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Worthless Currency

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The inflation rates make using money cents-less.
Most national currencies these days might not be directly useful for much, except maybe as firelighters, but it's still generally accepted that most vendors will accept them as payment for goods and services. You might need a lot, or need to exchange one country's money for another, but the cash is worth something. Not so with this currency.
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Usually this applies to the currencies of no-longer-existing governments, such as Confederacy dollars or Reichmarks, or governments that don't exist yet. It also might just be a scam.

Compare Global Currency Exception, which is mostly a video game trope, and Worthless Yellow Rocks, where a priceless rare material to one party is completely worthless to another who has an over-abundance. If it still has some value go to Ridiculous Exchange Rates or Ridiculous Future Inflation. This trope is sometimes used to put the "worthless" in a Worthless Treasure Twist.


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Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: The inhabitants of a town the Elric brothers visit early on in their travels complain that the local currency is so worthless the local government won't accept people paying their taxes with it. As one person on the street comments:
    You know the money's worthless when even the people who make it don't want it.

    Comic Books 
  • Archie Comics: Subverted in a story where the gang finds an old chest in the basement of Pop's Chok'lit Shoppe that contains, among some other Civil War memorabilia, a bunch of Confederate money. It proves immensely valuable as Pop's landlord was evicting him to build a strip mall on the land and the chest was found while helping Pop move, and the money helps prove that the Chok'lit Shoppe is a historical landmark and thus can't be torn down.
  • "There'll be Some Changes Made", a story in Journey into Mystery #33 (1956) has a man who resents his Revolutionary War era ancestor for spending the family fortune, so creates a time machine that can kill the man before he has a chance to do so. As a result, a strongbox containing the money instantly appears on the table ... and it turns out to be Continental currency, which had collapsed in value by 1778.
  • One Old West roleplaying game campaign in Knights of the Dinner Table ended with the victorious players shaking down the villain for millions of dollars. Unfortunately, despite the villain being a Confederate Army renegade, it never occurred to them that the money would be in worthless Confederate dollars.
  • Subverted in a Disney Ducks Comic Universe story: at the end of a grueling job for Scrooge Donald is paid a princely sum in Confederate dollars that he gives to the Nephews so at least they can play with them, only for them to mention they have Confederate money in hearing range of a Confederate nostalgic who is willing to pay a large sum to have them.

