lift the siege of Yenking. He fails, because Temuge finds the idea of exchanging a horse for a bag of metal, which can then be exchanged for another horse, ridiculous.
- In H. B. Fyfe's "In Value Deceived", an alien exploration starship is searching for a way to alleviate the famine on their home world. They make first contact with a human starship on some barren little world. On a tour of the human's ship, they are thunderstruck when they see the hydroponic installations. It's the key to salvation for their people! But of course they feign disinterest. They ask for one as a souvenir. They don't notice the similar disinterest with which the humans ask for an alien heating unit. The one that produces all that pesky ash. Stuff like uranium and gold nuggets. Both aliens and humans are surprised when both parties make quick good-byes after the trade and take off before the trade is regretted. They both think "gee, the other guys act like they cheated us."
- In Cryptonomicon, the heroes discover a small fortune in sunken gold plates. Due to the unusual legal situation they're in, they treat the gold as more of a liability than an asset. However, a reader who has also read the prequels knows that the sheets are giant punch cards from a failed attempt at a Steam Punk computer, not to mention an unknown isotope of gold that is the key to immortality.
- Inverted in Triplanetary, our iron is the most valuable substance in existence for the alien Nevians.
- Shifted a few preciousness brackets over in Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar Cycle. The Tsurani invade Midkemia (standard medieval-but-with-magic Earth-clone) for their metal. Their home world of Kelewan is an old world which was previously inhabited by at least two intelligent races, who mined out all the metals. Silver used to pay for a meal in a tavern on Midkemia could support a Tsurani family for a year. At the same time, the small, low-quality gems used in lieu of large-denomination coins on Tsuranuanni are so valuable on Midkemia that a Tsurani noble's modest travel chest is enough to set him up comfortably for the rest of his life.
- Tsuranuanni is a thinly disguised Japan, which in Real Life has little iron or other metals. One of the reasons why European armor was metal and Japanese was not, was that Europe had iron.
- One of the very early books of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, Han Solo and the Lost Legacy, involved him and his friends-of-the-book questing after the treasure of a long-perished galactic overlord, only to find that it's a cache of once cutting edge military materiel, immensely valuable at the time, but basically worthless to them, since Technology Marches On.
- In the Transformers novel The Veiled Threat, Starscream is shown to be bribing terrorists by using his internal matter converter to produce massive amounts of gold coins. The other Decepticons are baffled that the loyalties of humans can be won by such simple and, from their perspective, worthless bits of metal. They claim that Cybertronians are superior as they only value what is useful for continued functioning, like energon. Considering the behavior of some of the human terrorists within the novel, they may be right.
- Similarly, in Bruce Coville's Rod Albright Alien Adventures series, it's mentioned in the first book that energy credits are galactic society's basic unit of exchange. "Makes more sense than gold," Grakker comments (rather condescendingly) to Rod. "Not much you can do with gold once you've got it."
- In Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, Rob is contacted by a woman who wants to sell an entire collection of rare and valuable records for a pittance. Justified in that the woman's husband just left her for his much-younger secretary, and asked his wife to sell the collection to finance his new life with the secretary. She's deliberately trying to short the husband. Rob can't go through with it in the end. See also the Real Life example below.
- This sequence was done for the movie as well; it didn't make the theatrical version, but is in the deleted scenes on the home releases.
- In the Fighting Fantasy book Creature of Havoc, the PC is a monster, and so gets to kill several adventuring parties in the early part of the book. If they choose to investigate the corpses, they find some shiny metal disks, but can't imagine what purpose they might serve and so throw them away.
- In "The Iron Standard", by Henry Kuttner, a spaceship crew is starving on Venus because gold and silver are too common there, the society is too conservative to buy any of their devices, and the main medium of exchange is iron, which they only have as alloys.
- In The Sword of Truth, the Mud People have gold treasuries (and possibly mines) on their territory, but consider it worthless because it's too soft for spears.
- Thomas More's Utopia points out the bad logic of assigning "value" to things just because they're pretty and rare. In Utopia, they have the stuff and use it to trade to the outside world, but within Utopia, it's communally owned and growing attached to it is discouraged. Gold is used for the shackles of slaves and for things like chamber pots, so that it's associated with the shameful and dirty. Precious stones are given to small children to wear and play with, with the understanding that any self-respecting Utopian will quickly grow out of this infantile attachment to the shiny if they want to be taken seriously — so if any foreigners ever arrive all pimped out in their most ostentatious jewelry in an attempt to impress the locals, they'll look like overgrown babies. In one case a foreign king visting Utopia is mistaken for a slave due to having a gold necklace around his neck. A group of watching Utopians comment on the scene with one saying "that chain hardly looks big enough to prevent that slave from escaping." Since he's also wearing many jewels, which their society veiws as absurd and childish for an adult, they concluded he's some kind of clown. One of the king's servants, who is dressed in normal clothes, is mistaken for the foreign king because he's the only one not wearing gold or jewels, and therefore the only one respectable enough to even be considered the ruler of such a powerful nation.
