Odd Things Used as Currency

What will people use for money after an economic collapse?

That was one question I asked myself as I started writing my novel. Originally, it was going to be set in a post-apocalyptic dystopia. (Somehow it morphed into a fantasy, but that’s a topic for another day.)

As part of my world-building, I needed to come up with something that would serve as money. I posed the question to an independent writer’s group, and they came up with a few interesting suggestions, namely food, and fuel, especially gasoline.

Both of these are necessities that would take on value of their own in a situation of complete chaos.

This got me to thinking. What are some unusual things used as currency? A quick Google search turned up some bizarre examples:

Bottle Caps

I’d actually read a novel in which this was the currency. Maybe the author knew that in the African republic of Cameroon bottle caps became of form of currency after most of the beer companies started putting a prize under the caps. The caps began to be used to pay for cab rides and other services.

Cowrie Shells

At one time, cowrie shells were used extensively as currency in Africa, especially for small necessities.


Ever wonder where the word “salary” comes from? Its root is “sal,” the Romans’ word for salt, or one method of paying the soldiers who fought in the Caesar’s wars. The ancient Chinese used coins made from salt, and it was also used in southern Europe.

Tea Leaves

Tea leaves would be ground to a fine powder and compressed in molds to form bricks. Spreading out from China, tea bricks were used in Tibet, Mongolia and Siberia as money. The nomads preferred the tea to metal coins, as in a pinch, they could use the tea for food or medicine.


Since whole peppercorns keep their flavor for a long time, they hold their value longer than other spices. So in the Middle Ages, they were a convenient form of currency. At the time, a day of hard labor wouldn’t pay even an ounce of pepper.

So it seems that throughout human history, food items have been used as fuel, especially when trading with outsiders. Gold coins weren’t always the most valued commodity. Food often trumped it.

Might be something for the doomsday preppers to think about.

And something to think about when world-building.

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