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In Abkhazia, home of the Apsar, today is

18 жьҭаара (ž’ƫaara) 2017


Prince of Seborga

His Serene Highness of Seborga, Marcello Menegatto, and his wife and Foreign Minister, Nina (Photo: Principato di Seborga)

Unusual money: Largest, smallest, strangest, scariest
Squirrel Banknote
This isn’t going to be about those 8800-pound stone discs they use on the Pacific island of Yap, the twisty iron rods once traded in western Africa, or even those silver “dollars” from Palau combining the likeness of the Virgin Mary with a tiny vial of certified Lourdes water.

But you will see the six highest true-value, currently legal tender banknotes; this month’s exchange rates for the world’s largest, smallest, and several other pretty obscure currencies; and the rates — at least in theory — for the largest and smallest electronically based cryptocurrencies (Bitcoins and their ilk).1
Uh… ya got anything smaller?

Thai 500000 Baht US 10000 Dollar Singapore 10000 Dollar
In 2000 Thailand issued a 500,000 Baht note [currently equivalent to $15,133.17] commemorating the 50th wedding anniversary and coronation of Their Majesties King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit. Until he passed away in 2016 King Bhumibol had been the world’s longest-serving head of state and longest-reigning monarch. The 500K remains legal tender.

Next: the US $10,000 bill featuring Salmon Portland Chase. I first learned about this from an old Blondie comic strip in which someone quizzed Dagwood Bumstead on it as a trivia challenge. President Nixon ordered the US Federal Reserve to pull the $500, $1000, $5000, and $10,000 bills from circulation in 1969, but like all US paper they’re still negotiable at face value. Since only 336 10Ks still exist out of the 60,000 originally minted, as collectibles they’ll fetch from $30,000 to $100,000 or more.

Chase was a character. As Treasury Secretary under President Lincoln he supervised the design for the first greenback — a One Dollar bill — in 1861. As longstanding angler for the presidency himself he made sure those plans included his own portrait. In 1864 Lincoln elevated him to Supreme Court Justice, but despite his achievements most people nowadays think of Chase, if at all, as the eponym of a bank he had nothing to do with.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore manages the Dollar currencies of both Singapore and its joined-at-the-hip trading partner Brunei. Their exchange rates pretty much coincide these days, so to the nearest US Dollar the 10K notes of Singapore and Brunei amount to $7,426.00. The presses fell silent on the Singaporean 10Ks in January 2014 but both remain negotiable.

Brunei 10000 Dollar Swiss 1000 Swiss Franc Canada 1000 Dollar
Though the Swiss National Bank continues to promote — and dangerously over-produce, say many economists — its 1K [currently $1,037.56], the riffraff specter keeps Canada lying awake nights over its own [$820.95].

In 2000 the Royal Canadian Mounted Police decided to tighten the screws on their drug runners and money launderers and convince the Bank of Canada to call all the “pinkies” in. They remain legal tender, though, and despite the BOC’s best efforts there are still around 950,000 of them outstanding.

Those two songbirds look perfectly innocuous, but reliable sources describe underworld capos hoarding pinkies by the briefcase-full and routinely shuttling them back and forth over international borders to settle debts. Should the BOC decide to demonetize them, almost a billion Canadian Dollars could go up in smoke since their bulk holders would find it impossible to redeem them without having to face a lot of embarrassing questions.
Based on current exchange rates, one million US Dollars would weigh, if it consisted of Thai 500K notes, 165 grams (5.8 ounces); in US 10Ks, 100 grams (3.5 ounces); in Singaporean 10Ks, 211 grams (7.4 ounces); in Bruneian 10Ks, 339 grams (12.0 ounces); in Swiss Franc 1Ks, 1,249 grams (2 pounds 12 ounces); and in Canadian 1Ks, 1,218 grams (2 pounds 11 ounces).

That much gold would currently weigh about 24 kilograms (53 pounds); platinum, 32 kilograms (71 pounds); and silver, 1,752 kilograms (3,862 pounds).