- The "disaster situation" applies in the novel Robinson Crusoe: In chapter five, Robinson is stranded on a desert island with no other human being. He needs every tool he can get, things like razors, scissors, knives, and forks are precious, but then he writes: I found about Thirty six Pounds value in Money, some European Coin, some Brazil, some Pieces of Eight, some Gold, some Silver. I smil'd to my self at the Sight of this Money, O Drug Said I aloud, what art thou good for, Thou art not worth to me, no not the taking off of the Ground, one of those Knives is worth all this Heap, I have no Manner of use for thee, e'en remain where thou art, and go to the Bottom as a Creature whose Life is not worth saving. However, upon Second Thoughts, I took it away, Robinson knows the value, but those treasures are really only worthless yellow rocks if there is not a society to give them value.
- Which just shows the author wasn't really thinking, since both gold and silver can be melted and cast into many very useful things with little more than a hot fire. Buttons, needles, cutlery, fish hooks, all just thrown away for a lack of imagination.
- In The Diamond Age, the most valuable items are things that are handmade, due to ready access to nanotechnology. Diamond (and anything else that's made of carbon) is basically worthless. The book's title alludes to the fact that thanks to nanoconstruction, window panes are often made of solid diamond.
- In the Doctor Who Expanded Universe novel Night of the Humans, Amy is in the far-distant future, and when she learns she's got involved in a treasure hunt she says "Like a chest of gold or something?" Her companions are amused; it's like she's never heard of Voga.
- One of Keith Laumer's stories had diplomat Retief make a deal with an alien who could provide amphibious construction workers. The alien said his people were skilled craftsmen, who had to bring along the materials they knew and loved: gold, diamonds, emeralds, rubies, and granite. Retief okayed the gold and jewels, but said to hold the granite, and the alien was pleased at his generosity, "accepting the stuff we got a surplus of, and foregoing the rare and expensive granite."
- The 13 Clocks featured a woman who was cursed to cry jewels - once word spread about her, people came from far and wide to tell her sad stories and make her cry. Unfortunately, over time she flooded the economy with jewels and her town collapsed once cobblestones became more valuable than jewelry.
- In the picture book The Littlest Angel, all the angels in Heaven are asked to bring gifts for the birth of Jesus Christ, the best of which will become the Star of Bethlehem. The titular angel, a small boy, brings a box of his earthly possessions from when he was human: a broken dog collar and some shiny pebbles. Because of its sentimental value, the littlest angel's box of trash is chosen over the more elaborate and costly gifts of the other angels.
- Sergey Lukyanenko's Seekers of the Sky duology takes place In a World where iron is extremely rare, resulting in a Steam Punk level of technology in the 21st century. Gold is mentioned several times but is usually brushed off as only useful for decorations. Once, the main character notices a State ship-of-the-line and realizes its wooden hull is gold-plated. He muses that they could've afforded to iron-plate it, but it would just rust. Apparently, steel was never invented in that world, and no one ever mentions aluminum, despite its potential for use in aircraft.
- See Real Life: without the Bayer process, aluminum is exceedingly expensive to refine in a pure form.
- H. G. Wells' The First Men in the Moon. Gold is so abundant on the moon that when our protagonists are captured by the Selenites, even the chains they are bound with are massive gold.
- Played with in The Girl Who Owned a City. The local children do steal money when they raid abandoned supermarkets and buildings for food, but Lisa notes that money isn't any good anymore, since "there's nowhere to spend it".
- In Arthur C. Clarke's 2010: Odyssey Two, space-entity Dave Bowman peers down into the depths of Jupiter and discovers that its core is a diamond the size of the Earth. In 2061: Odyssey Three, it turns out that the stellar ignition of Jupiter at the end of the previous book tossed a few "insignificant chunks" of this core up into orbit, including one mountain-sized hunk that landed on one of the Jovian moons.
- A Biblical example:
1 Kings 10:21 : All King Solomon’s goblets were gold, and all the household articles in the Palace of the Forest of Lebanon were pure gold. Nothing was made of silver, because silver was considered of little value in Solomon's days.
