18 Astounding Facts You Didn’t Know About Money

money2You probably already knew that, long before the ubiquitous paper currencies we use today to pay for goods and services existed, man used various items as a medium of exchange including cowrie shells, leather, amber, rice, salt, thimbles and even decorative axes known as “zappozats.”

Here are 18 lesser-known facts about money that you probably didn’t know:

  1. Money’s most important characteristic is its ability to store value. However, money must also be accepted as a medium of exchange, act as a unit of account, and be portable, durable, divisible, and interchangeable.
  2. Believe it or not, the first and oldest form of money used by man was cattle. Of course, that came with several significant challenges. One of the biggest was that any seller who accepted them as payment had to take them home and then feed and water them.
  3. Another problem with cattle was that their value was too high to facilitate exchanges of small value. As a result, it was impossible to pay for, say, one loaf of bread with a single cow.
  4. The term “paying through the nose” supposedly originated with a Danish poll tax imposed in Ireland during the 9th century, whereby delinquent taxpayers were punished by having their noses slit. And you thought the IRS was tough.
  5. Modern coinage originated around 500 B.C. in what is now present-day Turkey. The coins were made of precious metals like copper, silver and gold, and then stamped with the images of emperors or Gods to mark their authenticity.
  6. In 806 A.D., somebody in China got the bright idea to use paper banknotes. The trouble is, paper money is easy to produce. As a result, every fiat currency eventually returns to its intrinsic value: zero. That’s why many people insist that only gold and silver are the only true money.
  7. In 1455, after a bout of hyperinflation took root and destroyed its economy, the Ming Dynasty banned the use of paper money. For the next several hundred years, commerce in China was conducted primarily with gold and silver.
  8. European governments refused to supply New World colonists in North America with gold and silver coins because they were concerned they’d get lost in the continent’s heavily wooded forests. To fill this void, sea shells — known as “wampum” by American Indians — were adopted as a form of currency. Wampum was legal tender in New England from 1637-1661.
  9. Ironically, although wampum was used for many purposes by the American Indians, money wasn’t one of them.
  10. The world’s oldest currency still in use today is the British pound sterling. Prior to the introduction of the Euro, that title belonged to the Greek drachma.
  11. The average lifetime of US paper currency depends on the denomination. The $100 bill typically stays in circulation for seven years, while the average $50 bill survives four years. The five-dollar bill has the shortest lifespan — just 16 months; that’s five months shorter than the average one-dollar bill.
  12. The US Treasury handles approximately 30,000 claims and redeems over $30 million annually to folks whose money has been severely damaged or mutilated. There’s a group of specially trained currency examiners at the Office of Currency Standards at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing who are specifically charged with picking through the mutilated moolah.
  13. Contrary to popular belief, in some cases the US Treasury will reimburse you if less than 50% of a mutilated bill is identifiable. A Montana man discovered that for himself in 2013, after he pieced together remnants of five $100 bills that were eaten by his one-eyed dog.
  14. Details, details, details: If you look really closely at the reverse side of a $100 bill you’ll see three individuals, two men and a woman, walking in front of Independence Hall. You might also notice that the hands of the clock in the steeple are set at approximately 4:10.
  15. According to the US Treasury, the automobile pictured on the back of the original $10 notes was not a Model “T” Ford. Don’t bother trying to verify that with one of those newer $10 bills in your wallet; the cars are missing.
  16. Follow the money: Ever wonder where that paper money in your pocket has been — or where it will go next? Then check out Where’s George; here’s a sample tracking report. There are similar sites for other currencies too, including EuroBillTracker and Where’s Willie (which tracks Canadian dollars).
  17. Euro banknotes come in a multitude of distinctly different colors: the 5-euro note is grey; the 10-euro is red; the €20 is blue; the €50 is orange; the €100 is green; the €200 is yellow; and the €500 is purple. Euro banknotes also have distinct sizes for each denomination, which is helpful if you’re blind.
  18. The US Treasury website claims America’s money is green because that color is identified with “the strong and stable credit of the federal government.” Hmm. With the National Debt quickly approaching $20 trillion, perhaps it’s time to finally use another color.

Photo Credit: Images_of_Money


    • 2

      jeb says

      So does the U.S. government, just subtlety. Look at it from the edge in your wallet and you’ll see purple (fives), orange (tens), copper (twenties), blue and red (fifties), and light blue (new hundreds).

      #19.The US notes used to be larger before the silver certificate.
      #20.If you turn in to the Secret Service counterfeit money passed to you by a customer or retail store, you don’t get reimbursed.

  1. 3

    Grymie says

    I actually did know some of this from global studdies class in school. Still, good work on your research.

  2. 4

    BB says

    21. The history of the word “salary” is partially derived from using salt as currency.


    Middle English: from Anglo-Norman French salarie, from Latin salarium, originally denoting a Roman soldier’s allowance to buy salt, from sal ‘salt.’

  3. 6


    I live in the US but I like the idea of having different colors and sizes for paper money like the Euro. I makes it easier to identify and it helps blind people.

    Ray Charles used to like getting paid in One dollar bills so he could count how much money he was getting paid without being ripped off. Changing the size of the bills would eliminate that.

    Just a thought.

  4. 7


    Interesting post. Cattle is still used as a medium of exchange in parts of Africa. In South Africa the groom can choose to pay the bride’s dowry in cattle or in cash.

  5. 8


    I’m trying to imagine taking my cow to the grocery store and haggling how much credit that should amount to…would make quick trips few and far between, lol.


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