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Worthless Yellow Rocks

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One man's treasure is another man's trash... But I can't see why someone would throw out that adorable kitty!note 

Quark: Someone's extracted all the latinum! There's nothing here but worthless gold!
Odo: And it's all yours.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, "Who Mourns for Morn?"

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). Alternatively, while they might find some use for it that use is a mundane, insultingly boring utility that is far below its actual value and capability.

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.) Trade in general, when done honestly, is fundamentally what happens when two people come together and agree that something the other guy has is more valuable to them than something they can afford to give away.


Also common is the devaluation of diamonds 20 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 a combination of enforced artificial scarcity and sucker-rearing by 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 and numerous medications. Even in the mid-1800s at the heart of the industrial revolution, a chemist interviewed in Scientific American opined that burning oil and coal as fuel was this trope, given the array of uses for natural stockpiles of inefficient-to-manufacture complex hydrocarbons.

May be part of a Green Aesop on how foolishly humanity rushes for unnecessary luxuries and how money cannot be eaten. This trope is also a common trait of the humble Noble Savage.

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). Also, Money Is Not Power which is when characters intend to bribe their way out of a situation, only to be told, or show, that their wealth won't save them this time.

Contrast Gold Fever (where people go nuts over amounts of gold or some other valuable), Gold Makes Everything Shiny, Gold-Colored Superiority, Mundane Object Amazement, and My New Gift Is Lame. Not to be confused with Gold Is Yellow, although the two could overlap.

Also not to be confused with pyrite, also known as "fool's gold".


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  • There is a Doritos commercial where a man tries to show us how to make Doritos, only to accidentally make gold. The commercial ends with him angrily yelling "WHAT AM I GONNA DO WITH ALL THIS GOLD?!"

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Delicious in Dungeon, Senshi sees little value in anything that isn't directly related to cooking. He tells Marcille and Chilchuck to throw out a bunch of "inedible treasure bugs," only mentioning offhand that they are actual pieces of treasure. Not long after that, Laius notes that treasure bugs in good condition can sell for a lot of money to insect collectors, which gets Marcille and Chilchuck very annoyed that he didn't tell them this before they ate them.
  • 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:
    • During Sanji's flashback in the Baratie Arc, Sanji and Zeff end up stranded on a rock with no way off. Eventually, Sanji's food supply runs out, and he desperately goes to steal Zeff's. It's a gut-punch for the Straw Hats' future cook when he finds that Zeff doesn't have any food, just a sack of priceless jewels and such. In other words, Zeff spent two months without a bite to eat (In the manga, he ate his own leg to get by, but this clearly wasn't enough), all while sitting next to a fortune that was utterly worthless given their current crisis.
    • Hidden in the Skypiean island of Upperyard is an entire city of gold. The natives of Skypiea, 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 is another story) before or after this point. The reverse is also seen: rubber doesn't exist in Skypiea, and after Luffy's rubber powers defeat Eneru, it becomes insanely valuable. Thus, Usopp is able to trade rubber bands for dials, which are common to Skypeia but don't exist on the Blue Sea.
  • In Juuni Senshi Bakuretsu Eto Ranger, the Novel World of The Honest Woodcutter was Fractured to where there were entire deserts of gold. Bakumaru and Nyorori got too distracted by their newfound "wealth" to notice that it was completely valueless because of it, and because they realized too late, their teammates, who were turned into now-more-valuable wood, were stolen.
  • Hayate the Combat Butler: 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...
  • Dragon Ball:
    • Goku didn't understand money at first. When told you can trade it for things like food, he under or overestimates what things cost.
    • Buu makes this mistake in the epilogue as well: he wants to get ice cream, but is told he needs to pay for it. Buu accidentally wins some money in a street fight, and comes back to exchange it for his ice cream. The clerk tries to tell him it's way too much, but Buu ignores him, insisting "You keep money! Buu keep ice cream!"
  • Zigzagged in an episode of Pokémon where Jessie, James and Meowth, digging for water, find only oil. A Beat later they're dancing for joy, but their dreams of wealth are shattered when Meowth points out that their pickaxe broke into an underground pipeline.
  • In Digimon Frontier, the kids find that their Japanese yen is not accepted in the digital world and the inhabitants consider it junk.
  • One episode of the second Lupin III series has Lupin and his gang enter a hidden kingdom that has not had contact with the outside world in over a thousand years. They find huge gold nuggets scattered all over the ground, just waiting to be picked up. While an elated Fujiko begins gathering sacks of it, the rest of the gang decides that if gold is just lying there, the legendary treasure in the palace must be worth so much more. After a dangerous adventure that results in the gang stealing the treasure but getting chased by an angry giant monkey king, they escape the kingdom, seal it off forever, and open the chest to examine their spoils. It turns out the chest is full of salt, which is rarer than gold and prized since the kingdom's food is so bland. To add insult to injury, the sacks of gold that Fujiko collected outside had be jettisoned during the chase since the weight slowed the carriage down.
  • Fist of the North Star: In the first scene, a gang of bandits assault a convoy, kill everybody, steal their food, water and fuel... and mock their victims because they also salvaged a briefcase full of cash, which in their post-apocalyptic world is completely worthless.
  • Hetalia: Axis Powers: Russia gazes enviously at the other countries who are busy with the Industrial Revolution, saying he's too busy farming in a hard land which only produces shiny rocks, black mud, and gas which makes him nauseous. Of course, by the time the World Wars roll around the others want in on his diamond, oil, and natural gas resources.

    Comic Books 
  • One Yogi's Treasure Hunt comic has the cast go to a fictional middle-eastern country for the next treasure. There, oil wells are so commonplace that Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy nearly die of thirst because they've run out of water rations and can't find a clean spring. Meanwhile, Dastardly and Muttley do find a water spring, and Dastardly is furious because he wanted oil, leaving the spring to be claimed by Yogi's gang. Dastardly later presents some oil to the local sheik, who is more interested in the water because in the desert, clean water is more valuable than oil.
  • In Asterix and the Black Gold, "rock oil" (petra oleum) is only valuable because Getafix uses it in its potion. And by the end of the story he discovers that a local plant extract works just as wellbeetroot juice. It also tastes better. The revelation actually puts Astérix (who just returned from a long, failed and unpleasant trip to the other end of the known world to get the oil) through a comical Heroic BSoD.
  • 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!").
  • Superman:
    • As seen in Superman's Return to Krypton, gold was plentiful on Pre-Crisis Krypton, and worth about as much as any other fairly common industrial metal.
      Kal-El: Great Scott! It's erupting... Gold!
      Jor-El: Unfortunate, isn't it, that gold is so common on Krypton! It's worthless!
    • 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, gold is not just heavy, but soft)...
    • In Superman: True Brit (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 gets stranded in present-day New York City and inadvertently mugs a New Yorker, who tosses all his money at Conan and runs. Conan ignores the hundreds of dollars in bills and keeps the 85 cents in change; he was familiar with coinage but had never seen paper money before and assumed it was some kind of worthless wrapping. Averted not too long after, with Conan learning the value of paper money after watching business transactions taking place.
  • In Transformers: Hearts of Steel, this exchange occurs when the Insecticons pull off a Train Job:
    Kickback: Sheets of pressed inert plant matter with pictures of humans on them? (Read: banknotes)
    Bombshell: What could these be worth to anyone?
  • Lucky Luke:
    • In the opening to the 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.
  • Crystar Crystal Warrior: The planet Crystallium is a Crystal Landscape 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." Fridge Brilliance: a gold lamppost couldn't support its own weight, which means it's ruined, which means the mother is going to have to replace it with something of actual value, if only the labor she has to invest in fixing it.
  • ElfQuest:
    • Trolls 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.
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe:
    • 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 (Donald brought a shoebox full of dirt so he could "keep his feet on the ground") during the trip; 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 another story, Scrooge finds a primitive civilization living in a cavern deep underground. The inhabitants complain about "gush," periodic upwellings of molten gold that they find inconvenient and annoying. Scrooge, of course, has a different point of view.
    • 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.
    • Zigzagged in the Carl Barks story "Land Beneath The Ground"; at the story's climax, the Terries and the Firmies proceed to send Scrooge's money back up to him, having inadvertently cracked open his moneybin with their last earthquake, because they think it's worthless. However, their reasoning as to why it's worthless is because all they know about the surface is gleaned from overheard radio talk shows; they've misunderstood the cash prizes offered on such shows as indicating that surfacers hold money in contempt.
    • Another Don Rosa story about a trip to the Earth's core leaves Scrooge in possession of a huge stash of super-pure, super-dense diamonds and gushes about how valuable they are... except there's a wee snag. Super-dense diamonds are super-heavy, and no-one wants to buy jewelry they can't actually wear. Don't think too much about the actual science here...
  • 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 an early issue of Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics), Sonic finds a map to his Uncle Chuck's hidden treasure. The Freedom Fighters are initially uninterested, since money means nothing with Robotnik in charge, but when Sonic reminds them Uncle Chuck was an inventor, they go looking for it, hoping it's an invention of his. it turns out to be a bronzed pair of Sonic's baby shoes.
  • Tech Jacket has the Geldarians pay for their stay on earth in lumps of gold, which he refers as "trash metal".
  • One Alix story has the Roman antagonists negotiate with a Germanic tribe, the Germans paying with "that worthless yellow iron you Romans love so much".
    • ... are they paying in gold, or in fool's gold? (pyrite is an iron ore, after all)
  • A 1960 Ruff and Reddy story had the two pals accidentally destroying a man's brick wall and damaging one of the bricks. These are supposedly not ordinary bricks, but "hero" bricks issued by the king of a remote country which he gives out in lieu of currency. Ruff and Reddy go to this country to retrieve a new brick only to have a scoundrel there having to rescue them from a pinch time and again—the guy is trying to obtain more bricks than the guy for whom Ruff and Reddy are working.
  • The Transformers/G.I. Joe crossover miniseries by Dreamwave had Decepticon leader Megatron dismiss Cobra's search for treasure as pursuing worthless painted paper and yellow metal, stating that the Autobot Matrix is the only real treasure around.
  • In De Cape et de Crocs, gold and jewels literally grow on trees on the Moon. The Selenites, whose currency is poetry, consider them as annoying weeds and do not understand why Terrans are so fascinated by them.

    Comic Strips 
  • Dilbert:
    • In one strip, 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.
  • 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.

    Fairy Tales 
  • 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.
  • “The Cock and the Jewel”, one of Aesop's Fables, has a cockerel find a precious jewel amongst the straw of the farmyard. While he’s fully aware of how valuable humans would find it, he himself would much rather have found corn to eat, which is worth more to him:
    “No doubt you are very costly and he who lost you would give a great deal to find you. But as for me, I would choose a single grain of barleycorn before all the jewels in the world.”

    Fan Works 
  • In the Ben 10 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. After trainer Locke has a nervous breakdown, 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 valuable Key Items in the games and to Locke, but just paper to Barb, who happily lets Locke have them. It's a twofer with Grail in the Garbage since the rest of Barb's collection appears to be just paper trash, like receipts and old greeting cards.
  • 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."
  • In Turnabout Storm, Phoenix is rewarded for his work on the case with a huge haul of money. He quickly finds out that the money is in bits, the Equestrian currency, and he has no way to convert it to any Earth currency. In other words, it'd be completely worthless should he take it with him.
  • In The Old Fairy, Maleficent reveals that the "gift" the fairies got, seven sets of golden plates and utensils, were useless to them beyond being metal that wouldn't burn them. In fact, they were left in a pile in the woods somewhere afterwards.
  • Naruto in Trolling the League regards a large emerald as an "ugly green paperweight" and thinks the cushion it's on is far more interesting. Of course, given that he's a Physical God who can effortlessly create matter, something as simple as an emerald is rather boring.
  • In King Lightning Harry is raised by a snake in the Forbidden Forest. As "king" of the snakes he receives tributes which occasionally include gems and wizarding currency, which he disregards due to snakes not having any idea how a monetary system works.
  • In RainbowDoubleDash's Lunaverse, gold is universally shunned after Celestia's transformation into Corona. In fact, minting gold coins is now apparently a borderline treasonous act. Subverted a bit in that it's only gold that's shunned, silver retains its value and is the basis of the new post-Corona monetary system.
  • The aluminium examples, as seen below in Real Life, tend to abound in many My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfics, particular those where a human lands in Equestria. One particularly notable case is in The Memoirs of a Reality Jumper, where the main character notes that he has in his interdimensional pocket a bit of gold, some silver, a decent quantity of platinum, and oh, about 250kg of aluminium. It took a moment for the others to pick their jaws up off the floor. Meanwhile, the protagonist finds that his carefully hoarded supply of tiny gemstones is utterly worthless in a land where a fist-sized rock is considered barely more than dross.
  • Similarly Painite is zigzagged in If Wishes Were Ponies in that it is used as a Power Crystal in enhancing the Magical properties of Armor for both the Wizarding World and Equestria, however on Earth it is classified as being extremely rare that the Goblins of Gringotts were willing to haggle the price for a fist-sized rock of Painite in the THOUSANDS just to keep it from being sold to a Muggle Jeweler instead, and as a result made the sellers of the Gemstone note  the 10th-richest beneficiaries to Gringotts. While in Equestria, Painite is much more commonly found even around Ponyville.
    Rarity: I usually ignore them when I find them as my customers don’t like the way those gems interfere with their spell-casting if there are any sewn into their clothes.
  • In the Triptych Continuum, gold does have its value, as it's the established metal for the currency of the realm. What's really considered expensive, however, are silver bits, as they were discontinued some centuries ago. Even then, though, it's not even the metal which qualifies as expensive: it's the fact that the ancient coins are A. extremely rare, and B. contain a note on them reading, 'Good for nearly all Princess labor, Public or Private'.
  • In Reverti Ad Praeteritum, Edward and Alphonse give one of Van Hohenheim’s journals to the Chang clan and since it was written by someone who’s ancient and revered in Xing, many of the clans attempt to steal it and it’s highly coveted. To the Elric’s themselves, though, it’s one of dozens they own and their father can always just write more.
  • Rocketship Voyager
    • B'Elanna Torres tells of how her mother, a Venerian Warrior Princess, had bragged of the fortune in Terran diamonds she had acquired through intertribal war and slave trading, not knowing that Terrans were buying up land on the cheap with synthetic diamonds. It's implied that diamonds aren't even used as jewelry on Earth anymore—Chakotay only knows them as an abrasive used for Asteroid Miner tools.
    • When Captain Janeway tries to buy Voyager's passage back to Earth she's told that gold only has value for electrical conduction, steel and tungsten have been superseded by molecular-bonded alloys, and nuclear fusion has reduced the demand for uranium. However their contraterrene has value, as does a certain other item they're carrying...
  • Heroic Myth: The Xenos say they don't really understand money, asking why the surface dwellers trade pieces of metal for useful things like food.
  • Boldores and Boomsticks: Downplayed. Used Evolution Stones are seen as having no further use on Earth, primarily being kept as mementos. When Weiss sees one she identifies it as relatively high-quality Dust.
  • By the Sea: In a variation, the merfolk understand the value of precious metals and gemstones just like surface-world cultures, enough that marriage traditions mandate the gifting of pieces of jewelry during engagement, but it's implied that they don't have the technology underwater to work raw gold (or any raw metals), hence why Eyayah doesn't see anything special or valuable about gold nuggets that he found buried on the seafloor.

