So I've got a billion dollars I want to get to thailand...
March 6, 2006 5:01 PM   Subscribe

What is the most valuable material by weight, such that the material can be resold without too much difficulty.

Suppose you wanted to be able to store and transport vast sums of wealth very compactly, with the ability to convert the material back into money at some point in the future. Things like Antimatter, or Unununium while interesting aren’t really what I'm going for. I'm also interested in things which are legal to poses, unlike weapons grade uranium or plutonium or pure LSD. Diamonds would be a good example, but I'm assuming there must be something more expensive then that.

The more untraceable the better.
posted by Paris Hilton to Work & Money (50 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Saffron is about $800.00 - $2000.00 a pound retail right now. It's not the most expensive thing, but is easily transportable, storable, and legal. Plus it's much more delicious than diamonds.
posted by iconomy at 5:06 PM on March 6, 2006

Certain kinds of Saffron (the spice) are several thousands of dollars per pound. Dunno if that helps.
posted by ori at 5:10 PM on March 6, 2006

yikes, shoulda previewed.
posted by ori at 5:10 PM on March 6, 2006

Also, platinum, rubies, and emeralds - all are more valuable than diamonds.
posted by iconomy at 5:13 PM on March 6, 2006

saffron is valuable, but it's not very dense.
posted by I Love Tacos at 5:13 PM on March 6, 2006

Saffron also has a limited shelf life of at best a few months.
posted by cardboard at 5:15 PM on March 6, 2006

Printer ink.
And the beauty is you don't need to hide it.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 5:15 PM on March 6, 2006

The question starts off by saying "by weight" but then says "very compactly" which would imply by volume.

Which is it?
posted by vacapinta at 5:16 PM on March 6, 2006

1) Inkjet printer ink

2) Moose Cheese
posted by helios at 5:17 PM on March 6, 2006

Best answer: Some chemical compounds containging rare isotopes are very expensive, but I'm not sure on the resale. I recently bought 0.5 ml of 17O water for $1200, and it was only 75% pure. It has the advantage that you could carry it in a water bottle on an airplane and no one could tell the difference between it and regular water (unless they run it through a mass spec). This example is much cheaper than diamonds, but there are much more expensive compounds. I got a quote on 15N labeled Histidine suitable for peptide synthesis, at $12,000 for 500 mg and its fairly simple. The other problem is that you can't buy a billion dollars worth of some things, because they are so rare.
posted by 445supermag at 5:20 PM on March 6, 2006

Oh, and whale vomit.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 5:22 PM on March 6, 2006

Data. Get someone famous on digital video having sex. Fits on a DVD.
posted by mds35 at 5:22 PM on March 6, 2006

The problem with printer ink, saffron, cheese, etc, is, like cardboard implied, limited shelf life. How long will these things be stored before being converted back into currency or sold?

A pound of Rolex watches would be worth quite a bit.
posted by iconomy at 5:23 PM on March 6, 2006

As a practical matter: the precious metals are more compact and more easily exchanged in that there is a well known international rate to start your negotiations from.

Gemstones are good pocket money, but the prices can vary widely due to local demand issues.

Basically, if you're fleeing the country on foot then take the gems, and if you're fleeing with transport go for precious metals.

But really bank transfers are the way to go. In fact I have one for $50,000,000 waiting for me right now, if only I could afford the $5,000 in bank fees to claim it. Perhaps you could help me out? :-)
posted by tkolar at 5:25 PM on March 6, 2006

Also I assume another provision is that the "innate" value of the material is what is worth money. Otherwise I can beat what mds35 just proposed by proposing: A check for a billion dollars.
posted by vacapinta at 5:25 PM on March 6, 2006

mds35 wins, Paris.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 5:25 PM on March 6, 2006

Cat urine is also very valuable, but you might have trouble with those meddling kids at customs and their pesky dog.
posted by mds35 at 5:30 PM on March 6, 2006

The Treskilling Yellow is the most valuable substance in the world at $71 billion per kilo. So 1 billion would weigh 1/71 of a kilo or approximately 14 grams. The number of Treskilling Yellows is currently unknown so there is no theoretical barrier to carrying a billion dollars of them. They are portable, legal and easily exchangeable.

Unfortunately only one of them is definitively KNOWN to exist.
posted by unSane at 5:30 PM on March 6, 2006

Response by poster: Hmm... Obviously a bank transfer would be nice, but I'm thinking more of something that could be transferred, erm, anonymously.

To give an example, suppose you wanted to transfer a large sum of money to a Iranian nuclear scientist in order to divulge the location of all Iranian nuke sites, but the scientist really wanted to stay anonymous, even from you.

That type of situation.