Your money’s no good here

I remember buying when I was about ten, from one of those coin operated gumball-type machines, some big plastic capsules of folded up Brazilian banknotes. No wonder, because for most of the 20th century Brazil was the poster child of runaway inflation. Authorities had to hack off three zeros six separate times, divide again by 2750, and rename the currency eight times, such that one modern Brazilian Real is now worth 2,750,000,000,000,000,000,000 (2 sextillion 750 quintillion) pre-1942 Brazilian Reis.

Iran (Rial)  Iran (Rial)  33,450 (↓ 1.4%)  
Vietnam (Dong)  Vietnam (Dong)  22,719 (steady)  
Saõ Tomé (Dobra)  Saõ Tomé (Dobra)  20,579 (↑ 0.7%)  
Indonesia (Rupia)  Indonesia (Rupia)  13,252 (↑ 0.7%)  
Laos (Kip)  Laos (Kip)  8,280 (steady)  
Hyperinflation Olympics! Per USD
The Land of Xuxa now seems to have things well in hand, so meanwhile here’s an up-to-date comparison (left) of the world’s five tiniest currencies. The Iranian Rial wins this month at about 33,400 to the Dollar. Look for them to perform a zero-ectomy and inaugurate a New Rial at some point if things get too much further out of hand.

Somalia’s Shilling has been reported to be in even worse shape from time to time, with its Central Bank quoting 33,300 to the US Dollar in February of 2010. But their value against the Dollar has actually been RISING steadily since mid-2013. At that time the Shilling was 15,000 per USD, but it currently stands at 557. This track record makes it now, technically, the world’s strongest currency.

Conversely, here are the world’s largest currencies.

Seborga (Luigino)  Seborga (Luigino)  $ 6.00 (pegged)  
Kuwait (Dinar)  Kuwait (Dinar)  $ 3.32 (↓ 0.1%)  
Bahrain (Dinar)  Bahrain (Dinar)  $ 2.66 (steady)  
Oman (Rial)  Oman (Rial)  $ 2.60 (steady)  
Latvia (Lats)  Latvia (Lats)  $ 1.61 (steady)  
Largest Currencies, USD per Unit
The Latvian Lats [$1.61] has officially retired in favor of the Euro [$1.19], but its floating exchange rate continues to post. Remarkably — to us non-Balto-Slavs, anyway — the old currency’s name had three quantitative endings: “Lats” for singular, “Lati” for two to nine, and “Latu” for ten or more. Disagreement simmers nowadays over what Latvians should call their country’s newly adopted currency. The European Union has declared “Euro” to be inviolate, regardless of locality, while the Latvian Language Agency has lobbied hard for “Eiro” and/or “Eira.”

Seborga’s currency, the Luigino, holds no value outside of that Alpine town/principality/tourist attraction. You’ll hear talk of it being accepted in Monaco 38 km (23 miles) to the southwest. My suspicion is if that’s literally true, such acceptance would likely involve a bank employee losing a coin toss and driving a pocketful of Luiginos from sporting Monegasque merchants back to Seborga, once in a great while, to redeem them for Euros.

Speaking of Luiginos, here is some more of the world’s least-known money.

Nagorno-Karabakh (Dram)  Nagorno-Karabakh (Dram)   477.80 (steady)
Mauritania (Ouguiya)  Mauritania (Ouguiya)   360.90 (steady)
Transnistria (Ruble)  Transnistria (Ruble)   15.00 (steady)
Abkhazia (Apsar)  Abkhazia (Apsar)   5.75 (↑ 2.6%)
SMOM (Scudo)  SMOM (Scudo)   3.50 (↑ 0.7%)
Largely unfamiliar currencies, per USD
The Mauritanian Ouguiya [$0.00277] is one of only three currencies (the other two being the Scudo, mentioned below, and the Malagasy Ariari) not divided decimally. Rather, 5 Khoums equal 1 Ouguiya. The 685-year-old Kremnica Mint in Slovakia strikes their coins.

The Transnistrian Ruble [$0.0667] is about as obscure as you can get but also perfectly legal tender — if only in Transnistria, AKA the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, a scrappy breakaway territory with half a million inhabitants tracing the Dniester River’s left bank between Ukraine and Moldova. The Russian and Transnistrian Rubles currently trade at around 3.8 to 1.

