Commodity money

People have not always paid with coins or banknotes. Initially, a bartering system was used. The use of commodity money is the next step in the history of means of payment.

New: browse the online commodity money collection (in French).

A wide variety of items was used in this context, ranging from natural products, such as salt or cowrie shells, to manufactured items, such as small metal hatchets or bronze gongs. Commodity money was still used on some continents until the second half of the 20th century. The museum has a substantial collection of commodity money from every corner of the world. You can see a few typical examples below.

bird of paradise

bird of paradise

Commodity money is often of animal origin (teeth, feathers, skin).

This is a bird of paradise. This colourful creature  used as a means of payment was very fashionable among the Papuans of New Guinea.

cowrie shells

cowrie shells

The distinction between means of payment and ceremonial object is not always easy to make. Cowrie shells are also called the “dollars” of commodity money, because they were for a long time widely in circulation and accepted as money both in Asia and in Africa.

On the other hand, this piece of Congolese headgear decorated with the same shells belongs more in the category of precious ceremonial objects.

copper hatchets

copper hatchets

These copper hatchets come from Ecuador and date from about 900 A.D. They belong to the category of commodity money which imitate real weapons and implements them on a reduced scale (here, barely 7.2 cm in length).

The monetary museum of the Banco Central de Ecuador possesses a very rich collection of these.

wheel money

wheel money

Europeans, too, have not always used coins, notes, transfers or credit cards to make their payments.
Their Celtic ancestors, in particular, used these bronze rings and small wheels to pay for their journey into the next world.

These examples date from the beginning of the Christian era and were found in graves.