    Film — Live Action 
  • The Bob Hope and Bing Crosby movie Road to Utopia has Bing, having swindled some money out of drunks in their crooked theater show, discarding some of it because it is "Confederate ten spots"; remarking that "some people can be so crooked."
  • In Street Fighter M. Bison pays a hired thug in "Bison dollars", that he says will exchange for five British pounds in the future. "For that is the exchange rate the Bank of England will set after I kidnap their queen." Bison is defeated before his plans come to fruition, and the thug is left with a pile of worthless paper.
  • The War of the Worlds: Near the end of the film, a group of refugees starts looting a truck. When one of them offers another a generous amount of money in exchange for the goods, he is told that money is worth nothing anymore and thrown off the vehicle.
  • An Exploited Trope in The Resistance Banker. To maintain accounts on the people who have donated money to La Résistance, yet not leave evidence that can enable to German occupiers to identify them, Walraven issues them worthless stock from Czarist Russia which no-one will pay attention to, yet can be handed in for reimbursement after the war.
  • In The Furies (1950), the egotistical rancher "T. C." Jeffords pays for his debts using "T.C." notes instead of dollars. His daughter Vance undermines his wealth by buying up the notes, and once they're worthless hands over a crate of them as a 'loan'.
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    Literature 
  • In Bordan Deal's story "The Big Bajoor" and the movie based on it gypsy fortuneteller Vanya swindles an elderly woman out of the fortune left to her by her late father. Vanya's abusive husband Sandor burns the money when they discover that it's Confederate and she taunts him about it after finding an accompanying book which lists exactly how much it was worth in then-modern US dollars.
  • In Five Children and It, the children wish for gold, and receive vast amount of it. But when they try to spend it in shops, they are told it is "not current coin".
  • In The Girl Who Owned a City Lisa is gathering supplies from a store and notes that the cash register has been broken into and all the money removed. Since this is After the End, the United States Government no longer exists, and so dollars are just fancy pieces of paper.
  • In Making Money, master con-man Moist von Lipwig (who's just been put in charge of the bank) takes on the biggest challenge of his life. Attempting to persuade hard-bitten small shopkeepers in Ankh-Morpork, who are wedded to the idea that legitimate currency can only take the form of metal coins, that paper banknotes are every bit as real. He knows that until he can convince enough people of the reality of paper money - and to get them to agree it has value - the new notes are functionally worthless. The reluctance to switch over to paper money is a bit less understandable than most, given that Morporkian coinage has been debased to the point that the ostensibly gold dollar only contains a marginally higher proportion of gold than seawater, and postage stamps have been an unofficial but generally accepted currency for years at that point.
  • In McAuslan the main characters find a hidden treasure in a fort in the middle of the Arabian desert. Unfortunately, it's all in war-era Italian lire notes. The story is set in 1946 so Mussolini's government is no longer around to back the notes, meaning that the whole trove is worthless.
  • A variation shows up in The Odessa File: part of the backstory of a Master Forger side character was that when Germany was under 4-power occupation, he became an expert at forging various documents as well as Allied "Occupation Reichsmarks"; however, when the new West German Mark was introduced as a currency, every household was given a set amount of the new Mark without any conversion or exchange of existing currency reserves, rendering the fortune he forged worthless overnight.
  • The apocalyptic plague in The Stand renders money worthless for the few survivors, since there are far more goods than they could ever use just lying around for the taking. Some of them try to relieve boredom by playing poker for huge wads of cash, but the entertainment factor wears out quickly.
  • One book of The Three Investigators has two men feuding over a lost safe belonging to a mutual ancestor who was a blockade-runner during The American Civil War. The money in the safe turns out to be Confederate paper money and is therefore worthless. However, the investigators realize the old wood the safe was enmeshed in could be sold to a specialty lumber mill for a tidy sum, which the clients agree to split.
  • In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy it's mentioned that the galaxy has three major currencies, all of which are useless.
    • The Altairian dollar has recently collapsed.
    • The Flanian Pobble Bead is only exchangeable for other Flanian Pobble Beads.
    • The Triganic Pu is technically useful, having an exchange rate of eight Ningis to one Pu. However the Ningi is a triangular rubber coin 6800 miles long on each side meaning that no one has ever managed to collect enough of them to own one Pu (Ningi's are useless as currency because the banks refuse to deal in small change).

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Beverly Hillbillies: In the episode "His Royal Highness", the deposed King Alexander of Sabalia had suitcases full of Glotny's - identified by Miss Hathaway's guide to world currencies as completely worthless.
  • An episode of the George Reeves The Adventures of Superman centered around an old man trying to keep his loot safe from robbers. Turns out to be Confederate money.
  • Andromeda: In "The Pearls That Were His Eyes", the Andromeda Ascendant stops at a drift station to resupply, but Rev Bem points out that they need a means to pay, to which Dylan, referring to the ship's stores of old Commonwealth money, dryly comments, "We have plenty of currency, it's just that none of it's... current." They wind up selling off some of the ship's fine dining set and personal effects to raise money quickly.
  • In the "Mayberry Goes Bankrupt" episode of The Andy Griffith Show, Andy is about to evict Frank Myers from his house, until he finds a 100-year old bond worth many thousands of dollars including accumulated interest, which is potentially worth more than Mayberry has in its treasury. Later on, Andy and Barney discover that the bond was signed during the Civil War, which makes the bond worthless, since the payout would have been made in Confederate dollars.
  • Better Call Saul: One of Jimmy's early clients was a rich eccentric who wanted his house to secede from the USA. He backs out after finding out the payment is in homemade dollar bills with the guy's face printed on them.
  • The Dukes of Hazzard once found a treasure map that led to a lost fortune. This was one of the few times Boss Hogg managed to come out on top, only to discover the fortune was Confederate money.
  • Little House on the Prairie: The episode "The Inheritance" saw the Ingalls inherit a distant relative's fortune ... in Confederate money.
  • A The Swamp Fox episode where Marion's men pay a tavern owner with Continental money, which is worthless at the time. He's a Tory and not happy. They tell him the new government will make good on it after the war. Truth in Television as continental money really was worthless since the fledgling Americans had nothing to back it until after the war.
  • One episode of Pawn Stars had a man come in and present his finding of thousands of dollars in Confederate money, and asked to sell it for a few hundred. It's only at this point that Rick mentions that one stipulation of the official surrender of the Confederacy was that their money became worthless. By federal law, Rick was not allowed to offer any monetary value on the worthless notes.
  • British TV series When the Boat Comes In: Russian sailor Kaganovich comes to England to confront Jack Ford and to recover the money his father paid him to smuggle him out of revolutionary Russia. Ford hands over every penny, unspent; Kaganovich Senior had paid him in money issued by Kerensky's Provisional Government, which became worthless when Lenin's Bolshevik Government issued a new currency.
  • In the Minder episode "Bury My Heart At Walham Green," Arthur Daley helps an old lag find his hidden loot in return for a 25% cut. However, Arthur's cut consists of £1 notes, which, by that time, have been replaced by the £1 "gold" coin. To make things worse, the time limit on changing the notes for coins had expired.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Downplayed in Abyss. Pearls are very useful in the game, as they allow you to recruit Lords even if the Allies you have aren't valuable enough to pay its full cost. However, they are completely worthless at the end of most games, as they aren't worth any Influence Points and are only used to resolve ties. To make matters worse, the Kraken Expansion Pack introduces Nebulis, which are worse than worthless at that point — they cost you an IP each at the end of the game, and an additional 5 if you have the most of them!
  • Downplayed in 7 Wonders and its two-player spinoff 7 Wonders Duel. Having a comfortable stack of cash is useful during the game to pay for coin costs and resources you don't have enough of. However, they are much better spent than kept, because at the end of the game they are worth very little in terms of victory points (unless you have an effect that grants extra VP for them).