    Films — Animation 
  • 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.
  • 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. The sequel starts with the penguins leaving for a European casino, hoping to make even more money with the treasure.
  • In WALL•E, the eponymous 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 videotape; 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 Penguins of Madagascar, the Penguins are in the cargo hold of an airplane, and when discussing a plan, Skipper impulsively hits the eject button, launching them and the cargo into the air. While looking for a way to save themselves amongst the cargo, Private comes across a package of parachutes, while Skipper tells him to "stop playing with those backpacks".
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox, the eponymous 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.
  • 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.
  • Referenced in The Prince of Egypt, when Jethro is singing to Moses about true value.
    A lake of gold in the desert sand is less than a cool, fresh spring! And to one lost sheep, a shepherd boy is greater than the richest king!
  • In Home (2015), the Boov gather all the articles they consider useless in spherical piles floating in the sky. Among the items given this treatment are cars, bicycles, trashcans, toilets and in Paris, statues and monuments.
  • My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Friendship Games: In a deleted scene, Princess Twilight Sparkle tries to pay for food in the human world using bits, but it doesn't work because the human world uses dollars.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 28 Days Later:
    • Early in the film Jim finds thousands of dollars just billowing around in the deserted street, and naturally stops to scoop it all up. At this point he's just woken up from a coma, has no clue about the Zombie Apocalypse, and hasn't learned that British money is worthless now.
    • Later one of the survivors he meets tells the story of how his father tried and failed to bribe his way onto a plane, even in spite of the fact that nobody gave two tosses about money anymore.
      I remember my dad had all this cash. He thought maybe we could buy our way onto a plane, even though cash was completely useless. Ten thousand other people had the same idea.
  • In The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Vulcan is shown to crush coal into diamonds for Venus. But while she plays along, she also has a fairly large pile of diamonds, so in reality they aren't worth that much to her.
  • Greed. Sure, you got the gold. Too bad you're in the middle of a desert without any water.
  • Stepsister from Planet Weird. A father-daughter alien duo arrive on Earth, and being aliens, the girl believes diamonds to be useless (due to their alien biology, which makes diamonds on their planet outright lethal and frustrating to mine, yet stuck to everything), but her dad proceeds to sell his hoard of alien gravel online with bubbly glee.
  • 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.
  • 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 - and who later ransacked Rosenberg's jewelry store in search of the galaxy but didn't take any of the goods.
  • White Shadows in the South Seas: Lloyd the white man has washed up on a South Pacific island. He is dumbstruck when a native, fashioning a fishhook out of an oyster shell, casually tosses away the priceless pearl he finds inside.
  • From The Cat from Outer Space, gold is so plentiful on Jake's planet, it's used as fuel. Getting the money he needs for it on Earth becomes a major point of the plot.
  • 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.
    • Ironically, before they even start prospecting, Howard, the old prospector, explains that the only value in gold is the hundreds of years of wasted effort by thousands of men trying to find it. Gold itself isn't good for anything he says but jewelry and gold teeth. He is, however, obsessed with searching for it and has made and lost fortunes all over the world.
  • 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. The two villains 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.
  • In Avatar, the Unobtainium is a room-temperature superconductor, which makes it absurdly valuable to the humans. To the Na'vi, it's worthless rock.
  • Zombieland has a scene where the main characters play Monopoly with actual money, now rendered worthless thanks to the Zombie Apocalypse. Later in the scene, after recounting a sad story, Tallahassee blows his nose into some $100 bills.
  • One of the plot threads in Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels involves the eponymous 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 Cliffhanger 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 stones: the bandit had been throwing them away, after 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. The Joker points out he has no interest in it as he can acquire things like homemade explosives and gasoline cheaply. Gasoline seems like an odd thing to say is cheap, considering its ever-rising price, until you realise it's unlikely he's going to pay for it.
  • 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.
  • Played with in the original Dawn of the Dead (1978). 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.
    • Day of the Dead opens with a huge pile of cash blowing around in the wind as the main characters desperately try to find anyone alive in the area.
  • 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!
  • In The Good, The Bad, The Weird, the so-called treasure map actually led to an oil well, which is of no value to the protagonists. This kind of seems to evoke The Treasure of the Sierra Madre especially in the version of the film where all three protagonists die needlessly. In other versions, there's a consolation in that Tae-goo and possibly Do-won as well are implied to have left with some of the loot Chang-yi brought with him.
  • In Black Knight (2001), Jamal finds himself in the Middle Ages but hasn't realized it yet. He befriends the disgraced knight Sir Knolte, mistakes him for a homeless person, and hands him a $20 bill as a gesture of kindness. After Jamal walks away, Knolte curiously looks the bill over and then uses it as fuel for his campfire.
  • In the John Wayne film The War Wagon, Wayne's character makes a deal with a band of Indians to attack the titular wagon in order to steal the gold it carries. Part of the plan is to conceal the gold in a shipment of flour to carry it away. But at the end of the successful theft, the Indians double-cross Wayne and steal the flour since it's enough to feed their band for months. In the process, they toss the gold, much of which is in the form of dust and gets scattered. What's left has to be hidden because the thieves can't be caught openly carrying it in the wake of the theft. The "civilized" Indian working with Wayne thinks they're stupid for choosing flour over gold but in the end, they're the only ones who really come out ahead.
  • In Resident Evil: Afterlife, Alice has a large collection of quarters. Luther gets annoyed and points out money is worthless in the Zombie Apocalypse. However, she later reveals she uses them as Abnormal Ammo for her shotguns.
  • In Threads, the nuclear apocalypse renders paper money worthless. Characters throw it away in favor of stuff like food and supplies.
  • In The Island, the pirates find a fortune in cocaine onboard the schooner, and throw it overboard because they have no idea what it is.
  • Forbidden Planet. Robby the Do-Anything Robot has no problem manufacturing a dress with diamonds or emeralds for his mistress overnight, his only proviso is that she'll have to wait a week if she wants star sapphires as they need time to crystalize. He also uses his Matter Replicator to make 60 gallons of bourbon for a very grateful cook, bottles included!
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians: Inverted in the first film, The Lightning Thief. When the party needs to cross the River Styx to enter the Underworld, Grover attempts to pay Charon the Ferryman with a handful of hundred dollar bills. Charon contemptuously sets the money on fire and demands gold. Annabeth hands some gold over and he lets them on his boat while Grover mourns the wasted 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?"note 
  • 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 £5 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 husband's 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.

