Show Me the (Most Beautiful and Unusual) Money!

Love it, hate it, need more of it, don’t know what to do with it—no matter how you feel about money, it’s one of the few things that you can find everywhere in the world in some form or another. Divorced from the multifarious evils perpetrated in the name of greed, money as a physical object can be quite lovely. In many cases, pieces of money can be utilitarian works of art that say a lot about the culture they circulate through, taking on countless unique designs and forms. From America’s trusty green dollar slips, a mix of security codes and historic symbolism to the kaleidoscopic, ultra-modern Swiss franc, each one featuring a rainbow of colors, money is often more lovely and fascinating than it’s given credit for. Now tell us about the most beautiful and unusual pieces of money that you’ve ever encountered.

(Image: Denvit/CC BY-SA 4.0)
Tell us about your favorite piece of money in the comments below, where you encountered it, what you know of its history, and more than anything else, what you love about it. If you have any pictures of favorite currency that you’ve collected, post that in there as well! Your submission might be included in an upcoming roundup article on Atlas Obscura. Go ahead and tell us about the money you love. It won’t cost you anything.

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I’ll go looking in my travel money tin later but one thing I do like about British money bills are the different sizes, which are great for visually-impaired people. I just thought it made sense.

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I live in Bristol, UK, which is very unusual in having a local currency. Many shops here and the buses too will accept “Bristol Pounds” if you want to pay in them instead of normal British Pounds. People from the UK generally don’t know about them and also, sadly, many people who live in Bristol don’t know about them either. Here is a photo of some of my Bristol Pounds.

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Oh wow! Those are lovely (I really like the fox…), and I had no idea Bristol had its own currency.

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I’m a big fan of unusually shaped coins. My favourite is the Hong Kong 2 dollar coin - there may be others out there but it’s the only coin I’ve seen that isn’t completely convex. The effect is a beautiful, almost floral design. Check it out! https://static-numista.com/catalogue/photos/hong_kong/g32.jpg

I also quite like the British 20p and 50p pieces. There’s a nice logic to how the have an odd number of faces (I believe it’s to ensure that currency detectors will always measure the coin as having the same width, allowing them to be sorted consistently) and it gives them a unique character you don’t get in a lot of coinage systems.

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Not sure if this counts because I haven’t ever seen one in person, but I thought it would be a shame if nobody mentioned rai (stone money) from the island of Yap! Apparently there’s one at the Smithsonian for those who can’t make it all the way out to this small Micronesian island.

Oh, and compressed bricks of tea used to be used as currency in some parts of Asia until the early 20th century. They’re pretty striking to look at, and I imagine they must have been super heavy (though not as heavy as rai!). I have seen one of these in a museum somewhere, but I can’t remember where it was for the life of me! I think somewhere in the Netherlands, and it looked more like this first photo:

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The Swedish 10 daler coin from the mid-1600s is the world’s largest metal coin, weighing around 20 kgs. Lacking silver to make coins, they were made out of copper or even plate steel. There are only 8 of those left in the world, but there are plenty of other large coins of the same kind. Thiss link is in Swedish, but as you can see, they are highly valued collector items. 8 DALER SM 1659. Karl X Gustav. - Bukowskis

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Oh this is really cool! I had no idea about the tea-block money.

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Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway (and a zillion other things), bought an island off the coast of Connecticut. When local authorities wouldn’t let him build a wind turbine, he seceded from the United States. Part of that meant issuing his own money adorned with the faces of friends and family. This is the only picture I could find on the web for the currency of North Dumpling Island.

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One coin that struck me as a little unusual when I first got it, was the 2 Hong Kong Dollar coin. Obviously because of its shape.

It definitely isn’t as unusual or ancient, but from all the different coins that I have, this one stands out.

And then I have this lovely 500 Vietnamese Dong note taped into an old notebook of mine.

Now, you may ask what’s so unusual about it, since it’s a fairly regular one. But to anyone who has been to Vietnam and/or knows about their currency, knows that 500 Dong is worth diddly-squat*! I never understood why they even produce such a note, because the production, paper, and ink must surely be more expensive than the note is worth.
Maybe there is a reason for that, but for now, it’s a nice piece of memorabilia inside my notebook, because that’s all the use I could find for it. :smiley:

*diddly-squat = 2 US-cents

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I used to think these Philippine coins were play money - alas, they’re no longer in circulation.

Screenshot_20190605-030119_Samsung%20Internet
Images cropped from here

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I also have the 500 dong. I remember being a millionaire in Vietnam. :rofl:

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I even was a multi-millionaire! How about that? :smiley:

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I have been an avid numismatist for many years and I have an extensive collection of coins and paper money. My grandfather planted the seed in me when he gave me his coin collection from his world travels. Many of the notes I have gathered are from my own world travels, and others I have asked people to bring back for me ~ so each of them has a special story. Either way, I try to update them with new issues as often as I can. In my experience, these countries consistently produce the most beautiful money: Surinam, Venezuela (surprisingly), Switzerland, French Polynesia, Israel, Cook Islands, among others. The rarest note that I have is probably a 5 Pound note from the Falkland Islands. The oldest is likely a 1863 $5 note from the Confederate States of America. I do also have some checks from the 1870s that that my great, great grandfather wrote. Collecting money is a lot of fun and it’s a great way to take your kids on a trip around the world from your living room.

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I was in Bucharest, Romania back in the 80s, when the Soviets were still in control and Ceausescu was their puppet dictator. Living conditions were horrible. The economy was disastrous. Lots of decent people resorted to black market activities just to get along. Western money was at a premium, and despite the fact that it was highly illegal, people would commonly stop you on the street and offer huge amounts of Romanian currency for Yankee dollars. This was true throughout the Easter Bloc. But there was one other currency, highly valued by Romanians: Kent cigarettes. I don’t why cigarettes or why specifically Kents, but if, for instance, you tipped a waiter a pack of Kents it would bring tears to his eyes. The only place to buy Kents were the Dollar stores, which accepted Western money and were strictly forbidden to Romanians. I don’t know what they were able to purchase with them, but, as I recall, nobody actually smoked them. Not the prettiest currency but certainly unusual.

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Attached are two examples of old Tibetan money that I purchased in Dharamsala India, the exiled home of the Dali Lama. I was there in 1979. The currency has the appearance of woodblock prints with added stamps.

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These are friggin gorgeous.

I have always thought that Costa Rica and Brazil have some of the most beautiful money, as both have artwork that includes their most iconic wildlife species:
costa-rican-money

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Oh wow. Sloth money!

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That is a fascinating collection you have there!