    Video Games 
  • Played for Laughs in A Hat in Time a couple of times:
    • When you infiltrate the Mafia headquarters there's plenty of slot machines to try, but none of them work since they only take local currency and all you have are pons, which are worthless here except to the Badge Vendor.
    • In the Nyakuza Metro DLC, The Empress throws wads of cash at you after each act rather than letting you keep the Time Piece you found. However, everyone in the Metro only accepts pons so it's only about as valuable as the paper it's printed on. At the end of the level, Hat Kid has an entire worthless pile of money on her ship collecting dust which she has no idea whatsoever what to do with.
  • In Far Cry 4, Pagan Min mentions changing Kyrat's official currency so that everyone's savings became worthless.
  • Fallout series:
    • Pre-War money is only usable as currency with a few antique vending machines and casino games, it's often more valuable as a trade good that some merchants will buy for the more typically accepted bottle caps. Or as Rock-It Launcher ammo, or as a crafting material in Fallout 4.
    • In Fallout 2 bottle caps have been rendered useless as a currency after the introduction of the NCR dollar. An unmarked quest in the game lets you find a bag containing 10000 caps, but they have no value anywhere in the game.
    • By Fallout: New Vegas the NCR's gold reserve has been destroyed by the Brotherhood and bottle caps have come back into use among the wastelanders, but NCR dollars are still in use among the Californians (exchanging for 40% of a cap). In addition Caesar's Legion uses silver denarii worth four caps and gold aurei worth a hundred.
    • In Fallout 4, you can come across an old charge card from before the War. Naturally, no one in the Commonwealth will accept it as a form of payment and you can only exchange it for a decent amount of caps with the Far Harbor DLC.
  • In an early mission in Just Cause 2, while Rico is buying some information from an informant, Panau is implied to have this kind of currency.
  • The Other: Airi's Adventure: Referenced in Pocket Money's Flavor Text, as the player party is in medieval-ish world not their own:
    ...Is it possible to use it here?
  • In Shin Megami Tensei I, the yen that you used as currency in the first half of the game becomes useless After the End, forcing you to acquire Macca as the new currency.
  • Subverted in Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People episode "Strongbadia the Free". When Strong Bad finds that The Cheat had drawn all over fake money from a board game, he takes it, calls it Strongbadian currency "Qesos", and trades 100 in to Bubs for a broken Strong Bad figure listed at half off. Despite it being board game money, Bubs considers the amount that Strong Bad is paying to be more than a million "Poopies".

