What are some examples of obsolete currency?
June 17, 2005 10:29 AM   Subscribe

What are some examples of obsolete currency — currency that was formerly used by a now-defunct political state or regime and is now worthless, except perhaps as a curiosity or historical artifact? This defunct currency would have to be paper rather than in bullion, as the latter never really becomes worthless. The only example I can think of is the currency issued by the Confederate States of America during the U.S. Civil war. Can you suggest any more recent examples?
posted by orange swan to Work & Money (32 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Do you count all the currency from EU countries that was retired in the face of the Euro?
posted by OmieWise at 10:32 AM on June 17, 2005

There used to be regional currency issues by individual banks in the Northeast [and elsewhere] before banking was federalized. The South Royalton [VT] Bank issued its own paper money, for example. Here is an example. This guy has a huge list of other obsolete notes in the US.
posted by jessamyn at 10:35 AM on June 17, 2005

Cash from the F.D.R. (east germany), chekoslovakia, etc.
There is also obsolete currency not because of defunct regimes, but rather because of inflation. In L. America, for example, most countries have had to replace their currencies a number of times over the last 3 or 4 decades. Argentina and Bolivia come to mind.
posted by signal at 10:35 AM on June 17, 2005

I remember seeing the "march of the zeroes" in Argentina, where they dropped something like 13 zeroes in 10 years as their currency devalued. Australes became pesos became nuevos pesos since I was first there.

Also, one might mention Reichsmarks. And plenty more. I have some French notes issued after the war from Republics that no longer existed - so much vichysoisse.

Have other countries vanished? Czechoslovakia. Poland did not exist as a country for something like 125 years from the late 1790s to around 1918. If they had currency, you would have other examples.

I'd also be interested in Turkish currency, especially when they changed alphabets and turkified their language. I presume there are old Turkish notes with the Arabic script.
posted by sagwalla at 10:43 AM on June 17, 2005

We have a bundle of rather beautiful Tibetan notes, about 4 inches by 6 inches, printed on paper which looks handmade. I don't know the date they were made, but they are obviously not much use in the current sad state of the country.
posted by anadem at 10:49 AM on June 17, 2005

American Fractional Currency.
posted by mrs.pants at 10:50 AM on June 17, 2005

Check out banknotes.com for a good selection of images of obsolete/historical currency.
For starters - former colonies/puppet states which are now independent such as the Belgian Congo and French West Africa, Italian Somaliland, and World War II Bohemia and Moravia; territories which were formerly independent (however briefly) but lost their independence and currency such as Biafra, Tibet, the Confederate States of America, and East Germany; the USSR which dissolved into its constituent republics; and nations which joined the euro - such as France, Germany, and Italy. Enjoy!
posted by plep at 10:54 AM on June 17, 2005

One example I can think of are old German Papiermarks, Rentenmarks, and Reichsmarks. The Papiermarks are especially worthles, as they were massively devauled in the time of hyperinflation between the world wars. I have a small collection of old pre-WWII Papiermarks printed with ridiculous sums on them (500,000 marks) that are practically worthless, except as a curiosity.
posted by zsazsa at 10:54 AM on June 17, 2005

Like sagwalla mentioned in Argentina, Brazil has gone through multiple currencies, chopping off zeroes and renaming along the way. Sample images here (in Portuguese)
posted by ambrosia at 10:56 AM on June 17, 2005

Are ancient coins not currency? (Meaning: am I missing some part of the definition?) My cousin collects them, and while they're not valueless (as in people will pay hundreds of dollars for certain coins on eBay), they're certainly from countries/empires that no longer exist.
posted by jdroth at 10:58 AM on June 17, 2005

The sucre, in Ecuador, which disappeared from use when its value was tied to the US dollar (everyone in ecuador uses US dollars now). The country and "regime" still exist...just not the currency.
posted by duck at 10:59 AM on June 17, 2005

As far as I know, the UK is not quite yet defunct, but we do have an obsolete currency called, just for confusion, by the same name as our current currency, the pound. Old pounds, each of which were worth 240d (the d stood for pence*) divided into shillings, were retired at the beginning of the 1970's, in favour of the new decimal pound. My car, a VW Bug built in 1970, was originally bought new for £977 4s 6d.

Over here, it's not unusual to hear somebody ask something along the lines of, "What's that in old money?" A question that used to be asked a lot in the early days of decimalisation, and is now used to disparage a comment about something previously unheard of, not necessarily money.

* The 'd' is derived from 'denari', a form of ancient Roman currency. Go figure.
posted by veedubya at 11:14 AM on June 17, 2005

Also, there are plenty of countries in the British Commonwealth that used to have their own pound currency that has been replaced by something different. Something, to be polite, that has less of a taint of Empire. Australia, for example, now has Australian dollars.
posted by veedubya at 11:21 AM on June 17, 2005

The oldest is probably salt, from which we get the word salary.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:43 AM on June 17, 2005

Banks used to mint coins and banknotes in Canada, interesting bit of history on colonial currency can be found here.
posted by squeak at 11:56 AM on June 17, 2005

the "escudo" in chile. pinochet introduced the peso, i believe, in the early seventies.
posted by andrew cooke at 12:23 PM on June 17, 2005

> Are ancient coins not currency?

