6 Everyday Objects You Had No Clue People Once Used As Money
If you would have told our ancestors that one day we'd be using plastic cards and paper bills to acquire our daily needs, they probably would have said, "Why? Is violence obsolete in the future? Also, what is plastic?" Then we would have backed away slowly before they offered us caveman sex in exchange for our denim. Even that proposition would have made more sense on paper than some of the other crap we've used as currency over the years.
The U.S. Military Traded Sears Clothing For Secrets In Vietnam
You might think being a spymaster is all ultra-sexy, dangerous work -- hushed tones, codenames, commie-killing contraptions, constantly fighting STDs on account of all the spy sex, etc. The reality, however, is that you're more of a clandestine human resources liaison than James Bond. This was something that an intelligence officer in Vietnam named Jon Wiant knew all too well.
He is one of these five people, probably.
Back in the 1960s, Wiant had the job of getting information from locals about the Viet Cong. But there was one problem: How do you pay jungle villagers for information? They didn't need or want money. He couldn't give them luxury goods, because that would have tipped off the enemy. He couldn't use food, because the local chiefs would've demanded a cut, and fuck that noise. Paying them in bitcoin was definitely off the list of options, because that hadn't been invented yet and is also stupid.
Then, like a miracle from heaven, Wiant's wife sent him his lifeline to the Western world -- a Sears catalog. Suddenly, it hit him: What if he paid his informants in sweet-ass corduroy jumpers?
Mekong grenades bounce right off them!
Laugh all you want, but picture yourself in the jungle and suddenly having access to a thousand pages' worth of stuff. And he wasn't wrong. After working out a scale whereby prices were tied to missions of a certain length/danger, Wiant had a catalog sent to his agents and sat by the phone, all the while hoping that they didn't think they were now being paid in a new and exciting form of pornography.
Sure enough, the orders (and intelligence reports) soon came flying in. For instance, one order consisted of "six boys' size red velvet blazer vests with brass buttons" and "stamped leather cowboys' hats." Why boys-sized clothes? The village men were on the petite side. Why red velvet and cowboy hats? Because they were straight-up pimps.
The pimp-clothes-for-intel program ran successfully for nearly two years, until the area became too dangerous for intelligence gatherers to risk life and limb for belts, denim jackets, and large bras (which were useful for gathering fruit, apparently).
Check out those Mekong grenades.
Salt Made The Ancient World Go Round
If you were paying attention in history class, you probably remember that salt and its spice brethren rank up there with love and the conservation of angular momentum as the things that keep the Earth spinning. For our ancestors, salt was their everything.
They would kill the Morton girl on sight for her wanton wastefulness.
Salt was what helped us transition from hunters who relied on salt-licking animals to farmers who could stay put and grow our own grub. Salt kept our meat safe, healed wounds in a pre-Neosporin world, and drove merchants and explorers to bust out of their home countries and find more of the stuff. Salt was so valuable that soldiers were paid in it. And you are too if you accept a salary -- or saltary. And if you're ever fired, it's because you weren't "worth your salt."
After all of the ways salt propelled history, you probably won't be surprised to know that we used to trade the stuff like regular money. The shocking part is that we traded it in the form of Twinkie coffins.
Romans stuck these in strippers' thongs.
In some parts of the world, salt was traded for gold, ounce for ounce. Which is interesting when you realize that you can't make your caramel mocha from Starbucks taste better when you pour gold in it.
There's A Fort Knox For Parmesan Cheese In Italy
Imagine you're a cheese maker. Scratch that, because some of you already took that phrase to a nasty level. Imagine you're a dairy farmer who cultivates the food that we call cheese. If your specialty is Parmesan, you've got a big problem, because your product needs anywhere from 18 months to three years to mature before it's ready for market. And unless you start cutting the cheese before it's ready, you've got no source of income while your baby grows into its full cheesehood. And yes, we know we used the phrase "cutting the cheese."
Fortunately, one bank in Italy figured out a solution to the cheese conundrum. Credito Emiliano accepts wheels of Parmesan as collateral for loans while cheese makers wait for their sources of income to mature. For real. Here's the vault:
One day, humanity will end. The cheese will live on.
Since 1953, Credito Emiliano has branded serial numbers into each wheel, making it possible to track stolen goods (as long as they haven't been, uh ... grated). There's even a special cheese unit called Magazzini Generali delle Tagliate, responsible for turning the cheese, as well as tapping it with a little hammer to make sure it's still got that good-cheese sound.
It's also his mouse-smashing hammer.
Cheese isn't the only regional product they've considered using for money. The bank also looked at taking in prosciutto and olive oil, but since it's much easier to steal containers of oil and ham than it is to make off with a bunch of 80-lb wheels of solid milk, Credito Emiliano decided to stick with what they know. And they did so in the Urkelest way possible.
Ancient China Turned Its Love Of Knives Into Money
Imagine a crazy world in which your currency is determined not by inherited traditions, the Fed, or the Illuminati, but by a room full of action stars. We're pretty sure the system of money they'd come up with is one that ancient Chinese people already perfected: KNIVES.