  • Chrysalis (RinoZ): Several merchants in Rylleh attempt to bribe the ants into giving them better deals, holding out purses of money, only to be met with uncomprehending stares. The ants share everything communally as a fundamental part of their nature, and have no trade nor currency.
  • In Illegal Aliens, the galactic currency is based on Thulium, because "Gold is prettier, Silver makes a better conductor" and a number of other reasons.
  • Played Straight and inverted with the Modsva in Peter F. Hamilton's 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 were 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 fusion 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 fusion, 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.
  • Water Elementals in J. Scott Savage's Farworld 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, and with the cobra being without poison due to old age, he takes the only thing he finds useful - a short spear with a hook, made of something really strong and light - that just happens to be covered in gold and jewels. Not long afterwards, he learns it's an ivory ankus - and is immediately so disgusted by a tool used for torturing elephants he throws it away, saying he doesn't want anything with Hathi's blood on it. Later, he and Bagheera find themselves tracking it down again - as the man who found it was killed to steal it, as was the thief, etc. To prevent further deaths Mowgli gives it back to the cobra and recommends it to find a young successor to guard the treasure.
  • 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 other precious gems are just ordinary rocks there, and Candide sees kids playing with particularly large gemstones during their school break in the same way children would play with pebbles anywhere else in the world. Later, the King allows him to leave with a large abundance of these stones, but is perplexed why he wants them.
  • "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz" by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Percy is the inheritor of a large diamond mine, and when he went to look he also found on the property a mountain made of the titular diamond. He knows darn well that if he just dumps all that on the market, it'll make the bottom fall out of the diamond market. So he keeps his sales small and very spread out -and his methods to keep it secret get pretty horrifying. Conning slaves into staying slaves is the least of it.
  • Discworld:
    • In the Agatean Empire, gold coins are used for small change and gold itself is used in place of lead for everything from roofing to plumbing, while real money is made from paper and backed by silver. This comes as a shock to Rincewind for two reasons: First, because if such a currency were ever implemented in Ankh-Morpork the Guild of Artificers would promptly become the (highly-successful) Guild of Forgers, and second, paper can't be that valuable... right? In the first two books of the series this is the cause of a Running Gag where an Agatean tourist obliviously spreads chaos in his wake by paying with what to him is small change but to the locals is more than the business is worth.
      • Later, it's revealed that it is, in fact, about as in-demand (and thus as valuable) as it can be in a place where a corrupt, wasteful bureaucracy rules with an iron fist.
    • Played with in the later Making Money, which introduces paper money to Ankh-Morpork anyways. Moist von Lipwig, as the new Master of the Mint, says the Bank has a pile of "useless metal" in the vaults that needs clearing out and that potatoes are worth more than gold if viewed dispassionately, since food will do much more in times of poverty than gold will in times of starvation. He also neatly sidesteps the counterfeiting issue pointed out above by employing the city's best stamp forger (since people have already begun using postage stamps as a de facto currency) to design the city's new banknotes (with the intention that he will make them more complex than anyone else can copy).
    • 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 would happen 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.
  • 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.
  • Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan:
    • 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.note 
    • In Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, Ivan and others are trapped in a slowly flooding room with many rare treasures. After rescue, Ivan describes it as spending the night "contemplating the true nature of wealth." However, at the end, the barrells of gold are considered worth a ton in Betan dollars. Word of God admitted in the aforementioned book, she should have realized that gold was rare universe-wide.
  • 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.
  • "Onions and Garlic", with one rendition by Eric A. Kimmel: 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 variation of "Onions and Garlic" also 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. 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.
    • During their travels, Belgarath and Garion encounter an alchemist who really can turn lead into gold. Unfortunately, the chemicals he uses cost more than the gold is worth (he's trying to refine the process). While talking to him, they learn that a former colleague managed to turn glass into a substance that was as strong as steel, but still transparent. Belgarath points out to the alchemist that the materials for glass are literally dirt-cheap, and can be molded into any shape. A process that could make it unbreakable would be more valuable than all the gold in the world. The alchemist is suddenly very upset at the missed opportunity.
    • 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.
  • In the Isaac Asimov's Robot City series, the robots of the eponymous city see gold as a very weak metal, and mostly useless. They don't even need it for its utility as a conductor, since Asimov's "positronics" are said to be superior to mere electronics and instead employ a sponge of platinum-irridium alloy. However, seeing as how gold never corrodes, they ended up finding a use for it: eating utensils for the humans that visit.
  • In The Traders, 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 is forced to buy all of the trader's goods at far more than their normal 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, due to the excessive power consumption in the process. 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.
  • 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 eponymous 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 (!).
  • Conqueror:
    • 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 Steampunk computer, not to mention an unknown isotope of gold that is the key to immortality.
  • E. E. "Doc" Smith:
  • Shifted a few preciousness brackets over in Raymond E. Feist's The Riftwar Cycle. Midkemia (standard medieval-but-with-magic Earth-clone) is invaded by the Tsurani (vaguely-Pan-Asian-but-mostly-Japanese medieval-but-with-magic Earth-clone) for its metal. Their home world, 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.
  • 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 Allbright 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. 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. They end up giving away (there are rules against trading without a license, but the right to give presents is sacred) stimulants, threatening the stability of the system and forcing the ruling monopolists to bribe them with enough money to survive until they can go back to Earth.
  • 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.
  • 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 Steampunk 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 aluminium, despite its potential for use in aircraft; a Bayer-equivalent process is also never mentioned.
  • 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.
  • 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. He is still human enough to appreciate the irony. 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.
    • This is either a case of silver being Worthless Yellow Rocks (or worthless white rocks, in this case), or a Badass Boast about the level of Solomon's wealth.
  • 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?"
  • Inverted in Spice and Wolf: Iron pyrite (also known as "fool's gold") suddenly becomes incredibly valuable in one town, mostly due to some economic manipulation among the merchants.
  • 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 he paid Harry back for buying him some binoculars with the gold instead of "real" money, and is too poor to actually pay him back. It also angers Fred and George when a rather large bet they won is paid in the 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.
    • In a similar vein, Horcruxes can be made out of anything. In fact, the very first Horcrux Harry ever found was a blank diary. Harry mentions that this would make finding all of Voldemort's Horcruxes a difficult task. Dumbledore however, points out that Voldemort's fatal flaw is vanity and he would never store parts of his soul in anything he doesn't deem "worthy" of him (the diary being just his first attempt at creating one).
    • Rubeus Hagrid uses the unicorn hair he finds in the Forbidden Forest as bandages since he's totally unaware of how valuable it actually is. Horace Slughorn is quick to befriend Hagrid when he realizes that Hagrid's sitting on a small fortune in valuable materials from the Forbidden Forest.
  • 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, which leads to this trope. Most notably, The Voyage of Alice 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.
  • 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 entirely useless; it's 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. They're still baffled by the 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 natives are having a problem with millions of tons of Worthless Pink Rocks: "squareish ones that glow and explode if you hit them too hard or bring fire near them". Realizing they just hit the motherlode 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, and they'll even be generous and do it free of charge...
  • In Charles Sheffield's short "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.
  • Chasing Jenny has a thief trying to recover a rare stamp he stole years ago. The story ends with the stamp in the hands of a little girl. She doesn't understand its value and just sticks it on her teddy bear.
  • Brandon Sanderson:
    • Mistborn: Atium is an astonishingly rare metal that is also extremely useful in Allomancy (it lets you see a few seconds into the future and react appropriately, making anyone using it invincible in a fight). The Lord Ruler's entire economy is based on atium, with the coins backed by it and the nobles taxed in it. Furthermore, the only way to hire a kandra is with atium. A key plot point of the first book is seizing the Lord Ruler's atium treasury to bribe the armies, and a major plot point of the second book is that they can't find it. It's estimated that ninety percent of all the atium ever mined was in the Lord Ruler's hands, but there are no clues as to where it might be. In the third book, they discover that it was actually in the hands of the kandra. Atium is the body of the God of Evil Ruin, so the Lord Ruler focused on keeping it away from him despite needing it for his own purposes. Elend and his atium mistings burn it away fighting Ruin's armies, which puts it out of his grasp for long enough that Vin is able to Ascend as Ruin's opposite and kill him.
      • As Yomen points out, Atium is worthless in his city because of the Empire's collapse. Only rare Mistborn (who can use any metal) can use it, so a city without Mistborn or access to trade with other Mistborn is sitting on a pile of worthless shiny beads. Even after it turns out that Atium mistings (who can use just one metal) exist, they're difficult to find because TLR suppressed knowledge of their existence; anyone not in the Steel Ministry thinks it's a waste of time and money to test for it.
    • The Stormlight Archive:
      • An interesting example. Stone is sacred to the Shin ethnicity, meaning that extracting metal by mining or smelting is forbidden. However, the Vorin ardents have access to Soulcasting, the power to turn one substance into another, and often practice by turning random trash into metal. At least one Vorin merchant makes a fortune by trading this trash-metal for exotic Shin fruits, vegetables, and livestock.
      • The currency of choice is spheres, gemstones (filled with the titular stormlight) suspended in glass. Since the type of gem determines what a Soulcaster can use it for, emeralds (which can make food) are the most valuable, while diamonds (which can make glass) are the least.
      • Due to the aforementioned Soulcasting, most valuable materials are significantly cheaper than they would otherwise be. Gold and silver are rarely mentioned, and when they are it is just as minor decorations. Aluminium (infamously valuable in most societies before they discover how to refine it) does not exist naturally on the planet, so you'd think it would be even more valuable than it was in real life. But since Soulcasters can make it at a whim, it is little more than a somewhat rare curiosity. Gems are one of the few things Soulcasters can't produce, which is yet another reason they're so valuable.
  • In The Secret of Platform 13, the protagonists have to convince Raymond to come back to the Island with them. He seems pretty uninterested in all the magic tricks they show him, until he asks the wizard of the group, Cornelius, to turn metal into gold. Cornelius does so, and tells Raymond that he can have as much as he wants if he'll only come with them...neglecting to mention that, since any half-decent wizard can do the same trick, gold is pretty much worthless on the Island, where everyone just barters for what they need.
  • Young Wizards: In "Wizards at War", Carmela bribes a group of aliens with chocolate bar knowing that off Earth, chocolate is a valuable substance as either an expensive delicacy or a form of currency.
  • In the Eldraeverse:
    • Asteroid mining in the Empire and other core worlds has made gold worth about as much as iron is in the present day, while most mining corporations will give you iron for the cost of transporting it. Though on some undeveloped border worlds and recently contacted planets gold and platinum are still used as currency.
    • One story features a museum of early nanotechnology that includes a device which converts CO2 to solid bars of diamond for mitigating global warming, the tour guide offers the bars it makes as free souvenirs.
  • In Harry Harrison's Wheelworld, the protagonist mentions that there are warehouses in their off-world colony filled with gold and other precious metals (distilled from seawater) that would make anyone an instant billionaire on Earth. On their colony, however, which is deliberately dependent on Earth for survival, gold isn't any more valuable than for its physical properties. They don't even bother bringing it with them during their annual migration to the other hemisphere.
  • In Francis Carsac's Ceux de nulle part (Those from Nowhere), the protagonist finds a crashed alien ship in the woods. The aliens ask for his help in repairing their ship. All they need is a fist-sized chunk of gold, which is only valuable to them as a useful substance. He ends up "borrowing" a fairly large nugget from a guy he knows. He also off-handedly mentions that he has since "returned" the gold, or, rather, a replicated nugget that any star-faring race can easily make.
  • In Jean Russell Larson's The Silkspinners, the only village of silk manufacturers in China has withdrawn from society so thoroughly that there is no new silk to be had in the whole kingdom, only hand-me-downs. When, after many adventures, Li Po finally finds them, he finds that the Silkspinners' only resource is silk, and they have grown to hate it and long for other treasures. He is easily able to convince them that should they return to society, they will be able to trade the silk for other commodities, and learn to love their craft again.
  • Book Two of The Underland Chronicles has a version of this trope that actually deals with paper money: the ending of the book has the main character (who is a young pre-teen whose family is in dire financial straits) get a special gift from the inhabitants of the Underland. However, due to a lack of packing paper underground, the medieval-era society instead packs the box with the only apparently useless paper in ample supply: surface-money, taken from the wallets left behind by other surface humans who had died underground.
  • Lawrence David Kusche's The Bermuda Triangle Mystery - SOLVED:
    Several novelists have created civilizations in the center of the [Sargasso] Sea. Here, according to the stories, countless wrecks, many of them hundreds of years old and full of treasure, pile up against each other. The residents of the floating kingdom, who all drifted in helplessly at one time or other, disdain the treasure since it is no use to them.
  • Sort of in Gnomes. Money, as a whole, is of little value to Gnomes, but they do appreciate gold and silver for its beauty and durability, and tend to use it in crafting, and if it's stolen from them, they will find a way to get it back.
  • In Storm of Steel, World War I German soldier Ernst Jünger finds an incredibly valuable first edition of Don Quixote in a partially destroyed French house. Being fond of literature, he is initially excited about his discovery until he realizes that the book is useless to him as a soldier in the middle of a war. Comparing himself to "Robinson Crusoe and the lump of gold," he reluctantly leaves the book behind.
  • The City and the Dungeon: Due to the way crystals work, this is inevitable. Red crystals are roughly equivalent to the currency surfacer countries use, but orange crystals are worth a thousand times more, yellow a thousand times more than that, so on and so on. When Alex first becomes blue he tries to send a blue crystal to his family, and is informed that this one crystal could kill the economy of his entire home country. He sends yellows instead, a million times less than what he wanted, and when he returns home he finds that his family is now the richest in the city by a very large margin.
  • Men of Honor by Will Garth. Earthmen land on an alien planet and find a city of gold. Thinking the aliens will defend this valuable commodity, they sneak in at night and steal all that they can carry. But on returning to their rocketship they find the aliens have cut it up for the steel, which is rare on their world. Being honorable beings however, the aliens leave a huge mountain of gold in compensation next to the now-useless rocket.
  • In The Crystal Palace by Phyllis Eisenstein, a bit of magical travel gone awry sends the wizard Cray Ormoru to a land where gemstones are so common that they're no more valuable than any other pretty rock. On the other hand, silver is so rare that a woman he makes a purchase from hardly knows what to do with the coin he uses to make the purchase, ultimately choosing to make it into a piece of jewelry.
  • Forest Kingdom: In book 3 (Down Among the Dead Men), normal gold ducats are worthless to Scarecrow Jack, who lives off the bounty of the Forest. Strangely, after having helped recover a large load of gold from the fortress where it was being kept, he doesn't even try to take any to give to people who need it, despite his reputation.
  • In The Prince and the Pauper, the Prince is eventually able to prove his identity by revealing the location of the Great Seal of England, which he hid before he left the palace. The only other person who knew where it was—Tom Canty, the Identical Stranger who took the prince's place—had no idea what it was for and had been using it to crack nuts.
  • Justified in Frank Herbert's Literature/Dune, when the Freemen, who live on a world without rain, refer to two litres of water as "treasure."
  • Release That Witch: King Roland decides to use his technology uplift to devalue all gemstones. Since commoners can just buy synthetic rubies and diamonds, every gemstone in existence is now worth colored glass. This is partly because, in-universe, gemstones culturally represented mindless obedience and caste.
  • Inverted in the first Deathlands novel which takes place in an After the End Scavenger World, where fuel and bullets are regarded as valuable. However Jordan Teague, Baron of Mocsin, made himself wealthy by realising the potential of gold which he could mine locally and ship to the Eastern baronies, which were civilised enough to start getting interested in jewelry and gilding.
  • Inverted in Gate where wyvern scales are considered expensive and valuable commodities by the locals but deemed almost worthless by the JSDF. As the result the refugees were able to freely harvest a lot of them from wyvern carcasses remnants of the defeated Imperial army. The Italica arc was kickstarted when Lelei enlists Itami and Third Recon Squad to escort them to the city where they can find the trader who they can sell those scales to.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In one episode of 3rd Rock from the Sun, 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!"
  • Zig-zagged in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. The Asgardian villain Lorelei wants gold from the biker she mind-controlled, and is upset when he gives her "paper". That is, a briefcase full of hundred-dollar bills. But once he (rather painfully) explains paper money to her, she gets back on board.
  • 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 gold (which is more plentiful than foam on Alf's home planet).
  • In Auction Kings, art tends to sell for a fraction of its value. Some people bring in gold or silver pieces and are annoyed when they go for little more than scrap value. Specifically, Paul tells sellers to expect to get only 20% of the appraisal value.
  • Played with in Battlestar Galactica (2003). 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.
  • Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction: Inverted in the episode "Ghost Town". A photographer gets sent to the Wild West but hasn't noticed yet. He goes to a bar and tries to buy a beer with $20 bills. The bartender doesn't recognize the money and refuses to accept it, demanding gold or silver instead. When the photographer cannot provide any, he gets thrown out.
  • Cowboy Bebop (2021). Spike Spiegel makes an offhand comment that diamonds are hard to move on the black market, but doesn't say why. A later episode has a boss of The Syndicate eager to forge an alliance with a rival crime cartel on Neptune, saying it rains diamonds over there. If so the Syndicate couldn't deal in diamonds as their rivals on Neptune could flood the market at any time, sending the price of diamonds plummeting, hence their eagerness to establish a monopoly and control the price.
  • In El Chavo del ocho, Sr. Barriga accidentally dropped a stash of dollars on the neighborhood floor. El Chavo finds it but thinks they are just collectible stamps, he even gets angry at seeing all of them are the same.
  • 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."
  • Doctor Who:
    • Gold is as common as dirt on the planet Voga. 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.
  • 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 use "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.
  • 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.
  • On Jericho (2006), while visiting a camp of refugees from Denver, it is noted that precious metals and jewelry have become less than worthless after the nuclear attack. Not only has basic survival taken priority, but gold picks up radiation easily, making much of it actively hazardous to handle.
  • Kung Fu (1972): While Kwai Chang Caine understands the concept of money, he doesn't really care about it and doesn't understand why people assign value to money, gold, silver, and jewels instead of useful things like food. In "The Stone", when Isaac Montola turns murderous because he believes his diamond was stolen, Caine points out it's just a rock.
  • Logan's Run: In the pilot, Logan starts a fire using 200-year-old bills of various dominations and confidential papers that he found in the ruined Capitol Building.
  • Loki (2021): The Time Variance Authority has secured so many copies of the Infinity Stones from various timelines that staff tend to use them as paperweights. It helps that they are all depowered curtesy of being on the TVA premises, so they aren't actually worth that much in practice.
  • 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.
    • 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.
  • 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 aluminium and tin - to a man who had handled gem-encrusted gold objects every day of his life, they were treasure.
  • 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.
  • On Mork & 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.
  • An episode of The Munsters featured Herman's Evil Twin, a Con Man who claimed to have invented a machine that could remove uranium from water. When Grandpa tries to use it only to find it doesn't work, he thinks he broke it. When trying to fix it, at one point he's disappointed to find it only extracts gold and tosses it aside with other gold.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Inverted in one episode of Stargate SG-1. The SGC has captured a Goa'uld who's a major glutton, and he agrees to provide them with information as long as they keep him well fed. They manage to convince him that chicken (one of the most common foods there is) is a rare delicacy but of course they'll try to keep up a steady supply.
    Nerus: And these watermelons... how do you get the seeds out?
    General Landry: State secret, I'm afraid.
  • Star Trek: Starting in The Next Generation (and after some Early-Installment Weirdness), it's established that gold-pressed latinum is the universal currency (in spite of the The Federation being a cashless society). Because the Alpha Quadrant is largely a Post-Scarcity Economy due to Matter Replicators, latinum is the only thing that has universal intrinsic value, as it cannot be replicated. The substance itself is a liquid at room temperature, so standard coinage is made by sandwiching it in slips, strips or bars of gold. The gold itself is worthless. Gold's fall from grace in Star Trek does have some real-world parallels, see the Real Life section regarding aluminum.
    • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Neutral Zone", the crew comes across some 20th Century citizens who've been cryogenically frozen. Among them is a financier who at the end of the episode has trouble dealing with the knowledge that his trade (and as someone who always pursued wealth, his purpose in life) has become meaningless.
    • "Who Mourns for Morn?", the episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine whose quote is at the top of this page, involves Quark coming into possession of a large number of gold bars that have had all their latinum extracted, making them worthless (though he does note at the end of the episode that gold does still have some value with some less developed species, presumably the ones without replicators).
    • When Quark, Rom, and Nog wind up in the 20th Century in "Little Green Men," Quark considers gold a perfectly good commodity for which to trade with the humans. Although the episode doesn't mention it, this makes sense in context, because he knows it's a time before replicators were invented.
    • 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: Voyager played with this in the episode Alice. The crew gets conned into buying a worthless beryllium crystal, but Seven reveals that several nearby races use them for currency, and to the right buyer it's worth an entire fleet. They end up using the crystal to bribe the same guy they bought it from (they weren't going in that direction anyway, so it's not worth it to them to make a detour just to sell it directly).
    • A few episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series play with this trope:
      • 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 that the "common stones" it is made of happen to be dilithium crystals, which are a key component of starship power generation 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 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 voodoo priestess (Whoopi Goldberg) 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.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959):
    • In "The Rip Van Winkle Caper", Farwell is the last survivor of the four criminals who stole £1 million in gold bars and placed themselves in suspended animation for 100 years. Dying of dehydration in Death Valley, he offers all of his gold to a passing motorist named George in exchange for water. He dies before George can do anything to help him. George is surprised that he offered him gold as if it were really worth something, since a way to manufacture it was developed decades earlier. As he and his wife drive away, he throws the worthless bar of gold to the ground. This trope was also invoked on the trip through the burning desert, where a drink of water was sold for one gold bar each.
  • Van Helsing (2016): In this series, vampires have taken over the world and regularly hunt down the surviving humans. In "Wakey, Wakey", Axel and Scarlett come across a bank's armored car full of money. Axel comments, "Remember when this shit used to mean something?" He later uses duct tape to turn the money into makeshift armor, as the wads of cash prove thick enough to block blades.
  • 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.