Basicaly you'd need to be able to sell it without rasing flags all over everywhere.
posted by Paris Hilton at 5:37 PM on March 6, 2006

According to Cockeyed, it's scorpion venom at $38,858,507.46 per gallon.
posted by Robot Johnny at 5:41 PM on March 6, 2006

Best answer: Fancy coloured diamonds ('fancy' is a technical term here) are also a decent bet. You want to go for the rarest colors -- red, green or blue. They are *much* more valuable than the vanilla kind. A one carat stone can easily fetch $250,000. So conservatively, you could carry $1 billion in the form of 4000 x 1 carat stones, about 800 grams total.

However it is hard to imagine buying a billion dollars worth of colored diamonds without raising a few eyebrows.
posted by unSane at 5:44 PM on March 6, 2006

unSane, read your own link much? wikipedia goes on to say that "it is not as expensive as antimatter and some radioisotopes."

So there are more expensive things by mass/volume, but I doubt you could carry them around without causing trouble for yourself.

posted by tiamat at 5:46 PM on March 6, 2006

I'd say a stack of US $100 bills. Easier to get rid of than anything more with a more expensive dollar figure on it and worth more than a fiftty or a twenty but still weighs the same. Seriously.
posted by pwb503 at 5:49 PM on March 6, 2006

I would think bearer bonds would be ideally what you want. I'm pretty sure they are illegal in the United States but there are probably plenty of countries that allow them. Mostly anonymous and they pay interest. Some Swiss bank could probably hook you up.
posted by well_balanced at 5:51 PM on March 6, 2006

Rare coins or other small, valuable antiques? I'd say coins because their resale value is pretty well established by collectors, so you'd know how much you'd have to expect when it's time to start cashing in.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:58 PM on March 6, 2006

To give an example, suppose you wanted to transfer a large sum of money to a Iranian nuclear scientist in order to divulge the location of all Iranian nuke sites, but the scientist really wanted to stay anonymous, even from you.

Ah. American greenbacks, no contest. They spend everywhere on the planet, and there's no trail to speak of.

Assuming you're talking about an American billion and not a British one, the total weight will be 22,000 lbs. You can get that into a couple of shipping containers.;;;
posted by tkolar at 6:22 PM on March 6, 2006

Response by poster: I was hoping for something that didn't involve shipping containers :P.

Here's an intresting thought: a chemical or substance that allows you to easily extract some other value. Like a catalyst to help you reclaim precious metals or something.
posted by Paris Hilton at 6:38 PM on March 6, 2006

Given the extra info, my vote goes for bearer bonds, or if those aren't sufficiently anonymous, €500 notes.
posted by I Love Tacos at 6:40 PM on March 6, 2006

not diamonds. they don't resell well.
posted by rbs at 6:58 PM on March 6, 2006

Best answer: How about really expensive medicine, like cancer treatment? Especially the monoclonal antibodies:

Temodar-5 capsules of 250mg each-$1,749.00
Velcade--3.5 ml vial----------------------$1,173.56
avastin---16 ml vial-----------------------$154.03
Mylotarg--5 MG VIAL---------------------$2,453.77
GLEEVEC 400 MG TABLET----------------$100.27
Sutent-----50mg capsule-----------------$236.95
ELOXATIN 100 MG VIAL-------------------$1,857.69

you get the idea. Let's take mylotarg, generic name gemtuzumab, a monoclonal antibody used for the treatment of AML. $1billion/$2453.77= 407,536.16. that's a lot of 5 mg vials. If you combined all the doses together, it would weigh about 2 million mg, or about 2,000 g, or about 2 kg. Perfect! Put it in a vodka bottle, slap a duty free sticker on it, and you're in. Oh wait, can't do that if you're going to Iran...but if there really are wild parties there like in Syriana...This is for a novel, right?
posted by gilgul at 7:35 PM on March 6, 2006

You could buy a Ferrari Enzo, drive it from point a to point b where you resell it at a hefty premium. That shouldn't be too hard, since there are only 399 of them (or is that 398 now?) and there will never be another one made.
posted by clevershark at 7:57 PM on March 6, 2006

High end microprocessors and, even more so, medical biomolecules, are going to have a high value to weight (and volume) ratio, but like just about anything else, they are going to take a lot of effort to convert into cash. I'd say the same would be true of something that let you extract gold from seawater.

Crypto-theorists have invented schemes for "eCash" which retain the anonymity of greenbacks without the bulk.
posted by Good Brain at 8:02 PM on March 6, 2006

Fine art is not such a bad way to go. For example:

This Photo by Steichen recently sold for just under three million dollars, or approx. $9,000.00 per square inch of photo paper.

And this recent acquisition by the Met, Duccio's Madonna and Child, was purchased for 45 million, or about $473,684.00 per square inch (The Painting is about the size of a sheet of typing paper)
posted by extrabox at 8:22 PM on March 6, 2006

When I was into stamp collecting, I heard stories about South American dictators fleeing their palace before the coup, and slipping a little folder of rare stamps into their suit pocket. Very easily sold without attracting notice, though a billion dollars worth might be hard to shift anonymously!
posted by richg at 8:55 PM on March 6, 2006

It seems to me that anything other than cash is going to run into the problem of either:

a) "such that the material can be resold without too much difficulty."


b) "The more untraceable the better."