In the 8th or 9th century, the Chinese began using bronze-cast knives and spades as currency. Not actual knives; that would have been too badass. These were replicas of knives. It's like they looked at the tiny weapons in the Clue box and said, "Yeah, that's what we should use to buy things." Each knife was inscribed with a denomination to show how much it was worth. This one, for example, is worth the souls of six enemies (translation pending).
They didn't eat with cutlery, but they paid the check with it.
Other regions developed the same concept, but with little baby spades. Shockingly, the spades look more hardcore than the knives.
Getting away from trading tiny murder-guitar-looking money as currency is some bullshit.
So why were knife and spade replicas valued as money? For the same reason some of us pass around pieces of cloth-paper printed with the faces of dead people today: symbolism. Knife-money was developed in the regions where knives were commonly used tools, while spade-money hailed from regions more dependent on agriculture than good, honest stabbin'.
Playing Cards Replaced Banknotes In Colonial Canada
While we're used to having the bulk of our money exist as binary code or overhyped bullshit, the same can't be said for most of recorded history. They liked having their cash in a corporeal form, and not just because it allowed them to quickly GTFO should accusations of witchcraft start flying and the plague victims start piling up. You can, therefore, understand the discomfort that the residents of New France (i.e. Canada) were feeling in 1685 after a shipment of cash money from the homeland failed to materialize. It got everyone up in arms -- particularly the soldiers, who, in addition to being up in arms, also possessed the ability to use them if they didn't feel paper cross their palms soon-ish.
"Use them as clubs; we can't buy new bullets!"
Eventually, they hit upon a plan: using playing cards as a type of banknote until the real money arrived. It was, in short, sheer lunacy. If your bosses suggested that they'd be paying you in scrip-esque business cards, you'd sooner go on a looting spree than face spinning this as a good thing to your landlord. Still, it's not like anyone had a choice beyond accepting the situation (and the fact that their wages smelt like old gin) or starving.
They did the polite thing and gave in.
Surprisingly, this crazy plan worked. Once their real money arrived, the playing cards could be exchanged and the system went back to normal ... until the next shipment was delayed, whereupon the cards were used again (in 1686) and again (in 1690). In fact, the only real issues were the potential for counterfeiting and figuring out how to play Texas Hold 'Em when the cards double as money.
Booze Was The Lifeblood Of Several Empires
We don't know whether to be awestruck or slightly nihilistic that one of the most popular forms of currency throughout history is a substance that completely removes you from the world and enhances any not-shit experience into an orgy of mental delirium. There was polio and executions and the rampant nastiness that inspired Game Of Thrones, sure, but were things really that bad?
Back in days of yore, alcohol -- in most cases, beer -- was all but the only game in town when it came to getting paid for a hard day's work. When the ruins of the ancient city of Uruk, Mesopotamia were uncovered, archaeologists discovered (alongside the ghosts) a proto-paycheck entitling some Sector-7B(C) worker drone to a set amount of beer, as well as a shitload of bread to soak it up afterwards. It was the same deal in ancient Egypt. In return for helping with the construction of the pyramids, each worker was given several liters of beer per day, and this was often handed out while they were working. We used to think that the people who built the pyramids were slaves. The reality, however, was less Django Unchained and more Animal House.
"No one asked them to do this. They just got wasted and started piling things."
Australia, meanwhile, had an economy entirely built upon rum. From 1792, it became commonplace for officers with the New South Wales Corps to swoop in and buy every drop of rum coming into the country via trading ship, before turning around and selling it to the unwillingly sober colonists at inflated prices. It only took a short while for rum to depose money as the dominant currency. Workers would be paid in rum, farmers would be forced to sell their crops for rum, and the NSW Corps -- who soon renamed themselves "the Rum Corps" -- made a tidy profit off the alcoholic apocalypse that they'd caused. You don't need to be told that these guys were British, do you?
60 percent of history involves drunkenly resenting the British.
Using beer as currency isn't only an old-timey practice, either. It happened as recently as the 1980s in Angola, after their currency, the kwanza, swan-dived faster than a post-Brexit economy. With consumer prices inflated by a factor of millions, a black market beer economy soon sprang up to fill in the "not letting people starve to death" gap. It was such a success that the government even joined in. Using their diplomatic connections, officials would import foreign beers and sell them on the black market for premium prices, proving that hipsterism is always the strongest force in any financial market.
2016 is almost over. Yes the endless, rotten shit hurricane of a year which took away Bowie, Prince and Florence Henderson and gave us Trump, Harambe and the Zika virus is finally drawing to a close. So, to give this bitch a proper viking funeral, Jack O'Brien and the crew, which includes Dan O'Brien, Alex Schmidt, and comedian Caitlin Gill, are going to send out 2016 with Cracked's year in review in review. They'll rectify where every other year-in-review goes wrong by giving some much needed airtime to the positive stories from the 2016 and shedding light on the year's most important stories that got overlooked. Get your tickets here.
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