  • 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 is, and allow it to spill onto the beach and be washed away by the tide.
  • X Minus One: In "Project Mastodon", an adaptation of Clifford D. Simak's "Project Mastodon", the protagonist got mixed up in a time-traveling get-rich-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.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • In the Dragonlance campaign setting, the value of gold dropped sharply after the Cataclysm; steel pieces are used where gold pieces would be used in other campaign settings. This made very little sense. Only a creative GM would stop you from getting rich by buying swords and melting them down. (Long Sword cost: 15 steel pieces. Weight: ~4 lbs. Coin weight: 1/10 lb.)
    • In Dark Sun, you can't melt down your swords for (insanely valuable) steel, because of course only the god-kings (and their trusted lieutenants and so on) can afford a steel sword; most weapons are made of obsidian. The primary currency is ceramic, and is backed by the God-Kings' say-so, not by any inherent value of its material (although more valuable silver, gold, and platinum pieces do exist, they are so valuable that they are almost never used; and nobody would waste what little steel there is on currency, since it is essentially priceless).
    • In the Midnight setting, gold and gems became useless trinkets after the Dark Lord Izrador conquered the world. Surviving humans and humanoids have reverted to a barter system. The only people who use coins as currency at all are the "Traitor Princes", those who surrendered without a fight; they will commonly give peasants a worthless gold coin when they commandeer goods and services, under the pretense they're "buying" them.
  • Warhammer:
    • The Lizardmen don't understand why humans (and elves and dwarves) are so greedy for gold and jewels. They value gold, not for its beauty or rarity but for its long-lasting nature — gold is almost completely rust-proof and good to store information on. The ancient tablets of the Old Ones are all written on gold, which they will do anything to recover. They make their armor out of the stuff, or at least the Temple Guard and high-ranking Saurus do. And they don't even give a damn about most of what the other races steal from them; the only stuff they really put any effort into retrieving are their sacred plaques and the relics of the Old Ones. As it was best put by a Skink Priest:
      "Why do they always want gold? What do they do with it? Do they eat it?"
    • Ogres consider gold innately worthless because it doesn't make good eating and isn't sturdy enough to make weapons or useful tools out of. Between a pile of iron and a pile of gold, they'd take the iron and then use it to club the guy that took the gold and rob him. They do hoard it... but only because they can "con" other races into giving them "valuable" food and weapons in exchange for "worthless" gold. Greasus Goldtooth (an ogre smart enough to tax the Silk Road and thus is the richest person in Warhammer), however, seems to have found another use; paying people on the other side to suffer a spontaneous outbreak of incompetence.
    • Skaven, similarly, have an economy based almost entirely on warpstone, food and slaves. Skaven only value gold in that it can be used to bribe man-things.
    • The Tomb Kings, similar to the Lizardmen, value gold because most of the surviving artefacts of their realms and dynasties are made of it. Tomb Kings will launch full-scale invasions on anyone who so much as takes a single gold coin from them, but it's because they dared stealing from them: The theft is more important to them than whatever was actually stolen. One instance has a dwarf hammer that has a Nekaharan coin on it and has been the cause of multiple wars for more than two thousand years. The dwarfs want the hammer because it was made by a dwarf, the Tomb King wants the coin because it's his. The person who suggests removing the (strictly decorative) coin and returning it to the king is looked at like he's an idiot.
  • Ars Magica: In Fifth Edition, some magi (and new players) are distressed to discover that gold is not worth much: since they can make as much as they want, the Order prohibits creating enough precious metal to devalue local currency. Magi tend to use an Energy Economy of Vis, condensed Mana that's tremendously useful for magic and that has to be harvested rather than magically produced.
  • Magic: The Gathering
    • The underworld of Theros has so much gold that it proves to be effectively worthless. Returned (basically zombies with no memories) fashion masks out of gold; returned merchants don't accept gold currency, favoring coins made from the clay funeral masks. The underworld god, Erebos, is the god of greed and wealth as well as the dead.
    • The dwarves of Kaldheim have a giant chasm in their city constantly bubbling with liquid gold. As such, the metal is too common to have any real value for them — their coins are made from iron — and they only value gold for aesthetic purposes.
  • Exalted: A certain island had silkworms aplenty, but no sources of cotton or leather. The island had been cut off from the rest of Creation for a while; when traders finally recontacted them, the residents eagerly traded fine silk clothes — which become uncomfortable when doing a day's labor in the field in them — for more practical cotton.
  • Numenera is set in the Ninth World, Earth a billion years in the future in the ruins of eight great, impossibly advanced civilizations that then disappeared. The Earth has been so completely processed and rebuilt (perhaps literally) that there's not even meaningfully "natural" soil anymore. The ancients either transmuted or imported so many previously-rare materials from other worlds that the concept of intrinsic value doesn't exist. If a currency is in gold, then it's because the minting authority decided it was the most economical material to use at the time.

  • Beast Wars: Uprising: In an early battle on Earth in the 80s, Sky Warp gets a stone lodged in his chest when fighting Autobots in a museum. He keeps the stone as a paperweight, and hundreds of years later it's kept in a museum of Decepticon history on Cybertron as The Stone of Sky Warp. Or as humans know it, the Rosetta Stone.