- Pippi Longstocking has piles of gold and zero comprehension of math, so she tends to pay people far more than the asking price. At one point, she receives change in silver and reacts with disgust: "What would I do with all those nasty little white coins?"
- In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the Ireland Quiddich team mascots are leprechauns that make their entrance throwing gold coins on the audience. However, this trope is inverted when it becomes apparent that the leprechauns had thrown leprechaun gold - which vanishes after a few days. This puts Ron in an angsty mood since paid Harry back for buying him some binoculars with the gold instead of 'real' money, and is too poor to actually pay him back, and it angers Fred and George when a rather large bet they won was paid in said gold.
- Also invoked with portkeys. Almost anything can be made into a portkey, so if someone is making a portkey to leave somewhere outdoors so that someone else can use it later, they often make it out of something seemingly worthless (like an old newspaper or an abandoned shoe or something) so that Muggles who happen to come along in the mean time won't be tempted to touch it.
- The titular planet from the New Kashubia series is rich in every sort of heavy metal, but desperately, desperately shy of lighter elements. Even air and soil had to be shipped in at hideous expense, and though the inhabitants, transported there very much against their will, live in tunnels drilled through solid gold, they're still the poorest people in the galaxy. By the opening of the second book, their economy has improved to the point that they can afford luxuries like clothing, and actual homes.
- In the Doc Savage novel Murder Melody, the Beneath the Earth kingdom of Subterranea uses gold for a huge variety of uses as it is the most abdundant and ductile metal available.
- In The End Of The Matter, the incomprehensible alien Abalamahalamatandra sits around idly, playing with its toes and setting stones into circles, while the other characters talk. Naturally, nobody notices that it's using very large gemstones to do so, or that it stumbles in a hole where the priceless archeological treasures two of the speakers had been seeking for months are concealed.
- The Postman is set After the End. The protagonist finds a heavy box in an abandoned house and hopes that it's filled with canned food, ammunition and/or medical supplies and not useless gold hoarded by a short-sighted pre-Apocalypse citizen.
- Most of the societies in Alice, Girl from the Future are moneyless. One of the stories features Alice looking for a replacement for a 1.5 kg gold nugget she took from the school's museum and lost. Since she has plenty of friends, the next day she comes to school with her dad carrying twelve times the required amount.
- Diamonds, rubies, sapphire, and emeralds are all popular building materials in the Great Ship universe. Glass has been replaced by diamond panels, and the other precious gems are used essentially like wallpaper.
- Played with in Phyllis Eisenstein's "The Crystal Tower". The hero, Cray Ormoru, finds himself in a place where gemstones are so common as to be worthless. But when he tries to pay for a drink with a silver coin from his homeland, the proprietress is first suspicious, then unsure what to do when offered something so rare and valuable as silver. She decides to use the coin as jewelry.
- Comes up in Tales of Kolmar. Dragons in that verse transform dirt and rock into gold over long exposure to their bodies, so caves where they sleep gradually acquire golden linings. They don't find it useless, finding it comfortable to sleep on, decorative, they can soften it with their fiery breaths and carve and sculpt it, and most importantly they're able to slather it on as bandages after they're injured, to seal the wounds. However, they see no other use for it and are utterly baffled by human desire for it.
- In the Transformers: TransTech short story "Gone Too Far", the heroes (for a certain technical value of "hero") at one point end up on an alien planet where the species is having a problem with their planet having millions of tons of Worthless Pink Rocks that are "squareish ones that glow and explode if you hit them too hard or bring fire near them". Realizing they just hit the motherload of energon, our heroes grin at each other and say to the aliens sure, they'll be nice and take care of these horrible deadly rocks for them, and they'll even be generous and do it free of charge...
- In Charles Sheffield's "The Treasure Of Odirex", a dwindling tribe of Neanderthals lives in hiding in an abandoned Derbyshire gold mine, and make necklaces and other simple ornaments from a shiny yellow mineral they occasionally come across.
- Played straight, ignored and averted in Hugo Silva's novel "Pacha Pulai": a Chilean military pilot (none other than Lieutenant Alejandro Bello) in the early XX century gets lost during a test flight and ends up somewhere in the Andes Mountains. He finds the City of the Caesars, known locally as Pacha Pulai, cut off from communication for at least two centuries and still loyal to Spain. After some adventures and the destruction of the city, he returns to civilization, although he never returns to Chile.
