Saturday, June 27, 2009

D&Dify Some Stuff #4

Tonight, on the Money Programme, we're going to talk about money... I always loved money...

Okay, seriously, I'm thinking about all the forms currency can come in, and for some worldbuilding stuff, I'd like ideas on what can be made into currency.

In one of my settings, I've got a chain of islands where the natives have learned the art of farming pearls. One form of currency comes in the form of rectangular pearl tiles with a hole in one end so that the tiles can be threaded together with a string. They've been known to snicker slightly when a foreigner wears it as jewelry.

Of course, pearls would probably be one of the upper tier, like gold or platinum, so I'd like ideas for what a culture with relatively little metal to work with could use for pennies.

Any other interesting forms of currency are welcome in the thread. I'll be skimming Wikipedia.


King of Ferrets said...


James K said...

It actually takes a fairly sophisticated society to have multiple forms of commodity currency. Since the relative quantities of each would change over time, so would their relative value. Plus you need people like money changers and that makes things complicated.

The key characteristics of money are that it is divisible (you can break it into bits without destroying it), portable (it doesn't weigh too much for its value), durable (it can't break or decay easily) and scarce (there must be a limited quantity).

Possible items to be found on an island with these attributes:
- Precious stone (jade, gemstones)
- whalebones (if whales are relatively common, but difficult to catch)
- Salt, as KoF noted

Q said...

They used obsidians in Ultima if I recall correctly. Shiny rounded obsidians.

Daggerstab said...

"They've been known to snicker slightly when a foreigner wears it as jewelry."

Well, a lot of cultures have worn coins as jewelry... So Yeah. :) It's a demonstration of wealth.

I was going to suggest Cypraea, but it's mentioned in a Wikipedia article that you probably have found already:

(Sorry if my English is a bit off, I feel my head full of lead today.)

Rhoadan said...

James K:
The key characteristics of money are that it is divisible (you can break it into bits without destroying it), portable (it doesn't weigh too much for its value),

Are you sure about that?

Pearl tiles suggest a fairly sophisticated society since such pearls would have to be cultured. Yes, the shape of the pearl will conform at least somewhat to the shape of the core object in the mantel.

I will also note that whalebone (one word) is not, in fact the bones of whales, but the baleen. I'm not sure it would make a good currency.

Shell beads have been used as currency (Native American wampum). The Wikipedia article is a mess and I'm not linking to it.

The Hawaiian volcano Diamond Head is not AFAIK actually a source of diamonds, but it is a major source of a stone known locally as olivine which, depending on who you ask, may or may not be peridot. It's nicknamed "Hawaii diamond." These gems might also be a basis for a currency.

Cacao beans were used as a currency in Pre-Columbian Central America. I wouldn't expect to find it on an island, but something similar might be available.

Joshua said...

If you're talking about penny-level currency, rather than gold pieces or something, then almost anything could be modified into currency. Little stones, rolled smooth and maybe inscribed with a distinguishing mark.

Or, if you're talking about an island, there's going to be a lot of sand. Why not glass bits? Either discs or spheres. They're commonplace enough that you could use them for small transactions but the process of creating them is difficult and tedious enough that counterfeiting wouldn't be too common. You could even create mold to stamp distinguishing marks onto the glass discs, or lace the glass with a distinctive impurity/additive to mark currency glass as different from normal glass.

James K said...

I've heard of stone currency, the characteristics I listed are common, not essential.

I didn't know that fact about whale bones and whalebones though.

Bronze Dog said...

Catching up after spending the day on my DS. Glass bits sound like a good idea for the island specifically.

Anonymous said...

Building off the glass idea, if you have a currency based on pearls already laid out, then small value coins could be made of glass beads mixed with different amounts of crushed pearl.

Joshua said...

Hm. I don't know much about glass-making, but I wonder whether the pearl bits would survive the process. That's a great idea for an additive to turn glass into currency, though, especially since the pearls have established value in the island's economic system already. Gives the glass coins some legitimacy above just being a fiat currency, even if you obviously can't reclaim the pearls from the coins to convert them back.

Joshua said...

Oh, huh. Apparently, calcium carbonate is already used heavily in the glass-making process. So, that question is answered. As typically used, though, it probably wouldn't be visible. (And you probably can't get enough from pearls anyway -- limestone seems to be the most common source of industrial calcium carbonate.)

But there may be some stage of the process where powdered pearl can be added and remain visible in the finished product.

Anonymous said...

Joshua, It's a fantasy setting. Of course it'll work.

Rhoadan said...

Biggest source of CaCO3 on and around an island is probably coral reefs, you know, one of the things that limestone started out as.

Mind you, some kinds of coral might be suitable as currency as well. You'd probably want an unusual type that's hard to get either due to the depth at which it's found, or the critters that live there being hazardous.