    Video Games 
  • In Age of Empires the Gold resource isn't entirely worthless, but you don't need it nearly as much as you need Wood and Food, or even Stone. This is especially true in the early game, where units generally take Food and buildings generally take Wood. It's also true if you have no allies and therefore can't trade resources. If there is a good amount of Gold in your territory but not much Wood (possible in some of the desert maps), you're going to think it's a worthless yellow rock. And even if you can trade it, the value goes down every time you do.
  • Kingdom of Loathing:
    • The local currency is meat. One adventure in Itznotyerzitz Mine in which you "feel pretty moxious for trading a bunch of worthless rocks for cold, hard meat", those rocks being various diamonds. There also exist "fat stacks of cash" and "pile of gold coins" items, which are utterly worthless, only good for trading for a small amount of meat.
    • In the same mine, it's possible to convert your "worthless" chunks of diamond into useful chunks of coal. Yay!
    • There was a period when the Penguin Mafia would accept stacks of cash in exchange for crates of Crimbo goodies, temporarily making them quite valuable.
  • In the freeware game Vinnie's Tomb, you encounter an Old Queer Snake living on a heap of garbage who has the key to the aforementioned tomb. Understandably, the player will try offering him various items in their inventory, including an enormous diamond you find in that same heap. Waving the diamond in front of him will prompt dialogue along these lines:
    Vinnie: Will you trade me the key for this diamond?
    Snake: What are you, stupid? Diamonds are worthless! Why do you think it's in the trash?
  • In Escape Velocity: Nova, railgun rails and ammunition must be made of, naturally, a material with high conductivity - "something cheap, like copper or gold". One can only theorize that, somewhere in the game's universe, there exists a planet(s) with obscene amounts of the stuff. Metal even seems to have more worth, being a tradable commodity.
  • World of Warcraft:
    • Inverted with a silly quote for female Draenei, a member of a race of interdimensional refugees: "This planet has a tremendous supply of sandstone. The inhabitants must be wealthy beyond their dreams!"
    • Another example appears in several instances. One example would be Uldaman. At the end of the instance, the group would find a chest of one or two gear pieces that they take. However, your avatar seems to ignore the fact that there's large piles of gold right next to the chest. Perhaps the ultimate example is Utgarde Pinnacle, where the very first room is the treasury. Players have found a use for it though. If you take a detour across the piles of gold you can skip the first encounter! That said, there's a good reason for this — the gold is cursed. The skeletons tending to it are the former companions of the drunken dwarf hanging out by the entrance. So taking any of that stuff is a bad, bad idea.
    • This even applies to the main unit of currency in World of Warcraft, gold coins. As the game has aged and subsequent expansions have inflated the amount of gold in the game economy, they have become more and more plentiful, and consequently less and less valuable.
    • It's played completely straight with the gold you mine, which cannot be converted into coins except by selling it (apparently nobody thought a mint was a good idea) and has relatively few uses in crafting items, most of which aren't all that good even for appropriate-level characters.
    • The people from Sporeggar do consider the use of coins weird. If you want to buy anything from them you have to do so in shiny mushrooms called Glowcaps.
  • Late in Popful Mail, air-headed elf boy Slick is astonished when Mail mentions to him that she needs to find a set of magical orbs to prevent the Overlord from reviving. They're actually powerful artifacts, but Slick thinks of treasure in terms of gold coins and precious jewels and tells her that he wouldn't bother to pick them up if he saw them.
  • In the Fallout Universe, bottle caps are generally used for currency. In Fallout 3, the player can find stacks of pre-War Money, and while they're not totally worthless, they're considered no different than any other item.
    • This is obviously a Call-Back to a scene in Fallout 2 (which switched from the caps of the first game to generic "money"), where you stumble on an enormous heap of bottle caps, which are now worthless.
    • Incidentally, in Fallout the value of the bottlecaps received a good explanation: they were backed up by the real currency, like banknotes used to be backed up by gold in Real Life: clean water, the most valuable substance in the wasteland. They were also incapable of being replicated, thus no forgery and their mineral composition gave them a modicum of worth. Same case with bottle caps in the Capital Wasteland.
    • In Fallout: New Vegas a couple more wrinkles are added. Everyone in the game still prefers to deal with caps instead of other currency - only casino cashiers are willing to pay you in NCR dollars or Legion coins. That said, every currency can be traded for caps or vice versa at their respective exchange rate from anyone willing to barter with you, regardless of your barter skill. The NCR starts to print paper money backed by gold. Unfortunately, before the game starts the NCR gold reserves are irradiated by the Brotherhood of Steel, so they have to switch back to backing their currency on water. This massively reduces the value of the NCR dollar. The Legion mints its own money system of gold and silver coins which end up having a higher value than NCR currency or bottle caps, owing to actually being made from the metals. Alice McLafferty of the Crimson Caravan company gives you a quest to destroy a bottle cap press located in a pre-War soda factory, noting that a supply of newly pressed "counterfeit" caps will destabilize the economy. (Unfortunately, you aren't given a chance to use the press before destroying it.) In the Dead Money expansion, you can come across gold ingots - these weigh 35 pounds and are valued at 10,349 caps. This means that many items (like fully-repaired rifles and energy weapons) are worth more than their weight in gold.
    • Thanks to the new equipment modding and settlement construction systems in Fallout 4, all the junk that was Shop Fodder in Fallout 3 and New Vegas has now become extremely useful material. However, your companions will still grumble about your insistence on picking up every "worthless" item you find, even after they've seen you using it to make high-tech weapons or turn a small shack into a heavily armed fortress. The sole exception to this is Piper, who instead complements you for your ability to figure out a use for all of it.
      • The Junk Jet gun (which fires junk) adds another wrinkle to the value of Pre-War Money. As in previous games, pre-war money is mostly Vendor Trash, though it can also be scrapped for a small amount of cloth. But the Junk Jet does the same damage with any item, regardless of what it is, allowing the player to make use of junk they don't want. The downside is that junk has mass, and the player can only carry so much, whereas most forms of ammunition (even bulky things like rockets) weigh nothing. Pre-War Money, however, also weighs nothing. This means you can carry as much as you want, and one of the most practical uses for it is as ammunition.
      • Since Pre-War Money can be scrapped into cloth, and cloth is required to make most furniture (especially beds), you can literally create a bed made out of money. Pre-War money is something of a subversion, though; despite the economy it traded on no longer existing, the stuff is valuable enough to warrant an exchange rate of 1 to 8 with the currency that is in common use (as for why it's still a desired commodity After the End, another game mentions that it makes for a good toilet paper).
  • The MMORPG Runescape sometimes did this, along with other self-parody. In one quest, there is a cutscene of the Trolls killing an adventurer and discarding the 'worthless' red metal he was wearing (the most expensive set of armor in the game at the time).
    • The Villagers in Tai Bwo Wannai on Karamja consider gold to be not worth much, due to how much of it there is on Karamja, but find some plants to be useful as currency. The TzHaar also find gold useless, because the volcano they live in is hot enough that it melts (curiously, the temperature seems only to make gold worthless in TzHaar city, burn paper, and make Rum vanish, and not affect anything else), so they use bits of obsidian as currency.
    • Played much more literally in the in-game world economy — gold and silver are only used in the Crafting skill, and as such, gold and silver ores and bars are worth far less than mere iron ore. Items made out of gold or silver, if they don't include gems, are generally worth even less than the ores and bars, if only because no more experience can come out of processing them.
    • Similarly, most of the tradable gemstones in the game are nearly worthless because of how common they are. They are cheap enough that they are used for making tips for enchanted crossbow bolts. Only the very rare high level gems, such as the Onyx, which is not a particiarly valueable gem in real life, are worth anything significant.
  • "To Brother Gil - Bro, I found the sword, like you told me. But there were two. One of 'em had a lame name, Something II. It was a dingy, old thing with flashy decorations, something you'd probably like. So I went with Excalipur. I'll be back after I find the Tin Armor." - note from Enkido found when the player obtains the Excalibur II, the best weapon in Final Fantasy IX.
  • In Frontier: Elite II there were some worlds that had rather unusual notions of waste. One, Cemeiss, would pay traders a small sum to remove gemstones and a rather larger one to remove precious metals from their worlds. Woe betide anyone who brought any such materials into the Cemeiss system... they'd be promptly fined for smuggling waste.
  • The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind:
    • One sidequest has you running messages between two exceptionally stupid Orcs in and around the mining town of Caldera. Your reward for your hassle? A "useless rock" — which happens to be a diamond. The orc thinks he's pretty clever conning you.
    • The Ashlanders firmly consider gold coins to be this. That doesn't mean they won't take them off your hands, however. After all, you aren't the only clueless city slicker in the world...
  • Ultima:
    • In Ultima VI, if you sell the contents of a mostly useless reference book from the Lycaeum through the Xorinite wisps (an interdimensional Hive Mind Information Broker), they will genuinely assume you'll want an equal amount of information in return from the buyer, and are baffled when you accept the initial offer of a small number of valuable metals. Which is to say, all the gold your whole party can carry.
    • Ultima VIII: In the book "Gold: Valuable Commodity or Worthless Trash?", Okapi the Elder argues in favor of gold for its useful properties. The official currency is Obsidians, as metals were deemed more valuable for making crafts and weaponry than to be wasted on being currency.
  • At the beginning of the Left 4 Dead 2 campaign Dark Carnival, you come across a campfire in the middle of the road full of burnt dollar bills.
    • A similar scene can be seen at the beginning of the Blood Harvest Campaign.
  • Although gold is still very rare in Minecraft, there's no monetary system. As a result, it can only be used in crafting, and, to the dismay of many, a sword made of gold is as useful as one made of wood. Gold tools mine faster than diamond, but a Gold Pickaxe still counts as though it were Wood for purposes of what it can harvest. Gold can also be used to craft a handy watch, and more importantly its conductivity makes it an essential ingredient in Booster Rails, which can speed up or slow down mine carts.
    • At the same time, the trope is averted, however; diamonds are the rarest item in the game, and can be crafted into the strongest armor and tools available. And a record player.
    • As of recent updates, there is a currency system, but it runs on emeralds, not gold. Emeralds are still very rare and hard to obtain through mining, although easy to trade with Villagers. Gold can only be traded for emeralds with a few Villagers, and the exchange is pretty poor considering gold's rarity (especially when you can trade wheat or gravel for the same amount).
    • This finally gets averted for gold in the 1.16 update, which introduces bartering with the Nether-exclusive piglin mob. Throwing gold ingots at one distracts them from attacking the player and prompts them to toss a random item to the player. In addition, full gold armor will prevent piglins from becoming hostile.
  • Dwarf Fortress players consider gold mainly useful for pacifying nobles and making jewellery, goblets and so on to trade for more practical metals because it's very heavy and holds an edge poorly, making it largely useless for forging weapons and armour. And while it still generates a lot of foreign exchange, that can be a very mixed blessing, as wealthy settlements attract larger and more frequent raids by goblins and other hostiles.
    • Rarely, though, a weaponsmith in a Strange Mood can produce a golden warhammer, which is worth its weight in... well...
    • Platinum has a lot of the same problems as gold but also makes a nice artifact warhammer.
    • Silver, on the other hand, can be forged deliberately into weapons— but again, is only really good for warhammers, floor spikes, and other weapons that base damage on weight rather than an edge.
    • For non-hammer weapons and armor, steel and bronze are the best... unless you can get adamantine, but then you risk opening up a whole other can of worms...
  • EverQuest II uses gold as part of currency system (100 Copper = 1 Silver. 100 Silver = 1 gold. 100 gold = 1 platinum). However, both Copper and Gold clusters are commonly-found harvesting materials for low-level tradeskills. Not too many residents of Norrath actually find gold to be all that valuable (other than goblins, but they like anything shiny). Silver clusters, on the other hand, is an exceptionally rare high-level harvest that players will pay a lot of platinum to buy, yet nobody ever thinks about smelting down all the commonly found silver coins to use for other purposes. (But that's mostly because they technically can't.)
  • At one point in The Longest Journey, protagonist April Ryan can attempt to buy something in an Arcadian marketplace using her gold ring, only to be informed by the merchant that gold is worthless there—the precious metal of choice in Arcadia is iron.
  • In Tales of the Drunken Paladin, Save Hobos find gold worthless and build their slum sector out of it.
  • In Dead Light, Randall can pick up a $100 bill. He keeps it because it has a funny drawing over Ben Franklin in pen, saying explicitly that it's worthless.
  • Spec Ops: The Line has a couple of instances of this, since its setting is a devastated Dubai - formerly one of the richest cities on the planet. In one instance, rebels are smelting ammo using salvaged silver jewelry. Another shows a doll clearly made after the disaster, as it has diamond earrings for eyes and ripped silk for a dress.
  • While gold or platinum, depending on the world, is still somewhat valuable in Terraria, by the time you have the means to mine Adamantine, you'll have more than you know what to do with. Gold/platinum still has some uses not just as decoration and vanity but the ore is a necessary component of Spelunker Potions. A slightly better example is silver/tungsten, which serves as nothing but Shop Fodder by the time you beat the first(!) boss as the only other use is for making the respective silver or tungsten bullets which eventually become obsolete by Hardmode as the Arms Dealer starts selling them and you have access to fancier munitions.
  • Starbound: Gold has some practical uses (it's a component of the battery due to its chemical properties, and needed to build a Pixel Compressor, among a few things), but is mostly used for decoration, such as fossil display cases. You can also use it to make gold blocks, gold platforms, and treasure piles, in case you want to live in opulence.
  • A very interesting case showed up in the player market of Diablo II. Due to the in-game currency of gold being ridiculously easy to obtain, it didn't take long for any item worth buying from another player to quickly become worth more gold than it was physically possible to carry. Players started using a rare drop as a de facto currency instead.
    • This goes back to the days of Diablo I, where particularly rare items were used as currency. Because gold could only be handled in stacks of up to 5,000, unique rings, elixirs and the like became a far more fungible currency for items priced at hundreds of thousands. (Of course, since the game was commonly hacked to death and back, there was very little real 'economy'.)
    • What makes this even more interesting is that the rare drop item used as currency (The Stone of Jordan, or SoJ) was originally a very highly sought after ring, so much so that it was duped/hacked to hell and back, leading to a massive supply. When the item was later nerfed to counter all the hacking, it lost its intrinsic value and thus the market was full of these essentially worthless, but still hard to come by (legitimately) items. Hence their adoption as currency.
  • In a comic for Team Fortress 2, it is revealed that the teams have collected so much money from the money powered robots that they use it for everything from chairs, to fueling a fireplace, to stuffing it in sandwiches.
  • In DuckTales Remastered, the Terra-Fermian king refers to diamonds as "garbage rocks" and acts as though Scrooge is doing him a favor by taking them all away. This is likely a reference to their playing with this trope in the Scrooge McDuck story "Land Beneath The Earth".
    Terra Firmie King: Diamonds? Oh, you mean garbage rocks! We have no use for garbage rocks. They're hard and sharp, and you can't roll on them at all.
  • Zig-zagged with the in-game "news" feeds in Cookie Clicker. The Alchemy Lab is stated to work by transmuting gold into cookies. One "report" states that a defective lab was "found to turn cookies into useless gold." But another remarks that "National gold reserves dwindle as more and more of the precious mineral is turned to cookies."
  • Civilization: Beyond Earth: In previous Civ games, Gold was a major luxury that players would fight wars over. Now, Gold is just a basic resource that gives a minor bonus to culture, industry and energy. Of course, for someone living in a survival-oriented planetary colony, gold really is a worthless yellow rock that's only really useful for components in electronics.
  • There are bronze, silver and gold coins that can be collected in Dark Souls, though their descriptions make it clear that they're utterly worthless, as Souls are the currency of choice in Lordran. Luckily, there's an immortal guardian who is willing to give you a fraction of their worth in souls... if only to munch on the coins.
    • Drangleic and Lothric use similar economies. In II, the room with the Twin Dragonslayers is covered in what appear to be gold coins, which cannot be interacted with in any way, for example.
  • Bloodborne: Money's worthless in Yharnam. Coins, no matter their denomination, are only good as markers.
  • After completing a minor quest for a water spirit in the prologue of Icewind Dale, she gives you a "grain of sand from the lake's bottom" (a pearl that's worth a decent amount of gold at that point in the game) as a reward because she knows that surface dwellers place value on such things.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the rock-eating Gorons have no interest in gems because they taste bad. So they sell them to other races, who are willing to pay a lot of money for them for some reason the Gorons don't understand, nor do they bother to question.
    • However, in Ocarina of Time, the food shortage in Goron City became so bad that at least one of them tried to eat the Mineral MacGuffin, causing Darunia to take it away.
    • In The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons, a Subrosan can be seen tossing items into a volcano because he likes the resulting explosions. These are items that Link would typically spend lots of money or go on sidequests for, like Gasha Seeds or Pieces of Heart; too bad for the player, you can't get them from him. Also, the Subrosan market sells items Link would find useful for relatively small numbers of Ore Chunks, with an implication that they don't know what some of those items are (they refer to a Piece of Heart as a "Peach Stone" and put it on the counter upside-down.)
  • Played straight for one particular character in Tales of Maj'Eyal. The transmogrification chest will apparently destroy items placed in it and turn them to gold, but the gold is actually a byproduct of turning the items into energy for the Sher'Tul Fortress. The holographic butler describes the production of gold as a flaw in the chest's design, as the Sher'Tul thought it was useless. The player never mentions that the world started using gold as a currency long ago.
  • Bizarrely zigzagged in NieR Automata, where gold is described as being valuable to humans, but worthless to androids. However, not only is gold a useful component of electronics in real life but even in-game it's a useful crafting ingredient in spite of its flavor text.
  • Big Eater Lancelot in Eiyuu Senki: The World Conquest discovers buried pirate treasure because she was able to smell the food they buried with it. What does she do? Uncover the food and leave the rest of the treasure behind.
  • Grim Dawn takes place in a post-apocalyptic fantasy setting, and what's left of humanity has little use for gold. Iron bits are the currency of choice and quests or bounties frequently pay with ingredients for Item Crafting or components used in the Socketed Equipment. One side-quest has a gang of bandits forcing some villagers to salvage scrap metal for them.
  • Orbs in Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage! are more or less crystallized magic spheres that, in sufficient quantity, can power interdimensional portals. NPCs find them jamming up gears, in pest burrows - just about anywhere, and their bartering value is consistent with that (a chef in Sunny Beach was planning to buy potatoes with one). To be fair, most of these characters live on primitive worlds where orbs' scientific qualities would not be apparent or useful.
  • In Don't Starve, huge gold nuggets can be found fairly readily among the other rocks in the wilderness. They do have practical use since they can be used to craft tools and other useful things, but many of the stranded characters point out that they can't spend it on anything out there, and at least one of them remarks that they can't eat it. Averted/zigzagged by the Hamlet DLC, where there are towns with shops, gold itself is much more rare, and there are NPC's who will buy gold from you with the local currency, which you can then in turn buy other things with, including food.
  • Breeding a Shiny in any of the mainline Pokémon games usually involves a great many clutches of non-Shiny Eggs before you find that elusive 1/682. If the parent is a Metal Slime such as Chansey, or just very rare like Mareanie or one of the starters, they usually end up being tossed into Wonder Trade, potentially for some lucky Trainer to receive and raise (assuming they don't get some troll's Com Mons.)
    • A similar situation can occur with the Starf Berry (at least in generations wherein Berries could be grown.) This berry raises one stat sharply when below 25% HP, and is only obtained via a winning streak of 100 at the region's respective battle facility, and as such, they're quite rare. However, much like a crop of zucchini, it's very easy to let Berry crops grow out of control, leaving you with an overabundance of Starf Berries. If you obtain something via Wonder Trade and it's holding one of these (or another event-only berry,) this is likely what happened on the owning Trainer's game.
  • Path of Exile: Wraeclast is such a Death World that any gold or jewelry that isn't attached to combat equipment or enchanted in some way is automatically considered dead weight and ignored, no matter how much opulent decoration you pass by through the continent's many treasure hoards. Instead, the locals barter with Scrolls Of Identification as the standard unit of currency, enchanting consumables for large bills, and anything that can be used in combat as the main stock.
  • Mentioned in ZombiU:
    The Prepper: Diamonds aren't worth shite. Bullets, that's the rare mineral now.
  • Green Hell: Stranded in the Amazon jungle, the main character stumbles upon an old gold mine and can pick up a sack of gold. It's of no use in the game, and the character comments on how he could have sold it online if were back in civilization.
  • A funny variant appears in Hero of the Kingdom III, in which the miller's son asks the player for a pearl. Pearls are among the most valuable items in the game, but the kid wants to play with it, like it's a particularly shiny ball. If you collect the toys he's left strewn through the area and return them, he gives back the pearl in exchange, because he's decided that it's utterly boring.
  • A Hat in Time: In the Nyakuza Metro DLC, whenever Hat Kid finds a Time Piece, it's taken away by The Emperess and she pays Hat Kid with a big stack of cash. Of course, the Time Pieces are the fuel to Hat Kid's ship, so it's understandable that she would rather have them. In her diary entries she expresses confusion at being given paper that "smells like car fur". All the money you get stays in a big pile in Hat Kid's ship and she only uses it to roll around on it.

    Web Animation 
  • In the Camp Camp episode "The Fun-Raiser", David and Gwen are trying to raise money to keep the camp afloat, but end up even further in the red with every attempt. Meanwhile, Nikki at one point is digging for buried treasure and is disappointed when she strikes oil.