- In the city, gold and silver are abundant to the point of being worthless, while copper is rare and expensive. The church bells are made of gold, as are many other things, including regular cutlery (fine cutlery is made of copper).
- As mentioned above, silver is as abundant as gold, but there aren't any references about it being commonly used.
- Early in the story, the pilot confiscates a suitcase with 50.000 Chilean pesos (about 230000 US dollars in today's money) from a thief. This money is stored away and unmentioned during his time in Pacha Pulai. After leaving the city, he loses the suitcase, but chooses not to retrieve it as it was "ill-gotten money" (and he had the key to a treasury, where he'd later recover many riches in the form of gemstones).
- Inverted in the Thomas Covenant books, where gold is priceless, partly because of rarity, and partly because it makes the local magic stronger. White gold, an alloy, is even more valuable, being the key to wild magic.
- Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter's The Long Earth takes place in a near future where simple devices allow (nearly) anyone to "step" sideways onto Earth in parallel universes. A minor character decides to step a few worlds over from Sutter's Mill with the intent of finding a jackpot of untouched gold - and finds out that: 1) he's not the only one who had the idea, and 2) it's pointless because there's literally an infinity of Earths out there making every material abundant if you can get to it. However, iron (aside from the iron in blood) can't be carried while stepping, meaning every colony is starting from Bronze Age technology and real value is no longer in resources but expertise - every colony wants someone who knows how to work metal and eventually let them develop iron production. Many others realize infinite abundance means billions of humans could simply forage for what they need, dissolving the need for high-density agriculture and stable settlements entirely.
- Played with in Elizabeth Enright's Tatsinda. There's a metal—pretty, but devoid of any practical use—that's so common in Tatrajan that the ore is used to pave streets...which happens to be the same metal coveted by a greedy, brutal ogre.
- Played with in the first episode of Firefly. At the start we see the main characters raid the wreckage of a spaceship for some boxes containing large metallic bars. Towards the end of the episode we find out this is food (wrapped in coppery foil), although admittedly in the form of single bars capable of feeding a family for a month per bar, and giving them immunization boosters to boot. The point being that something like that would be far more useful to settlers on a frontier planet than 'valuable' metal.
- Though it's worth noting the currency of frontier planets is platinum, while more advanced and civilized alliance planets uses "credits", consisting of bills.
- In the Serenity tabletop RPG, it's established that while gold isn't worthless, it's not worth a whole lot either. Platinum is the currency of real business; gold and silver are pocket change.
- On ALF, Alf bails the family out of a financial jam by hocking some of the plumbing fixtures on his ship - which are made of platinum (which is more plentiful than iron on Alf's home planet).
- The Diffys from Phil of the Future bought their house with a bag of diamonds produced as a waste product of the magnetic bottle containment system on their Time RV. They were going to throw them out. Keeping with both sides of this trope, aluminium foil is apparently extremely valuable in the future.
- In Star Trek, gold-pressed latinum is a universal currency outside The Federation, which is a cashless society (though unofficially it's the universal currency inside the Federation). However, the gold itself is worthless — the latinum sandwiched within the gold is the source of its value. Ordinary latinum cannot be replicated, and because it's liquid at room temperature, it's mixed with the gold to make convenient (and shiny) units of currency. An episode of Deep Space 9 featured Quark falling victim to a con game where he ended up in possession of a large amount of valueless, hollowed out bars of 24k gold. Of course, being the crafty and greedy sonuvabitch that he is, the Ferengi promptly subverts this by remembering that other, more primitive races in the galaxy would consider the gold valuable, and tries to convince the guy who got him caught up in the scheme in the first place to help him barter with said races.
- Of course, Star Trek isn't completely consistent.. there are episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, where the replicators are introduced, gold is of considerable worth to Ferengis (chalk it up to Early-Installment Weirdness, remember that "gold-pressed latinum" as a concept didn't exist yet).
- The detail that combadges use actual gold became useful in "Time's Arrow" when Data went to 19th-century Earth; he was able to use it to make a bet in a game of poker and acquire money. Which frankly isn't fair, as Data is an emotionless android that can count all the cards and has the ultimate poker face, but as the gamblers were looking to basically take others' money, it works out....
- Not just that, the gamblers let Data deal, and it was established a few episodes earlier in Cause and Effect that he can stack the deck faster than the human eye can detect.