Apsar Coin The Nagorno-Karabakh Dram [$0.00209] and the Abkhaz Apsar [$0.174] fall into a similar, semi-accreditable category, with the former pegged to the Armenian Dram at par and the latter to ten Russian Rubles. (Right: a 10 Apsar piece commemorating Abkhaz literary pioneer Dmitry Gulia.2)

In its swashbuckling days the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta (SMOM) waged naval warfare with the Ottoman Empire, but it now exists primarily as a Catholic service organization headquartered in Rome. SMOM’s currency divides as follows: 6 Piccioli = 1 Grano; 5 Grani = 1 Cinquina; 2 Cinquini = 1 Carlino; 2 Carlini = 1 Taro; and finally 12 Tari = 1 Scudo [$0.286]. So in effect the Scudo’s smallest division is 1/1440 of it or about $0.000199 at the present exchange rate.
All your base are belong to us

Bitcoin  Bitcoin  $ 45,516,060,071
Ethereum  Ethereum  $ 21,199,195,246
Ripple  Ripple  $ 7,441,203,681
Litecoin  Litecoin  $ 2,318,776,350
NEM  NEM  $ 1,528,947,000
Largest cryptocurrencies in capitalization (log scale)
Cryptocurrency is an exchange medium created, traded, and verified entirely in cyberspace using cryptographic algorithms. For all practical purposes it divides into two categories: (1) Bitcoin, and (2) everything other than Bitcoin. Bitcoin itself was the first, founded by Satoshi Nakamoto3 in 2009.

doggy coin Cryptocurrency is so far legal in every country4 aside from Bolivia, Ecuador, and Iceland and to various degrees redeemable for conventional money; though in view of its purposeful lack of centralized accountability many jurisdictions have been trying to crack down on it. In 2014 the China Merchants Bank blocked currency transfers through BTC, that country’s largest Bitcoin exchange, but later it eased up and BTC itself thrives now more than ever.

There are now over 750 cryptocurrencies, many devoted to various charities, ideologies, or just plain will-o’-the-wisp gimmickry. Among those showing capitalizations of $50,000 or more, here are the exchange rates for the five largest and five smallest as of the most recent mid-month.
42-coin  42-coin  $ 10682.4 (↓ 37.3%)
Bitcoin  Bitcoin  $ 2764.39 (↑ 0.7%)
bitBTC  bitBTC  $ 2696.16 (↑ 0.7%)
bitGold  bitGold  $ 1269.15 (↑ 6.1%)
Byteball  Byteball  $ 531.46 (↓ 30.6%)
Largest cryptocurrencies (USD per unit)
XP  XP  250,000 (↓ 42.9%)
GCoin  GCoin  250,000 (steady)
FedoraCoin  FedoraCoin  250,000 (↓ 75%)
Dimecoin  Dimecoin  250,000 (↓ 42.9%)
BunnyCoin  BunnyCoin  166,667 (steady)
Smallest cryptocurrencies (units per USD)

The crypto-market overall has been holding its own over the past four weeks. The biggest 30-day gainer and loser, rounded to the nearest percent, have been DubaiCoin, up 1722%, and Veros, down 88%. Mutual funds based on cryptocurrency have begun to appear, if you’re up for the kinds of things that would have most people dashing for the exits.


1. For informational purposes only. These are ballpark figures updated mid-monthly. Changes are rounded to the nearest one percent, so an item can drop by “100%” when there's still some value left.

2. Since Apsar coins are bullion and issued in excruciatingly limited quantities (either 1000 or 2000 total), their face values are strictly pro forma. The silver ten-spot proofs, like that shown, typically bring about $200 apiece on the collectibles market.

3. On 29 March 2016, “Satoshi Nakamoto” was widely reported to be Australian IT and security consultant Craig Wright, founder of the supercomputing firm Cloudcroft Pty Ltd.

4. In several others it’s a muddle. Bitcoin in particular, at least, is banned additionally in Bangladesh, Indonesia (sort of), Kyrgyzstan, Russia (de facto if not explicitly), Thailand, and Vietnam.


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