    Web Comics 
  • In Freefall:
    • Diamonds and other gems are so easily synthesized that they're used in barbecues. When Sam scams two supporting characters with shares in a "meat mine", his loot is 50kg of diamonds that were the waste product of someone using CO2 to test a fusion reactor's mag bottle.
    Sam: That grill surface is one big slab of diamond. Back home, I could buy a kingdom with it. Here? It's so cheap that people throw them away. It's organics like wood that are expensive here. On my planet, the garbage dumps are full of wood and old tree bits. If interstellar travel wasn't so expensive, we could make a good living selling garbage from one planet to another.
    • Florence meets a group of robot student tailors that use gold cloth, silver thread, and lots of gems. Since the planet Jean is still being Terraformed, organic materials are a Mundane Luxury while mineral resources are literally dirt cheap.
  • In The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!, aliens can synthesize gold very easily. This is sometimes used to pay for repairs to Bob's repeatedly destroyed roof.
  • The Order of the Stick: This strip shows Haley dividing up the party's treasure equally to everyone else, but only taking worthless rocks for herself. Roy catches on and demands the rocks to be split between everyone else with Haley getting none (but a double share of the rest of the treasure). The trick is, they were actually ordinary, valueless grey rocks, and Haley just duped the party into giving her more treasure.
  • X in A Magical Roommate exploits this trope by paying her entrance into a magical university with aluminium. She also apparently plans to profit off platinum...
  • Mentioned in 8-Bit Theater, comic 1191. Even with the threat of Chaos ending the world, Thief is still determined to hoard as much cash as possible. Red Mage and Black Mage point out that when Chaos does rampage, money wouldn't be worth the act of picking it up, as day to day survival will be the only thing anyone cares about. A farmer would be rich because he could make his own food. Thief is naturally horrified.
    Thief: Wealth that belongs to those who can make it? Great Elf in the sky... We must stop this horrible future no matter the cost! So long as cost remains on the backs of the poor.
  • Dragon Mango: The goblin king refuses a sack of gold and demands something useful like a chicken or a box of donuts, saying that they have literally whole walls made of the that "worthless gold". War is averted with a happy ending when the true worth of gold is explained to him (and almost immediately goblins are reclassified from monsters to people by surrounding nations)
  • In Homestuck, currency in the form of "Boondollars" are awarded to the players (the children and the trolls) for advancing on their echeladder and doing sidequests. It is pretty much regarded as worthless and considered "useless bullshit money" by Dave.
    • TG: alright well its not like i even have a problem parting with this useless bullshit money
    • This may not be entirely true — both Aradia and Terezi state, and John later confirms, that the Boonbucks are used to purchase 'fraymotifs' which are likely styles of combat. The trolls have apparently all bought the best ones they could, and Dave apparently bought a few offscreen. It's just that Dave used his time-travel abilities to manipulate the game economy.
    • Jane has an item that converts whatever she wants into grist, at the price of a few boonbucks. However, since she has no idea what grist is supposed to be used for, she considers the item completely useless. Similarly, she already has a fortune in boondollars and a fetch modus which lists the alchemy components of items, but she has no idea that they'll have something of a use in the near future.
  • Discussed in Dubious Company. Sal and Leeroy win a presumably large fortune at the Festival of Veils. While excited about their winnings, they decide to give it up as the Elvish currency would be worthless in whatever dimension they would end up in next.
  • Drow Tales: Gold is worthless to Drow for two logical reasons: Drow living underground come across gold way more often than anyone else, making it a very common metal. It also cannot be used for weapons and armor due to its physical properties, and can not hold mana, so its only purpose is decoration. Fossilized tree sap on the other hand (which are literally worthless yellow rocks for people on the surface), appears to be extremely valuable due to its ability to hold mana quite well due to being organic, and the fact that with very few exceptions trees are not able to survive in the underworld means that it has to be imported.
  • In Deverish Also, Rekkoran originally got rich by buying aluminium on Earth, where it's a common industrial metal, and selling the "litesilver" for obscene amounts of gold in the other world.
  • Commander Quinn from Quentyn Quinn, Space Ranger explains that in a society with replicators, robot labor, and zero-point energy, very few physical objects are worth any great amount of money, gold and jewels most certainly not among them. What is worth money is ideas, such as art and literature or new replicator templates, and work that a robot can't do, such as Quinn's own job.
    • Therefore, one should be re-e-eally careful not to let intellectual property laws get out of hand, as the RIAA Wars prove.
    • In the prequel comic Tales of the Questor Quentyn's species, the Rac Cona Daimh, considered bauxite a worthless ore as no furnace could extract metal from it, and in fact a toxin as an entire village became uninhabitable when the water supply became contaminated with it. Then a young biomancer developed a plant that siphoned bauxite out of the ground and it produced "berries" made of solid aluminium (see real life, below) or rubies and sapphires.
      • Oh, and in QQSR they've got a 30-km worldship covered in a geodesic sphere of solid sapphire plates.
  • Flipside: Gold is used as money, but it is cheaper than silver, and platinum is even cheaper.
  • In Deverish Also the protagonist is transported to a medieval fantasy universe where aluminum, or "litesteel", is more valuable than gold. Later it turns out that the villain toppled a kingdom by using aluminium from the protagonist's homeworld to get insanely wealthy.
  • Played with in Kill Six Billion Demons; the numerous treasures in Mammon's Dragon Hoard are massively valuable, but Mammon himself has become so senile that he no longer remembers how or why he got it all. He spends his days counting it all, figuring it was important to him once, but otherwise doesn't really care about it anymore. When Allison reaches his vault, Mammon casually tells her that she's free to take whatever she wants if she lets him finish counting first. His followers are so inured to the endless fields of gold that they literally treat it as dirt; they walk on it and build crops in it.
  • In Latchkey Kingdom, Bridget comes from an alternate dimension which is apparently post-scarcity, and pays for her clothes with small cards of solid gold, which also helps the shopkeeper overlook Svana's insistence that she's a dangerous fairy here to kidnap people.
  • In League of Super Redundant Heroes, after being transported to another world and discovering Josie has deposed the legitimate ruler and installed herself as queen (though she prefers to believe she created the world with magic, Buckaress points out how the vault filled with gold coins makes her rich.
    Josie: This isn't real money, it's fantasy money and banks don't have an exchange rate for that.
    Buckaress: ... but it's still gold. Just melt it down to bars and you can sell it for millions of dollars.
    Josie: ... Oh. My. God. I'm rich!
  • In Flaky Pastry, during a multi-race peace conference, Nitrine (as the Goblin representative, "The Shortstraw") presents the Human rep, Athena, with an "object d'art" from Goblin territory: An artfully-arranged pile of rocks. After noting that the rocks were "surprisingly heavy", she has her assistant scan the "sculpture". It's uranium ore.
    Athena: I think we may have one more matter of import to discuss.
  • Port Sherry: In "But not gold" a court alchemist is fired for not being able to turn lead into gold. He is, however, able to turn lead into precious gemstones, but does not realize their worth.

    Web Videos 
  • In Noob: La Quête Légendaire, one of the extremely rare materials Gaea needs was stolen from its original owners by thieves who think it's just a random gem. For this reason, they are willing to give it away as part of a bet on the outcome of a Fictional Sport game and are baffled Gaea is willing to bet her whole party's equipment for a chance of getting it.