- Enterprise inverted the trope in one episode. In order to get their hands on the formula for some Applied Phlebotinum, Archer gave an alien merchant a selection of Earth spices, presumably from the kitchen. While spices aren't exactly worthless on Earth (as Trip said, "on our world, wars were fought over these"), Archer could probably have replaced the sample set for about 50 bucks. But to the alien merchant, they were exotic spices from a distant world, which he could probably have sold for significantly more than the value of the formula he traded.
- Star Trek: The Original Series
- In "Elaan of Troyius", the Federation has no idea why the Klingons are so interested in a certain planet inhabited by a low-tech race. When they happen to look at a necklace worn by one of the natives, they discover the "common stones" it is made of happen to be dilithium crystals, which are the source of starship power and highly valuable to space-traveling races.
- In "Catspaw", aliens try to tempt Kirk with a pile of precious jewels. He tells them that he could manufacture a thousand of them on Enterprise.
- Oddly, in "Arena", Sufficiently Advanced Aliens put Kirk and the captain of an alien ship unarmed on a planet, where they must fight it out. When he comes across a deposit of diamonds, he notes: "a fortune in precious stones, and I'd give it all up for a hand phaser".
- In 3rd Rock from the Sun, the Solomons think the lottery is just a game, and throw away a winning ticket without realizing it would have made them very rich.
- In another episode, Dick decides to buy a diamond ring, but is horrified when he finds out how expensive diamonds are. His exclamation sums it up: "Where I come from we use the big ones as door stoppers!"
- In The Twilight Zone TOS episode "The Rip Van Winkle Caper", thieves steal a truckload of gold and put themselves in suspended animation for a hundred years in a desert cave to escape the law. When they awake, they turn on each other and all but one die. The surviving thief tries to cross the desert and dies in front of two motorists, promising gold in exchange for help with his last breath. The couple wonder why he considered gold to be so valuable, as it had been manufactured cheaply for years.
- This trope was also invoked on the trip through the burning desert, where a drink of water was sold for one gold bar each.
- Another TOS Twilight Zone example: In "Two", the male soldier raids a cash register, realizes that the money is useless because it is After the End, and tosses the coins into the street.
- An episode of Wonder Woman dealt with this concept: how do you establish a galactic currency when wildly-varying worlds use gold or steel or wood. The rather squicky solution that some unethical individuals come up with is using minds sucked out of their original bodies.
- Present day variant: in the LOST episode "Expose," Nikki and Paolo essentially die because of some diamonds. When Sawyer finds the diamonds, he and others (including Sun and Hurley) decide they're worthless on the island and scatter them in the grave. This is horribly painful to watch once one knows that Sun and Hurley get off the island about two weeks later, not to mention that Nikki and Paolo are actually paralyzed and are being buried alive. This was mostly the Losties being Genre Savvy enough avert Gold Fever.
- In Hurley's defense, back home he was trying to get rid of the millions he already had because he believed it was cursed.
- And Sun's financial situation didn't turn out too shabby, either.
- It worked out pretty well for Miles, assuming he doesn't die, because he found out about the diamonds, dug up the graves, and took them.
- The History Channel TV Show Modern Marvels had an episode on recycling where the plant manager of a metals recovery firm was displaying to the audience a box containing gray chunks and dust which looked like, well, worthless dirt and rocks, and admitted that's what most people thought it was. You'd be surprised to discover that the box contained two and one-half million U.S. dollars worth of recycled platinum.
- In the NBC's Gulliver's Travels mini-series, the Houyhnhnms are puzzled as to why the Yahoos love certain common rocks (actually gigantic diamonds), Gulliver explaining that "primitive creatures love shiny things." In secret, he collects some for himself to sell in England only to throw them away when he decides to stay with the Houyhnhnms.
- Played with in the reimagined Battlestar Galactica. Tom Zarek makes a speech about how money has become useless because of the End of the World as We Know It and attacks people still clinging to such things, including Roslin. Later in the same episode, Starbuck and Apollo arrest a would-be assassin who has a wallet full of banknotes. During interrogation, they rip them one by one while referring to Zarek's earlier speech (the guy claimed he had a lot of money so he needed a gun, but the guy was pro-Zarek and was believed to be in his service, which is why they tore into him like that). Money doesn't completely lose its value in the fleet as the show goes on, but barter is important.
- In one episode of Tales from the Crypt ("Dead Wait"), the protagonist explores a remote location, searching for a legendary black pearl in the hopes of getting rich. In the end, a local murders him, celebrating that collecting his scalp full of red hair will increase her status immensely. She notices the pearl, and throws it away like it was trash.