    Web Video 

    Western Animation 
  • In The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius episode "Sheen's Brain", Jimmy amplifies Sheen's intelligence, which eventually leads to Sheen turning into an Evil Genius with a god complex. When Sheen goes to the Candy Bar and uses his newfound intelligence to win a "Jar of Jellybeans" Contest, Sam is incredulous that he was able to solve it without cheating because he came in the other day and tried to pay in seashells.
  • Exaggerated at the end of the Gravity Falls episode "Irrational Treasure," when Quentin Trembley gives Dipper a negative twelve dollar bill with Trembley's face on it as a parting gift. Looking at the text on the bill, you can see it's not legal tender.
    Dipper: Whoa. This is worthless.
    Trembley: It's less than worthless, my boy!
  • In The Loud House episode "Game Off", Leni tries to pay with buttons, mistaking them for money. Lincoln implies that it, or something similar, has happened before.
  • In the M.A.S.K. episode "Patchwork Puzzle" (December 11, 1985), the villains are after a large cache of money hidden during the Civil War (specifically, around the Washington Monument)... and are somehow surprised when it turns out to be Confederate cash.
  • Regular Show: This is a bit of a Running Gag (even dating all the way back to the creator's student film, The Naive Man from Lolliland) with Pops who comes from Lolliland and thus the currency there is lollipops, or he might just be a Cloudcuckoolander. So when Mordecai and Rigby ask for money or he offers to pay himself, his money is worthless.
  • Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!: Scooby-Doo, upon completing a challenge to stay a whole night in a "haunted" house, inherits a large sum of money from the late challenger. However, it is revealed that the money is all Confederate dollars, rendering it worthless in post-Civil War United States. However, some viewers have pointed out that while the Confederate money can't be used for payment, they are rather valuable collectibles.
  • In the South Park episode "Scott Tenorman Must Die", Cartman is conned into buying a teenager's pubic hair, believing it will grant him puberty. He becomes quite vengeful after the other boys inform him he is meant to grow his own pubes. With no money left, Cartman attempts to purchase a film ticket in "pubes":
    Clerk: That'll be six dollars.
    Cartman: Okay... and how much is that in "pubes"?
    Clerk: (Beat) We don't take "pubes".
    Cartman: (defiant) Listen, my money is as good as anybody's! Don't you, uh, discriminate against my people by not accepting these pubes.
    Clerk: We don't take pubes! End of story!!
    Cartman: (storms off) RACIST!!!
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:
    • In the episode "Bubble Buddy", after SpongeBob has Squidward make a complicated order for the titular character when they go to the Krusty Krab for lunch, he pays Mr. Krabs on Bubble Buddy's behalf with Bubble Money, which immediately pops after they leave.
      Squidward: (holding a handful of bubble coins) At least they left a tip.
      (The bubble coins pop)
    • The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie: When SpongeBob is cornered by an assassin-for-hire, he tries to bribe the criminal with "Goober Dollars", fake currency that can be exchanged for snacks in certain junk food restaurants.
    • In "One Coarse Meal", Mr. Krabs is shown to pay SpongeBob in "Wacky Bucks", which have Mr. Krabs in the center and "Not Legal Tender" written at the bottom.

    Real Life 
  • A zig-zagged example from real life: Lily Allen tweeted that in 2009 when cryptocurrencies were new, she declined an anonymous fan's offer of over 200,000 bitcoin for an online concert: an amount that had no real-life value then, but would be worth almost £1.5 billion (~$2 billion US) now, making this a massive and painful subversion. However, it's speculated that since bitcoin was so new at the time that no one except its creator would've had that many, the offer might have actually been in Second Life's Fictional Currency Linden Dollars, in which case it would be a straight example since those are still worth nothing today.
  • Joshua Norton was an insane man who lived in San Francisco in the 1860s and proclaimed himself "Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico". While he had no actual political power, the citizens of the city loved him and played along with his delusions. He even printed up his own "currency", which several local bars accepted as payment (at least from Norton himself).
  • The "redbacks" printed by the Republic of Texas before Texas gained statehood were so utterly worthless that the government that printed them refused to take them, insisting on receiving tax payments in either US dollars, gold or silver.
  • Charles XII of Sweden, lacking silver to pay for his foreign wars, minted a large number of pot-metal coins and gave them value simply by royal edict. Needless to say, they were not well liked and quickly fell into disuse in spite of the fact that "disrespecting coinage" was made punishable by death. Economic collapse soon followed and Georg von Görtz, the official in charge of the program, was executed by Charles' successor. To his credit, von Görtz wasn't in a position to tell the king "no", and managed to run a fairly successful damage control program behind the scenes, but he was too convenient a scapegoat to not pin the blame on.

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