    Western Animation 
  • 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.
  • Adventure Time: Adventurers tend to be ludicrously wealthy from treasure, while also living extremely modestly simply because they don't care to spend all that loot they get from slaying monsters or delving dungeons. Finn and Jake live in a smallish house built from an ancient tree, while Billy lives alone in a dank, rural cave he's fashioned into a home; for them, the quest itself is the reward, and treasure is just some shiny Bragging Rights Reward. In one episode, Finn and Jake start running out of room in their basement because it's literally overflowing with loot and only then does it cross their minds to actually spend some of it. They proceed to go on a wild spending spree in Wildberry Kingdom and practically crash the economy by themselves.
  • On Apple & Onion, when the duo is looking around Falafel's apartment for his key, they find some loose change and an expensive antique watch and throw them both out the window.
  • 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 plays with this several times throughout the show:
    • In "Where the Buggalo Roam" it's revealed an ancestor of the Wong family long ago traded a single bead to the native Martians in exchange for the entire western hemisphere of Mars. Generations later, the Martians, thinking they'd been scammed, exact revenge on the Wongs and try to kill Kif with the bead - which proves to be a gigantic, extremely valuable diamond. The chief of the Martians believed that their people had been duped due to their lack of a concept of ownership, but when offered the hemisphere in exchange for the diamond, he refuses because they now do have a concept of ownership and wealth, with which they decide they'll just buy a new planet to call home.
    • When all Earthicans are granted a $300 tax rebate after the conquering of another planet in the episode "Three Hundred Big Boys", Bender uses his rebate to buy a $300 burglary kit which includes a basketball-sized cut diamond he uses to cut a glass display case. As soon as he's done using the diamond, he tosses it aside, as it is effectively worthless in comparison to a massive $10,000 cigar made from the Declaration of Independence and hand-rolled by Queen Elizabeth II during her "wild years". In the same episode, Dr. Zoidberg tries to spend the money he got on items considered luxuries, he perceives them as worthless, calling ornate jewelry and gemstones "shiny pebbles" and complaining that beluga caviar and foie gras are "the garbage parts of the food".
    • The episode "Bendin' in the Wind", the crew uses an old Volkswagen bus excavated from the ruins of Old New York (which still runs somehow, even after being buried for 1,000+ years) to travel across country following Bender who is on tour with Beck. A stop at a laundromat where Zoidberg washes his whole exoskeleton with everyone else's clothes leads to all their cash (bills and coins) in their pockets destroyed. Now starving after several days on the road, Zoidberg begins to feel sick from the car exhaust and coughs up several blue-and-pink-swirled pearls, which Amy and Leela swoon over their beauty and they decide to sell the unique pearl necklaces at the next stop, but Zoidberg is just disgusted that they're touching what's effectively his own vomit.
    • At the end of the episode "Anthology of Interest", Professor Farnsworth concludes his What-if Machine is broken, saying that it's "not worth the gold it's made of", before simply tossing it in the trash.
  • 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:
    • In "Homer's Barbershop Quartet", Homer rummages through a box at a yard sale and finds an original copy of the Declaration of Independence, 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 "Boy-Scoutz 'N the Hood", Homer digs behind his couch in hopes of finding a lost peanut 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 "Worst Episode Ever", Martin's mother almost sells the original handwritten script of Star Wars (alternate ending: Luke's father is Chewbacca!) to the Comic Book Guy for $5.
    • Inverted when Marge brings to John what she thinks is an antique Civil War soldier statue, but is just a bottle of Johnny Reb whiskey.
      John: Ahhhh, that'll make your bull run.
    • In "The Burns and the Bees", Prof. Frink uses a perfume to attract bees. Moments after using it, an 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."
    • In one episode Homer has one dollar which is enough to buy a candy bar or lottery ticket he has found is a winner (by holding up to the light). He agonizes for a moment but then buys the candy.
    • In "Future-Drama", Bart is in Mr. Burns' house and sees a gigantic diamond. Mr. Burns comments that he's going to have all his diamonds retromorphed into the most valuable substance on Earth, coal.
  • Space Goofs: In the episode "Short Changed"note , the aliens find a ton of money and don't know what to do with it. They try eating it, burning it and using it as a fancy wallpaper. In the end, Etno finds a use for the "paper rectangles" as toilet paper.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:
    • Done in the episode "Idiot Box". It 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. Humorously enough, the television itself may be worth less than it seems as when Squidward took it, he found the TV came with only box-related content.
    • In "Penny Foolish", where Mr. Krabs is trying to get a penny from SpongeBob, it's revealed he was only picking up a 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.
    • In "Porous Pockets", 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 by and buy it from them for a "small fortune", this trope would have almost certainly gone its natural course. At the end of the episode, they're about to do the same with a huge diamond Patrick found in a mine.
    • In "Mustard O' Mine", SpongeBob, Patrick, and Squidward are sent underground to mine for mustard, where SpongeBob and Patrick are uninterested when they find gold and diamonds instead.
    • "Atlantis SquarePantis" zig-zags this with a huge vault of treasure the Atlanteans have which they are aware of its monetary value, but disregarded it a long time ago for the pursuit of knowledge. They let Mr. Krabs play with it.
    • In "Under the Small Top", when SpongeBob receives his mail, he's given a check for $1,000,000 from a contest that he won, but rips it in half because he only cares about getting the sea flea circus that he ordered.
  • The ThunderCats find gold (which they've never encountered before) in one episode, and Panthro says it's "soft, pulls apart too easily. Has a low melting point. Won't react with other metals or chemicals. It's just... junk." 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 either Panthro (mechanic and tech) or Tygra (chemist) could be expected to keep some around for further experimentation. But Cheetara only kept some of it because it was pretty; the rest got dumped.
  • Looney Tunes:
    • In a few 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 ("Bonanza Bunny"), 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!"
    • In "Tease for Two", the Goofy Gophers cover a rock with gold paint and toss it into the hole in which Daffy is digging for gold. Daffy, of course, thinks it's real.
  • 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." Ironically, Duck Dodgers and the Cadet still had to go and stop the diamond smuggling, as the scarcity could make them valuable again.
  • Timon & Pumbaa: Timon and Pumbaa initially 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 Italian food (such as the lasagna they stole from him, which began the whole episode) as money, and money as food.
  • The Fairly OddParents episode "Beach Bummed" involves Cosmo and Wanda losing their wands on the beach. Wanda instructs Cosmo to dig... Fridge Brilliance kicks in when you realize that, given their powers, Cosmo and Wanda (plus any fairy) could simply conjure or transport anything they wanted directly to them, so they probably don't have much of a concept of mercantilism.
    Cosmo: I did dig! But all I found was this old baseball card [namely, a vintage Honus Wagner card, one of the rarest and most expensive in the world], this ancient lamp [as in Aladdin's magic lamp], and this guy with the big collar and the peanut butter and banana sandwich!
    "E": Cosmo, ah-promise me you won't tell anyone about my secret underground rock 'n roll beach kingdom.
    Wanda: Cosmo, I found something!
    Cosmo: Ugh, let me guess—another Holy Grail?
  • The Penguins of Madagascar: 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.
  • American Dad!:
    • Roger the alien excretes gold inlaid with jewels as feces and doesn't recognize its value on Earth. A side gag in several episodes covers one specific gold doody that gets passed around many people, usually through murder or suicide, until the apocalypse episode where Roger needs it to fuel his starship.
    • In one Thanksgiving Episode, Stan is shocked to discover that his half-brother, Rusty, is rich. It turns out that years ago, their grandfather died and told them to divide up his assets: $20,000 and a big chunk of land in the desert. Stan took the money, while Rusty eventually discovered that his new land was full of copper, from which he makes several million dollars per year.
  • Arthur:
    • In the episode "The Shore Thing", Arthur is talking about not knowing what you may really discover in life during the episode's intro, which is set in the Yukon gold rush where Binky is sifting in the river for treasure. Binky finds a rock of gold which amazes Arthur, but Binky is more interested in a quarter he also managed to sift into his pan.
    • In "The Great Sock Mystery", Pal and Kate are trying to trade back D.W.'s sock, which has been acquired by a frog named Mr. Toad in the animal "sock market". Kate offers a five-dollar bill but Mr. Toad brushes it off; he already found a ton of that stuff behind the Crosswire's house and used it to wallpaper his home.
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic goes back and forth on this. Gems at first look like this, but only because one of the main characters has the power of finding them in abundance and another, a dragon, eats them. In another episode, their value fluctuates wildly, a single jewel can be used for buying things ranging from four round- trip train tickets plus pet fees to an industrial-sized hair dryer, (and the tiniest one buys the most expensive item, and vice versa). Although they were mostly being used as bribes in that episode, so it wasn't like the characters were getting them appraised first. Rarity later gives small ones out like tips, and most ponies react like she handed them a hundred dollar bill. So it seems some of them are rare and worth a lot, while others, may be so plentiful there is no good use for them other than cake garnish and door stops. In "Rock Solid Friendship", Maud Pie is unimpressed by a large pile of jewels and comments that they are practically worthless because they are so common. She is also unimpressed by Princess Twilight Sparkle's crystal castle, asking what makes it different from any other structure made from minerals.
  • 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".
  • Johnny Bravo:
    • One episode involves a cat burglar in a museum trying to steal the world's largest cut piece of cubic zirconium, 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 as she thought:
      Burglar: Rats! The case around it is made of pure diamond! How ironic.
    • One of the items that Johnny finds while on an archaeological dig with Carl is an Egyptian urn, which he throws offscreen without a second thought.
  • 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: Max and his friends end up fighting a band of aliens who seemingly want to conquer and plunder the Earth. Eventually, he realizes that what the aliens want is toxic waste, which they use for fuel. Realizing that the planet would actually benefit without this, Max quickly "surrenders" and agrees to pay the aliens the "tribute" regularly.
  • One Underdog cartoon features an alien race called Cloud Men, who have so much gold they make furniture out of it. It's worthless 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 The Transformers, 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 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 wreak havoc on the economy.
  • DuckTales (1987):
    • In one episode, the boys use a duplication device to double their pocket change so they'll have enough money to buy ice cream. But due to a bug in the duplicator, the cloned coins keep copying themselves. Soon, the town is flooded with coins, hyperinflation runs wild, the cheapest things cost millions of dollars, and Scrooge's own fortune can't even buy a pack of gum.
    • In another episode, Scrooge and a member of the Status Seekers Club want a rare mask from the king of a tropical island that would make either of them president of the club. They both offer the king expensive jewelry and other fancy gifts, but he just laughs and tells them he has no need for such material wealth. Eventually, Mrs. Beakley is able to get him to trade the mask for something he actually wants — a simple jar of peanut butter.
    • Yet another example, Scrooge finds an aquatic race who regard shipwreck treasure as worthless garbage and keep it in a landfill. When Scrooge takes it all to the surface, they curse him for stealing — until they realize he essentially just took out their garbage for them and did them a favor.
    • Subverted in the episode "Earth Quack", an adaptation of the Carl Barks story "Land Beneath the Ground" from the original comics: the Terra Firmies send Scrooge's money back up into the money bin after their earthquake cracks it open not because they don't think it's valuable, but because they know it's valuable — they didn't mean to steal it in the first place, so they felt guilty and made sure to give it back.
  • DuckTales (2017) features this in the episode entitled "Whatever Happened to Della Duck?" In it, we discover that upon departing Earth and getting caught in a cosmic storm, Della crash-landed on the moon. After a series of events, she sets to work fixing her ship only to discover that it runs on gold. At the end of the episode, Della assumes that she's stranded and gladly takes the aliens (Penumbra and Lunaris) she encountered up on their offer to make a new home on the moon. Upon entering the city, Della realizes that everything is made of gold. Penumbra explains that since it's so common, they often just throw it in the trash (which is also made of gold).
  • Sofia the First: While looking for more cave crystals, Gnarly finds an emerald and dismisses it as worthless because it doesn't glow. He later finds a diamond and casts it aside.
  • Wild Kratts: When the brothers try out their new hermit crab power-discs, they start out at human-size and are too big to use regular snail shells. Frantically seeking an alternative, Chris finds an old treasure chest filled with gold coins on the beach, and - overwhelmed by hermit crab instinct — dumps the coins out on the sand without a glance so he can use the chest to protect his vulnerable abdomen.
  • Episode 11 of Plasmo features Sparky, a construction robot from a planet of robots where gold is the most common metal available. Unfortunately for her, the rest of the galaxy considers gold a lot more valuable than her people do.
  • In an episode of Turbo F.A.S.T., Skidmark is mixing chemicals together in the hopes of reverse-engineering his own pickle juice. Instead, the mixture turns into a gold bar, which he throws away revealing that he has a whole pile of them from previous attempts.
  • An episode of The Venture Bros. involves Gary/21 trying to pay Doctor Venture in the form of a comic book, which Doc laughs off. After all, there's no way a comic featuring "Ka-Zar the Great and 12 pages of jungle adventure!" could be worth much of any money, and he ends up letting his son Hank have it. Over the course of the episode, the comic is destroyed, and the audience even gets an onscreen counter as it declines from half a million dollars to worthless.
  • In The Smurfs story, "Gargamel the Generous", Clumsy comes across a batch of crystals that turn out to be useless for the current building project (they're making pebbles for a new walkway in the village). He's disposing of them, disappointed in himself for not finding anything useful; they are too tough to fashion anything with them and when Hefty is strong enough to shatter one, it disintegrates into dust. When he tries dumping them, Gargamel approaches with the unusual attitude mentioned in the story title. Because unlike the Smurfs, Gargamel has a use for diamonds. Of all the Smurfs, only Papa recognizes what diamonds are and knows about their value in human society.
  • An episode of Jungle Cubs has the main cast searching for a hidden treasure. In the end, they find a chamber full of gold and jewels but, being wild animals, they find no value from it.
  • In Men in Black: The Series, the Worm Guys drink coffee all the time because it's a sacred substance on their homeworld that only royalty is allowed to drink. On Earth, millions of gallons of the stuff is brewed daily so people can get through their day.
  • Used with produce instead of minerals in The Ren & Stimpy Show episode "City Hicks": the episode starts with the duo running a farm that grows dust, which they apparently turn into food. When it rains and the dust is washed away, they consider the growth of plant life in their fields to be a bad thing and move to the city when they believe the fruits and vegetables that are now growing in their fields to be worthless.
  • In the first episode of The Owl House while rummaging through a sack of human world artifacts, Eda discards a smartphone, a diamond ring, and the Holy Grail before settling on the "real" treasure, a pair of novelty spring-eye glasses.
  • One episode of ThunderCats had the group acquire a large supply of pure gold. Since they have no need for money, their technology doesn't utilize it, and it's much too heavy and soft for any practical purpose, Panthro opts to throw it away, declaring it worthless junk, although Cheetara falls in love with its color and shine, and fashions a small piece into a necklace. It turns out that gold is the only thing that can repair the Sword of Omens, which was broken earlier in the episode.
  • The Trolls: TrollsTopia episode "Glitter Rush" is about all the trolls mining for glitter due to a shortage. At one point Smidge expresses frustration that they're mostly finding gold, tossing a freshly dug nugget into a massive pile of them.

    Real Life 
  • Aluminium:
    • Between the late 1820s, when Hans Christian Ørsted first extracted it in pure form, and the invention of the Bayer and Hall–Héroult processes in the late 1880s, pure refined aluminium was more expensive than gold. Merely heating the ore will only give you an impure mixture of several minerals (mostly aluminum oxides and silicates) unlike most other metals, and early methods of extraction required reacting difficult-to-produce anhydrous aluminium salts (typically aluminium chloride) with alkali metals (typically sodium or potassium) until the modern Hall-Héroult process was discovered.
    • Napoleon III reserved aluminium cutlery for the most important of guests. Less favored guests had to settle for gold.
    • In 1884, the United States capped the Washington monument with a 100-ounce pyramid of aluminium to show off its industry.
    • Extracting large amounts of aluminium using the Hall-Héroult process requires huge amounts of electricity, so aluminium remained quite valuable in areas where electricity was not cheaply available well into 20th century. During World War II, aluminium was plentiful only in the US, thanks to TVA and other large-scale hydroelectric projects.note  Elsewhere, planes were built out of wood or steel to conserve aluminium and enemy drop tanks were eagerly salvaged. (US Army Air Force countered by making drop tanks out of resin-impregnated paper to deny Germans the extra source of aluminium.)
  • Diamonds:
    • Given that diamonds are made entirely out of carbon, it really wouldn't be that hard for Sufficiently Advanced Aliens to make synthetic diamonds that are more perfect than the real thing. Humans have been making synthetic diamonds since the 1950s! Natural diamonds are made by geological pressure applied to carbon, and the synthetic process does this faster. The gemstone industry reacted by declaring that natural diamonds are more valuable than synthetic diamonds because... well, just because. But even without synthetic production, diamonds are actually quite common. Their prices are kept artificially inflated via a near-monopoly on worldwide distribution and a decades-long advertising campaign that's inextricably linked diamond rings to marriage in the public consciousness.
    • In 2010, astronomers discovered an exoplanet called 55 Cancri e, a hellish world twice the size of Earth, blisteringly hot as a result of its proximity to its parent star, which appeared to be made entirely of diamond. While more recent studies have downplayed this — instead, 55 Cancri e may not just have large amounts of diamonds, but other useful carbon materials such as hydrocarbons on its surface — it still suggests both that the planet has huge, economy-collapsing quantities of diamond, and that other diamond planets probably exist elsewhere in the galaxynote . It's believed white dwarf stars have cores composed of diamond.
    • Even in the Solar System, diamonds are far from rare; while there's no means of getting to them with our technology at this current time, it is thought that it rains diamonds on Jupiter and Saturn, the largest and second largest of our neighbouring planets. Lightning strikes create clumps of soot by burning methane in the dense atmosphere, which then falls out of the sky; as this soot falls deeper and deeper into the planet's interior, extreme pressure and heat transforms the soot into very small diamonds!
    • Diamonds also have practical uses. Being extremely hard, diamonds are used as drill bits and saw tips, as well as abrasives for industrial purposes, as well as scalpels. All of which are surprisingly cheap compared to the fancy jewelry, as the two purposes prize different attributes, and just about no one cares if their industrial diamonds are synthetic or not. Jeweler attempts to market industrial-grade diamonds as "chocolate diamonds" have so far met limited success.
  • Platinum:
    • For starters, the name is derived from Spanish for "false silver" — the same way iron pyrite is called "fool's gold". That gives you an idea what the Spanish thought of it at the time.
    • The Spanish Conquistador myth of Cibola, the City of Gold, was partly based on a tribe in the Amazon where a certain metal was so common that it was used for body paint and inexpensive decorations. Unfortunately, when the Spaniards finally found the tribe they were distressed to learn that the metal in question was platinum, which the natives had fashioned into elaborate jewelry. Frustrated Spaniards worked the Indians to death in the mines looking for gold, only to turn up mounds upon mounds of previously unheard-of platinum. Not knowing how to work the ore, since they had worked the tribe to death in the mines (and later engineers never did figure out how they did it), and given that it was so rare back home that it had no resale value, the angry Spaniards called the whole expedition worthless and buried the mounds of platinum ore in slag heaps that later became "lost treasure" more valuable than a city of gold by the 20th century, quite literally considering the stuff rubbish.
    • Back in the 19th century, some men counterfeited gold coins by using a "worthless" gray metal and gold plating the coins. Today, that "worthless gray metal" is known as platinum, and it's actually more valuable than gold for its applications. And is estimated to be 10 times rarer than gold.note  If you have a car, your catalytic converter has a considerable amount of the stuff. This has led some enterprising thieves to harvest whole parking lots with metal-cutting saber saws, cutting out the converters for recycle value.
    • In the 17th century, the Spanish government tried to stop the above counterfeiting practice by dumping their entire stock of platinum in the sea.
    • When platinum was first found in Russia, the ignorant population used it for hunting — you had to pay for lead. Then they found out that shooting an animal was more expensive than the animal itself. It's worth mentioning that they thought they were firing low purity silver ore, which looks similar. Smelting and shipping operations in Siberia were so expensive the low purity ore of anything just wasn't worth anything.
  • A British man found some old Beatles memorabilia in his attic and sold it for a few quid at a flea market. Turns out it was extremely rare memorabilia that was actually worth thousands of dollars... or maybe not. Urban legends about Worthless Yellow Rocks are, naturally, extremely common.
  • The gold miners of Yogo Gulch, Montana had spent decades panning for trace amounts of gold for slim profits while routinely discarding bucket-fulls of the "blue pebbles" that littered the area. While stories vary on exactly who it was, somebody eventually got curious about what exactly these funny rocks were, and had an expert look at them. Today, the legendary Yogo Sapphire Deposit is known for having yielded hundreds of millions of dollars worth of the finest sapphires ever mined, with large portions of the lode remaining to be extracted.
  • Gold was very abundant in the pre-colonial Philippines. As in, you could see gold everywhere; decorated on houses, jewelry, etc. But finding gold was just as common as, let's say, getting a piece of candy. Pick almost any spot, dig, and you'd find a nugget of gold. And when Portuguese traders came, natives were willing enough to trade two gold pesos' worth... for a measly silver one.
  • An interesting variation occurred with the U.S. gold rush into the Black Hills of South Dakota. Miners were pissed that their sifting machines kept getting clogged with a thick blue powder. An enterprising businessman found a way to filter it out and kept the powder as part of the payment. It turned out that the blue powder was silver in concentrations of nearly 100 times higher than the gold. While gold is significantly more valuable than silver, it's not 100 times more valuable.