- Gold is as common as dirt on the planet Voga in Doctor Who. Unfortunately, this makes the Vogans a target for both greedy human prospectors and Cybermen who hope to eliminate a source of weapons against them (gold dust is to Cybermen as silver is to werewolves).
- The citizens of the The Pirate Planet give away gems like they don't matter because they can be found everywhere and periodically replenish themselves. This is because the planet as the name indicates loots other planets.
- In "Planet of the Dead", the Doctor has one of the people he's stranded with retrieve a giant yellow crystal suspended in some mundane looking clamps. He then discards the crystal, because the anti-gravity clamps are what he needed.
- In the original My Favorite Martian, Tim O'Hara accidentally breaks some ordinary drinking glasses, and Uncle Martin muses that it's a pity because on Mars, objects made from glass are exceptionally valuable.
- In one episode of Lost in Space, treasure hunters come looking for the treasure of a man from a planet where gold and gems were extraordinarily common. The treasure chests contain objects of aluminum and tin - to a man who had handled gem encrusted gold objects every day of his life, they were treasure.
- Subverted in "The Conveyor Project", a fourth season episode of The Red Green Show. Miserly shopkeeper Dalton Humphrey has been given the (now broken) eponymous conveyor belt, and is weighing bids of as much as $10 for the metal interior. Red Green points out that if he instead sells the steel, nickel axles, and copper wire to a scrap metal dealer, he could make up to $10,000. Dalton is absolutely delirious with glee at this news.
- On Mork and Mindy, Mork brings out two bags of Orkan currency. As Mindy starts spilling the contents of the first, Mork implores her to be "careful, the banks are closed."
Mindy: Mork, this is sand.
Mork: I know. It's been in my family for years.
Mindy: But on Earth, sand is a common as...dirt.
Mork: Well, there goes bag number two.
- In one episode of The Lives Of Harry Lime, Harry manages to find the lost treasure of Barbarossa. He is captured by bandits who get drunk on the wine stored there. They open the bags of gold dust, not realising what it it is, and allow it to spill onto the beach and be washed away by the tide.
- Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog (the funny cartoon) did this once when Sonic dressed up as a bumpkin and tricked Robotnik and his goons into trading all their stolen loot for a bag of "worthless yellow rocks". Turns out later that they were worthless: just chili beans painted gold. Stale chili beans, at that.
- Von Goosewing in Count Duckula attempts to dig his way into Duckula's castle. He completely obliterates the mountain it sits on in the attempt, finding only a bunch of "funny yellow rocks" in the process. The whole reason he can't find the castle is that Duckula has taken it on a trip to go gold prospecting, from which he returns empty-handed.
- Futurama: The Wong family long ago bought land off the native Martians (who didn't have a concept of ownership) for a single bead. Generations later, the Martians, thinking they'd been scammed, exact revenge on the Wongs, but it turns out that the bead was actually a gigantic, inconceivably expensive diamond. Of course, the modern Martians actually do have a concept of ownership...
- On Rocky and the Dodos, Rocky, Tantra, and Elvis dismiss gold coins they find with a metal detector, as they thought that it would help them find Limpets.
- On Rugrats, the babies trekked through a sandbox to find nickels, discarding a diamond ring, a million-dollar bill and other treasures as they went. Of course, they are babies.
- One episode of Seabert the Seal had a con-artist exploiting a group of jungle-dwelling natives by providing agricultural services in return for sacks of "colored glass". Needless to say, the glass was diamonds which the natives had no use for.
- The Simpsons: Homer rummages through a box at a yard sale and finds the first issue of the Action Comics comic book, reams of Inverted Jenny stamps, and a Stradivarius violin ("Stradi-who-vious?") He discards all of them as "junk".
- In one episode, Homer goes dumpster-diving in hopes of finding free peanuts, and is disappointed when he only finds a twenty-dollar bill. His brain has to remind him "Money can be exchanged for goods and services".
- In another episode, Martin's mother almost sells the original handwritten script of Star Wars (Alternate Ending: Chewbacca is Luke's father!) to the Comic Book Guy for 5$.
- In "The Burns and the Bees", Prof. Frink uses a perfume to attract bees. Moments after using it, a incredibly sexy woman walks up to him begging him to marry her and she will support him for life. Frink only states that she isn't a bee, deems the perfume useless and throws it away.
- In "The Joy of Sect", Jimbo, Dolph, and Kearney steal other peoples' luggage at the airport. Kearney's bag turns out to contain a set of rare Fabergé eggs, which he dismisses as "a bunch of fruity Easter eggs."
