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The 5 Most Surreal Financial Apocalypses from History

#2. Bermuda's Hog Money

Coin Talk

Let's say you're doing work for a company that requires you to live on a job site removed from the rest of civilization, such as helping to build a resort or a farm on some obscure tropical island, or working on an oil rig in the middle of the ocean. The only way you can get the things you need to live (food, clothing and Jean-Claude Van Damme DVDs) is through the company, which is more than happy to sell you these things on credit, or in exchange for specially printed company currency.

Sure, you're getting fleeced a little bit by not earning an actual wage, but it's a matter of convenience -- you can't take a boat all the way back to the mainland every time you want to go to Food Lion.

But then suddenly, you get one of those "corporate restructuring" emails that none of us ever read, telling you that the company has been bought out and, although you still have your job, all of your credit and special currency is now worth even less than dick (roughly about the same as a Xeroxed copy of dick with a little word balloon that says "IOU"). Oh, and the new boss has started printing his own coins and declared that if you don't use them, he will beat the piss out of you.

Photos.com
"This is no way to run a Dippin' Dots!"

What? When Did This Happen?

Prior to becoming a British colony, Bermuda (then known as the Somers Isles) was made up of private British stock companies that had colonized a workforce to make them fistfuls of cash by farming, whaling and diving for pearls. To keep those fistfuls clenched as tightly as possible, the companies paid these workers with credit that could be used to purchase overpriced goods, rather than giving them any actual money.

Eventually the colonists started causing trouble, so the companies appointed a new governor/manager -- Daniel Tucker -- to calm shit down and get the profits flowing again. So to be clear, this was a guy who was in charge of the business side (hiring/firing) and was the supreme ruler of the land (he publicly hanged anyone caught speaking out against him). So imagine the disdain you feel for the worst boss you ever had, combined with the seething hatred of a brutal dictator felt by the oppressed. That was how Bermuda felt about Tucker.

Kevin Winter / Getty
This, multiplied by tens of thousands of hands.

To help get his workforce under control, Tucker disbanded the entire "work for credit" system and paid the colonists with coins that he brought with him. Unlike legitimate British currency, Tucker's coins were made from brass, which made them slightly more valuable than an old tuba. Evidently deliberating for long hours on what to stamp on each coin face to invigorate the staff, somebody settled on a wild pig, causing the people to refer to it as "hogge money." People literally only used the currency because they knew Tucker would kill or torture them if they didn't.

Finally, some colonists tricked Tucker into leaving (by giving him a fake letter from the homeland demanding his return), and the colonists threw the coins away pretty much the instant Tucker left Bermuda. And we mean literally threw them away -- collectors are still finding piles of the coins in ditches around the area. What replaced the hogge coins as a means of exchange? Tobacco. So basically they fixed the situation by adopting the same economic system that many prisons use today.

#1. The British Money-Printing Boat

You walk out to pick up your mail one afternoon when you find that someone has stuffed a massive wad of cash into your mailbox.

After carefully ensuring that there isn't an index finger wrapped inside of it, you click your heels and rush off to spend it as quickly as you can. Amazingly, when you tell your friends about it later over the phone, each one of them reveals that they, too, were visited by the money fairy. The next day, there are even more dollars waiting for you next to the electric bill and the Value City mass mailing. Pretty soon you're finding money lying on the sidewalk, caught in bushes and blowing down the street like tumbleweeds. You even see an ad in the newspaper offering to sell you money for the cost of the paper it's printed on.

Congratulations: You are a victim of a plot to destroy America.

What? When Did This Happen?

The first organized American attempt to print money occurred in 1775 at the outset of the Revolutionary War, when the Continental Congress issued paper money known as Continentals to help fund the war effort. Actually, the Continentals were pretty much identical to modern U.S. currency -- promissory notes insured by the government for a printed value. The economy was not yet based on the gold standard, so the Continentals didn't represent anything physical (pay attention, this is important).


Why the hell don't we have any thirty-three-and-a-third-cent coins?

The British navy, in an equal effort to thwart the upstart colonists and engage in unbridled hilarity, set up a printing press on board the HMS Phoenix docked in New York Harbor and churned out phony Continentals by the skullduggerous truckload. It was the first recorded instance of financial sabotage during wartime, and it nearly worked.

The plan was to undermine the colonists' confidence in the new money and crash the fragile revolutionary economy to help bring about a quick British victory. The quality of the counterfeit Continentals was so good, and the market was so inundated with them, that colonists became suspicious of all Continental currency and pretty much refused to deal with it. Nobody would spend it, and even fewer would accept it.

Getty
"We'll use bullets for money instead. Those are always worth something."

The British were so confident in their plan and the quality of their fakes that they didn't even try to hide what they were doing. They literally put an ad in New York newspapers in 1777, offering to sell the fake money to British loyalists for the cost of the paper. With the supply of colonial currency effectively poisoned with counterfeits and the value of Continentals plummeting steadily every year, Congress decided to get out of the money game, and by 1781 Continentals stopped circulating altogether. It was then up to the individual states to raise their share of the money for the war, forever ending the debate on how involved the federal government should be in the nation's economy.



Chris Holmes roams the Internet as the Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. You can catch him on his website, Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr.

For more ways money can be screwed up, check out 6 Great Ways to Remind Yourself That You're Poor. Or learn about 7 Bizarre Things (And 1 Bodily Fluid) People Use as Money.

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