    Gold prospectors in Virginia Range in Nevada were frustrated by the same stuff, in the form of irritating mud that made mining very messy and unpleasant business, and much of it ended up being discarded to be washed away by the streams of Mt. Davidson. It took quite a while before anyone realized that this fractious blue mud was indicative of MASSIVE quantities of silver ore. The site came to be known as the Comstock Lode and is still being mined today, over 150 years after its discovery.
  • In the vein of the metal examples above, a surprising number of scrappers will toss off unstripped refrigerators, washers, etc. into the tin pilenote  so they can go out and get more to do the same thing; most of these are druggies just out for their next fix who can't be bothered to take the time to actually process the things.
  • Medieval Egypt provides a near-literal example. In 1324, Mansa Musa (literally, Emperor Moses) of Mali, a devout Muslim, went on pilgrimage to Mecca, passing through Cairo on the way. Now, Mali is gold country, and at the time supplied the Mediterranean with a very large proportion of its gold. West African kings since the Ghana Empire had a tradition of taking a cut of every golden ounce, so the Mansa of Mali tended to be extremely rich. Thus, when Mansa Musa went on pilgrimage, besides all manner of little gold items carried by the people in his entourage, he also had with him about 80 camels laden with 300 pounds of gold. Each. When Mansa Musa reached Cairo, he went for a visit to the Sultan, and then down to the souk (bazaar) to buy souvenirs and such. Unfortunately for the Malians, nobody in the entourage had any idea what things were supposed to cost in Cairo, and naturally the Cairo merchants fleeced the Malians for every penny they could get. Plus, there was the fact that one of Islam's basic principles is charity, with the Malians just as ignorant about the proper amounts. This pumped enough gold into the Egyptian economy to cause massive inflation, drastically devaluing all gold in Egypt. For the next ten years, gold, while hardly worthless, commanded ridiculously reduced purchasing power. On the other hand, the Italians doing business in Egypt at the time loved these new prices, since Italy hadn't suffered the same inflation (although everyone in the Mediterranean was affected somewhat).
    • Egypt itself was something of an example in ancient times, as it had access to then-abundant gold deposits in Nubia. Silver, on the other hand, had to be imported from the Fertile Crescent, and jewelry or other items crafted from silver often fetched higher prices in Egyptian markets than equivalent gold wares.
  • Manure (which is to say, feces-laden soil) has been handy for agriculture for centuries, but it got especially valuable after the 16th-century battlefields' warriors tended to have guns in their hands and manure could be used to produce gunpowder. Various states in Europe even levied a tax of manure on farms around this time.
  • Euro starter kits were sets of a few coins totaling around from about 4 to 20 Euros given out before the actual introduction of Euro cash. Many of these were simply the first Euros people spent — and these people are now probably kicking themselves as complete, unopened kits can nowadays be worth ten times their original value as collector items. The record is held by Finnish kits, which are worth forty times the nominal value of their coins.
  • Not necessarily worthless, but rather worth less: the gold-to-silver ratio was far lower in Tokugawa Japan than in the Western world at the time, and, as a result, Western traders brought large amounts of silver to Japan and traded it for large amounts of gold, nearly ruining the Japanese gold standard before the Closing of Japan put an end to the plundering.
  • The exact details are a bit memory fuzzed, but a Modern Marvels about chocolate gives us this: Chocolate was once extremely expensive, and extremely secret; the Spanish kept its existence a secret from the rest of Europe for decades. This came to its logical conclusion when some pirates, having captured a Spanish merchant ship and finding it was full of "dried sheep droppings" burned it and its cargo at a time when cocoa beans were worth their weight in silver.
  • Even perfectly ordinary rocks can fall under this trope if there's a sudden demand for them. White Jurassic limestone from Solnhofen, in Bavaria, was just a relatively mundane construction material for roofs and floors (it was used for some fine carving, but only locally) until 1796, when lithographic printing was invented and created an insatiable market for the stuff. When printing tech marched on, Solnhofen's limestone became more or less just another rock again (paleontologists know it for its good supply of Late Jurassic fossils, the most famous of which is Archaeopteryx lithographica — the fossil that provided the first strong evidence that birds are dinosaurs, named after the lithographic boom that led to its discovery).
  • Gibbon tells the story of a Roman legionary who found a leather bag full of pearls that had been dropped by a fleeing Persian soldier. The Roman kept the bag and threw away its contents — he assumed that something with no use would have no value.
  • There's an interesting case surrounding the original Nancy Drew mystery stories. The books themselves have solid blue covers with the book's cover art being printed on a dust jacket. The books themselves now are fairly cheap (libraries refused to stock them, considering them "junk books," meaning more books were published for people to buy, saturating the market.) The dust jackets, however, which are considered a nuisance to some bibliophiles (for being clumsy and unattractive on the shelf), have become much more valuable. Not simply because fewer dust jackets have survived, but due to an unfortunate fire at the home of the artist, Russell H. Tandy, the original artwork has been lost. At this point, the dust jackets can be worth more than the book itself.
  • Pablo Escobar once burned $2,000,000 cash to keep himself and his daughter warm while fleeing police in the mountains of Colombia. His daughter was starting to suffer from hypothermia and the cash was otherwise worthless.
  • This worked both ways in the North American fur trade from roughly the 17th to the 19th centuries. To the Aboriginal peoples, the furs they were selling to the European fur traders were fairly common, easy to obtain and used for mundane purposes. In Europe, those same furs could be worth huge fortunes due to fashion-conscious European aristocrats hit with the Ermine Cape Effect. The knives, cooking pots and other trade goods the Europeans were giving the Aboriginals in exchange were often fairly common, easy to obtain and mundane, but to the Aboriginal peoples they were often far more effective than the hand-crafted tools they'd frequently been using before. The natives at the time lived in a mostly stone-age (or in South America, bronze age) society; they didn't have access to the technology necessary to smelt iron and steel, and thus the only iron implements they could produce had to be cold-forged from rare meteoric iron.
  • Supposedly Nigel Reynolds, who was the arts correspondent on the Daily Telegraph, met J. K. Rowling and she handed him a first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone to read. He took it to his office, skimmed it, and threw it away. Copies of the first edition, of which only 500 were printed, are now worth thousands of dollars.
  • During The American Civil War, silver half-dimes were being hoarded to the point that they could not be kept in circulation, and in response, the Union issued first paper five-cent notes, and finally a new five-cent coin made of an alloy of 75% copper and 25% nickel. Fast forward to World War II, and suddenly nickel was a valuable material for manufacturing, so the government had to resort to replacing the nickel in newly minted five-cent coins with an alloy of Manganese and... you guessed it, silver! When World War II ended, the US Government hoped it could recover as many of these silver "War Nickels" as possible from circulation, but many stayed in circulation, and many more were hoarded as an investment, especially once the price of silver began to rise.
  • Speaking of WWII: The one-cent Penny is struck from a zinc and copper alloy, both common metals, and considered worthless outside of pocket change, befitting its status as the lowest-value, lowest-denomination unit of the currency. But, in 1943, the demands on copper for use in component parts for the war effort made it so valuable as a strategic resource that the US Mint made all its pennies from plain steel that year. While steel was of course itself an important component of ships and tanks, the American steel industry at the time was more than capable of meeting that particular demand with plenty to spare.note 
  • After decimalisation in 1971, British small coins ("copper") carried on being manufactured in a bronze alloy, the advantage here being that smaller coins using a lot less metal and having a higher purchasing value cost less to manufacture. Scroll forward to the early 2000s and the value of the small coins inevitably diminishing. Those low-value small-denomination coins started disappearing from circulation in large numbers and nobody could work out why. Until it was realised that with the high cost of bronze, those small coins were now worth seven or eight times their face value as scrap metal and enterprising people were harvesting them to melt down. The redesigned small coins are now a thin bronze gilding over a steel core.
  • The trope is zigzagged regarding the myth of El Dorado. Spaniards heard of a tribe for whom gold was apparently so common it was all over the village and they dumped it in the lake for worship. The Spanish assumed it was because they had a massive gold reserve. Except, no. The village was wealthy and purchased gold and dumped it in the lake as a sacrificial offering to their Gods. Why was the village wealthy? It had a salt mine, which was highly desired by its neighbors. The tribe also didn't use gold currency, so while it was valuable, it was only used as decoration, meaning they saw no problems with displaying it everywhere. And the fact that it was valuable is exactly why it was considered worthy of being a sacrificial offering to the gods. If you give the gods something worthless, that's an insult rather than a sacrifice.
  • According to some estimations, there's enough gold (and presumably other very valuable, high-density metals) in the Earth's core to cover the entire planet in several meters of itnote .
    • Asteroid 16 Psyche is believed to be laden with quite a significant amount of gold, silver and other valuable metals.
    • There's also an estimated 20 million pounds of gold in the world's oceans, upward of half a trillion dollars at current value (not counting any gold inflation that would occur if 10,000 tons of the stuff suddenly entered the market). This doesn't refer to gold coins and bars from sunken treasure ships or to any veins of gold that might be beneath the seabed. This is gold that's part of the oceans, as in dissolved into the water. The problem is there's simply no way to get it. Gold is 13 parts per trillion in ocean water, and we can't filter out such tiny amounts.
  • The idea of "collector's editions" of comic books came from the fact that early issues of well-known titles, such as Superman #1, are worth a fortune now, so it follows that special editions of popular titles will eventually increase in value. However, the plan is a non-starter, as publishers release a "collector's edition", and collectors snap up as many copies as they can and work hard to keep them in mint condition, thus eliminating the rarity that made those early editions valuable. For example, comics published before or during World War II are valuable because paper was needed for the war effort, and many comic books were given up for this purpose. Not to mention they were mostly seen as cheap, disposable entertainment for kids and there was no active collector's market or comic book shops then, meaning the vast majority were damaged, destroyed, or lost over decades of play and exposure to the elements.
  • When the Spaniards (starting to see a pattern here?) first landed in what would become modern Mexico, gold was the only metal any of the civilizations there knew how to work, and they used it mainly for decoration. Although it was not exactly "worthless" by their standards, specially to the dominant Aztecs, it seemed perfectly fair for them to trade it off to those nice strangers for things they had never seen before. These things were, for the most part, glass beads and mirrors. It's also interesting to note that although gold was very valuable to the Aztecs, it was not nearly as valuable for them as it was for the Spaniards. So gold was everywhere, and it was often given as an offering. So when they offered great gifts of gold to those weird strangers that may or may not be ancient gods, well, the Spaniards just wondered where they had the rest of it, if they had so much they were willing to part with...
  • The cœlacanth was occasionally fished up as bycatch by African trawlers. The fish had no commercial value because its flesh was foul-smelling, oily, and distasteful, but in 1938, one specimen was recognized by a museum curator for its unusual appearance; this here was a fish that was thought to have died out at the end of the Mesozoic Era, a living fossil representing an important transitional stage between finned fish and limbed tetrapods unchanged for almost 400 million years. But before its scientific value was found out, it was just thrown away because it couldn't be eaten.
  • People have been dumb enough, or desperate enough to throw bullion-grade silver and (even rarer) gold coins into circulation, and there's nothing stopping them; an American Silver Eagle, while worth many times more in metal value (while silver values fluctuate, for the last few years the metal value is somewhere around 18 - 20 times that of its face value), has a face value of a dollar; as a result, it's rare, but not unheard of to see particularly stupid people using them to pay for stuff worth far less than a handful of eagles, in some cases leaving some extremely lucky cashiers in their wake, as all they then have to do to retrieve the silver is replace the coins with ordinary currency that equals the same face value as the finds.
  • 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".) In such cases, variants include the wife selling the car for ridiculously small money, but refusing to sell it without something else, like a radio or spare tire, for which she charges closer to actual value of the car. While this has certainly been done in real life, it's worth noting that if there was a court order to the effect of "sell X and give the money to Y", pulling this trick will make the judge quite angry.
  • Plutonium is possibly the most valuable substance by mass on the planet, partially because of its sheer destructive potential in nuclear weapons, but also partially due to the sheer amount of investment you have to make in order to synthesize it (any plutonium that naturally existed in the Earth's crust at the time of its formation has long since decayed to mere trace-amounts, so the only way to obtain it is to bombard a lighter element with neutrons until it transmutes into a plutonium isotope). Its value exceeds that of gold by a few orders of magnitude at least. This is why at Los Alamos at least one dummy corenote  was fabricated out of gold, on loan from the Federal Reserve. These dummy cores were intended for training people on how to handle the real thing note , to test core fit within the complete bomb assembly, and so on. One half of one such core ended up being used as a door stop. If anybody was going to steal material from the lab, they'd go for the far more valuable plutonium than the boring old gold.
    • Similarly, the uranium enrichment plant at Oak Ridge, Tennessee required gigantic electromagnets to separate uranium isotopes. Because copper was a critical material for the war effort (not just wiring, but also engine radiators, brass shell casings, bronze gears and ship propellers, etc.), somebody suggested silver be used (silver actually has slightly higher conductivity than copper, but of course copper is much more plentiful and inexpensive). The US Treasury was contacted, and the Army Corps of Engineers arranged to 'borrow' tons of silver bullion to be drawn into wires and wound into magnets. True to their word, after the magnetic separation was superseded by the more-efficient gaseous diffusion process, the magnets were dismantled and the silver returned to the Treasury.
    • Another incredibly valuable substance is Calcium-48. It's very useful in particle accelerators in the creation of superheavy elements. The problem is it's incredibly rare in nature and the only way to extract it is to separate it atom-by-atom from a block of calcium. It's valued at about $1 million per gram.


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Alternative Title(s): Worthless Gold



Traveling to the sunken island of New Zealand, Miss Pauling learns what Bill-Bel did with the last cache of Australium in the entire world.

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