- Sorta-kinda done on SpongeBob SquarePants, in the episode "Idiot Box." The episode begins with the titular character buying a humongous flat-screen television, only to throw it away. It's quickly revealed that he actually bought it for the cardboard box it was packed in.
- In another episode. where Mr. Krabs is trying to get a penny from Spongebob. It's revealed he was only picking up piece of chewed up gum for his collection. Spongebob tosses it when he realizes it wasn't a piece of chewed gum after all. Just a $500 bill.
- At one point, Spongebob and Patrick find a valuable pearl, which they were going to use as a volleyball. If a scrupulous pawn shop owner didn't come buy and buy it from them for a "small fortune", this trope would have almost certainly gone its natural course.
- The Thundercats find gold in one episode, but discard it as too soft and too heavy to use for anything they can think of. Wouldn't you know it, they need the gold to help repower a fire spirit who can help Lion-O repair his Wrecked Weapon. This one's weird; it showcases the 'cats non-materialism, but both Panthro and Tigra could be expected to know enough about electronics to come up with something to do with it.
- Cheetara did keep some of it because it was pretty though. The rest got dumped.
- In a few Looney Tunes shorts, Bugs Bunny or some other character will be in trouble because he has a bunch of "funny yellow rocks" on his person and villains like Yosemite Sam or Blacque Jacque Shellacque find out.
- In at least one instance, they are just Worthless Yellow Rocks: Bugs remarks how much fun you can have with some rocks and a can of yellow paint...
- Subverted in a Daffy Duck cartoon of all things, where Daffy finds himself lost in the desert after finding a huge gold nugget. He spends the entire cartoon rebuffing a pack rat that wants to trade some water for his shiny rock. Finally, Daffy gives in and trades the nugget... just seconds before a flash storm floods the entire desert up to his neck. Surprisingly, Daffy only smiles and says: "when I buy water, I sure get my money's worth!"
- Megas XLR "Battle Royale" In Space, Jamie's pocket lint is more valuable than his two coins.
- Spoofed on Duck Dodgers. The Eager Young Space Cadet claims that "Diamonds haven't been valuable for centuries. Ever since we realized they're nothing but shiny rocks."
- Timon & Pumbaa: Timon and Pumba initally regard the gold they found as worthless, until a nearby criminal reminds them that they can use it to buy bugs to eat. They even call them useless yellow rocks.
- In one episode of Garfield and Friends, Garfield finds himself in a hidden city filled with smurf-like people who regard food (such as the lasagna they stole from him, which began the whole episode) as money, and money as food.
- One episode of The Fairly Oddparents involves Cosmo and Wanda losing their wands on the beach. They end up digging in the sand, turning up all sorts of priceless treasures and discarding them. This is eventually lampshaded:
Wanda: Cosmo! I found something!
Cosmo: Eh? Let me guess, another Holy Grail? (rolls eyes)
- King Julien went to the Lost Stuff box to find something funny or entertaining. Tossing aside a bunch of dollar bills and a huge gold collar
Julien: Paper Trash....Metal Trash....
- On Jimmy Two-Shoes, Beezy bribes Heloise with a box filled with gold. She happily accepts it...so she can have the box it comes in.
- Roger the alien from American Dad! excretes gold inlaid with jewels as feces and doesn't recognize its value on Earth.
- In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic pre-cut gems can be dug up practically anywhere, as such they're mostly used as sequins on dresses or dragon chow. Said gems are apparently very valuable to the Diamond Dogs, but they don't seem to have any reason for wanting them other than gathering them because they wants the shiny.
- Zigzaged during the episode "Just for Sidekicks" as initially, Spike the dragon is using gems as ingredients for a cake, and he ends up eating his stash before finishing said cake. So, to gather more, he offers his services as a pet keeper for his pony friends, who pay him in gems of varying sizes between a brick and a needle. Throughout the episode, Spike has to pawn off the gems to pay for various things he and the pets break. The larger gems are used for buying fairly common things, (train tickets, a tray of donuts) , and the largest of them all is simply used as something to throw in a critical situation as if it were just a plain old rock. Meanwhile, that small needle-thin gem turns out to be worth enough to buy a huge, industrial-sized drying machine.
- In Freakazoid!, Jeepers created a watch that could turn beavers into gold. But there's very little call for gold beavers, so he ends up with a closet full of them.
- An episode of the Krazy Kat animated series revolved around Krazy being Born Lucky. For instance, after getting violently ejected through a ceiling, she finds a cache of paper money and is delighted—"more pictures of presidents for my collection".
