The Coin of the Realm — and Something Extra

Mongolia talking JFK 500 coin Palau holy water silver dollar
₮500 Mongolian coin (upper right) and the $1 Palau silver dollar (lower left)

Everyone likes money because of the value it has in itself. Coin collectors like certain kinds of money because of its rarity or historical value. Every once in a while currency comes around that is just plain fun.

In 2007 the nation of Mongolia chose to honor US President John F. Kennedy because of his role in the creation of the Peace Corps. The government produced a limited edition ₮500 coin (five hundred Tugrik is worth approximately 20¢ in US dollars) with JFK’s image and a tiny button that, when pressed, plays a recording of Kennedy’s famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech.

The next year the Pacific island nation of Palau chose to honor the 150th anniversary of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes with a special edition silver dollar. Each of the dollars contains a tiny vial of holy water from Lourdes, France.

The Ultimate Rental House Fixer-Upper

White House Truman renovation

As President Harry Truman’s daughter, Margaret, played the piano one day, she was startled as one leg of the piano suddenly dropped through the floor of the White House residential level. Engineers were called in to see what was going on, and the report was nothing short of alarming.

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It Costs More to Make More

How much does it cost to make a penny or nickle?That penny in your pocket may not be worth much, but its cheapness did not carry through to the manufacturing process.

Due to rising costs of metal, as of 2016 the US Mint spend about 1.7¢ to make each penny, and about 8¢ for every nickle.

The Not-So-Famous Faces of Fortune

people whose faces have been on US currency

Much has been written and proclaimed about the recent decision to replace Andrew Jackson’s face with Harriet Tubman’s on the $20 bill. It has been so long since a change has taken place in the lineup of US currency that it is easy to assume that the current faces behind the dollar signs have always been there.

In reality, 53 people have been depicted on US paper currency over the years (not counting fractional currency, which is a whole different subject). Some you would quickly recognize, but did you know about these not-so-famous faces that have adorned US banknotes? Continue reading

With a Face Like Mine, It Ought To Be On Money

$10,000 bill Salmon P. Chase Secretry of Treasury

You have to think highly of a person if you are going to suggest that person’s face to adorn a denomination of currency. That gives you a pretty good idea of what Salmon P. Chase thought of himself when he selected his own face to be memorialized on the first US $1 bank note.  Continue reading

When Quintillionaires Are Paupers

1946 Hungarian Milliard Bilpengő
1946 Hungarian Milliard Bilpengő

Who hasn’t heard an older person complain that a dollar just doesn’t buy what it used to? Imagine what it was like in Hungary in the immediate aftermath of World War II, when the nation encountered the worst case of hyperinflation in history.

Because of the instability of the national economy, something that cost 379 Pengö in September 1945, cost 72,330 Pengö by January 1945, 453,886 Pengö by February, 1,872,910 by March, 35,790,276 Pengö by April, 11.267 billion Pengö by May 31, 862 billion Pengö by June 15, 954 trillion Pengö by June 30, 3 billion billion Pengö by July 7, 11 trillion billion Pengö by July 15 and 1 trillion trillion Pengö by July 22, 1946.

At its peak, prices were rising at the rate of 150,000% every day. To put that into context, if that had happened today in the United States, a piece of candy that cost 25 cents this morning would cost $37,500 by the end of the day, and by the end of the day tomorrow would cost $5,625,000,000.

Prior to the start of World War II, the exchange rate was 5 Pengö to one US Dollar. By June 1944 the rate was 33 Pengö to the Dollar. At the beginning of August 1945 one Dollar could get you 1,320 Pengö. Three months later, one Dollar was worth 100,000 Pengö. Four months after that, in March 1946, the same Dollar exchanged for 1.75 million Pengö. One month later, it was 59 billion Pengö. The next month it was 42 quadrillion Pengö. By July it was 460 trillion trillion Pengö, and by then, what’s the point?

To address the out-of-control price increases, the government issued currency with increasingly-larger face value,  culminating with the Milliard Bilpengö (pictured above), worth 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 Pengö. It is the highest denomination banknote ever printed. It was worth about 12 cents in US currency.

A Hungarian worker sweeps the streets, littered with with worthless money.
A Hungarian worker sweeps the streets, littered with with worthless money.

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Better Buy a Bigger Wallet

An example of Yapese currency
An example of Yapese currency
If you are traveling to the island of Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia, you might consider using a credit card, rather than having to convert your cash into local currency.

The legal tender currency is called Rai, and it consists of doughnut-shaped stones, ranging from 3.5 cm (1.4 in) to 4 meters (12 feet) in diameter. The largest coins require twenty grown men to carry them.

While the US dollar is now the generally-accepted currency, the Rai continue to be honored as legal tender, although their primary purpose tends to be for traditional or ceremonial transactions.

In 1929 the inventory of official Rai amounted to 13,821 stones on the island. About half of these remain. Their value is determined by their size, and they can be converted into foreign currency through the Bank of Hawaii. A 2.5 cm (1 in) Rai is worth $72 US, and a 25 cm (10 in) Rai would fetch about $6,000 US.

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