The problem is not so much that any given form of transport is intrinsically more problematic than any other, but the fact that you're talking about a billion dollars worth of a given commodity/thing.
Finding a seller/buyer able and willing to deal under the table/off the books for in that kind of monetary value is non trivial.

Pulling up a web link for how much a rare coin/stamp/piece of artwork sold for just goes to show how such things are pretty much the opposite of untraceable.
If there's only 3 known special widgets in existence, you can be pretty damn sure that all widget experts know who owns those...
posted by juv3nal at 9:26 PM on March 6, 2006

The only thing I can think of with unlimited potential value, portability and shelf life is a promissory note from a bank.
posted by Hildago at 9:46 PM on March 6, 2006

If you're going for the nuclear scientist angle; think: services. Or perhaps cheaper & more plausible, kidnapping & ransom.

If you're going for the catalyst thing, think philosopher's stone.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 9:56 PM on March 6, 2006

Response by poster: oooh, pharmaceuticals. That would be great, especially as there are a large number of cancer victims to resell the stuff too.
posted by Paris Hilton at 10:32 PM on March 6, 2006

Your kidney, no hassle to transport and you'd get about $10k for it
posted by MrC at 11:44 PM on March 6, 2006

Your soul, perhaps.

Or the account number and passwords to a numbered Swiss bank account (works in the movies, and maybe in real life, too, right?).
posted by JekPorkins at 12:48 AM on March 7, 2006

The promise of a date with Natalie Portman?
posted by unSane at 5:26 AM on March 7, 2006

Marc Rich, the billionaire exile you may remember from his controversial Clinton pardon, once bought up the world's supply of boron. At first no one noticed what he was doing as no one thought of boron as an exciting commodity. By the time they realized what was going on it was too late, he had cornered the market, basically allowing Rich to set the price for boron. This also drove up the prices of other commodities he had bought into that were dependent on cheap supplies of boron. In the end he made billions and billions in profits.

Read all about it in the book Metal Men.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:39 AM on March 7, 2006

Microfilm of either state secrets or important people committing crimes.
But really, on that scale, conversion to cash is sort of a hinderance. You want to barter, to provide something (hopefully something so invaluable that there's no other way to get it) for what you want, rather than going through the trouble of middlemen and monitizing. Iranians trading for nuclear material? Either promisory notes for oil lease rights or pictures of Kofi Annan fucking a sheep.
posted by klangklangston at 8:14 AM on March 7, 2006

white truffles, tourbillion watches. You could pack a suitcase with about 10m worth of that junk
posted by stratastar at 9:17 AM on March 7, 2006

white truffles

Yah, but then you really got to be on the lookout for the pigs.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:37 AM on March 7, 2006

How about a VISA gift cart with $1 billion on it?
posted by JamesMessick at 10:49 AM on March 7, 2006

Bill Gates is worth billions and can't weigh much more than 70 kilos.
posted by Serial Killer Slumber Party at 3:44 AM on March 8, 2006

John D. MacDonald's Travis MccGee thriller THE SCARLET RUSE entertainingly explores the idea that rare stamps are the lightest, most easily concealed objects of value if you plan on being on the run.
posted by dpcoffin at 10:46 AM on March 8, 2006

Ideally, you don't want to physically transport the billion dollars at all.

Spend a hundred bucks or so, start up a limited liability company in some state that allows anonymous ownership. (I understand Nevada is currently one of those). Deposit the billion dollars into a bank account in the company's name.

Then, meet up with your Thai buyers (the guys who were going to buy your diamonds, isotopes, or Ferraris) and sell them the company in exchange for local cash. They ought to be willing to front your transaction and travel costs as well, to get a privately-owned company with a billion dollars in the bank. Of course, they'll want to do their own due diligence, but here are the advantages:

1. If set up properly, the transfer of company ownership is virtually untraceable. The buyers could even have set up their own shell company in the U.S. or elsewhere to take nominal ownership of the company you're selling.

2. The transaction is safe. You're not carrying around anything that you might lose, or might get destroyed or confiscated.

3. The question of volume and weight is irrelevant. As long as your investors have done their part, you might not need to take anything but your toothbrush and your bathing suit.

4. It's legal, as long as the original billion isn't the fruit of illegal activity.

5. Bill Gates might scream or otherwise draw attention to himself. This won't.

Another method to consider: License or outright purchase extremely valuable patents. Turn around and re-license those patents to wealthy Thai investors. Just make sure the patents don't violate U.S. technology export laws.
posted by mikewas at 8:12 AM on March 9, 2006

Ok, five fresh fish, I just woke up the whole house with my laughter.
posted by redteam at 3:02 AM on March 14, 2006

« Older Could Yahoo help be any more worthless?   |   Recommendations for a progressive pediatrician in... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.