his 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.
Skip to: Hardest bills to find change for ✧ Tiny, big, and unaccustomed ✧ Mondo crypto
Uh… ya got anything smaller?
In 2000 Thailand issued a 500,000 Baht note [currently equivalent to $16,180] 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 coincide these days, so a 10K note of either country at the moment amounts to around $7,360. The presses fell silent on the Singaporean 10Ks in January 2014 but both remain negotiable.
Though the Swiss National Bank continues to promote — and dangerously over-produce, say many economists — its 1K [currently $1,016], the riffraff specter keeps Canada lying awake nights over its own [$766].
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, a million US dollars in gold would currently weigh about 22.8 kilograms (50 pounds); in platinum, 38 kilograms (85 pounds); and in silver, 2120 kilograms (4600 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 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.
|São Tomé & Príncipe Dobra||21,560|
At a current exchange rate of 3.730 to the Dollar the Land of Xuxa now seems to have things well in hand, so meanwhile here’s an up-to-date comparison of the world’s five tiniest currencies. The Iranian Rial wins this month at about 42,100 to the Dollar. Look for them to perform a zero-ectomy and inaugurate a New Iranian Rial at some point if things get too much further out of hand.2
Conversely, here are the world’s largest currencies.
The Latvian Lats [$1.653] has officially retired in favor of the Euro [$1.128], 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||477|
The Mauritanian Ouguiya [$0.002801] 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 [$0.06210] is about as obscure as you can get but also perfectly legal tender — if only in Transnistria ▭, ᴀᴋᴀ 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 3.91 to 1.
The Nagorno-Karabakh Dram [$0.002098] and the Abkhaz Apsar [$0.1586] 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 ten Apsar piece3 commemorating Abkhaz literary pioneer Dmitry Gulia.)
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 Scudo is pegged to the Euro and 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 [$0.2126]. So in effect the Scudo’s smallest division is 1/1440 of it or about $0.00015 at the present exchange rate.
Western Sahara is a thoroughly dispiriting, heavily contested strip of desert and scrub on the northwest coast of Africa. Wherever there aren’t unexploded landmines, the Sahrawi Peseta circulates alongside the Mauritanian Ouguiya (q.v.) and the Algerian Dinar in the regions of Western Sahara controlled by the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.
capitalization in gigabucks
All your base are belong to us
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 Nakamoto in 2009.4
Cryptocurrency is nominally legal in every country aside from Bolivia, Ecuador, and Iceland5 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 over 1650 cryptocurrencies as I write, many devoted to various charities, ideologies, or just plain will-o’-the-wisp gimmickry. Among those showing capitalizations of $100,000 or more, here are the exchange rates for the five largest and five smallest as of the most recent mid-month.
1. For informational purposes only. These are ballpark figures updated mid-monthly. Changes are rounded somewhat, so an item can drop by “100%” when there’s still some value left.
2. The lengths of the bars on these graphs are not necessarily to scale. In cases where the differences in the quantities they represent are extreme, their lengths adjust logarithmically to keep them visually readable.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. In many others it’s a muddle that, moreover, seems to change from one week to the next. As of this writing Bitcoin in particular, at least, is banned additionally in Bangladesh, Indonesia (sort of), Kyrgyzstan, Russia (de facto if not explicitly), Thailand, and Vietnam.