- One episode of Johnny Bravo involved a cat burglar in a museum trying to steal the world's largest cut piece of cubic zirconia, a cheap diamond substitute. When trying to remove it from its case, she discovers she can't break through it because it wasn't made of glass like she thought:
Rats! The case around it is made of pure diamond! How ironic.
- The Fractured Fairy Tales version of King Midas encounters this when, in an attempt to improve his public image, gives himself the "Golden Touch" (actually just discreetly painting objects gold). His subjects clamor to the castle to get various objects turned gold, but they do it so much that gold eventually becomes worthless to them. The kingdom shifts from the gold standard to turnips—something comparatively valuable, but which King Midas doesn't have, making him the poorest person in his own kingdom.
- Inverted on the Mighty Max cartoon show when Max and his friends end up fighting a band of aliens who seemingly want to conquer and plunder the Earth. Eventually, he realizes that the aliens are only looking for nuclear waste, which is toxic to Earthlings but which the aliens use as fuel. The episode ends with the aliens leaving amicably after they get the waste they were seeking.
- One Underdog cartoon features an alien race called Cloud Men, who have so much gold they make furniture out of it. It's wortless to them; what they really need is silver (because all clouds need a silver lining) so they steal it from other planets. Eventually, Polly convinces them to trade their gold for silver (which they apparently never considered).
- In Transformers Generation One, Transformers tend to see gold as worthless, though Decepticons understand that it can be used to bribe humans. Starscream understands its usefulness in electronics, as in one episode he demands gold and uses it to construct an electromagnetic generator. In "Nightmare Planet", a princess offers to pay Springer and Razorclaw with gold. Springer says that won't be necessary, but Razorclaw is intrigued, prompting a fan theory that Razorclaw likes gold because it is pretty.
- One episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) has the heroes in a halfshell meet a race of turtle aliens. The aliens have machines that can make gold, but only use it for building material as they absorb nutrients from gold-reflected light. The aliens want to move to Earth, but the turtles realize that their gold-makers would wreck havoc on the economy.
- In a segment of The Daily Show, Aasif Mandvi is explaining how bad the economy is, and what to invest in. When Jon Stewart says, "What about gold?", Aasif replies, "It turns out that gold is just a shiny metal. Very shiny, but still just metal."
- Classic urban legend: A jilted wife advertises her ex/absentee/cheating/imprisoned-husband's car for way less than cheap in the newspaper. A youngish man comes to buy the car, typically a cherry 50s-70s pony car or custom muscle car with a Blue Book value that looks like a phone number, for $10. (In some versions, she just wanted to get rid of the reminder; in others, the husband had sent a message asking her to "sell the car and send me the money".)
- Then there's the old joke about the rich man who died, and an angel was sent to bring him to Heaven. He bargains with the angel, and its superiors in Heaven, to allow him to bring all his riches with him, which they are against. Eventually, they cave in and allow him one single suitcase and whatever he can fit into it, which after agonized deliberation, he fills with solid gold ingots. After he arrives in heaven, Saint Peter asks what he brought, and the man opens the suitcase. Saint Peter looks at him with a confused expression on his face and asks "You brought PAVEMENT?"
- A standard old-timey joke involves someone offering his dim-witted friend a choice between "a shiny coin" or "a straggly bit of paper" (usually a £1 coin and a £50 note respectively). The idiot takes the coin of course; if they're feeling subversive, he'll also take the paper "to wrap it up in".
- There's also a version of the joke where a bystander takes pity on the dim-wit and points out to him that the piece of paper is worth more than the coin — to which the supposed dim-wit replies that one piece of paper is worth more than one coin, but that as long as he keeps picking the coin, his friend will keep offering him more.
- One more joke/urban legend that's been used multiple times in various media. An elderly man passes away, and his widow begins to wonder how she'll be able to afford to keep their house. Someone comes to help her sort through her husbands things, and sees some scraps of paper that the widow is using as bookmarks or wrapping paper otherwise seen as useless. Upon looking a little closer, they realize that those scraps of paper were stock certificates, and the late husband bought a few hundred shares in some start-up way back in the Seventies that has since turned into IBM or Microsoft, or some other newly blossomed company.
- In the old radio show X Minus One, a protagonist got mixed up in a time-traveling get-rick-quick scheme by going to the past and investing in stocks that would rise and property loaded with a type of mineral that the seller told him had interesting scientific qualities but was basically worthless—uranium.