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Museum NBB: beavering away at the collection Commodity money

Canadian beaver pelt [1]

Canadian beaver pelt

The Museum of the National Bank of Belgium recently came into possession of a number of items which can be categorized as Commodity money. Shell money from Papua New Guinea, knife money from China, axe- and wheel money from Europe, all relics from a more or less distant past where notes and coins were not yet common. Browse in our website: http://www.nbbmuseum.be/catalogs/tradpay/fr/ [2]

One of the most remarkable acquisitions must be a beaver pelt from a Canadian beaver (Castor Canadensis). Trade in animal furs was a thriving business from the 17th till the 19th century. The commercial value was high, and the pelts had a real monetary value. It was possible for the Indian people to purchase a rifle for 20 beaver pelts. The Hudson Bay Company, founded in 1670, dealt almost exclusively in furs in the beginning years.

Both the outer skin (castor) as the underfur (duvet) from the beaver were coveted, the first one being mainly used in clothing, and the second one for the manifacture of felt for hats. Such huge quantities of pelts were traded, that inevitabely the animal became almost extinct. Only a change of fashion (Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria, launched the rage of silk hats) finally also changed the fortune of the beaver. From the 1940’s the population of the rodents in Canada was back to acceptable levels.