If they're made of gold or silver, they have an inherent value ("never really becomes worthless") that a scrap of paper does not.

I used to get paid once a month with a small stack of million-zloty notes. Those were the days. Then they cut four zeroes off the end and took the fun out of things.

Zloty still exist, so they don't really fit what I think orange swan is after. But this city had its own currency, the gulden, until WWII.
posted by pracowity at 12:57 PM on June 17, 2005

The Sol in Peru was replaced by the Inti, which was replaced by the Nuevo Sol. Some Images
posted by aneel at 1:04 PM on June 17, 2005

South Vietnamese Dong. Also, the military scrip that U.S. soldiers were supposed to use.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:43 PM on June 17, 2005

Iraq - because we like, invaded them, and stuff.
posted by falconred at 3:06 PM on June 17, 2005

took the fun out of things
yeah, i earn over a million a month (pesos) - one peso coins still exist, but typically people don't use them (you can "donate" them to a charity when you get your supermarket change, because of course every price is ....9 pesos). i wouldn't besurprised if a peso coin is worth more as scrap metal than its face value (except that if that were the case, someone here would be making a business out of recycling them).
posted by andrew cooke at 3:17 PM on June 17, 2005

Some countries replaced $1 and $2 notes with coins within the last 20 years, and those notes are now nolonger legal tender. I know New Zealand was one, as I have the notes, I think Canada was another, but I'm not sure.

I can't believe it took so long to mention Iraq. Are the Saddam-faced banknotes that the US replaced still legal tender there?
posted by -harlequin- at 3:53 PM on June 17, 2005

Australia also replaced notes with coins, and the notes are nolonger legal tender.
posted by -harlequin- at 3:54 PM on June 17, 2005

-harlequin-: Canadian $1 and $2 notes have been replaced, but are still legal tender.
posted by ODiV at 4:28 PM on June 17, 2005

I can't believe it took so long to mention Iraq. Are the Saddam-faced banknotes that the US replaced still legal tender there?

Last I heard they were still accepted. In fact, their value against the dollar actualy increased after the war.
posted by delmoi at 6:25 PM on June 17, 2005

West German currency applies as much as East German currency, insofar as West Germany ceased to exist after reunification, and Germany ceased to use its own currency after joining with other EU countries to implement the Euro.
posted by Rothko at 6:55 PM on June 17, 2005

posted by atchafalaya at 9:49 PM on June 17, 2005

Out side of the United States, it is common for countries to periodically change their bank notes and invalidate the old notes. This is one reason why US currency is so valued for various *cough* business transactions. It is done to combat counterfeiting.
posted by Goofyy at 1:17 AM on June 18, 2005

My mother used to have cardboard coins, called "mills" (or maybe mils, which would make more sense). They were used in the US during WWii for some obscure purpose I no longer remember, maybe having to do with a tax on some things of fractions of a cent?
They came in various denominations, but all tenths of a cent. Sorry, I can't remember anything else about them.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 10:38 AM on June 18, 2005

Burma is a fun place to change money.

As an anti-counterfeiting measure, the "government" will announce on any given day that, say, 50 kyats bills are now worthless. NOW. Not next-week-better-change-em. I mean, if they did that, the counterfeiters would just change their money, right? So would other folk.

Been awhile since I was there, but at that time, there were at least 7 or 8 bills to watch out for, as they were worthless. Some were specific denominations -- 35 kyats was one, I think -- while others were conditional -- 50 kyats with this picture, but 50 kyats with this other picture is ok.

Of course, none of it is worth anything outside the country. At my last visit: bank official exchange rate had one American dollar to 13 kyats. Street exchange rate: one American dollar to 126 kyats (in Yangon). Talk about propping up currency. If you go into a bank and try to change money, they won't know what to do with you.
posted by dreamsign at 10:48 AM on June 18, 2005

West German currency applies as much as East German currency, insofar as West Germany ceased to exist after reunification, and Germany ceased to use its own currency after joining with other EU countries to implement the Euro.

After World War II, Germany was divided into two separate republics - the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschlands, popularly known as 'West' Germany), and the German Democratic Republic (Deutsche Demokratische Republic, popularly known as 'East' Germany). German 'reunification' was actually the DDR joining as part of the BRD, so effectively the 'old' 'West' German state expanded to include the former DDR. Therefore, 'West' German institutions, including currency and so on, survived reunification.

But you're right in that the old German mark ceased to exist after Germany joined the euro, though there was an interim period when the old marks were still legal tended, pegged to the euro.
posted by plep at 1:59 AM on June 19, 2005

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